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Inescapable You

Date:7/8/18

Series: Ordinary TIme

Category: 2018 Sermons

Passage: Psalm 139:1-18

Speaker: Nicole Trotter

This morning begins a 4-week series on practicing our faith. Practice is a central piece of our mission statement here at St Luke. For those who may not know our mission statement is quite simply to practice love by following Jesus Christ. To practice our faith is to understand faith not as a fixed belief but as something that is constantly evolving and growing, just like this God created the world around us. What we do here in worship, what we do in our personal life and what we do in our public life over time, through practice, become so inextricably connected that we no longer see them as separate things but as one life, filled with greater purpose and meaning beyond ourselves.

Practice is a discipline, not unlike any other practice in our life, whether it’s golf, bacci ball, rowing, knitting, needlework, cooking, or even doing the dishes. The first spiritual practice I was introduced to almost 20 years ago now, was one of doing the dishes. I read about it in a book titled, Practicing the Presence of God- written by a monk by the name of Brother Lawrence.

After a dramatic religious conversion, young soldier Nicholas Herman decided to devote his life to following God and learning more about Christ. He joined a monastery and took the name Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection.

His greatest desire was to reciprocate the love he felt from God by serving God. When he joined the monastery he probably held grand illusions of what the monastic spiritual life would look like, in nature, in chapel, through chants, but what he found was that to be with God also meant finding God’s presence in the ordinary and the mundane, like the dishes which he was assigned to each day.

He said;
our sanctification does not depend as much on changing our activities as it does on doing them for God rather than for ourselves.

The most effective way Brother Lawrence had for communicating with God was to simply do his ordinary work. He did this obediently, out of a pure love of God, purifying it as much as was humanly possible. He believed it was a serious mistake to think of our prayer time as being different from any other. Our actions should unite us with God when we are involved in our daily activities, just as our prayers unite us with him in our quiet devotions” (24).

Spiritual disciplines are whatever practices lead us toward God and away from ourselves. That is what is remarkable about the title of Brother Lawrence’s book; you open it expecting to read all about prayer, solitude, fasting, etc. Instead, you read about doing the dishes. He gets us away from looking at our outward actions and points us to the heart. We don’t do spiritual things, we are spirit-filled or we are not. [1]

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Our world is turning. Literally but also metaphorically, all the time. And we see it around us, as people are thirsting for meaning in a world that appears increasingly violent, disconnected, and simply less kind. The spiritual, not religious crowd is rejecting organized religion because of what they perceive to be intolerant judgmental positions that they feel contribute to the problem rather than help. And I don't disagree depending on the particular church or area or in some cases whole denominations. But regardless, there is a cultural desire for more than social media, more than shopping sprees, more than work.  People are searching for wisdom, meaning, and connection. Religious people are vulnerable to wanting deeper connection as well, even Pastors long for more, which is why I’m here this morning advocating for a practice of it, not just a belief in it.

BBT whose book An Altar in the World has been changing lives, writes this in her introduction…

Many years ago now, a wise old priest invited me to come and speak at his church in Alabama. “What do you want me to talk about?” I asked him.

come tell us what is saving your life now.” he answered. It was as if he had swept his arm across a dusty table and brushed all the formal china to the ground. I did not have to try to say correct things that were true for everyone. I dd not have to teach theory and language that conformed to the historical teachings of the church. All I had to do was figure out what my life depended on. All I had to do was figure out how I stayed close to that reality as I could, and then find some way to talk about it that helped my listeners figure out those same things for themselves.

That’s all I’m trying to do these four Sundays.

She continues that the answer she gave all those years ago are not the same answer I would give today-that’s the beauty of the question, but the principle is the same. What is saving my live now is the conviction that there is no spiritual treasure to be found apart from the bodily experiences of human life on earth. My life depends on engaging the most ordinary physical activity with the most exquisite attention I can give them. My life depends on ignoring all touted distinctions between the secular and the sacred, the physical and the spiritual, the body and the soul. What is saving my life now is becoming more fully human, trusting that there is no way to God apart from real life in the real world.

Each chapter is a different kind of practice that offers no promises, but rather offers trust. Trust- that in doing something the body will enlighten the soul.

In a world of too much information about almost everything, bodily practices can prove great relief. To make bread or love, to dig in the earth, to feed an animal or cook for a stronger-these activities require no extensive commentary, no lucid theology. All they require is someone willing to bend, reach, chop, stir…..

My hope is that in reading these practices, you will recognize some of the altars in this world-ordinary looking places where human beings have met and may continue to meet up with the divine “More” that they sometimes call God….Wherever you are, you live in the world, which is just waiting for you to notice the holiness in it. So welcome to your own priesthood, practiced at the altar of your own life. The good news is that you have everything you need to begin.

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BBT offers 12 chapters, each one a different kind of practice. And each one includes things as ordinary as eating, singing, walking and bathing. Some have deep roots in religion, and her claim and my hope is that religions will return to purposeful practices as a way of saving religion that have run out of breath.

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 Testimony is often more valuable than teaching. So here’s what I’ve learned; scripture teaches us so much, but its also so easy to get caught up in our head which is why so much of what makes a meaningful practice begins with childlike curiosity. 

I suppose that's how my call into ministry really began. When Dave Slorpe asked me to start giving the children’s message each week, I told him I was unqualified because I didn’t know the bible. So I began, not by looking at scripture, but by looking at life each week, just paying attention. As a young mother, I had a sense of how to explain things to children, what language to use, but language came last, experience came first; an encounter, a transaction, connection- where God was clearly making God’s presence known to me. So I was, like Brother Lawrence centuries before me, practicing the presence of God by looking, asking and staying open to the possibility that God was speaking in every moment. Then by Friday, it would become clear. That moment at the ice cream store, the day Morgan got an ant farm, Charlotte learning to boogie board, the arrival of a new puppy who couldn’t stop barking. If Sunday came and I came up empty, I knew it was because I forgot to pay attention. The same is true now with the adult sermons. But there’s a difference. The child’s way of looking at the world is especially meaningful because it breaks down the complicated nature of theology to an experiential basic understanding of life. Jesus knew this when he said in order to enter the kingdom of heaven we must become more like a child. It takes us a lifetime to understand the world this way. It's the old story (told countlessly by Pastors including myself) of the famous theologian and astronomer who get together and ask one another this question; If there’s one sentence to convey to the world the entirety of your life's research in your field of expertise, what would it be...

The astronomer thinks about this for a minute and then responds-Twinkle Twinkle little Star how I wonder what you are… and the Theologian answers-Jesus loves me this I know for the bible tells me so...

So if you’re looking for “more” begin here...

Approach this altar in the world as a child. Enter into the kingdom by practicing curiosity and trust, fascination and openness. There is nothing in this life that separates the Holy from the mundane, the spiritual from the physical or the body from the soul. Our lives are miracles and to wake up each day as the psalmist did when he wrote the psalm you heard this morning is perhaps the best place to begin. With gratitude and reverence for a God who gifts us life itself….A God who as my mother says, desires nothing more than to be in a relationship with you…A God who knows every hair on your head, your thoughts, all of them, the good and the ugly and who loves you for both, a God you can't escape….because he's within you and all around you in everyone and everything you encounter….And our faith, our practice, is to return that love with our presence, our awareness, our ability to stand before each God-given moment, in the beauty and in the pain, and thank God for it, by being fully present to it.

The first chapter of this book is the practice of waking up to God. In the Jewish tradition, there is a prayer of gratitude from the moment you wake up. Thank you, God, for my ability to open my eyes, to see or to hear that which I’m waking to. For the feet that hit the ground, allowing me to stand, for the ability to walk to the bathroom, for the first pee and bowel movement, there is nothing we do that isn't in some way a gift.

God is the Inescapable God. There is nothing we do that is separate from God’s presence. So here’s your homework; this evening, or the next time you do the dishes, instead of dreading it as a chore, instead of seeing it as something to get through, embrace it as something you will do for God. And with soapy dishwater running down over your hands and wrists that still work, remember that water as living water, the water that runs over the plate you eat off of, is the same water that nurtures your body in thirst. It’s the same water that was draped over your head into baptism and a life lived in Christ. The water you touch and the water you drink, and the water you bathe in is the same water that unites us with God.  Everything we do, is for this inescapable God. Life itself is a gift and every moment is Holy Now.

[1] https://thegroundbeneathyourfeet.wordpress.com/2013/07/03/brother-lawrence-on-prayer-and-doing-the-dishes/