The Movement of Love
Psalm 29, Isaiah 6:1-8 and Excerpts from No Man Is an Island by Thomas Merton
Sunday May 30th, 2021
Good morning and thank you again for worshiping with us today, on this Memorial Day weekend and what it is in our tradition Trinity Sunday.
As we arrive let us take a moment to pause and to breathe and to be ready to take in whatever message the Universe has for each of us today. 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.
In this time of ongoing terror, in this moment of despair, when tears are everywhere, it is reasonable to wonder what the next tragic incident will be. And I find myself increasingly impatient with people who claim that something terrible is part of God’s will.
As of Wednesday, just five months into 2021, we have experienced 232 mass shootings in the United States of America. San Jose, the town where our family has so many friends and memories and history, our former home, is now another community shattered by gun violence. A disgruntled transportation employee killed seven (8) people and then himself. 232. This is not the will of God.
Often, God’s will is used as a weapon. I recently came across some of the writings of a Southern Baptist named Jacob Gartenhaus who served as a missionary to Jews working for the Home Mission Board from 1921 to 1948. He was born in Austria and was the son of a Jewish rabbi. He later became an evangelist and the founder of the International Board of Jewish Missions. Jacob graduated from Moody Bible College and the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. And at the time he claimed that removing Palestinians from their land was part of the process that would lead to the Second Coming of Christ and he argued “to oppose it is to oppose God’s plan.” Even now some believe this still.
So what is the will of God? And what does it mean to say that God has a plan for us or for something that is unfolding in the world? I love the scripture that we shared with our graduate Aubrey a few weeks ago because I think at a basic level it speaks to what God’s plan is for all of creation. It comes from the prophet Jeremiah, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
I believe that whatever God is, it is not about harming, but about giving us and gifting us with hope and faith that we can share in a future. God can be a presence, a palpable and powerful presence, one who holds plans and possibilities for what could be, without being a puppet master or a Santa with a list having decided long ago who wins… and who doesn’t?
This matters more than I had previously imagined because our concept of the Divine, of the Universe, of God’s will, shapes how we think about a lot of things, which shapes what we do. It shapes what becomes in us and around us, either limiting us or lavishly opening new pathways before us. If we believe that the pain that comes to us is part of how God uses power, this impacts how we see things and how we respond and how we endure or not. It affects how we see ourselves and how others relate to us.
I wonder if we can hold together the idea that whatever name we have for God, It is a force of goodness, an energy aiming to summon forth more love and justice, shaping what becomes, influencing us toward what will bring new life and also that we too have this kind of power, that we too can be a force of love and justice, of goodness, an energy, aiming for more justice and love, shaping what becomes.
Thomas Merton wrote beautifully of God’s will as a power given to each of us, a power that can burn like a flame, offering warmth and energy, working as a force of creativity, giving direction and movement that feels like love.
As you heard, he wrote, “God’s will is more than a concept. It is a terrible and transcendent reality, a secret power given to each of us, from moment to moment… It is like a living flame of God’s own Spirit… like a mysterious angel. God’s will is not an abstraction… It is a creative power, working everywhere, giving life and being and direction to all things… What we call the “will of God” is the movement of His love.”
This is clarifying, at least for me, because it is less about figuring it all out and more about following the lure of love. What if one of the ways that we know that God is influencing a situation, what if one of the ways we know we are in fact being lured by God’s plan, being influenced in real time, when it feels something like a movement of Love? Like more have joined in? Like warmth has been added?
What if we know we are on the right path, toward expansiveness, toward goodness when there is a power present unto itself? A warmth? An energy, a force of creativity, giving direction?
Many in our community are reflecting on how our Guns to Gardens Gun Buyback event has taken on a life of its own. A million miracles have already unfolded to get where we are. I confess there are lots of it, that make my heart race a bit personally, but whenever an obstacle has emerged, something happened to keep the vision alive. We are already being targeted with negative comments and aggressive phone calls and we are still grieving from March 22nd. And there is so much that needs to happen and we are leading the way, which means we will do it wrong and those who come after us will do it better. The call before us, the thing we have said yes to, has left me asking God, is this your will? Is this the way you will have us go? Do we have what it takes to do this?
As you heard in the story from the prophet Isaiah, he has a vision in which he encounters the Holy and in this historical context, the temple represents heaven, so really he is hanging out with God. As Michael Ford writes, “Jerusalem’s royal temple is imagined as the early representation of YHWH’S heavenly throne.” As if this is the place where the human yearning and holy hope come together.
We read of the Divine One boldly present on a throne with a robe so large that the hem filled the temple and we read of celestial beings in attendance, hovering with wings so wondrous they could cover their faces and we read that amid all of this magic, where a sacredness is felt and Holiness is proclaimed, Holy, Holy, Holy, and the first response that the one in the presence of God feels is unworthiness. Who am I?
When I read this again in this season, I thought, oh yeah, I know what that is like. When a big beautiful invitation lands in our lap, how many of us first say, “Who me?”
After war and destruction, terror and despair, with just a remnant remaining in Jerusalem, wandering and wondering, uncertain, the prophet feels unworthy, unready for what is next, so his first response is self-doubt.
He says, Woe is me! I am lost. I am unclean.
But then more happens and the seraph takes some coal from the altar with a pair of tongs and touches him and he feels less different and then it seems like God kind of asks again, okay now, “Whom shall I send?” Do you want to do this?
It makes me think of all of the times in life where surprising and spectacular things have happened not because the smartest, most experienced, most seasoned person said yes, but because the one who was unsure said yes- the ones who asked if they had what it takes said yes. The ones who were hurting so much they gave up other things to say yes. The ones who were unready, unwilling, who said okay I don’t know how, but, here I am. I don’t feel worthy, but here I am. I don’t know where this will end up, but here I am.
It’s liberating to think of discerning God’s will, of following God’s plan as just needing to follow the movement of love. Beloved of God, keep going toward where there is a warmth and an energy, a force of creativity, giving direction, that is the movement of love in your life. May you let yourself feel it, know it and grow it and be a part of it. May it be so. Amen.