Matthew 5:14-16; The Gospel of Thomas, Saying 70
Other Voices: Matthew Fox, Creativity; Nadia Bolz-Weaver, On Jesus Dream Team
One year ago, I preached a sermon in this sanctuary as a part of the 42nd Celebration of Creativity. This was the last Sunday that we all worshiped together. Oh how this year has been filled with ups and downs. And yet, as I reread this sermon, I realized that it is just as relevant today as ever and so I have adapted it for our unique context today. That which is within you has most likely given you strength to persevere through this incredibly challenging year.
Six years ago, when we were in the process of adopting our children, I would take Tony to downtown Portland and we would throw rocks in the river and explore the bridges and walk the streets of downtown. When we first did this, he was 8 years old.
One time we were walking on our way to get some ice cream, we came upon a spikey green plant laying on the sidewalk. I thought it looked like a flower, Tony thought it looked like a slug, declaring it “disgusting.” As we went on, we found another spikey, green plant with the acorns still attached. We looked up to see that we were under a tall oak tree, and that the spikey green thing was what attached the acorn to the tree. As Tony picked it up to look at it more closely, he said, “Oh, I understand now. It’s not disgusting anymore.”
“I understand now. It’s not disgusting anymore.” That was just one bit of his wisdom that Tony shared with me on our adventures. These downtown walks and playing at the river and in parks together was a lovely reminder for me of how the world is experienced by a child, seeing beauty, hearing music, feeling wonder, noticing that the ordinary is extraordinary and magical. Perhaps you have experienced this reminder, too through your own children or grandchildren. In fact, isn’t this what the celebration of creativity teaches us about life.
Spiritual Practices of Living in the Moment
So often, we are mired in our daily activities that we miss the beauty that is around us and within us. When I first bought my Prius, I started to notice all other Prius’s on the road––I would compare them with my own. Did you know that black Priuses are the best looking cars out there? That is called selective awareness. We all have it. We see what we want to see. We see what we expect to see or what we have been socialized to see. And we so often make our judgements based on first appearance––and subsequently miss out on the deeper meaning. Celebration of creativity reminds us to slow down and pay attention to the details––to be in the moment.
And yet, how often do we forget that there is value in being, just being, in the moment? This moment. Now. This is the core of most religious traditions—be in this moment. The mindfulness practice of Buddhism teaches us to relax our bodies and focus our minds on what is now; to be present to what is right in front of us; to notice and experience what is real.
In the Gospel of Thomas, I hear a call to notice what is in this moment, to pay attention to what is within you. To discover the depth of our being.
The Jewish practice of sabbath is all about being. Those who practice Shabbat (sabbath) step outside of their usual schedule to create sacred space and celebrate connection—to themselves, to each other, to God. Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel describes it this way in his book titled The Sabbath: “There is a realm of time where the goal is not to have but to be, not to own but to give, not to control but to share, not to subdue but to be in accord.”
And in our Christian Tradition, serving others can often focus us and bring us together. Our youth in the past often describe one of their most meaningful experiences on a mission trip is gathering together at night, huddling around in a circle or campfire and singing praise songs. Here are the lyrics of one song that we have often sung called “Sanctuary”:
Oh, prepare me to be a sanctuary. Pure and holy. Tried and true. And with thanksgiving, I’ll be a living sanctuary for you.
Each of these practices reminds us to stop and notice, to see the magic and wonder in what is around us, to appreciate and give thanks for all life, and to connect to the divine, however we experience it. Celebration of Creativity and the Art Show that we have put on for the past 42 years, is a yearly reminder to us to live in the moment! Don’t let it pass you by!
Art and Creativity also teaches us to also listen to the story that is within us. I love the African American Spiritual entitled: “Down to the River to Pray”.. The song is beautiful to be sure. And yet, it is more beautiful and meaningful when you understand its story––an African-American spiritual, composed by an African-American slave. When the slaves escaped, they would walk in the river because the water would cover their scent from the bounty-hunters’ dogs. The phrase “starry crown” refers to navigating their escape by the stars.
Knowing that story has given me a much deeper appreciation for that song. And I have come to realize how important it is for me to listen to the stories of others because in those stories there is meaning and life and wholeness. Just as it is in our own stories.
Bring Forth What is Within You.
Christ calls us to bring forth that which is within us. Not long after I had my stroke when I was 40 years old, I attended a support group when a fellow member shared with everyone the importance of his beaded necklace that he had made himself and brought to one of our meetings. As he spoke, taking the necklace off, he went around the circle giving a bead to each person along with a short blessing. It was a holy moment filled with vulnerability and tears. To one person suffering with depression he said, “this bead is for the joy of friends that care about you”. For another person who shared about his stress filled life, he said, “this is for your very own fishing hole in the mountains”. When he came to me, he looked into my eyes and said, “Don this bead is for when you can become pastor and professor again.” For the first time in a long time, I rediscovered what was within me — this was a time that I could hardly walk, I could barely talk but this moment enabled me to see that those were my disgusting surface realities––what was within me was far more authentic and able-bodied.
At first, walking down the sidewalk of life, the spikey green thing can look pretty disgusting. Until we look at it closer and discover it is what attaches an acorn to a beautiful Oak tree. The many works of art that you have in your home, on the surface certainly to the outsider, may not seem that impressive. But when you know the story, when you look closer, you see something more––you see beauty beyond the appearance––beauty from within.
So wherever you find yourself this morning, if you want greater meaning and purpose, if you want to truly celebrate creativity in your own life: Live in the moment. Pay attention to those around you. Look to the deeper story of your life and the world around you. And bring forth the bead that is within you––as you let your light shine where everyone can see.