lent 4: Love Builds Up – Awareness, Gratitude and Love

Readings from Scripture (NRSV) John 3:14-21

14 And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.  16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

17 “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18 Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God. 19 And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. 20 For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. 21 But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.”

Love Builds Up – Awareness, Gratitude and Love

 “Excuse me,” said an ocean fish, “You are older than I so can you tell me where to find this thing they call the Ocean?”

“The Ocean,” said the older fish, “is the thing you are in now,”

“Oh this? But this is water. What I’m seeking is the Ocean,” said the disappointed fish as he swam away to search elsewhere.

He came to the Master in sannyasi robes. And he spoke sannyasi language: “For years I have been seeking God. I have sought God everywhere that God is said to be: on mountain peaks, the vastness of the desert, and the silence of the cloister and the dwellings of the poor.”

“Have you found God?” the Master asked. “No. I have not.” The man said, “Have you?”

What could the Master say? The evening sun was sending shafts of golden light into the room. Hundreds of sparrows were twittering on a banyan tree. In the distance one could hear the sound of highway traffic. A mosquito droned a warning that it was going to strike… And yet this man could sit there and say he had not found God.

After a white he left, disappointed, to search elsewhere.

Stop searching, little fish. There isn’t anything to look for.
All you have to do is look. You cannot miss it.[1]

All you have to do is look.  In pastures green, by quiet waters, in death’s dark vale – at table and in the world – God is with us.  For God so loves this world.  Not some corners of it, or only some people in it, but this world in all of its brokenness and beauty.  We are surrounded by and swimming in the blessings of one who made us from love, to be loved, in order to spread love. 

But there’s days that the vastness of the ocean, the dark mysterious depths of same old, same old, the doubt of letting the worries of the present moment overshadow or distract away from God, that it’s easy to miss God.  All you have to do is look is easy if everything is going well, but it’s a spiritual discipline to learn to see God even in the challenging times. 

*If you need it (because of what I’m about to say) the skip button for the sermon is right down here* but it’s too bad we only read Psalm 23 at funerals.  It’s a good thing that people hear than in the midst of their shadows and grief that God is with them, but this entire Psalm is about a life of awareness and gratitude stemming from the faithful belief that God is always with us.  Every earthy-existence is glowing with fire divine.  Every moment of challenge is met with accompaniment.  All you have to do is look. 

Try this – once a day (it doesn’t matter if you’re feeling like it or not), make some space to be aware.  Put your feet on the floor, rest your hands, and close your eyes if that helps.  Hide your phones or devices for five minutes.  Pay attention to your breath, your breathing, the sunlight on your face.  Find a quiet space in your mind, so that that will make a quiet space in your heart.  And…listen.  Be aware of where you’ve seen God that day, that week.  What taps, or nudges, or phone calls made, or letters sent, or awareness or motivation to do all that.  In the melting snow, in the singing birds in the miraculous and mundane God is there; it’s not always burning bushes, or chariots of fire.

I imagine King David, or the Psalmist, spending time in this same awareness.  They were able to see God in each chlorophyll-coloured blade of grass.  They were able to hear God in the quiet waters.  In the table of reconciliation with enemies, in the richness of the oil, and in the overflowing cup, life and death revealed God’s abundant presence causing hope.  God is in and through everything, you just have to look. 

Where have you seen God in your life this week?  Were there times you felt alone?  Can you see God’s presence in both those times?  For the same God that declared Jesus beloved at baptism, does so again in the chaos of the crucifixion.  What if at the foot of the cross, God is wholly present – pained by rejection, weeping with the disciples and friends, suffering with all those in the midst of death – for this wasn’t the first crucifixion and it wasn’t the last.  It was the first time that we became aware that God was there too. 

The Psalmist challenges us to see God equally in the difficult moments as in the easy ones.  Because if we’re not looking everywhere, we’re likely to miss out on something valuable. 

I wish I had the idea (and the money) to do what a Waterloo man did this week, as he shared on social media that he was hiding money around the Waterloo Region.[2]  People’s wide-eyed searches were not unlike the Psalmist’s: there’s value all around us if we have the eyes to see.  Our seeing and our seeking must be rooted in wonder, discovery, and faith.  Because when we have developed our ability to see, and become aware of God, then we cannot help but be moved to gratitude

Gratitude … shift[s our] awareness. Gratitude changes [our] relationship with life from an attitude of rejecting or defending to one of acceptance and appreciation.

For when you see God in everything, you have much more difficulty rejecting it.  You choose to rest in the pastures rather than sprint past them.  You choose to walk through the death’s dark vale rather than rest in it.  Gratitude originating from awareness allows us to embrace the fullness of each moment.  Gratitude challenges us to accept and appreciate even the difficult moments.  Gratitude shifts our awareness to see that everything reveals God’s presence, for when we remove rejection and embrace each moment, love is unbounded and free:

When the heart is unobstructed, the result is love.  In my country, the poets and the mystics put it so beautifully, they say:  is it possible for a rose to say, I will give my fragrance to good people and hold/withhold it from bad people.  The rose by its very nature cannot but love all.  Is it possible for a lamp lit in the night to say I will give my light to the good people in this room, and without it from the bad?  Is it possible for a tree to say I will give my shade to the good people who sit under me, but withhold it from the bad?  It cannot. And the poet… will say, ‘The tree will give its shade even to the man who is striking it down, and if it is a sweet smelling tree, it will leave its scent on the axe.’

Even from the cross the sweet scent of Jesus’ love persisted.  Even in the deepest, darkest, valley, God’s love is felt.  Even in the absence of everything, the Holy Spirit fills.  God’s unobstructed heart becomes love for all, for God so loves this world.  This love is not limited, restricted, or reserved – there’s no qualifiers or boundaries to God.    

And seeing that, and the ways awareness gives way to gratitude, we’re able to live out our love in public, intentional and explicit ways.  Today is P.I.E. day – as on March 14 in the United Church we ensure that our LGBTQ2SIA+ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Transsexual, Queer and Questioning Two-Spirit, Intersex, Asexual, Plus people) sisters and brothers, daughters and sons, know that we are grateful for what they bring to the earth. 

Beginning with awareness and following down the path to gratitude, love is inevitable.  When we don’t limit our love as the roses, lamps, and trees cannot, when we recognize God in and through everything, then we see the power of love to endure and persist.  For this one love that we share together, gives hope not just to humanity, but this entire world.  God so loves this world, in all its brokenness and beauty.  God so loves this world, both Christ and the crucifiers.  God so loves this world, and we are invited to share in this one, uniting love.  When that one shared love is lived out for all, it builds up our world through knowledge, wisdom, understanding, freedom, justice, equality, it manifests in food and water, clothing and shelter, and peace, love, and happiness. 

There isn’t anything to look for. All you have to do is look.  Surely goodness and mercy shall follow us – it shall pursue us all our days – for we dwell in the house of the Lord, evermore.


[1] Anthony deMello- The Song of the Bird.

[2] https://kitchener.ctvnews.ca/waterloo-man-hiding-cash-around-the-region-for-people-to-find-1.5337435

2 Comments

  1. A wonderful get to gether again to-day,.
    Thank you.
    Also thank you Chris for being with us yesterday at the Drive thru’ Irish Dinner.
    I know people love to connect with you!!
    Very important!!
    Great music and visuals, to-day!1
    Great to have our anthem!
    I love them…..
    Stay well
    Bless you…..

  2. When do we see God? We saw God on Saturday morning at breakfast when a wee chipmunk – the first of the year – appeared on the step at our patio door. He looked in at us and it was as if he was saying – Look, it’s me, I’m back!!!!
    Thank you Chris for another meaningful message. And thanks too for the voices of our choir.

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