Saturday, June 19, 2010

Homily from the Hundred Acre Wood

The Academy for Spiritual Formation - Spring 2010

I haven’t ventured into the attic at my parents’ home in several years. Nevertheless, I’m sure if I climbed up the ladder into that vast storehouse of memories, if I peered underneath scrapbooks, looked behind stacks of quilts, leafed thru reams of kindergarten papers, and heaved aside my mothers’ clippings from long-faded issues of Southern Living, I would find a vacuum-sealed bag filled with my old stuffed animals. There’s at least one friend there with whom I wouldn’t mind spending some quality time. He’s an approximately thirty-one year old orange-colored bear wearing a bright red shirt, and he’s probably best described by the words of an old song we sang together once upon a time.

“Deep in the hundred acre wood

where Christopher Robin plays ...

A donkey named Eeyore is his friend...

and Kanga and little Roo.

There's Rabbit and Piglet and

there's Owl, but most of all.

Winnie the Pooh...

Winnie the Pooh...

Tubby little cubby all stuffed with fluff.

He's Winnie the Pooh...

Winnie the Pooh...

Willy nilly silly old bear.”

A. A. Milne originally wrote the “Winnie the Pooh” stories for his son, Christopher Robin, about the little boy’s make-believe adventures with his stuffed animal friends. If you aren’t familiar with these stories, might I suggest a few additions to the reading list for next session? We’ll talk about that later.

In the classic Winnie the Pooh Disney cartoons, the opening credits began with a camera panning over an array of stuffed animals in a child’s room. Then, the magic happened. (And nobody does magic quite like Disney, do they?) As the narrator began describing the antics of Winnie the Pooh and Christopher Robin, words on the page of an animated book slowly erupted into little black rainclouds and honeytrees, until the book faded away entirely and gave way to a blustery animated world. Before the magic, I saw just an ordinary run-of-the-mill stuffed bear sitting on a window box in a little boy’s room. Patched and worn, glassy-eyed and lifeless, he was just a stiff, stuffed toy. Only Christopher Robin’s friendship made Winnie-the-Pooh come to life. For Winnie-the-Pooh, friendship made him real.

We all could list icons of friendship from our culture and from our childhoods. Bert and Ernie. Lucy and Ethel. Jonathan and David—what beautiful pictures of friendship there. Anne Shirley and Diana Barry from “Anne of Green Gables,” Oprah Winfrey and Gayle King, Gus and Call from Lonesome Dove, Celie and Shug Avery from The Color Purple… Can you see a trend here? We resonate with images of friendship. We hunger for such images in our own lives.

I’m not suggesting to you that my only childhood friends were stuffed bears and TV characters. Still, it seems that I learned early on to keep people around me at arm’s length. Indeed, there parts of me they could never accept, never hold, never celebrate. Deep down, beneath my well-rehearsed soft shoe, the smoke and mirrors, the sequins and glitter routine, it was just a show. I remember many times when I would literally hide behind my hands lest someone read my emotions betraying my face and telling my secrets.

About eight years ago, I began meeting a small group people with whom I could be fully honest. Slowly I realized that I could fire my internal censor, and free my internal prisoner. Eventually I realized I didn’t have to hide anymore. I could look them in the eye and see my reflection. Through the mystery of the Incarnation, not only could I see my own reflection in their faces—I saw Jesus smiling back at me. I felt the laughter of Jesus in their jokes, the grief of Jesus in their tears, the temptations of Jesus in their struggles. And yes, I have even known the justice of God’s kingdom in their fist bumps of solidarity. I eat with Jesus when we share meals—and I felt the arms of Jesus when I sat on their enormous green couch, or rested in their collective embrace. We have walked together through births, deaths, marriages, break-ups, graduations, cross-country moves. Together, we have chronicled going in…and coming out…And, as we journeyed together, we walked in the blessing of the Father, fellowship of the Son, and in communion with the Spirit.

A wise friend told me—in his funny little Texan accent, “Church people are always saying how we need to be more like Jesus. Make me Christ-like. Be like Jesus. Well, what if in order to be more like Jesus, ya gotta be more fully human! You can’t be like Jesus and be a durn robot at the same time!”

Well, these friends gently convinced me that my charade was up. As I related with them in an embodied, human way, I met Jesus all over again. You see, their friendship—and my friendship with the Incarnate Christ—made me real.

When one of us needed assurance of acceptance, of grace, or even just a place of mutual understanding, we would lower what we laughingly dubbed the “Cone of Safety.” Anything could be spoken there. It was just all okay. All—each hidden place—is welcome in that cone of friendship encircling us. Within these holy friendships—this Cone of Safety, I have encountered the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Not only did their friendship make me real. With my friends—and Jesus within them—their friendship makes me safe.

I just love the healing story in the fifth chapter of Luke in which Jesus healed the paralyzed man. Just picture the scene:

One day as he was teaching, Pharisees and teachers of the law, who had come from every village of Galilee and from Judea and Jerusalem, were sitting there. And the power of the Lord was present for him to heal the sick. Some men came carrying a paralytic on a mat and tried to take him into the house to lay him before Jesus. When they could not find a way to do this because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and lowered him on his mat through the tiles into the middle of the crowd, right in front of Jesus.

When Jesus saw their faith, he said, "Friend, your sins are forgiven."

A few verses later, we read:

Immediately he stood up in front of them, took what he had been lying on and went home praising God. Everyone was amazed and gave praise to God. They were filled with awe and said, "We have seen remarkable things today."

This man’s friends provided him with access to Jesus, and Jesus called him friend. And the friendship—made him well.

This sounds familiar to me. Maybe it does to you as well. These friendships made me real. When I found myself unable to see the face of the Holy in my life, these friends dragged my mat into the presence of Jesus. They carried me, quite literally sometimes, to encounter Jesus. They made me safe and showed me the face of Jesus, and Jesus called me—as he calls you—friend.

And as it did for the paralyzed man, this friendship—this miraculous, grace-filled, holy friendship—makes me, and makes you—well.

Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount sound so near to me—almost as near as it must have felt for that paralyzed man on that mat, who depended upon the persistent, unconventional, life-giving love of his friends.

Hear the words we heard just a few moments ago. This time, from Eugene Peterson’s The Message:

9-10"I've loved you the way my Father has loved me. Make yourselves at home in my love. If you keep my commands, you'll remain intimately at home in my love. That's what I've done—kept my Father's commands and made myself at home in his love.

11-15"I've told you these things for a purpose: that my joy might be your joy, and your joy wholly mature. This is my command: Love one another the way I loved you. This is the very best way to love. Put your life on the line for your friends. You are my friends when you do the things I command you. I'm no longer calling you servants because servants don't understand what their master is thinking and planning. No, I've named you friends because I've let you in on everything I've heard from the Father.

16"You didn't choose me, remember; I chose you, and put you in the world to bear fruit, fruit that won't spoil. As fruit bearers, whatever you ask the Father in relation to me, he gives you.

17"But remember the root command: Love one another.

As we came together for the first time some months ago, perhaps our Divine Narrator began weaving together the stories of our Academy antics like words on the page of an animated book. Maybe those words slowly erupted into little black rainclouds and honeytrees, until the book faded away entirely and gave way to a blustery animated Academy world. Maybe we’ve found ourselves in this blustery new animated world, and perhaps like for Christopher Robin and Winnie the Poo, our friendships make us real.

As I first encountered unquestioning acceptance from the people with whom I share my life, I met Jesus in a new way. I realized—their friendships make me safe.

We see Jesus in each other, and Jesus has called us friend. If we are to follow his way, to bear the fruit of love in our lives, then we must reflect the face of Jesus to the world.

Now, I’m not a preacher. Perhaps I should have offered this caveat to you before I started this wild ride a few moments ago. But as I prepared for this moment, and as I thought of what I could possibly tell you all—I realized that through the beautiful mystery of this community, I can draw from your deep wells of wisdom and experience. And somehow, I can become “greater than.” Isn’t the same true for the elements before us?

Since I’m not a preacher, I don’t say these words over the elements. But I do so love the Communion liturgy that says, “Pour out your Holy Spirit on us gathered here, and on these gifts of bread and wine. Make them be for us the body and blood of Christ, so that we might be for the world the body of Christ, redeemed by his blood.” In the same way, may we provide each other, and provide people everywhere with access to Jesus, so they might say—“their friendship made me real. Made me safe. Made me well.”


Cynthia said...

Yay yay yay you're blogging again! Thanks for the hummus recipe...can't wait to see if I can make it without you! I'm sure it won't be the same. Miss you!

Julie said...

Beautiful words, as always, Matthew. Love to read your writing...

Anonymous said...

hello there thanks for your grat post, as usual ((o:

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