“Rediscovering Who We Are: A Vulnerable Love”
Luke 13: 31-35 ~ Rev. G. Scott Turnbrook ~ Northwood United ~ March 17, 2019
Love affairs often start in the most unusual circumstances, don’t they? Here is one, which may prompt you to consider your own stories of love that have unfolded in your life. Their star-crossed eyes met in a crowded room and somehow their gaze locked for a seeming eternity. Had they met previously? He / she seemed so familiar. What a curious energy there was in this fixed gaze. It was as if we had met before…but when? An unstoppable urge comes over you. You must go over and speak to this person…or…perhaps they will come over and speak to me? All of a sudden, you feel an overwhelming anxiety…you are immobilized…you cannot make a decision…Your friend inquires ~ are you OK?...You look over and that person that you had gazed upon…is gone. The moment has ended ~ opportunity has passed ~ or has it? You see them…closer now…they are making their way over towards you…your heart beats…your cheeks flush red with anxiety…your mouth goes dry. The person extends their hand… ‘Hi. I saw you looking over at me…have we met? You look very familiar.’ And what unfolds is a love affair that you never could have imagined. It was like you had known each other since birth. You come to trust them. You share your deepest hopes, dreams and fears. It is like you have known one another since birth. Yet…what unfolds is not all wine and roses. Sometimes the relationship gets ‘too close’ and you back away…for a time…and they pursue…and you reunite…and your forge ahead as a couple. And at other times…they back away…and you pursue…and so, the dance of this deepening love affair blossoms.
This love affair that I just described is one that each and everyone us have offered to us…with God. Each and everyone of us are deeply loved and relentlessly pursued by God in a beautiful love affair where God is pursuing you and I. Each of us have been loved since our very creation…even before we were a twinkle in our parent’s eyes, we were a twinkle in God’s creative joy and have ever since been loved into creation. As we move into this second Sunday in Lent, wandering through the 40 day wilderness, rediscovering a deeper understanding of who we are…and that is that we are deeply… profoundly… unstoppably…loved by the vulnerable, caring, unstoppable love of God. Take that in for a moment. God’s boundless love for you. How do you receive that in your soul? How does it make you feel?
Now, as heart-warming and assuring as that might be for us to receive…to be reminded of the nature of our loving God, there is a challenge that we all inevitably face in this human-divine love relationship. The challenge comes from our human tendency to reject the advance from an overly zealous lover. We have likely seen this tendency played out in our human relationships time and time again. One lover pursues and the other backs away. The other lover pursues and the first backs away. The dance of the love relationship is a back-and-forth dance that can make even the most sane person dizzy. Yet…this dance of pursuit and rejection…rejection and pursuit is one which is older than time. And one that is embedded in our very DNA. This morning, I would like for us to consider how we do this love dance in our spiritual lives. As proficient as we have become at rejecting an overzealous lover’s advance, we are also quite adept at rejecting God’s advances of love, often without realizing it. Without being aware of it, we have do not fully receive God’s love; we often do not fully embrace God’s love: we often do not fully receive God’s love. This morning’s text is a call to rediscover who we are by living with a vulnerable love. Loving God as fully as God loves us.
As we consider this human tendency, it is good to know that we are in good company. This is not just part of our human DNA; it is also a part of our spiritual DNA that we see exhibited in our faith ancestors as well. Looking back all the way to the Hebrew Scriptures in the Old Testament, we find stories of resistance and rejection. To pick a few…We might go all the way back to the first story of humankind with Adam and Eve in the Garden rejecting God’s loving advances to live in harmony in paradise with them. We might remember the 40 year sojourn in the wilderness where God’s loving guidance away from Egyptian slavery towards promised land is met by the people’s grumbling, resistance and fear. We might remember the angry reception given to all the prophets ~ Isaiah, Jeremiah and the many others ~ as they voiced God’s words to the people. How the people resisted and rejected the love of God as we chose to go it on our own. And such is the spiritual pattern ~ over and again ~ God comes to us…we resist and reject that love…God comes to us again and again and again. It is a story as old as time.
And I think that is the reason, as we turn to this morning’s text, that Jesus uses the image of the mother hen gathering her chicks under the protection of her wing in describing the nature of God’s presence towards God’s people. Science tells us today what Jesus knew back then: chickens are smart; they can anticipate, and plan, and are even capable of worry. A recent piece I came across on Animal Planet noted how Biologists tell us that the organization of neurons in the brains of chickens is highly structured and suggests that, like humans, chickens have evolved an impressive level of intelligence which, in turn, have helped improve their survival. Jesus chose the smart, self-sacrificing mother hen as one of his models of ministry towards his people. And if you have ever watched the little chicks around their mother hen, we know that the hen has her work cut out for her. Those adorable little chicks always seem bent on ignoring the efforts of the one who would save them from all that would threaten. Look at the image of these misbehaving chicks that she attempts to gather. Jesus passionately spoke: “How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!”
So why are “we not willing?” I can’t say that I begin to understand the nature of resistance that lives in my own soul or the rejection that is exhibited within my own heart or that of others. But I know that it is there. We all know that, don’t we? I know that I resist God’s love, that we reject God’s loving invitation. Our resistance as human beings takes many forms; just read the papers to see some of them; we need to just peer into our own hearts and souls to discover the nature of our rejection. There they are: anger, resentment, despair, bitterness, vengeance, prejudice…I could go on. We don’t need to look as far as New Zealand’s recent trajedy, we see it right here in our own communities. We all do it so well: we resist God’s love, we reject God’s love. We go it on our own. Jesus spoke succinctly of this human tendency saying: “whatever you did to the least of these, you also do to me”. And yet… God comes, still… God invites, still…God seeks us, longs for us, weeps for us, God wants us to come home into the loving embrace that is like that protective embrace of a loving mother hen. It is simply the heart and character of God to do these things. For God to long to gather us as a hen gathers her chicks, as a mother holds her own beloved children, God invites us into a deep and vulnerable love affair ~ the spiritual love affair of our lives. Rediscovering who we are on this second Sunday in Lent invites us to be touched by a love that is greater and deeper than we could ever imagine. To receive that love and to enter into her tender wings. God invites us into that kind of loving embrace!
So … how do we truly learn to love God. How do we counteract this human tendency? Psychologist Melanie Greenberg in her recent publication: 10 Research Based Truths About People in Love offers some translatable wisdom for our considerations as we continue through Lent. Greenberg offers three areas that I see as being adaptable for our spiritual living: to listen, to live in gratitude, and to forgive. Firstly…to listen. We have all heard about the 80/20 rule prescribing us to listen 80% of the time and speak only 20%. The same can be applied to our spiritual love affair with God. What if prayer was an 80% opportunity to listen to God speaking and just a 20% opportunity for us to speak? What if we listened to God? This is the very nature of two of our spiritual practice gatherings that we offer at Northwood: mindfulness meditation on Tuesday nights and centering prayer on Monday evenings ~ and there are many other forms of spiritual practice that open us to receiving God’s love. What might happen if we listen more deeply to God?
Secondly…practice gratitude. In human relationships, the simple act of gratitude can make more difference than we may ever know. To name a few acts of gratitude expression, they can range from sending cards and letters of appreciation, to saying please and thank you, to actually stopping and telling people how much you appreciate them in your life. It can be amazing what an impact we have on our relationships through our actions of gratitude. I wonder what the spiritual equivalent to this would be as we show gratitude towards God? The great German Christian mystic Meister Eckhart wrote back in the late 13th century: “if the only prayer you said in your life was ‘thank you’, it would be enough”. One ancient spiritual practice from the 16th century comes from the Spanish theologian, St. Ignatius, that I have been helping some members of Northwood use is called “The Examen”. It is essentially an early form of the modern day ‘gratitude journal’. It invites the person to become aware of God’s presence, to review the day with gratitude, to pay attention to one’s emotions, to meditate on one aspect of the day and then look toward tomorrow. Whatever gratitude practice we adopt, developing a deep sense of gratitude towards God’s love allows us to more fully connect with God’s love.
Finally, the most difficult of the three, adopting a practice of forgiveness in our loving relationships. Finding ways to release anger and frustration and not to carry grudges forward, frees us up to be more fully in relationship with that person and others. Certainly, we may need to protect ourselves from that person for our own health, but forgiveness is that which allows us to find a posture that allows us to freely move forward with our lives and not be held back. Forgiveness is so important. It can be a practice that opens us up to be present to others in the world, present to ourselves, present to God. Listening, gratitude and forgiveness…three spiritual practices which provide an opportunity for us to further embrace God’s love and rediscover who we are ~ to be touched by God’s vulnerable love. The amazing love that is like that of a mother hen to her young.