"When You Donâ€™t Know What to Do"
Lessons in Living When You Don’t Know What to Do A St. Andrew‟s Sermon Delivered by Dr. Jim Rigby April 5, 2009 Scripture Reading Matthew 26:36-46 (The Inclusive Bible) We‟re talking about confusion today – a particular type of confusion, where, you may even have a decision you need to make and you just can‟t get enough information to make the decision or you get so much information that it‟s absolutely confusing. That can happen personally and be overwhelming. You come to a place in life where you have a huge challenge. Sometimes you can work through it, but other times, confusion is where you‟re going to have to be for a while, and you realize that can be very frustrating and distressing. You may be feeling that way about the country. What do I do?...I see things are not the way they should be, but I can‟t figure out what an adequate response is. You may be feeling a call to change your job, your life…confusion is a really important place because we spend a lot of time there, and it‟s true, we all want to get beyond it, but because we do spend so much time in that state, it‟s important to understand it and not see it as a problem. If you‟re going to be a creative person, you‟re going to weave in and out of it your whole life. Once you stop allowing yourself to be confused, you may think you‟re sane but the rest of the world will think you‟re crazy. We have to go through confusion to grow because of what growth feels like from the inside. Now, I know that many of us were taught that Jesus never got confused. The way you‟re told the story is that the prophets predicted that he was going to come – he was going to come and do a death that would atone for our sin, and he knew, maybe before he came, but certainly throughout the story, that this was the path he was set for. But in the passage we are looking at today, it seems that he didn‟t get the memo because he sure doesn‟t seem to think that this is a sure track. He‟s praying passionately for the course to change. There‟s a part of him that sees what‟s written on the wall – he sees it coming, but there‟s another part of him that‟s saying “if there‟s any way out of this…please take this cup from me.” Now there‟s some irony in the story. The figures that are in the story are very ironic. There are the three guys that said “we will never let you down – end of story!” Peter said “the rest of these losers – you can‟t trust „em, but me, I‟m going to be there for you.” And the sons of Zebedee, they‟re called…that‟s Aramaic, maybe you‟re a little rusty in Aramaic…the sons of thunder. Now that‟s beautiful, wonderful, wonderful kind of poetic image of certain types of religious people – lot of bluster. “Can we sit on your right hand and your left hand when you become boss of the universe?” That‟s an earlier story, and Jesus said – do you remember – “are you willing to drink the cup I‟m going to drink?” They had no idea what he was talking about, but now they‟re going to understand. The cup he‟s talking about is the cup of suffering. Because, if you‟re really going to love the world the way that Jesus loved the world, there‟s some pain there to absorb. So Jesus, when he was confused, would pull back and go into prayer. Now I don‟t think it was anything as superficial as we normally think of as prayer. I think it would be more like meditation of a spiritual master. But think of the irony here, too. What the church teaches is that Jesus was God, so you have to ask the question in the Garden of Gethsemane, who is he praying to? He maybe didn‟t get the memo on that one either. “Help me, heavenly parent,” and it‟s almost like you hear “why hast thou forsaken me?” A human being. If Jesus were not a human being, we couldn‟t follow him even if we wanted to. If he was this amalgam of God and human, who could walk on water, who could pull taxes out of a fish, it would come in handy during this next couple of weeks for some of us. If you can‟t do that, how do you follow? It‟s much more profound than that. The prayer that‟s being talked about is deeper than the words, and it‟s a kind of settling down into that confusion and getting clarity. Now, as I said, there are two types of confusion, at least that I‟ve experienced in my life. One is when you have a decision to make and there‟s not enough information. That‟s not great, but that I can bear because you just do research. You go outside and you try to find out what that information is. But when you‟re confused because you have too much information – when your friends and family are yelling in your ear “go this way!” – it can come to the point where you don‟t even hear your own heart. And they are people who love you, people who care for you. But Jesus is at one of those places where the voices around him are swirling around and he has to get away to be by himself in order to hear that voice of his own heart. You are not selfish when you do that. When you take time to meditate or pray – whatever you want to call it - you‟re giving a gift to the world. You‟re tuning yourself, so that when you come back to the rest of us, there will be a depth there. When I had graduated from college, I‟d chosen the prestigious degree in philosophy, and the corporations were beating at my door (laughter). I‟m living at home after college, which is very self-esteem building (laughter). I felt great about myself. It was after work in a horrible job, and I‟m sitting in a library, licking my wounds, in my regression, and I‟m walking by this self-help section. Normally, I‟d be too good for that, but I‟m pretty desperate. So there‟s this book and it says “How to Solve the Problems of Your Life.” So I look to make sure that nobody‟s watching, and I pull it off the shelf, open it, and it has an index of all the kinds of problems people have. I thought, “God, I‟ve got all of those.” I‟m going to sit down and read this book or I‟m going to check it out. I‟m scanning the index and it says “when you‟re confused,” or “when you don‟t know what to do and you can‟t make up your mind,” or something like that. And I open it up and I read the first sentence. I put the book down and knew exactly what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. It was this. Here was the thing. It asked a question. It read like this: Usually, when people cannot make up their mind, they‟re listening to too many voices. What do you want? Now that was a question I had never asked. That was selfish. What do I want? And I instantly knew that I wanted to serve people, but I had never considered the ministry because I was so embarrassed at my view of what preachers were like. And if I became a minister, people would look at me and think “okay, that‟s what he is – he‟s judging us.” But I was going to let my prejudice and my worry about what other people thought about me prevent me from walking my path. Once I simply stepped into my own skin and asked that question, I never had a second thought. I‟ve never been sorry that I went that way – not profoundly or deeply for a full minute. One of the things that Jesus is doing is temporarily shutting off those voices. When we love other people, a lot of times we don‟t realize we have to push them away to figure out what our gift is to give them. Sometimes, when we‟re in a relationship, we‟re so afraid of losing the other person‟s approval that we don‟t step back and figure out what is the gift that I really have to give this person. And it‟s like we‟re looking in a mirror and there‟s no real relationship there. So, detaching what you think other people are thinking of you. 2 I ran across a wonderful quote from Oscar Wilde. He said, “we would be less concerned with what other people think of us if we remembered how seldom they really do.” People aren‟t sitting at home thinking about you. They‟re sitting at home thinking about themselves…just like you are. I guess I should say we are. The prayer that Jesus is doing is a settling prayer. In our puppet script today, I actually stole that idea of the muddy water from Thich Nhat Hanh, or some spiritual teacher on meditation. The mind can be like water and as long as it‟s turbulent, it holds sediments in it. But spending time observing yourself, those sediments settle, and there‟s a clarity that comes into your life. Sometimes the churning of everyday consciousness keeps us from getting that kind of clarity. I think that‟s the kind of prayer that Jesus prayed. At least, that‟s part of it, I think. In Zen they say the sitting is the meditation. In other words, if you will take the time to get in position (in Zen), even if your mind is racing around, you‟re still meditating. You‟re still doing the work, because the point is to transform…to settle…to find that depth and to try to live out of that depth. So, even if you‟re aware of your unawareness, that‟s meditation, that‟s prayer. When we read Eastern thought, it‟s said that way. In our story, it‟s kind of woven into the drama. Jesus is going into this tragedy, and he gets the three people that said they would be there for him, and he says all I‟m asking is that you stay awake for one hour. Now, it‟s a teaching story, right? So you kind of know where it‟s going to go…I‟m going to go over here, and I‟m going to pray on behalf of the whole world, because they‟re about to nail my hands to a board, and all I‟m asking you to do is stay awake…just stay awake while I go over here to pray…and guess what happens: of course, they fall asleep. Now, one of the gospels says they fell asleep out of grief. Sometimes we stop being aware because it hurts too bad. We look at the world and it hurts too bad. We look at our family and it hurts too bad. We look at our life and it hurts too bad, and what prayer reminds us is, that that awareness changes things. It‟s like when a baby has jaundice and they put the little light on it, it may not seem like it‟s doing anything but it is. In meditation, they say that your awareness changes, transforms, it cooks it – that you become a catalyst for changing the world. I once had a counseling session – there have been many counseling sessions where I realize that I‟m the idiot and the other person is the sage – this was a seventeen year-old young woman, years ago. She had a horrible situation living at home, she wanted to find a career, wanted to find a relationship, none of that was working for her. It was just a big scramble for her and she said a wonderful line that I‟ve never forgotten. She said, “I have to believe that this confusion is leading me somewhere.” And I thought “that‟s what we‟re talking about.” Have you ever had a projector and you couldn‟t get it focused? All the information is there but it‟s out of focus. Our confusion is like that, and if we treat our confusion as something bad, or a failure, or an inadequacy, then we‟re preventing the relaxation into the picture, into the focus that‟s being talked about here. So, Jesus gets away, he settles in, he goes deep, he becomes still and then he moves out of that…time‟s up, let‟s go! I still don‟t know what to do, I don‟t know what this means, but time is up, time to move. Scripture says that God‟s word is like a lantern to our feet, which sounds really beautiful until you think about it. Have you ever been walking on a really dark night with a lantern? You can‟t see very far…enough for the next step. That‟s the kind of guidance that real religion gives you, because things are changing. If you were given a map of the whole journey like you think you want, then by the time you got there it would have changed on you. See, it‟s your bad luck you were born in an evolving universe. The 3 stagnant universe is over there. So the truth we need is not a formula about the universe, but the principles by which the universe changes…not a static description of truth, but the principles of how things change and move. Birds migrate over huge tracts of land. I‟m pretty sure they don‟t have a map where they get to see the whole terrain. So what do you think it‟s like for them to steer with little bitty clusters of information, never the whole picture, only enough for the next day? They say that in a planetarium sometimes, they‟ll put the birds in a roost and it will change where the stars are and the birds will adjust to it, so the next day, when they take off, they‟re going toward some clue they‟re getting. Each species has different guiding systems. What Jesus said is you have within you a tracking system to take you where you need to go. But sometimes you have to get really still to remember it and to experience it. Sometimes, just facing the direction that your intuition says is all you can do. If that turns out to be a mistake, you‟ve learned something. But if you stay in place until you get the whole picture, guess what‟s going to happen? You‟ll be sitting in that chair the rest of your life. So you pull back, in love, from what other people think of you, you get very still, and then you move out of that. It‟s a miracle, I think, that the gift of scripture gives us a Jesus who is so confused that he cried, that he threw himself on the ground, that the sweat was so great, it said they were like drops of blood. Now that’s somebody who understands my confusion. He may not be able to walk on water, but I‟m not going there anyway. We live in a changing world. We don‟t need a static truth. We live in bodies that are changing. So, the lesson from today is first of all to let the turbulent waters within us settle, and trust that there will be clarity that we will see what we need to see when that settling is taking place. And then, move out of that, trusting that your confusion is leading you somewhere. Now the most important part: your moment of silence to think about what this means in your life. Transcribed and edited by a member of the St. Andrew's Transcription Project. 4 St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church welcomes and affirms all people without regard to race, nationality, age, gender, gender identity, marital status, sexual orientation, physical or mental ability, economic or educational class. We are affiliated with the PC (USA). (www.pcusa.org) We are a More Light congregation. (www.mlp.org) We are an affiliate of The Center for Progressive Christianity. (www.tcpc.org) By calling ourselves progressive, we mean that we are Christians who… Have found an approach to God through the life and teachings of Jesus, Recognize the faithfulness of other people who have other names for the way to God‟s realm, and acknowledge that their ways are true for them, as our ways are true for us, Understand the sharing of bread and wine in Jesus‟ name to be a representation of an ancient vision of God‟s feast for all peoples, Invite all people to participate in our community and worship life without insisting that they become like us in order to be acceptable, including, but not limited to: believers and agnostics, conventional Christians and questioning skeptics women and men, those of all sexual orientations and gender identities, those of all races and cultures, those of all classes and abilities, those who hope for a better world and those who have lost hope; Know that the way we behave toward one another and toward other people is the fullest expression of what we believe, Find more grace in the search for understanding than we do in dogmatic certainty – more value in questioning than in absolutes, Form ourselves into communities dedicated to equipping one another for the work we feel called to do: striving for peace and justice among all people, protecting and restoring the integrity of all God‟s creation, and bringing hope to those Jesus called the least of his sisters and brothers, Recognize that being followers of Jesus is costly, and entails love, conscientious resistance to evil, and renunciation of privilege. 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