May 16 sermon: Touched in heart and mind
Readings : Acts 1 the choice of Judas’ replacement and John 17 Jesus prays for his followers going into the world
Touched in heart and mind
Jesus prays “But now I am coming to you, and I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves.”
This Eastertide is a time for deep reflection, reconnection with a basis of faith: In the last two weeks I suggested big questions:
- Why are you here
- Who are you?
- What is essential.
Today I ask another: ‘What are you anxious about?’
I have been chaplain at McGill and now minister at WPUC. Anxiety abounds. Students anxious about careers, definining their success or failure, exaggerated by tests, keeping up grades. Church members worry about affording a minister, or the renewal of our elderly memberships.
Back to the future in the NT and they were anxious – in the Acts reading we read there is a sense of incompletion, they were lacking an Apostle (Peter gives reassurance that Judas death was itself fulfilling prophecy, but still a replacement is needed, why? because being 12 mattered, they were anxious to be the number ie nature Christ chose) or, listening to the Gospel, they were anxious about persecution (with Jesus praying for the protection of his disciples as they go out into the world – John’s church already experienced hostility).
In Jesus’ day there were plenty for any Jew to be anxious about. It was Agrarian society always dependent on rain. Their land was occupied by violent force. There were unknown diseases and sudden accidents: life itself is uncertain. Uprisings are talked about in secret and in the bigger picture, drawing conclusions: the Judgement of God must be upon us all, and some were looking for a Messiah to end the hopelessness and injustice with the end of life itself.
Do you know the film High Anxiety? – A comedy by Mel Brookes that is a brilliant tribute to the master of suspense Alfred Hitchcock tribute, eg the birds. Then or now we are anxious.
But what is anxiety? Easy to see in the film, its about what’s going to happen next, its the tensions that overwhelms; the anxiety fall with the resolution of tension in a story. How do we know it is anxiety? Its felt in the body. How are you anxious? Where are you anxious? You are conscious of some but not all; often we store up the unconscious anxieties in the chest region, when tensions are not being coped with our breathing is incomplete.
Perhaps we can go into scripture and find how they use the body to guide us with out anxieties today? But its not so simple. Here’s a Game to locate how we understand our bodies: Where do you make decisions – mind (BUT then it was the heart – emotion fused thought, mind was in the heart)
Where/How do you communicate? – lips and ears, yes but then not with the hand and certainly not the computer/internet. The hand and feet belong to the realm of actions for NT folk. There was a different understanding of the body then. People saw the body three zones:Heart mind, eyes, for emotion-fused thought. Lips and ears for communication and hands/feet for actions. This meant that when someone wanted to express a complete response they would make reference to all three zones. This is what we find in the text of John with which I began this sermon.
“But now I am coming to you, (action, at the Ascension Jesus lifts his hands) and I speak these things in the world (communication, lips and ears) so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves (emotion fused thought, heart and mind – A prayer for completion, touched in heart and mind).”
Come to today. We have anxiety, we feel it, worried for what the future holds, at times feeling overwhelmed by tensions. We do not want this High Anxiety but just a minute, a world without tensions is not the world we know, we need some guidance here, and I found it with a great book by H A Williams, Necessary Conflicts in Life and Love. He helps us to discern between life-giving and life -denying tensions. What I could call Holy, rather than High, Anxieties. Holy Anxieties like:
- Jacob wrestles with the angel of God, in coming home to who he is
- There are generally not 2 but 100 sides to any question; faith has to take doubt on board, faith accepts the tension of competing truths.
- Unless there is the capacity to hate, there is not the capacity to love: ‘ We can love God and our neighbour only at the expense of also being able to hate both of them’.
- ‘Like the lion and the unicorn, the imagination and the critical reason have to chase each other round the town.’
Acceptance of such tensions is crucial to avoid the High Anxieties; the neurotic destructive ones like these: “God can remain for us no more than a breast to suck or a Big Brother who relieves us from the burden of being ourselves. Faith can be no more than a bigoted and blinkered adhesion to beliefs whose function is to keep us feeling cosy and safe. Love can be a disguised narcissism; we think it is God or our neighbour we see in the pool when all the time it is only ourselves. Knowledge can be considered as a deceiver who never delivers the goods and leaves us in a state of complete scepticism and despair.”
H A Williams concludes Easter tells us that life is stronger than death, and this means if and when we get into these High Anxieties, life will not leave us to die, but seemingly act against us, but its not really against us but the distortions of our true selves, so these neuroses, these dead end unhappinesses we carry, are like physical pains, calling us to look for new beginnings in who we truly are. And I find in this reflection on Anxiety, some more answers to why I am here, in Church, and who I really am, like:
- To be complete, is not to be alone,
- It is to Bear the Load of one another yes, as we shall sing in our prayers shortly,
- It is to live through life-giving anxieties, and not to affirm the life-denying ones, but to be true to my real self and let falsehood go.
And Jesus Christ, lived this life of Holy Anxieties. Jesus Christ has gone ahead of us and prayed to his Father in heaven for us.
“I am coming to you, and I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves.”
Touched in heart and mind