Between You and Everything
The World Has Need of You By Ellen Bass and The Ninth Elegy from Ranier Marie Rilke and John 15:1-8
May 2, 2021
Good morning and thank you again for worshiping with us today, on what it is in our tradition the fifth Sunday of Easter and in other places, Orthodox Easter, however you are connecting. It has truly felt like spring this week, with the bright yellow faces of daffodils peering out and purple hyacinth coming forth, yay.
As we come to this time in this worship service, I invite you to let yourself arrive in not just body, but in mind and spirit. I invite you to notice your heartbeat, to breathe in peace and breathe out stress. And as you are so moved, I invite you to join me in a spirit of prayer and centering from Psalm 19. God, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts, be acceptable in your sight, O God our rock and our redeemer. Amen.
“What if you felt the invisible tug between you and everything?” These words from the poet Ellen Bass ask us to pause. And to pay attention to the world right now, to this moment, that we might notice something so precious, but invisible like gravity, to make a point of remembering the forces that hold us together and literally keep us on the ground. What if you felt the invisible tug? What if we made it our practice to listen to as the poet Rilke says, “this fleeting world, which in some strange way keeps calling to us?”
I am not sure I agree with Rilke that everything here needs us, in fact the Earth might have a case for something really different, but I wonder if part of what these poets are getting at, is that when we pay attention to even invisible things, when we tune into the Universe, we notice things like the miracle of being alive, the sound of the creek and the birdsongs, the shape of the clouds, the sight of the flatirons, when we make it our practice to pay attention to the invisible tugs between us and everything, in my experience, there is a different quality to life, we notice and feel differently. Rilke writes of living not on the past or the future but on what he calls, a “Superabundant being” that “wells up in the heart.” There is a welling up, a spilling over of joy. And tuning in, paying attention, noticing fully, perhaps it builds our capacity to attend to deeper things, to all that is beyond the surface, beyond our immediate perception.
And here is the other thing, I think tuning in to the ways the world calls us, to what tugs at us, to the energy or the Spirit of things, whatever name we have for it, allows us to hear how we can be of use, which give us meaning and puts our individual gifts to work adding beauty and goodness and healing and nourishment to the whole.
When you stop and let yourself hear, what are your invisible tugs? What do you sense is between you and everything? Where does the world in some strange way keep calling you?
Recently, I have seen a variety of headlines with titles like: Transformation: How the Pandemic birthed an awakening for many Americans and You Can Be A New You After the Pandemic. Freelance journalist and author Nneka Okona wrote that, “The COVID-19 pandemic appears to have spurred a collective reckoning with our values, lifestyles and goals—a national existential crisis of sorts.”
But you might not be surprised to know that I don’t see this as bad. This pause is giving us a chance to listen beyond the surface.
Could it be that with all of that time in lockdown without life as we knew it, that many of us were allowed to feel, to sense, to take in, to absorb all of the invisible tugs in our lives?
I read of a woman named Mary in Pennsylvania who was one of many who did a complete turnaround of her life over the course of the pandemic. She thought her sister was going to die and they had a falling out and weren’t on speaking terms, but when things got dire, she drove across the country to be with her in New Mexico and realized this was the kind of person she wanted to be, a person who in her words “despite all challenges will drive across the country in a freaking pandemic to be with the people she loves the most.” It was a moment of clarity, but it asked her to make big shifts in her life. She said, “I don’t think I can go back to a before. I don’t think I fit that life anymore.” Her sister didn’t die and Mary moved closer to family. Things are slower now she says and she hears the mourning doves. And I bet she has a welling up in her heart.
When you stop and let yourself hear, what are your invisible tugs? What do you sense? Where does the world in some strange way keep calling you?
One of the gifts of sharing life together as part of a community of faith and kindness is that we get to support each other in this task. Because sometimes others notice things about us before we do. Have you noticed that? Sometimes it takes a couple of people saying, “Wow you are really good at that, have you considered…?” Or “You really light up, when you talk about that or when you do that, have you noticed this?” In my experience, often it is others we trust, who can point out the invisible tugs we might be missing.
And also, it seems we can tell that we are paying attention to what is between us and everything, when there is a different and deeper quality to our lives, when we let ourselves notice and feel a welling up there is a spilling over.
And here is the other way we can tell that we are tuning in to the ways the world calls us, to what tugs at us, it is when our individual gifts are adding beauty, goodness, healing and nourishment to the whole. Or in the biblical way of saying it, it is when our lives individual and collectively are bearing fruit.
To be clear, I don’t mean this in the Prosperity Gospel sense, where I am putting out for you a plan to you to have financial gain, but I do think it might be about getting rich. Rather, what I mean is that I wonder if Jesus is saying that when we abide in God, in the Mystery, when we are willing to remain rooted in Love, when we tune in and listen to the vine, to the tugs and to one another, when we hang on through all seasons and join others doing the same, we are like a vineyard bursting with juicy, glorious grapes, that feed and quench.
“Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me..”
This part of the Gospel of John is a piece of the bigger section of what you might remember is called the Farewell Discourse. Final lines. Last words. So we know this chapter is important. Repetition means tune in. And here, we read the word abide 8 times. Abide. Abide. Abide. Abide. Abide. Abide. Abide. Abide. Which means we must not ignore it. In Greek it is the word, menein, which is to remain.
And I wonder if that word was included so many times to highlight another truth: good fruit in our lives comes with pausing and paying attention, depth and joy comes with remaining and staying, hanging on when it’s hard. It takes remaining rooted in what we know, even when it feels like we are waiting. It takes hanging on and hanging in when the beauty is hard to see and the songs are hard to hear. Good fruit comes when we understand our branches need to be pruned for the sake of a healthy harvest.
Sarah Henrich contends that, “Bearing fruit does not create disciples, bearing fruit reveals disciples.”
Between you and the Everlasting Everything is all of us, a growing vineyard bursting with new juicy, glorious grapes, that will feed and quench. And I think we are all ready for more fruit. And the good things that are happening in our church and in our community are a result of individuals tuning in and turning out, putting their gifts in service of the whole. So whether it is changing everything to be near those you love, planting gardens, putting energy into taking guns out of rotation, investing in honest and hard conversations, taking risks to dismantle racism, growing more food and growing in love together, and starting all over when we find we need to pay attention to the invisible tugs.
We all need your bold flavor, whatever it is. It’s not about doing more. It’s listening more deeply.
So when you stop, when we pause, and stay, and let yourself hear, what are your invisible tugs? What do you sense is between you and everything? Where does the world in some strange way keep calling you?
When we abide that, in God, in the Mystery, when we are willing to remain rooted in Love, when we tune in and listen to the tugs and to one another, when we Abide, when we are willing to hang in, to hang together, to remain, through all seasons, through pruning and bleak stages, and joining one another in doing the same, we will be like a vineyard bursting with juicy, glorious grapes, that feed and quench. And as I have seen some of you step up in this time and rise and as I have watched many people rethink their lives, it makes me wonder if the stakes might be higher than you think? What if the world really does have need of you, in particular, of you tuned in and turned outward? It is a hard time to be human, but beloved of God, you are here just this once. And what if the world is simply incomplete, what if we are all less joyful, less whole, without you responding to this fleeting world which in some strange ways is calling you. Beloved of God, what if the world really does have need of you? Beloved of God, what if the world really does have need of you? May it be so. Amen.