Let us be still and listen for how the Spirit is speaking, For our God is within us Let us be awake and feel how the Spirit is moving For our God is among us Let us be open to the ferment and foment stirring up change For our God is beyond us
I’m going to risk upsetting the eternal rest of the founding preacher of this church – Rev. Peasley Chamberlain, who was quite the prohibitionist (although Steve Wilen last week doing his living history at Fort Walla Walla did relate that Chamberlain did accept money from a few saloons in town to rebuild the church after the first building burned down). At any rate, at the risk of upsetting the ghost of preachers past let me tell you about my favorite bar. I’ve only been their twice – this was back when I was in seminary, and didn’t have time or money to go out (as if I do now) – but twice was enough: it’s my favorite.
People call it “the monk bar.” Or “the quiet bar.” It’s tucked in a corner in the East Village of New York City. It’s kinda like a cave inside. Dark wood. Murals on the walls – murals of monks, brewing beer, like they did, and going through other monk adventures. The overhead music is Gregorian chant, or classical music, or, if the bartender is radical, jazz – but cerebral jazz, nothing hectic. And it is not permitted for the noise in the bar to get so loud so that you can’t hear the music. That’s a rule of the establishment. If the bartender can’t hear the chanting or the strings or the ruminations of Thelonious Monk because volume of the conversation has risen to cover it up, this is what the bartender does: “Shhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh …” It’s not the chastising “shush” of the stereotype librarian. It’s a soothing, strong, sustained force that washes over the room and settles everyone down. “Oh yeah, this is the quiet bar.” “Shhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh…” And it works – it’s beautiful – everyone realizes they’ve gotten kinda of worked up, and everyone relaxes and quiets down.
The idea is, the point of this is to relish this time together, really connect and converse and be convivial. To do that we need to be actually listening. We need to be awake to one another. Attentive. It’s a great practice, period. But for a bar in particular it’s counter-cultural, because this commitment to quiet counteracts the temptations of intoxication, where we lose touch with how loud we’re getting. Folks get more boisterous and blunt and soon soon everyone’s trying to shout over each other … which then makes everyone more numb and dumb and ham-headed.
The ancient wisdom – we find this in early Christianity as well as other religions – the ancient wisdom is that most of us are inclined to intoxication of one sort or another … even worse than that: left only to ourselves, we’ll just stumble through life like drunks. We are inclined to be out of our right minds, to forget why we’re here, who we really are together, to Whom we truly belong … and we get addicted to intoxicating illusions that keep us so self-absorbed or absorbed in some other unreality that we are numb to just how loud and out of touch we’ve gotten, out of touch with reality, with other people, with ourselves, with God. Then we get caught up in drama and pick fights or just mope.
So what are these illusions? That we’re the center of the universe, either as individuals or as a tribe. That there is no reality outside of our little limited view of things. That can mean materialism, or chauvinism of any sort. And there’s the illusion that if only I have this or if only I attain that, than I’ll be happy. The illusions that are easy escapes from the difficulties of life. Then there are the big illusions that we call idolatry: Making gods of our human concerns and human powers. Worshipping money or power or some institution or some one person.
There are lots of illusions. These are all intoxicating – they can feel good maybe in the moment, make us forget our cares, but when we’re under the influence things get loud and blurry and then combative and then even brutal. It’s toxic. And the next day we feel miserable. But we’re addicted and we crawl back for more.
The practice of prayer, the practice of worship, the practice of singing sacred songs and reading and hearing sacred scripture, the practice of silence, these are ways to wake up from whatever trip we’ve been taken on and just “Shhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh…”
And if we settle down and rest and open ourselves what we may then discover is that under the surface there’s something like of fermentation going on, some inner working that’s bring to birth new life. The parables of Jesus that we heard today are about how the realm of heaven works like yeast. A baker puts yeast in dough and it works away within, in the dark interior, and the ferment and foment of that bubbles away. Soon the dough begins to rise, without the baker fully knowing what’s all going on in there. Or the realm of heaven is like seeds in the soil, germinating and sprouting beneath the surface of the earth. Soon new life emerges, without the farmer fully knowing what’s all going on in there.
Now, this can be unsettling. We’ll have to feel some things we’ve been trying to stay numb to. We’ll have to face some things we’ve been trying to turn away from. But through this God is with us. If we are sincerely seeking God, the true God, beyond the idolatry of illusions, If we sincerely seek, then we will find, as Jesus says in the teaching we heard from the Gospel of Thomas. As Jesus also says “Knock and the door shall be opened.” Most of the time folks are trying really hard not to seek, not to knock. Why? Because what Jesus says is true. If we’re sincere in seeking God, what we first discover is disturbing. We discover disturbing things about ourselves – ways we’ve been fooling ourselves, ways we’ve been fooling others, ways we’ve been taken advantage of, ways we’ve taken advantage of others. But deeper than that there’s a bigger unsettling that needs to happen for us to put God at the center. The good news is that the Love of God we discover is so tremendous. Here comes the awe that Jesus talks about. Awe…
Now, in the teaching from Thomas, Jesus then talks about power or mastery after that awe. But let’s not even be too concerned about that. Let’s just stay with Awe. When we settle down, when we let those soothing waves wash over us and we settle and settle, what then can come is awe, awe for the tremendous love of God, awe for the tremendous reality of the Divine.
Let us be still and listen for how the Spirit is speaking, For our God is within us Let us be awake and feel how the Spirit is moving For our God is among us Let us be open to the ferment and foment stirring up change For our God is beyond us “Jesus said: ‘Let the one who seeks continue seeking until they find. And when they find they will be disturbed. And once they are disturbed they will become awed, and will rule like a king over all.’” – Gospel of Thomas 3
Second Readings “This was another parable which Jesus related: ‘The realm of heaven is like some yeast which a woman took and covered up in three measures of flour, until the whole had risen.” Gospel of Matthew 13:33
“Jesus also said, ‘This is what the realm of God is like, like a man who has scattered seed on the ground and then sleeps by night and rises by day, while the seed is shooting up and growing – he knows not how. The ground bears the crop of itself – first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. But as soon as the crop is ready, immediately he puts in the sickle because harvest has come.” -Gospel of Mark 4:26-29