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"A Rose by Any Other Name" - The Rev. Sarah Walker Cleaveland

Posted on December 2, 2018 by Kathy Miller

A Rose by Any Other Name

Examen

Before we read our scripture lesson for this morning, I want to begin by inviting. you into an abbreviated practice of the Examen. And if that term is not familiar to you, not to worry, I’m going to guide you through it. I promise there’s a reason for beginning differently this morning that will become clear a little later on, so for now, if you’d indulge me, I’d be very grateful.

I would recommend doing this exercise with your eyes closed, but if it’s easier for you to keep your eyes open, then you’ll simply want to find a place to gaze and allow your eyes to see softly.

To begin, I would invite you to find a way to be as comfortable as possible in wooden pews. Set your feet on the floor and take a few deep breaths. Feel the pew beneath and behind you and the floor underneath your feet. Hear the breath and rustlings of the people around you and allow yourself to become fully present to this place and this time.

Now, fully rooted in this place and this time, take your mind back to yesterday morning, Saturday morning. Where were you when you woke up? How were you feeling? What were you thinking about? Did you wake up slowly or were you awake in the blink of an eye?

Now, as though your day was a video, allow your day to scroll through your mind. Take yourself through your morning, remember what you ate for lunch, what was your afternoon like? Who did you encounter? What happened? How did you feel? Where were you for dinner and what did you eat? Who was with you, if anyone? What did your night look like? When did you go to bed? How were you feeling when you laid down to sleep?

When you’ve made it through your day, hit the rewind button in your mind and go back again to yesterday morning. Go through your day one more time, but this time, put the tape on fast forward and as you scroll through, look for moments that stand out—moments when you felt alive or energized, moments when you felt connected … to yourself, to the people around you, to the world, moments when you were challenged or felt uncomfortable, moments when you felt peace or love. Slow the tape for those moments and simply notice them. And when you get to the end of your day, take a moment to allow your mind and spirit to come back to this place.

If you haven’t made it all the way through your day a second time, not to worry, you can finish later or trust that you have seen enough.

Scripture—Luke 21:25-36

Our scripture reading this morning comes from the Gospel According to Luke, chapter 21, verses 25-36. Listen now for God’s word to us:

“There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

Then he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees; as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

“Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day does not catch you unexpectedly, like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”

The Word of the Lord.

Thanks be to God.

 

Sermon

As best as scholars have been able to determine, the Gospel according to Luke was written 50-60 years after the death of Jesus. Which means, it was written to an audience that had not known Jesus but that had, in the past ten to twenty years, seen the collapse of the Temple in Jerusalem and the siege of Jerusalem by Roman forces. If they were Christians, they would have expected Jesus’ return before now and many would likely have been wondering what was taking so long and if Jesus was coming back at all.

It is into this context, Luke’s Gospel has Jesus teach not only that God has not abandoned God’s people, but that the response of faithful disciples in a time when the world seems to be ending, when all signs would indicate that God has abdicated and left humanity to its own devices, the faithful response is to stand up and take note because their redemption is at hand. In other words, those who believe in God are not to hide their heads in the sand refusing to see what is happening in their midst, nor are they to conclude that their faith in God has been in vain; instead, they are to look around them and notice that God is already at work even in the midst of their a situation. Where most people look and see the end of times, Jesus tells us that a life of discipleship means looking at those same signs and seeing God’s future. As one pastor writes, Jesus is telling his disciples, “‘The world’s a scary place, but don’t let your hearts be troubled. I have overcome the world. So wait in the midst of it all … for in the midst of the night there are strange and redeeming events afoot.’Faith [means] living in reality, by virtue of [God’s] promise.”[1]

We don’t live in Luke’s context, but that doesn’t mean that our context is any easier or that we’re any better at seeing God’s presence in the midst of our reality. When we did the examen a few moments ago, how many of you were able to identify a moment when you felt connected, alive, energized, challenged, or loved?

Now, without raising your hands, if I had asked you to do the same thing but instead of looking for those moments to instead identify where or when you saw God, how many of you would have pointed to those same moments?

We’re not always very good at seeing God in the midst of our realities. Whether it is because our lives are filled with signs that everything is falling apart, because we’re too busy to notice, or because we think of God as bigger and more dramatic than the small moments of connection or uncomfortable moments of dis-ease and challenge, the end result is the same—we are no longer very good at naming God’s presence in our midst.

I am currently reading a book entitled, Learning to Speak God From Scratch: Why Sacred Words are Vanishing and How We Can Revive Them by Jonathan Merritt. In it, Merritt points to research that suggests our society’s use of religious language has dropped precipitously over the past generation, and while he identifies a number of reasons for this decline, including the misuse of many of these words by politicians and evangelists, the end result is problematic because our language shapes our reality and “if we do not use sacred words, then our minds will be less attuned to transcendence.”

In the play, Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare includes a scene in which Juliet laments that Romeo is a Montague, a member of the family her own family has sworn to hate. 'Tis but thy name that is my enemy,’ says Juliet. “O, be some other name! What's in a name? That which we call a rose By any other word would smell as sweet.”

We want to believe that a rose by another other name would smell as sweet, but the very plot of Romeo and Juliet reveals the truth that such is not the case—it is Romeo’s very name that creates the drama of the play. And modern research has confirmed that names change how we experience and perceive things. In lab experiments, volunteers given the same scent with different names rated them differently depending on the name attached to each scent. Teachers, given essays by fictional students, gave higher marks to students whose names were more familiar or appealing. Names matter—they change how we perceive the world around us.

When we’re not able to see God’s presence in our lives—not able to point to moments of connection or love, instances of dis-ease or challenge, and name them God—we slowly stop seeing God and, as a result, God begins to shrink. God becomes relegated to Sunday mornings or a character we read about in the Bible.

As we enter into this Advent season of preparation, I invite you to practice God-naming.  Each evening, when you sit down to dinner or before you go to bed, write down or share where you encountered God that day—if you’re not sure, think back to when you felt most connect, most alive, happiest, most content, or most challenged. Write it down, and at the end of the week, look back—what do you notice?

We see what we look for. So whatever your life looks like this Advent season, whatever reality you find yourself in, I invite you to look for God’s redeeming work in your midst, to broaden your definition of God by learning again that God is love. That God is peace. That God is dis-ease and discomfort for the sake of growth. Stand in the midst of your reality, see what is around you, but look with eyes trained on God’s future. Stand up and take note, because God is drawing near.

Thanks be to God.



[1]. Wesley D. Avram, Feasting on the Word year C, vol. 1, p. 22-24

 
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