Under Wide Horizons
A while ago I had this idea for a sermon series. Now mind you, series planning isn't usually a part of my job description as a musician. But for the last several months - almost a year now I suppose - I've been obsessed with the idea of story. In particular, the idea that we are living stories. And I've been thinking about what makes a story worth telling and the elements of a great one. Yep, I sit around and think about this kind of stuff. Jealous?
One day I was having coffee with my friend Jeremy and we were talking about our church, thrive United Methodist. Our conversations usually jump all over the place. I imagine anyone listening would have a hard time keeping track of just what exactly we are talking about. I usually have a notebook open in front of me and I keep little notes so that I can remember to say certain things. As we were talking, I wrote down the question: if community is the cure, what is the disease?
I suppose the first and most obvious answer is loneliness, right? Perhaps. In my experience, however, there is often a question behind the question. It's kind of like the movie Inception, there are a lots of levels. So if on the first level we are lonely, the second level begs the question: why? As it turns out, that question was a lot more difficult to answer than I had originally anticipated. So I put it in the back of my head and every now and then I would sit in front of a blank notebook page and think about why we are lonely. I would think it about it for a long time and end up with a blank page at the end.
And then I had this idea for a sermon series. It's called "Come and Be Known: A Sermon Series for People Who Need People." Which I know sounds catchy and clever and is, well, marketable. Sometimes that can sound like a four letter word in churches, but it's the truth. I sent out a few texts to some friends who also like thinking about these types of questions and I asked them, "What do you think it means for someone to truly know you?" Low and behold, my friend Jamie - who coordinates another worship service here in town - was preparing a sermon series with a shockingly similar theme. She and I chatted a bit about it and then I asked the big question:
What have both of us been picking up on that makes us think: our communities need to hear this? In an insanely necessary way. (Jamie added that last part.)
A few months back Jamie and I were having a meeting about something entirely different than this. And in the course of the meeting I told her that I thought our job as preachers was to figure out where and how people are hurting, and then figure out what the Church has to say about it. Sometimes the ways people are hurting is very obvious. In fact, sometimes it's just told to us as leaders. But other times - more often, I would argue - it's much more stuble. It's picked up on in conversations and noticed in posts on social media. It can be buried so deep that people haven't even found language for it because they are barely aware of its existence at all.
Somehow, Jamie and I had both picked up on the same vibe. Our communities, the people weknow and care about, they were having an identity crisis. Or perhaps it is better said: they have a strong desire to be known. And not in a trivial, social media, perfect-Instagram post sort of way. I mean authentically known. Whether they can articulate it or not, everyone needs a space wherein s/he can drop the act and just be who they really are. The Church is supposed to be that place. Emphasis on "supposed to".
If we have this deep need to be authentically known - and loved - as the people we really are, what stops us from doing it? The answer, I think, is fear.
To be authentically known is be to vulnerable.
And it's no secret that we are all afraid to be vulnerable. It breaks my heart to tell you that I think people are afraid of being vulnerable because somewhere buried inside them they are afraid that they aren't worthy of being loved. If that's true, it is a great tragedy of our time.
We isolate. How heartbreaking.
There are so many ways we can isolate. I imagine that when you read that sentence, your first thought was something akin to a person living alone in the woods, cut off from society. (Actually, some days that doesn't sound so bad...) But there are rooms full of people who are isolating themselves. We do it all the time, everyday. We do it any time we are not honest with other people and ourselves about who we are. Things like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, they only make this isolation easier. While they fly the flag of "connecting people" they really enable us to be whoever we want to be instead of the people who actually are.
Have you ever been out in public and seen a couple take three or four selfies in a row? Each time with a slight adjustment to the camera or to their pose? All so they can post that "perfect" selfie for the world to see?
And we do it because question if we are:
To be loved...
And those questions, this fear that we all have, it keeps from being authentically known. We fear letting ourselves be vulnerable enough for real relationship and real community because we think ultimately we will just find out what we knew to be true all along: I'm not good enough.
Doesn't that stir something deep in your soul?
The road to the truth about our significance, the road being authentically known, it starts under a wide horizon. A horizon that, as Abraham Joshua Hescel tells us, spans beyond you and me and our families and these cities and this era to encompass all that was, and is, and is to come. A vast expanse, as big as time and existence itself.
Under a wide horizon, it is easy to get lost. After all, in the face of the entirety of time and creation, how could I possibly matter?
That's the truly amazing thing about God though, my friends. Under a wide horizon, you are significant. Because you were created to be that way.
Did you know that a single cell of your heart conducts electricity? If you were able to remove just one cell of cardiac tissue and place it on the counter in front of you, it would fire. Your brain does not tell it to do this. It just does it. On its own. Over and over and over again. It's what keeps you alive. It was designed specifically for this purpose.
What does a single cardiac cell matter?
It joins with other cells.
They make a heart.
The heart powers a body.
That body moves its hands and feet and raises its voice.
Those hands carry protest signs, build houses, feed the hungry, and heal the sick and wounded. Those feet go to far away lands to fight oppression and tyranny. That voice can carry a message of hope to the hopeless.
And many hands, feet, and voices together can change the world.
All because of a single cardiac cell that was designed for a single purpose.
I love what Hescel says, "...to sense in small things the beginning of infinite significance..."
It is truly staggering to step back and view a wide horizon. But it is even more staggering to zoom in on a single life, realizing that in the midst of all things in the universe and time, that life was designed on purpose, for a purpose. And that this body, this place, this life would not be the same without you.
I mentioned earlier that my friend Jamie and I were asking ourselves what we perceived in our communities that made this message so necessary. And - as writing often does - this piece has revealed the answer to me.
We are tired of putting up the walls and taking 10 selfies just to get the perfect one. We are tired of faking the smile when we don't feel like smiling. We are tired of hiding who we truly are in the name of who we think people want us to be.
And we are desperate - each and every one of us - to be authentically known.
Do you know what I'm talking about? Do you feel that? The stirring in your soul?
If you do, I have such good news for you: you are already authentically known by the One who made you.
Michelangelo was once asked how you go about making a tremendous piece of artwork like his Statue of David. He replied quite simply, "It is easy. You just chip away all the parts that don't look like David." You see, to Michelangelo, David was in there all along. He saw David in that block of marble long before any of us ever did. He just removed the parts that hid what the marble was always meant to be.
Infinite significance under a wide horizon isn't about discovering something new, but rather re-discovering what we have forgotten.
It's about chipping away at all the stuff that just isn't you.
The true, significant you has been in there all along.
And it's more easily seen under a wide horizon.