That’s the imprecise, yet perfect word that science uses to refer to what happens when you’re in the zone. Dr. Girija Kaimal explains it this way in a recent NPR piece: “It's that sense of losing yourself, losing all awareness. You're so in the moment and fully present that you forget all sense of time and space.”[i]
Teresa Platin recommended the article for our fascinating Digging Deeper conversation last Tuesday. She invited us to reflect together about our experience with creativity in these uncertain and stressful times.
We know the concept, I suspect. It’s not just artists that experience it. Athletes know it, and, writers, and the scientists who coined the phrase. We’ve all had those moments, I suspect, when we are so deeply engaged in something, when all our energy, when body, mind, and spirit are so devoted that we lose track of all time. We become one with the thing.
Acts 17:22-31 † Psalm 66 † 1 Peter 3:13-22 † John 14:15-21
If you get the environment right, every single one of us has the capacity to do remarkable things. Not only that, if you get the environment right, good deeds breed good deeds. When the conditions are right, safety, self-sacrifice, mutual love all increase exponentially. Generosity evokes further generosity. We’ve certainly seen that of late with your remarkable generosity toward this community and the church’s work within it. It builds on itself. Advocacy breeds further advocacy. An advocate shapes an environment of mutual support. Advocacy gets the environment right.
In John’s story Jesus speaks of the Spirit as an advocate. “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask God to give you another Advocate to be with you forever.” Our Christian tradition understands this in a Trinitarian sense—that the Spirit of God in Christ is now with us forever as an advocate—a force of love absolutely and undeniably for us and for our corporate well-being. A force that abides in the very heart of God.
Acts 2:14a, 36-41 † Psalm 116:1-4, 12-19 † 1 Peter 1:17-23 † Luke 24:13-35
For over 1400 days—nearly four years—between 1992 and 1996, the city of Sarajevo was under siege. One study of the survivors found that many had developed a super-heightened sense of spatial awareness—a skill for evading bullets or bombs, a skill that they carried with them throughout their lives.
“People, during times of prolonged, radical change, end up changing,” said the study’s author[i] in an article this week that takes an early run at how we might be changed on the other side of this pandemic. It makes sense. We are an adaptable species. We grow and change according to requirements on the ground, in the environment, or just at home in these times.
Not surprisingly, studies from previous outbreaks—SARS, Ebola and swine flu—showed almost universal spikes in anxiety, depression and anger. But they also found that people acted to regain a sense of autonomy and control. People worked on their diet. They read more news. They made art. Who knows, maybe they made masks.
You may remember those Sarajevo roses we showed you some months ago in the “before times.”
Acts 2:14a, 22-32 † Psalm 16 † 1 Peter 1:3-9 † John 20:19-31
A video version is available here.
One of my favorite TV shows was Modern Family. A few weeks ago it wrapped its final episode after eleven seasons. At its best, the show combined great slapstick and physical comedy with some beautiful and, sometimes, even inspiring sentiment. One memorable episode way back in season five was titled “Australia.” Phil Dunphy went to Australia for a vacation because he had been conceived there, and his mother had always wanted him to go and visit. He’s finally decided to go fulfill her dying wish, and the rest of the family decides to tag along.
The problem is that things don’t go very well for Phil. As soon as they arrive, he has an allergic reaction to a local fruit. Then he gets stung by a jelly fish. Then, in one of the best physical bits I’ve seen in a long time, he gets punched in the eye by a kangaroo that he thinks is the spirit of his mother. That’s worth the half-hour all by itself.
Jeremiah 31:16 † Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24 † Acts 1:34-43 † Matthew 28:1-10
Two phrases catch my attention in these days of pandemic and social isolating. Two phrases seem especially relevant as we find ourselves a month into a disruptive reality most of us have never experienced before.
The first is this: “Do not be afraid.” It is the message given by the angel—an other-worldly being who apparently looks like lightning in a jacket of snow and shows up just as a massive earthquake hits. Just to the side you have a couple of military guards laying there, by all appearances dead. I mean, the advice sounds a little unnecessary, doesn’t it? What could they possible be afraid of?
Genesis 1:1-2:4a † Response Psalm 136:1-9, 23-26 † Exodus 14:10-31; 15:20-21 † Response Exodus 15:1b-13, 17-18 † Isaiah 55:1-11 † Response Isaiah 12:2-6 † Ezekiel 36:24-28 † Response Psalm 42:1-11 and 43:1-5 † John 20:1-18
Do you remember now? Do you see that this age, this time, these struggles are no match for the Holy who moves and lives and breathes and thunders both within us and far beyond our human reach?
We kept it short tonight—I know, that may surprise you! There are so many more stories that speak of possibility when only threat is visible, of light when it is still dark, of hope when all around us injustice and struggle are so apparent. The thing is we have been this way before. Many times! And by we, I mean this ragtag, imperfect, stiff-necked and selfish human history of which we are part and parcel. They is us. And we are them.
Isaiah 52:13-53:12 † Psalm 22:1-31 † Hebrews 4:14-16, 5:7-9 † John 18:1-19:42
As hard as this day is, I realize I have taken great comfort these past 10 years or so from being in our space at St Andrew with the community at Good Friday worship. As hard as it has been to sit in that building on this night, in that space stripped of all the extra things, empty and dark, listening to this story of harrowing betrayal and execution, I have taken great comfort from being there with you - going through the motions – motions that hold us.
I remember going to a play with Julie Kae a few years ago. This play was about some contemporary families trying to make their way through harrowing loss. Despite its contemporary setting there was this Greek-type chorus that kept appearing on the edges of the drama. They would take their places on stage in a regimented way, always lined up and somewhat stiffer in style from the rest of the work. They were of the play but, at the same time, outside of it. They would reflect on the action - interpret it for each other and for the audience. They would react and they would say the things that needed to be said.
Julie Kae Sigars
Exodus 12:1-14 † Psalm 116:1-2, 12-19 † 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 † John 13:1-17, 31b-35
The Three Days are a time of memory.
We remember the stories that are important to us as the people of God. The same stories that have been important to the church for centuries. Yet they still speak to us today. In new ways.
Part of the Three Days is about making all things new. Hope, Trust, Love. All things will be well. In this time of Lent, when we gave up far more than we thought we would….I have a new thing.
I have learned a new dance. I have known it for, like, forever. Since I was a child. You have known it too. But know, it feels totally new. It is the hand washing dance. I bet you thought I would have a handwashing song. But no. It’s a dance.
Matthew 21:1-11 † Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29
I suspect it is good for us to remember, especially on a day like today, that where we start is not where we end. It’s true of this infection curve that has become so ubiquitous to our Facebook feeds and news casts; it’s true of the limitations we are being asked to put on our movements and interactions; and it is true of this story of a parade and the tightly-packed cheering, chanting, dizzy crowd that may cause you to squirm as much as it does me, alert and militant in our commitment to social distancing and to the prevention of spreading this infection to our neighbors and loved ones.
But here we are at the beginning of a Holy Week that is going to get even more crowded and super-heated than it already is here among the palms and coats and shouts, before we find ourselves just a week from now amidst the quiet of dawn and a garden and a tomb that is empty of even its one quarantined resident.
Ezekiel 37:1-14 † Psalm 130 † Romans 8:6-11† John 11:1-45
I’ve been thinking all week about what it is to write a sermon and send it to you all in this format. Just wondering on and off: wondering what my work is, what we need from each other right now.
I woke up this morning with this memory that seemed important. I remembered travelling to Scotland in January 2007. It was a trip purchased with miles given to me by a St Andrew family because they knew I didn’t have much money. My mom had died suddenly, and I needed to go home. This family, by the way, would do the same thing, in June of the same year when my dad died.
On the morning of that first trip back to Scotland, or maybe it was the day before, a couple of youth group members came to me; I honestly can’t remember who and I can’t remember where we were. All I remember is what they were holding. They were holding 15 cards. Cards in envelopes of different sizes and colors: like a pile of birthday cards. And on the front of each card was neatly written a time: the hours in sequence between when my plane would take off and when it would land in Scotland. They told me they were for the trip and to open them at the appropriate time.
I don’t remember much about packing for that trip or getting to the airport, but I do remember placing the 15 cards for the 15 hours ahead of me in my carry-on bag and I remember getting to the other side of security and opening the first one. I remember the feeling of the envelope and the cheerful card and the equally cheerful hello inside. I remember being a little surprised and then delighted that this first message was just a, “hello, thinking of you” kind of thing and not some profound words of wisdom.
Some folks in youth group youth had known that some company on this trip was something they could give me and could only be a good thing and so they had each written me a card. They had asked others, including a few adults, they felt comfortable approaching to do the same. I don’t remember what was in each the fifteen cards, but I do remember opening them, not always on the hour, but when I needed. Sometimes I opened one or two at a time, sometimes when the hour came around as instructed, sometimes going back to read a cheerful hello or joke someone had written; sometime just to take in, feel in my hands again a homemade card someone had created or to smile again at an awkward hello from someone who didn’t really know what to say, or a picture someone had drawn for me, or to read a thoughtful note, some words of wisdom, when I really needed them.
And I remember very clearly being back on the other side of the ocean in a place that held a lot of mixed up memories and emotions and loss that I hadn’t yet sorted through and finding a quiet place to read every single one of those cards in order a couple of times through. I know now they grounded me, reoriented me. At the time I think I wished they would remove me from the journey. They didn’t of course, but they reminded me of something that has become even more clear over time, that the story, my story, this story we are in together is bigger than any of us, It’s simply beyond me and it tells me that am loved. Loved in ways I didn’t know before - always have been – always will.
I woke up with this memory with this morning, having gone to bed wondering what we are doing as we do the work of the church during this time; and what this work needs to look like. It seemed like an important memory but at the same time, I heard a little voice dismissing it as somehow not really relevant.
You see, there are those memes and notes on social media that are telling us that what we are being asked to do right now is not that hard. And of course they are true. Absolutely, staying home, being with family are good things in my world – hopefully in yours too. But still I realize I am sad and worried and scared about where we are and how we got here and the suffering that others are enduring. So, I resisted the voice and I turned to these texts: these texts about death and confusion where God is in the midst of it all.
And at the same time, Jesus seems to suggest that there is power at play that they don’t understand, and that I realize I don’t understand. Jesus actions in this story have in the past made me more angry and more confused. Why did he stay away? Why did he let the man die and then raise him when he could have prevented it? I don’t pretend to understand, and I don’t think I am meant too. That is maybe part of the point: the movements of God are beyond me. Yet at the same time they are for me, for you.
I have seen God move, show up over and over – sometimes I don’t realize I have been held until afterwards but I know I can trust it even if I don’t fully understand it. I have seen love that can cut through loss and despair and confusion in the most unexpected ways, and it has brought me to where I think I can grasp something of what Jesus wants Martha and Mary to hear, to know.
I think Jesus is telling Mary, telling Martha, telling us, that the life I offer you is different sometimes from the life you think you need. You are bereft right now at your brother’s loss, but you are asking for things that are not yours to ask for. You are looking in the wrong places right now for the life that will hold you. Death and suffering will come, but I am in it with you, and life, real life, a life that cannot be extinguished, remains.
Of course, you should do all you can to preserve the living, you are made for that, I made you for that, but when it is beyond you and you can’t get to what you think you need, I am here. And you will see eventually that I am always here, no matter what, even if you can’t feel me, loving you, holding you, reorienting you to the hope and goodness that transcends living or dying.
It is a life that is beyond you, but here is the thing, it is also in you, pushing you, compelling you to act in love for others. And when that love brings you to despair for over loss and suffering, I am still here reminding you that it never goes away and cannot be overcome.
And I think they do come to know this mysterious reality, these sisters. In just the next scene Mary anoints Jesus, in his words, to prepare him for his death. She knows now that loving in this life brings hardship, it’s something she cannot change, but it seems to me that while she no will longer shirk from it. Instead she will trust in the one who somehow, in some way will not leave her, and in whom she can find the strength to continue in the extravagant acts of love and mercy that she was made for. In the end that is where she will find what she needs.
Those cards, beloved; your faces on my computer screen; nurses, doctors, and scientists working round the clock; staff at homeless shelters and food banks offering a place when there is nowhere else to go; words from friends across a telephone line or in a cards that arrive in my mailbox - all signs of a goodness and a love that does not, cannot stay away. It is a love and a goodness that calls us, compels us to work for life as we are able and that will be with us getting us through when it’s all beyond us. And it is a love and goodness that is waiting for us, trusting in us, to turn each other and to God to work out together where we have been and what needs to happen next as we commit ourselves to keep asking for and working for extravagant love and mercy for all, because that is where ultimately God is found. Amen.
St. Andrew Sermons