Reflections to start the week
Monday, May 11, 2015
There is a crack in everything God has made.
-Ralph Waldo Emerson
Ever since I first ran across this quote, I’ve used it to convey the truth I’ve learned as I served in congregations, i.e., that everyone has some area that calls for healing, an area of brokenness, imperfection or incompletion, a growth opportunity. The recognition of that opening for God’s light to shine through is a critical part of the proclamation of the gospel. So I’ve used the quote often, maybe excessively. I used it in a sermon recently, when I was guest preacher at another congregation. After the sermon a gentleman approached me at the church door. He told me how much he liked the sermon. As often is the case, I sensed there was more coming. He added that he had been a student of Ralph Waldo Emerson for 35 years and had never run across that quote. He didn’t say: “Where did you find that?” or “I’m curious about that citation.” He said: “That’s not Ralph Waldo Emerson. It’s Leonard Cohen.’ I felt corrected. Chastised. Embarrassed. Busted. A light had been shone on my fraudulence, which I work hard to keep hidden. The fact is, I don’t really remember where I first heard the quote. I don’t know much about Ralph Waldo Emerson (or poetry for that matter). And I admit that I like to thrown in great quotes from noted writers to impress the congregation, and perhaps make them think that I am smarter than I am. If any number of other folks had said the same thing (Geraldo Rivera? Jerry Falwell?), I don’t know that I would have included the quote.
So before I went to lunch, while people waited, I dashed up to the apartment where I was staying, went on line, googled the quote and found that, yes, indeed. Ralph Waldo Emerson had said this. I was not a fraud. At least not in this regard. Perhaps more important, I was right. This smarmy sermon critic was not. Advantage: Sidebotham. I went off to lunch self-satisfied.
It was so delicious to be right. It was annoying to be questioned. It was threatening to feel like a fraud (and studies show that a whole bunch of people in all walks of life fear that they will be found out). So often, the religious journey seems to be about being right, so that someone else will be wrong. What would it be if we focused not so much on being right, but being righteous? By righteous, I mean that word in the sense that St. Paul uses it in his letters. It is not about political or theological correctness (and folks across the spectrum subscribe to respective correctness). Righteous is a relational term. It means being set in right relationship. That right relationship begins with accepting that we are accepted (a quote from Paul Tillich, another smart guy, and I bet your impressed that I worked him into this message, aren’t you?) In our tradition, that right relationship begins with receiving grace, knowing that our worth is not established by how many poets we can quote (with proper attribution). On the basis of that acceptance, we can engage with others in a spirit of openness, a recognition that we all have growth opportunities, and the kind of deep joy that cares little whether we got the quote right or not.
In marriage, in famlies, among siblings, with parents and children, at the workplace, in the pews, we spend way too much time worrying about who is right. What would it take to focus more on being in right relationship, which includes seeking the best for the other, giving and receiving forgiveness?
There is a crack in everything God has made, including a crack in my efforts to use that Emerson quote to impress folks. A mentor used to say that he never met a motive that wasn’t mixed. Thanks be to God, we have a God who loves us, and chuckles over our jockeying, a God who keeps teaching us and loving us. Is there a place in today’s schedule to focus less on being right and more on being in rlght relationship?
– Jay Sidebotham
St. Paul, writing to the Phiippians, chapter 3:
I, too, have reason for confidence in the flesh. If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.
Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on towards the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.
Rev. Jay Sidebotham
RenewalWorks is a ministry of Forward Movement.