September 2, 2018: You Belong Here by Rev. Beth Hayward (Ephesians 3: 14-21)

Imposter

Do you ever feel like an imposter? Like a Christian imposter? You know, because you don’t pray enough or at all? Or when you do pray you’re pretty convinced it will make utterly no difference? Or maybe you wonder if the person sitting next to you has an unwavering belief in God when you can’t even bring yourself to use that word? Maybe you think after coming to church all this time you ought to be further along, or have the answers, or at least be able to quote a bible verse when the need arises? Do you ever say to yourself: I should know who God is by now? I should know who I am by now? I should have figured this out by now? Why in the world do the same things keep tripping me up? Or maybe this whole church thing is new to you and you don’t even know when to stand or when to sit, when to sing and whether to clap? Sometimes we all feel like imposters.

Back to school time of year gets me thinking about all the ways we compare ourselves to others, measure our successes against some false universal norm. As much as I think about fresh notebooks and new teachers, I can’t help but think of all those times in school you get labelled an imposter, or when you try to be your true self you get shot down and called out for being different. All those times you find yourself confined by the box you’ve been put it. School is one of the first places we learn to look around us and wonder: why everyone else seems to fit in. Who hasn’t felt like the imposter, a fraud or just the silent one in the background trying to not be found out?

 Love

Paul cuts through all this and says, actually, you do belong. Listen to what Paul says. But first, remember who Paul was, an ardent persecutor of the early Christians, until he met the risen Christ on the road to Damascus. Blind for three days, and when he regains sight his life is turned completely around. He becomes the most devout Christian ever. Listen to these words from Paul to one of the very first group of Christians.

I pray that you may be strengthened in your inner being

I pray that Christ may dwell in your hearts, that you may be rooted and grounded in love.

I pray that you will know the breadth, length, height and depth of the love of Christ.

There is a power at work within you able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine …..

Imagine that this prayer is for you. I pray that you might let go of all those stories your ego tells you about you who are and trust that you are love, born of love, grounded in love, one with love, a true reflection of the divine. Imagine? There is so very much in our life that can feel like struggle and Paul just cuts through it all and calls us back to a love that transcends.

I don’t want to get all evangelical on you but you kind of can’t help it with Paul, he wants everyone he meets to know how the love of Christ can completely change your life, but not just your life, your life in community, how you show up in life. He wants us to know how the oneness he experienced with the risen Christ can open your life up in ways you can’t even imagine.

It’s interesting to note that before he gets to this beautiful prayer, before he finds his way to the heart of the matter, the message that he hopes will persuade his readers to give up the facades and land their lives in holy love, before that he spends the first three quarters of his letter talking about a whole lot of  stuff that looks petty next to this big message of love. It sounds like he’s trying to sort out church doctrine, or justify what people should think. Mostly he spends the first bit of the letter trying to reassure the Gentile church in Ephesus that there’s room for them in the household of God, they don’t have to be Jewish to follow Jesus. It is, in many ways like the conversations we have had around here over the past year about who is welcome in this church. We’ve worked hard to say with a deep sense of understanding and honesty, all are welcome here, particularly the LGBTQ2 community who have been told in many other places that they don’t belong.

Before Paul can get to the real heart of his message he needs to address all the stuff that consumes our minds and hearts. I think he knows, that for so many reasons, we find it near impossible to trust this simple, profound, eternal story of love, until we’ve had all the time we need to work through the lies we tell and the games we play. Or to put it more gently, it takes us a while to trust enough to be vulnerable. He can’t get to his message about the depth and breadth of Christ’s love, that resides in our hearts, until he speaks to the ways we humans act out of our egos to push people out and label them imposters. Paul wants people to not just hear but to know and trust the truth that there is room for all in the heart of Love and not one of the excuses we can come up with can actually keep any of us from our true destiny as children of God.

The paradox about this struggle toward belonging is that you already belong, that’s the whole point of the gospel; you already are enough by your very existence. Like pop culture psychologist Brene Brown says “Stop walking through the world looking for evidence that you’re not enough.”[1] Yet as much as you belong in a cosmic and a Christ sort of way, it’s us humans who are trying to reflect to one another what that belonging looks like and we royally mess that up time and again. This is the tension between what Father Richard Rohr calls the small self and the true self[2]: the ego and our very essence.

Following Jesus seems again and again to have at its core this paradox. On the one hand it is a continual commitment, choosing, to go deep, to practice letting go of our small self, letting go of all the things we think define us, (and others), and going deeper and deeper into our core, where we remember that we are in fact beloved, we are love, so that we might choose more often to live out of that place of love, fully present to this moment and able to see that core of love in everyone else.

Community

There are three things that we need to take away from this scripture. The first, as I have just explored, is this idea that our work in Christ, being a Christian is about knowing the breadth and depth of the love within, the love that is eternal, that is not defined or impacted by the external stuff that tells us we don’t belong. The second thing that can’t be ignored is the communal aspect of this work and the third is about prayer.

Community.  This letter was not written to an individual but to a whole community of followers. Every time you read the word “you” in this scripture it is plural. Part of following Jesus involves commitment to others who are trying to do the same. We can’t fully deepen into our true selves in isolation; it actually requires community. This is why we don’t baptize babies in private ceremonies. This is why we spend so much of our time and energy putting this hour together for Sunday morning, to gather the community together. Community is the place we practice learning how to live differently, how to live rooted in our true selves, rooted in love.

Jean Vanier, founder the L’arche community, a place where those with disabilities live with those who help, talks about community as being the place of forgiveness. In his context it is about how on a daily basis people live together when they wound one another, when they clash, let each other town. It translates into every community. He says there are three broad phases of community. In the first everything is perfect, we have found our home, our place of belonging and all is right with the world. After this comes the let down where all you can see are the faults of those around, everyone is a hypocrite. Vanier says if we stick around we can eventually find our way through to the third phase of community, that of realism and true commitment, where you see others for who they are, where you accept. Vanier says that

if we don’t come into community knowing that we are there to “discover the mystery of forgiveness, we’ll be disappointed.”[3] Of course the starting place with forgiveness and acceptance of others is about looking in, what are my blocks, my insecurities, jealousies, prejudices?

Vanier urges:

We shouldn’t seek the ideal community. It is a question of loving those whom God has set beside us today. They are signs from God. We might have chosen different people, people who were more cheerful or intelligent. But these are the ones God has given us, the ones [God] has chosen for us. It is with them that we are called to create unity and live in covenant.[4]

So true, we would have chosen different people. I don’t mean to make you uncomfortable but it is very possible that some of you are sitting beside a person you would never have chosen to journey with, given the choice. Heck you may well have chosen a different minister, but here we are, in it together! Being Christian always includes community.

 Prayer

The final take away from this short scripture passage, one you really should go home and read again, the final take away, at least for today is about prayer. Paul doesn’t  tell us explicitly how to touch that love of Christ, how to experience and trust its breadth and depth. But in a sense he does tell us how, he shows us how. He prays. His form reveals the function. There are no shortcuts to being rooted and grounded in love, no shortcuts to knowing the depth, breadth, height and length of the love of Christ. There are no shortcuts to knowing, really knowing, that there is a power at work within you able to accomplish abundantly far more than  we can ask or imagine. We touch these truths through prayer and we practice living them in community.

The thing about prayer is that there has never been just one way to do it. No one can call you an imposter when it comes to prayer. If you pray, it will be good enough. If you pray in silence, or with words, as meditation, or in movement, it counts. You just need to do it! You don’t even need to trust it, at least not in the beginning. It’s about listening with the heart, bringing your mind into your heart. “There we wait and listen, not to the sounds of the outer world, but to the silence that is within our self.”[5] Sometimes it’s been said that in fact the silence becomes the prayer.

I’m going to stop here but before I do, I want you to pray with me, to sit in the silence for a few minutes, to listen for the breadth and depth, length and height of the love of Christ that you might be strengthened in your being for whatever it is this day holds for you.

Before we hold the silence, bringing our minds to our hearts, listening not so much for what we hear our there but what is spoken in here, (placing hand on heart), let me acknowledge that I know you may have tried silence before and it didn’t work or you may have been coming to church for eighty years and you don’t need to start with this new age meditation stuff now or you may be so practiced at holding the silence that you know three or four minutes is not enough. Let me acknowledge that these may not be the people you would ever choose to hold silence with, but here we are! Remember, as Jean Vanier has said that “solitude and community belong together; each requires the other as do the center and circumference of a circle. Solitude without community leads us to loneliness and despair, but community without solitude hurls us into a void of words and feelings.”[6]

Let us pray… (hold silence for several minutes)

 Amen

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gm9JrYhF-Bk

[2] Read more here: https://cac.org/your-true-self-2016-12-15/

[3] https://imagodeicommunity.ca/on-spiritual-issues/on-community-by-jean-vanier/

[4] ibid

[5] https://www.huffingtonpost.com/llewellyn-vaughanlee/mystical-prayer-opening-a-door-to-silence-and-love_b_1533374.html

[6] https://imagodeicommunity.ca/on-spiritual-issues/on-community-by-jean-vanier/