Sunday, January 28, 2018

Phil Kniss: Buried dreams, risen hope (meditation for Sandy Wenger licensing)

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Not sure who chose the “Red Sea Road” song 
for Maria and Christopher to sing,
but it was a new one for me,
so I read through the lyrics earlier this week.
I was struck by the song-writers’ provocative phrase
that “we buried our dreams,
but we won’t bury hope.”
And I wondered, how can our dreams lie dead in the ground,
but hope remain alive?

“Hopes and dreams” are words we often use as a pair,
“What are your hopes and dreams for the next ten years?”

This song says that we lay our dreams in the grave,
and leave them lying deep in the earth behind us,
as we walk down the road that lies ahead of us.
And that road is a Red Sea road,
a seemingly impassable road,
that we can’t see the way through, the way across.
But God asks us to trust that God will part the waves,
that we hold on to hope that a way will be found—
never walking alone, always with others—
crossing on the Red Sea Road.

I wonder . . . is the difference between dreams and hope,
where they come from?

Our culture promotes the idea of following our dreams.
There is an assumption that somewhere in our gut,
there are dreams that sometimes get released,
and come to the level of consciousness.
Maybe while we sleep, a dream comes to us,
and we pay attention to it.
Maybe while we are wide awake, out in nature, or the arts,
or immersed in Beethoven’s 9th,
as I was this afternoon.
Sometimes we just get seized by a dream,
a vision of some possible new thing,
and we are drawn toward it.

Now, if “following your dream” is the ultimate good,
then a dream is all you need.
A clear vision, a motivational impulse,
and you go for it, pursuing it with everything you have.

But . . . for us, who confess Christ as Lord,
there is another level of discernment that needs to happen,
before we start the chase.
Before we follow dreams, we are called to follow Jesus.
We are given a pattern for life from our Creator.
Not meaning everything is laid out for us,
or that there is only and ever one right choice.
The pattern is dynamic, and rooted in love.
There is always freedom to choose,
to exercise the creative impulse that is the image of God in us.

But . . . we are not on our own to figure out what our dream is.
We are given a framework.
As in Psalm 139 which we heard today.
Our Creator shaped and formed us, from our mother’s womb,
we were “fearfully and wonderfully made.”
The psalmist said that “God’s eyes saw our unformed body,
and all our days were ordained for us.”

There is a God of love and purpose behind all of this.
When our dreams align with the purposes of God in creation,
then they are no longer mere dreams.
They become hope.

Dreams, that over time are openly examined and discerned,
and found to be part of God’s intentions for us,
become hope.
And we will not, we cannot, bury hope.

Dreams can emerge from all kinds of places.
Gut feelings.
Emotional highs.
Fleeting experiences.
Even cultural and material pressures.
We can have our “dream home” or “dream vacation”
or “dream job.”
Not all dreams are bad, necessarily.
But not all can be achieved.
And not all come from the place of God’s best intention.

Mere dreams can, and must, eventually die and be buried,
and be left behind as we journey on.
But hope we carry with us, and treasure, and hold,
especially when we encounter a Red Sea.

Another way of talking about God’s dream for us,
is with this tree metaphor you chose, Sandy,
as the guiding image for this service.

In the very DNA of the tiny seed that is planted in the ground,
is embedded God’s dream, or God’s hope, for our lives.
There is a pattern established in that seed
that guides how that tree grows and develops,
what it becomes.
But identical seeds don’t produce identical trees.
There are many factors that shape what a tree becomes.
The soil in which it is planted.
The climate.
The storms of life that bend and break and injure.
External disease or attack by insect or animal or human.

Same with us.
We hold on to God’s hope for our lives,
by tending to the health of the tree,
by pruning, by amending the soil, 
by protecting the roots from damage.

Tending to the health of a tree is not a solo act.
It’s a collaboration, a partnership.
There is reciprocity.
The parts of a tree are in dynamic mutual relationship
with each other, and with their environment.

Think about the recent mudslides in California.
On those hills and mountainsides, 
the roots of the trees and undergrowth
drew from the soil,
depended on the soil for growth and well-being.
But the soil also depended on that vegetation,
for its own structure and stability and survival.

And all was well until the wildfires.
But after fire consumed the vegetation,
the earth could not hold up when the rains came.
Everything gave way,
leaving destruction in its path.

Jeremiah 17 promises blessing to
“the one who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in Yahweh.”
That one will be like a tree planted by the water
that sends out its roots by the stream.
It does not fear when heat comes;
its leaves are always green.”

Life and strength come from healthy reciprocity.
As Romans 11 put it,
“if the root is holy, so are the branches.”

Sandy, if you are the tree in this metaphor,
remember that you do not stand alone.

Your licensing today is not about you being 
called out from this community of faith, 
in some way that separates you from it. 
You are being called more deeply into community.

God’s work in this world, above all,
is forming and empowering a people 
to live in this world in a different way, 
to bring about God’s divine purposes in the world, 
to be a healing, saving, and reconciling people, 
in the way that God is a healing, saving, and reconciling God. 

So Sandy, your work as a spiritual director, teacher, mentor, 
is ultimately the work of leading
in the spiritual formation of a people. 
Yes, you will focus your ministry of presence, often, 
on one person at a time. 
But your vocation, as a minister in the context of the church, 
is to bring the resources of the Christian church 
to bear into each individual situation. 
It is to help each one find their place 
in a community of followers of Jesus,
and thus to fulfill their calling as a Christian in community.
You are helping trees discover their place in the forest.

If you expend all your spiritual and emotional energy
taking care of individuals in isolation from each other, 
you might be acting as a good personal coach,
caregiver, counselor, or chaplain,
but you won’t be fulfilling your calling
as a minister of the Gospel serving the people of God.

And you won’t be able to fulfill your vocation,
if this licensing credential somehow sets you apart from this people,
as someone special,
or having a higher calling than other disciples of Christ.

You will be an effective minister
by being an exemplary disciple of Jesus yourself,
and inviting others to join you on the journey.

That means knowing your boundaries and limitations as a human being,
and embracing those boundaries as a gift,
even if some persons you work with
might wish you could be a little bit super-human 
and wave a spiritual wand 
and make their struggles disappear. 

Embracing your humanity as a minister, 
means placing your own walk with Christ 
as the first order of business.
It means taking care of the roots, 
so the roots can take care of you.

May you have the grace and courage to do so.
God bless you.

—Phil Kniss, January 28, 2018

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