I delivered the following sermon to the community of Spirit of the Lakes United Church of Christ on Sunday, November 9, 2003.
With its strong imagery of seeds, its message of trustful anticipation and hope, and its promise of new life in the midst of difficult times, this sermon also serves as an appropriate reflection for the current season of Lent.
The accompanying artwork is by Justin McGonigle.
“The Seed Shop” by Muriel Stuart
Here in a quiet and dusty room they lie,
Faded as crumbled stone or shifting sand,
Forlorn as ashes, shrivelled, scentless, dry –
Meadows and gardens running through my hand.
Dead that shall quicken at the call of Spring,
Sleepers to stir beneath June’s magic kiss,
Though birds pass over, unremembering,
And no bee seek here roses that were his.
In this brown husk a dale of hawthorn dreams,
A cedar in this narrow cell is thrust
That will drink deeply of a century's streams,
These lilies shall make summer on my dust.
Here in their safe and simple house of death,
Sealed in their shells a million roses leap;
Here I can blow a garden with my breath,
And in my hand a forest lies asleep.
Luke 12: 22-32
Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Do not worry about your life and what you are to eat, nor about your body and how you are to clothe it. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. Think of the ravens. They do not sow or reap; they have no storehouses and no barns; yet God feeds them. . . Think how the wildflowers grow; they never have to spin or weave; yet, I assure you, not even Solomon in all his royal robes was clothed like one of them.
Can any of you, however much you worry, add a single cubit to your span of life? If a very small thing is beyond your powers, why worry about the rest? . . . Your Creator well knows what you need. . . . There is no need to be afraid.
By Michael J. Bayly
I’m sure we’ve all had those types of mornings. I experienced one just this past week. You know, one of those mornings when you wake up and just don’t want to get out of bed. And so I lay there – alone in my quiet room feeling faded and forlorn.
I could have sought to escape such a feeling. I could have put on some music or forced myself to rush unconsciously into the day, using my hectic and intense dedication to tasks at hand as armor against these feelings inside. But I thought, no. I’ll stay with these feelings – as uncomfortably forlorn as they are. I’ll engage them, listen to them – these stirrings from deep within.
I began to reflect upon what it was that was making me feel so despondent, so lifeless. I soon realized that it was a number of different things. I therefore had to name them and, in doing so, perhaps take the first step in freeing myself from this oppressive weight bearing down upon me.
Yet no sooner had a decided upon this course of action than a strange image flashed through my mind – an image that seemed to mock me. I saw again that particular scene from the film Mrs. Dalloway when Vanessa Redgrave, playing the part of Virginia Woolf’s famous character, emerges from her London home and excitedly declares to the day: “What a lark! What a plunge!”
This morning, I thought to myself, was anything but a lark. And the only plunge it seemed I had taken was into feelings of despondency.
Yet I chose to stay with the words of Mrs. Dalloway and to reflect upon why so often I do, in fact, resonate with them. For you see, I do try to view each new day as one filled with the sacred gift of life, filled with possibility and opportunity. But I also realized that recently it’s never long before my sunny interior is clouded by doubts. What is it I really want and need? Am I even capable of recognizing such things and taking pro-active steps in securing them?
Complicating such questions for me is the whole messy dilemma of what it is I actually want to do with my life in terms of my gifts and talents, and where it is that I want to do this conscious, pro-active living. Do I want to do it here or in Australia? I’ve long realized that on multiple levels I walk in many worlds – a fact which this particular morning, far from being a “lark,” was a crushing burden. Yes, I walk in many worlds, but I also seem to walk through them. It seems I have a home in none of them.
So was that it? Was this why I was feeling so glum? Partly. Yet there was more.
The news of the ongoing violence in Iraq, I realized, was also contributing to my depressed state of mind. And for the first time I realized just how helpless and angry I was about this situation. I thought back to this time last year. The whole world seemed to be rising and saying in unison, “No!” to war. It was an unprecedented history-making time, and I felt inspired and had played an active part in what seemed like a global, non-violent uprising against empire.
And yet what did it achieve? The Bush Administration, aided and abetted by the government of my own country, went ahead with its arrogant and violent imperial adventure. It’s a tragedy that continues to this day, mired not only in the violence in Iraq, but in a vague yet debilitating sense of official lies and cover-ups here in the United States.
Yes, I was beginning to unravel and identify the various components of this heavy, oppressive mood that gripped me. But there was still more.
I also came to realize that the recent events here at Spirit of the Lakes and all the pain, hurt, and anger that these events continue to generate were also contributing to my forlorn state of mind and heart.
Over the last few months as perspectives have been shared and feelings vented, I had felt increasingly helpless – as if the bottom had fallen out of one of my worlds, one I had thought was stable and secure. In a frenzy of activity I had taken it upon myself to spruce-up our space here, to transform it. And somewhere in the back of my mind was the hope that such transformation would manifest itself in our community life. Yet this particular morning as I lay in bed, such transformation – such reconciliation and healing – seemed far distant.
I’d like to be able to tell you that I came to some profound moment of enlightenment that morning, which, in turn, propelled me out of bed like a resurrected god. But no, I stumbled out into the semi-darkness, my feet reluctantly stepping upon the cold concrete floor of my basement abode.
What keeps us going?
What gets us out of bed on days like these?
Is it an ingrained sense of duty; the cold reality that certain things just must be done?
Or is it something deeper? A faint, flickering glow within the very depths of our soul – something that perhaps we dare to call hope. Something of us yet also beyond us – planted like a warm little seed deep within.
I got through that day and I continue to get through these days of uncertainty, violence, and brokenness because I trust the light of that inner reality – present not just in me but in each one of us.
It’s the same light, the same spark, that our brother Jesus tells us sustains the birds of the air and the wildflowers of the field. Ultimately, it holds us all in community, in communion – that is, common union. Because of this I’ve come to realize that we can’t get through days such as these by ourselves. We need one another. We need community.
I also think it’s helpful, when experiencing difficult times such as these, to think of ourselves – both individually and communally – as being like seeds. We may look and feel crumbled, forlorn, and lifeless, yet we contain within us the sacred gift of potentiality, of creativity; the sacred gift of life. We can and will rise again – from all manner of disappointment and mishap.
Dwelling this past week on thoughts such as these, my spirit has been lifted. I feel it like a tender shoot emerging from the dark depths. And I feel that others – here in this room – are supporting and nourishing this trustful growth, just as my presence and action encourages theirs.
Yet what does this type of growth, this openness to God present within human community, look like in relation to those often paralyzing realities I spoke about earlier?
Well, on the personal level, I’ve come to a point were I’m letting go of worrying about finding the right path for myself. The “right” path is wherever I’m at in the here and now. I know a part of me wants clear-cut answers, yet maybe it’s not about discovering answers but simply forging life – consciously and compassionately – from where, and with whom, we stand.
And what does this openness to God present in human community look like in relation to global events? How can any one of us hope to address such powerful and devastating realities such as war, injustice, and empire? Again, I feel we can only start from where we’re at. And believe me, that is not an insignificant place for any one of us. In our own families and neighborhoods there are countless opportunities to incarnate the justice-making and loving presence of God that we so long to see in the world.
Similarly, there are numerous ways of confronting empire. My choices as a consumer, my presence at ongoing peace vigils and outside of local weapon-making corporations are all powerful ways by which I can channel my energy away from those life-denying systems that support empire and towards life-giving alternatives that support justice, peace, and environmental sustainability.
And what about Spirit of the Lakes? What does openness to God present in human community look like here amidst feelings of anger, hurt, and disappointment? The events we’ve gone through these last few months have forced some to retreat, to distance themselves from the community. And perhaps, initially, this was necessary, appropriate – a mechanism for self-protection.
But for myself and many others, the time is coming to return – to recommit to that which drew us here in the first place. And what was it that drew us? Surely not any one individual or personality type, but a community – a community comprised of all sorts of individuals and personalities. For myself and many others – maybe even you – the time is coming, or perhaps is already here, when we remind ourselves of the radical, foundational truth that to embrace the good news of liberation we must embrace one another through authentic community.
It’s a community that, like a flowering garden, must be open to continual re-creation – even if this re-creation has been prompted by difficult events. Regardless, we need to recognize that the power behind such re-creation and renewal is the loving, transforming power of God alive not just within us, but among us.
Entering into each new day while being open to such re-creation and renewal might not always be a “lark,” but for me to call myself a follower of Jesus, it must truly be a “plunge.”
It’s a plunge into consciousness and into compassionate engagement with all with whom I come into contact.
It’s a plunge into the messy world of human community – including this community of Spirit of the Lakes.
It’s a plunge into the vast arena of varied and, at times, conflicting personality types and opinions.
Yet it’s a plunge that is the only way I know by which I can experience the presence and love of God.
So let us recommit ourselves to trusting that we here at Spirit of the Lakes have within us and among us what it takes to be an authentic community. And let us embody this trust in our words and actions.
Let us take advantage of the various events being organized by our Congregational Care Team. Let us take advantage of the community-building possibilities of Loaves and Fishes and Families Moving Forward.
And let us trust that through these and other endeavors our loving Creator-God will provide us with all we need so as to grow and flourish as a community – a community called Spirit of the Lakes.
– Michael J. Bayly
November 9, 2003
November 9, 2003
Image 1: Seed 1 by Justin McGonigle.
Image 2: Seed 2 by Justin McGonigle.
To visit Justin's online art gallery, click here.