Opinions expressed here are my own and do not represent the views of the congregation I joyfully serve. But my congregation loves me!

Sunday, August 05, 2012

Finding Yourself and Loving What You Find--A Sermon

Finding Yourself and Loving What You Find
John Shuck

First Presbyterian Church
Elizabethton, Tennessee

August 5, 2012

You are the light of the world.
You are the salt of the earth.
--Jesus

The Lord lives in the heart of every creature.
He turns them around and round upon the wheel of his Maya.
Take refuge utterly in him.
By his grace you will find supreme peace,
and the state which is beyond all change.
--Krishna
Bhagavad Gita 18:61-62

I have often said that if Jesus, Krishna, Buddha, and other true
Emissaries of God came together, they would not quarrel,
but would drink from the same one cup of God-communion.
--Paramahansa Yogananda

It has been six weeks since I preached my last sermon. This is the longest I have been out of the pulpit since before we moved here seven years ago. My last sermon here on June 24th seems like and really is from a different world, a different life.

We have felt the embrace of love and compassion from this congregation. From the first day that we received our tragic news, you all have been there for us and continue to be here for us. Do know that Bev, Katy, and I are very, very grateful to all of you for your love and support. We have been held by the larger community and by the friends we know from places we have lived previously. Bev and Katy have been embraced from friends at their workplaces. Complete strangers pray for us.

Katy has been back to her work for several weeks now. Bev went back to school this past week and greets students this coming week. Thanks to Don Steele for leading Sunday services these previous two weeks, I have been able to ease into a rhythm of sorts at church and in worship.

Today I am honored and privileged to be in the pulpit and to administer the sacrament of communion with you, my friends. This is a sacred space and a sacred time.

I have no idea what I am doing. I guess that is not unusual.

I don’t know what I am supposed to do or how to do it. I wrote in the White Spire that I hope to follow a path between two extremes. On one hand to avoid pretending that I can fulfill my calling as a minister as if my personal loss has no bearing on it, and on the other hand to avoid misusing the pulpit as my own group therapy. That seems to make sense, but I don’t know. I really don’t have a lot of rules about this. We’ll see what happens.

I do write some posts on my blog. That is a personal medium that kind of works for me. Feel free to read it, but I ask you not to read too much into it. It is one way I process a lot of things. Since Zach’s death, I use it to address aspects of grief that I feel comfortable writing about publicly.

That isn’t the only way. I won’t speak for Bev and Katy, but do know that we are doing what we need to do and getting the support we need socially and professionally. I know that you wonder what you can do for us and I am sure that you would like to ease our pain and that you probably feel helpless to do so. That’s real. I don’t know what to do to ease my pain and I feel helpless too. So we are in that same boat. But we are floating.

I also know that our grief can trigger the grief of others. Our experience has and will bring up emotions of loss that many have experienced. Perhaps this is true for you. I hope that you can be real with that. One of the things you might do as an individual is to pay attention to your own feelings of loss. I hope you can find a way to share that. Feel free to talk to me about that. I would like that.

One of the many things that was done in these past few weeks that I appreciated was the adult forum on grief that I heard Carol Ann McElwee led. It might be a good idea to have more of those kinds of forums.

Harriet Baker put a book in my mailbox courtesy of the Morris-Baker Funeral Home that has been really helpful. I would recommend this book to anyone, How To Go On Living When Someone You Love Dies. It is good solid truth about grief and loss. The author is psychologist Dr. Therese Rando. It validated so much of what I was feeling.

Maybe one of the things we can do as a congregation is to respond to our personal loss by becoming even more aware of the losses we all suffer and how we grieve them in unique ways. I know I would feel good to know that something helpful and healing could come out of this.

The sermon theme for this summer is happiness. I decided to stick with it. If happiness is real it is going to have to be tough and persistent. It has to be as the hymn says,  
“O joy that seekest me through pain.”

One aspect of joy is the awareness that we have something of divinity about us. We have a sacred dimension, perhaps a vertical dimension that transcends, permeates, and embraces all of our being.

I think this is what Jesus discovered when he said,
“You are the light of the world.”
“You are the salt of the earth.”

Or as Krishna said,
“The Lord lives in the heart of every creature.”

We are more than the sum of our body parts.
This is true whether we feel it or not.
Every life is a gift.
This is true whether that person knows it or not.
No matter what, Love will not let us go.

For the past month I have felt a physical burning in my chest, as if my heart has been emptied. It is hollow.  It is a hollow pain.

What does that mean to be hollow in the heart? 

This week I chose for one of our readings the poem from Hafiz about stealing the flute from Krishna. As I was writing this sermon I was curious about the significance of Krishna’s flute. I am sure that there are many, many meanings, but one I found that I particularly liked is this. It speaks to me of the meaning and possibility of this emptiness in my heart:
If you get rid of your ego and become like a hollow reed flute, then the Lord will come to you, pick you up, put his lips and breathe through you and out of the hollowness of your heart, the captivating melody will emerge for all creations to enjoy.

Amen.
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