“Something it’s not” 01/21/2018 by Rev. Stacy Swain (Click on title for audio)

“Something it’s not”

Will you pray with me, Holy God – Ground of Being, Enter into our time together that in you we may come to know who we truly are and are called to be.  And may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable to you, O God, our Rock and our Redeemer.  Amen.

Do any of you remember the recruiting commercials that the Army used back in the 80’s and 90’s?  They showed clips of soldiers jumping out of helicopters and doing all sorts of heroic things while a song played over the images.  It was the song actually, more than the images that gripped me.  The song sang “You are reaching deep inside you for things you have never known.  It has been rough going, but you have not been going it alone.  And then there would be this big crescendo with “Be all that you can be! Find the future in the Army!”  Any of you remember that? 

 I was of recruiting age back when these commercials came out. But even then I had more of a monk’s heart than that of a soldiers.  These commercials did not leave me wanting to join the army, but they did leave me wanting. 

 They left me wanting to know who I really was.  Their words went to the center of my being and awakened something there.  They awakened a hunger to know what I was capable of.  That imperative “Be all that you can be,” stirred a yearning deep within me.  The power of those words for me came precisely because they did not say “Do all that you can do.”  It was not an imperative of responsibility, you better, you should, you ought to – do!  Instead what I heard was an invitation to revelation, to discover, to awaken to the potential that was seeded within me.  An invitation to becoming.  And that quickened hope and wonder, expectation and a desire to enter into my very being.


Jesus of course never heard those recruiting commercials, but I think he did hear very clearly a call to “Be all that he could be.”  I think he heard it and felt it not as I did, in my living room, but instead he heard it in the living presence of God, — in the Temple, the house of God. 

He was 12 years old, as the Gospel of Luke tells it.  He and his family had gone up to Jerusalem, up to the Temple, as part of the Jewish festival of Passover.   After their time there, his family and neighbors made the three day walk back to Nazareth only to realize when they got there that Jesus was nowhere to be seen. 

You remember the story right?  Mary and Joseph high tail it back to Jerusalem, back to the Temple where they find Jesus seated among the elders, deep in discussion, perfectly at home and at ease.  Mary cannot help but scold Jesus for causing such worry.  But he is bewildered by her rebuke saying, “Did you not know that I would be in my father’s house?”   

In that moment I think we catch a glimpse of what the Temple meant for Jesus and what a profoundly revelatory experience he was having.   For there in the Temple, he must have felt like he had found his truest home and his deepest peace.   There the pressure of doing and proving, the demands of meeting the needs and expectations of others ceased.  There the worry of whether his score on the entrance exam was high enough or whether his independent school application was good enough fell away.  There, in the Temple, he touched, caught a glimpse of and was held by the essential “I am” that he was.       


In Buddhism, it is taught that the deepest suffering comes from forgetting who we really are.  When we forget who we are we end up subscribing instead to a narrative of self that is smaller, and more limiting.   It is narrative of conforming to the expectations that are layered upon us.  (Tara Brach)

 In this world of where the pressure to conform is so powerful, we need “Temples” we need places where we can remember our essential being, the ontological goodness that is in the very heart of our being, the radiance of love and connectedness that is not out there somewhere but is, if we have eyes to see and ears to hear right here and right now. 


Maybe that is what infuriated Jesus when, so many years later,  we encounter him now as a grown man in our Scripture today entering into that beloved Temple of his.  Maybe that is why he is so full of righteous anger as he steps into the space that was so important to him only to realize it had become something it was not.  That space that had nurtured the emergence of his self, his ‘I am” had now become a place of doing not of being.  It had become a market place, a transactional place of selling and buying.  A house of commerce not a house of grace.    

Having these places, these temples in our lives is the first step ,but  entering into them, like Jesus did is the next.  We need such places but we need to be intentional about engaging in them and taking the time to really enter in.  These places of discovery and grace are not passive places.  They are places that ask us something of us.  Engagement is to be about the process of discovering our great “I Am.” I think that is part of what I found so compelling about those Army recruitment commercials.  They were asking something of me and in doing so implied that I had something worth being asked of. 

Teresa of Avila, a 16 century, Carmalite nun, reformer and mystic, – gives us a wonderful road map in her book Interior Castles about what engagement into our own “I am” could look like.  She reads the passage from John 14 the one where Jesus says “in my Father’s house there are many dwelling places, I am going to prepare a place for you” as being not just about what Jesus is doing at the end of our lives but what he is doing right now in them.   She sees that Jesus is preparing a dwelling place for us in the very center of our being.    

She sees discipleship as seeking that dwelling place of God that lies in the very center of our souls.  In the book, she uses the metaphor of entering our interior castle and passing through successive chambers as we go deeper and deeper.  We open the door and walk into the first chamber, where she says we often will find the ugliest and scariest of things.  She talks about snakes and viper, scorpions and all things terrible.  But what she means of course is the harsh and ugly things we think about ourselves and others.  It is an ugly and scary place of judgment and condemnation. 

 If we don’t get freaked out there and go running way slamming that door behind us, we enter the second chamber, this may be the place where our fears lie. The third chamber is where our hurt and suffering is. The fourth where loss and longing, and so it goes until we reach the inner most chamber of our heart and when we open that door we find the Christ waiting for us.  I like to think of the Christ sitting in a rocking chair, patiently reading by candle light waiting.  And when we enter that chamber flooded with love and radiance, that light streams out  through all the doors we have left open behind us. It blazes forth like the flash of a lighthouse.  And we realize that as we had been walking through those chambers we were not walking alone but that Jesus was at our side, overturning that which was blocking our way. 

 This journey of discipleship is not just inward journey of course.  The inward journey is inextricably linked to the outward one as well. Our willingness to excavate our internal lives will help enable us to excavate our external ones as well. Our internal awakening will awaken us ever more deeply to the realities around us.  Jesus walked into that temple and he saw something that no one else did.  None of all those learned and trained rabbis there that day, none of all of those pilgrims saw it but he did. He saw that the tables needed to be turned and he did it with decisive action that was rooted in love for what was begin lost and what needed to be regained.

He acted because he loved that space and place too much to stand passively by and let it become something that it was not intended to be.  Why? Not just for his sake, but for the sake of all of those who streamed up to it from places far way to seek sanctuary within it and to be in touch with a beauty, grace, power, presence that transcended the hurt and harm of their daily reality.  It was a place that was at risk of losing its power and promise of being the place where those who were searching could find their place, and purpose and great “I am”.

It was a defining moment and Jesus recognized it as such.

Some argue that we too now find ourselves in such a defining moment. Some would argue that our society is becoming something that it is not and that as people of faith, followers of Jesus we are now the ones that need to turn the tables, so to speak.  “Who is Jesus Christ for us today?”  “What does it look like to participate in God’s mission?”   These are terribly important and defining questions so much so that we have created time to really enter into them in three congregational conversations the first of which will be happening today after worship today.  

 What is interesting in all of this is that the disruption that Jesus caused that day in the Temple, the overthrowing of those tables became a galvanizing event in the formation of the new community that was born in his name and that walked in his way.  That event was in service to bringing people together in love.  It was not about causing a rukus for rukus’ sake.  It was about pulling back the veil, helping people to see, causing people to wake up and awaken in them the wonder of what it would be like to be all that they could be.   

 I want this church to be a place of such awaking. I want this church to be a place of encounter and transformation.  I want this church to be a place where we take up, wake up, and claim and be claimed by Christ.  I want this church to be a place where we take up the invitation to join God’s mission of redemptive love and transformation.  I want nothing more than for you when you enter this place to be able set down the pressure and worry and to take up love so that you may discover and enter into who you are and who you are to be.   And, I want this place to be a place where we have the wisdom and the courage follow Jesus and turn the tables that in our time, need to be turned.   I want this because, I believe, this is what our broken but beautiful world needs from us.   

What do you want? What do you need?  What is the longing in your heart?  Let it be known so it can become and so that together we may become all that we can be. 

Thanks be to God our Maker, our Creator, our Sustainer and our Redeemer. Amen.