The Ripple Effect
Actions create stories that create expectations. Maybe you have a nice meal at a restaurant, and you tell a friend. They expect the same. Expectations create open spaces where truth can be revealed. Maybe the bread pudding was like ambrosia – maybe not – but the truth is revealed. Truth cannot be revealed unless you are looking for it. And when it is revealed, the truth is not a set of facts to describe something else. Truth is the greater reality that we are caught up in. It is so much larger than each of us that it can only be held by hands bound together in love. And our concept of love has its roots in our life experiences. It has deep roots in our conflicts and compliments. It takes nourishment from receiving and giving, and it is watered by our memories of the actions of others.
My father had a saying on his desk that reminds me of the importance of these life experiences. It was actually a quote from Maya Angelou, though his pride would not let him admit it. It simply said, “I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” And that is where the trouble begins, or at least it’s a good place for it to start.
I recently read an article about the potential for trouble in our search for truth. It was an interview with Harville Hendrix, a well known relationship therapist and bestselling author. The primary question for the interview was, “Why is it so threatening for us to think that we might be wrong?” In psychological terms he basically affirmed that we allow our perspective to become our reality. In order to make sense of the world we interpret what we sense, what we do, and what has been done to us into something that we expect to be the same for everyone. We generalize our experiences and perspectives into what we expect to be common, until we find out that it is not. That does not mean that we are necessarily, factually wrong about something, but it does mean that sometimes we have to decide – in the words of Dr. Hendrix – if we want to be right or if we want to be in a relationship.
Dr. Hendrix is of course referring to intimate relationships, but I think that applies to all relationships – especially the ones most affected by those times when you find out that your job is no longer yours, or you feel betrayed by someone you trust, or the diagnosis you were waiting on was not favorable, or your friend voted for someone intolerable, or you find out that professional sports simply have bad sportsmanship, or – even worse – your friend that told you about that restaurant really has no idea what bread pudding is supposed to taste like in the first place.
In times like these we often look to the most important relationship that we can have, and that is the relationship between the created and our Creator. It seems most common these days for people to shake their fist and expect God to come fix the brokenness that we have created or inherited. But that’s not what God does.
In our passage from Deuteronomy, we find that this is nothing new. The ancient Israelites knew that they needed God, but they were also certain that they needed someone to go between them and God. Moses promised another prophet like himself – one who will speak the actual words of God – so that the people can follow this new prophet the way they followed Moses. Of course, the irony in all of this is that they did not follow Moses so much as they dragged one another along! In the end their story is not so much about them as it is about God – an active, present God of redemption and promise.
And into the reality of a present God and a people in need of redemption, Jesus became the word of God in flesh. He came because the letter of the law is not what liberates. He came because sometimes we get things wrong, even when we are in the right.
That’s why Paul wrote to the church in Corinth about food. It wasn’t actually about food, and they probably didn’t even have bread pudding anyway. It wasn’t really about idols or idolatry. It was about choosing to be in a relationship as a covenant community over and above being right. Over and over again Paul talks about knowledge being tempered with love. Over time, knowledge changes, but love remains. Even within a person our identities shift and change with our experiences and understandings, yet there is something within us that never changes. It is our true self, and it is found when we seek the truth that is so big that it holds us.
In that truth, in that love, we find ourselves to be part of a life giving community. And that leads us to this question – how do we do that? How do we give life? We don’t have that same problem they did. In fact, if I asked you each to name the one thing that is keeping us from knowing God, I’m pretty sure I would get a lot of different answers. Some of them would even be the exact opposite!
So, I think that means we have a slightly harder task. It doesn’t mean that we have to agree on one big community sin. It means that we have to talk with one another, listen to one another, and find out what matters to one another. It means that we first have to figure out how to be a life giving force to one another. According to Paul, we need to let our knowledge be tempered with love. That will lead us to do two things. The first is to get out of each other’s way when it comes to faith. If there is a way of doing things or something particular that we do that limits someone else from experiencing God’s presence – we have to let it go.
But there is something more. It is not enough to bow to the needs of one another. In fact we shouldn’t be doing that at all if it simply means that someone else is getting their way. Everything must be in the service to the one who is the Author of our story – the one who is recognized by unclean spirits and amazed onlookers.
And that means that we have to recognize the parts of our own souls that call out to the presence of God in one another. We have to recognize the parts of us that are terrified by the idea that we could be wrong, even when we know that we are right. And when we do, we have to be caught up in the story that brings life – so that our actions will come from that story and not from our fears.
We have been telling the story of hope and redemption for a long time, and in some ways we are about to begin a new chapter. In our Christian Education discussions we have been focusing on the question, “How do we nurture Christian faith.” In our Session retreat we followed that discussion with the acknowledgement that our congregation is somewhat like an incubator. Before the public school system picked it up, we held the pre-school. Members of our congregation were founding members of the United Christian Outreach, CUPS, and the Wesley Campus Ministry. We have even been involved either directly or indirectly in the formation of two sister congregations!
My point is not too puff you up with that knowledge. My point is to say that if we are a community of love and grace, then we must continue to build up the faith of others. What space for nurturing faith and demonstrating the power of God will we come up with next? What does our community need in order to grow spiritually? These are questions we need to be asking while we look to the future we have in God.
As we ask these questions, our actions will flow. Our actions will create stories that create expectations. These expectations will create open spaces where truth can be revealed, and the truth can only be held by hands bound together in love. May it be so with your hands and mine, and even with those hands are waiting for ours to reach out to them in love. And to God be the glory, now and always. Amen.