Anxious Hearts

Deut 18: 15-20; I Cor 7: 32-35; Mark 1: 21-28

This is now the second or third week that Paul has addressed the community of Corinth on anxiety.  Of course, it’s something that remains prevalent in our own culture.  I’m sure there are many here that take medication for it to be able to cope.  Not that doesn’t help many, but it never allows us to get to the heart of the fear and anxiety that Paul speaks of because really the heart of anxiety is fear.  In our day, though, it’s only been magnified by the use of internet and social media and most definitely the 24/7 news cycle that just seems to bombard us at every waking moment about negativity and fear that only feeds into our own “unclean spirits” as Jesus speaks of rather than trusting the true voice of authority in Christ.

It must have been an issue that the community was aware of that they were willing to write it as a question for Paul in their correspondence.  Now it’s easy to get hung up on how Paul tackles this issues with married men, women, virgins, and the works, but we’d miss the point and once again avoid the deeper lying issue in the community and our own lives.  Getting hung up on the relational way or commitment way Paul handles it only become divisive and leads to greater anxiety.  First and foremost is this need to please.  He speaks of husbands trying to please their wives and wives trying to please their husbands and single people trying to please the Lord, but for Paul, it has nothing to with that.  It’s not about pleasing anyone else, our spouse, our boss, and institution or anything.  First and foremost, as he concludes today, it’s about conforming to Christ.  It’s learning to trust that deeper voice that leads to a greater sense of love and peace.  The challenge is, is that it tends to be the quieter of the voices, a hush from the Lord that tends to be overtaken by the noise around us, just as it was for the community of Corinth.

The irony is, they know the voice of the Christ but the more they are bombarded by the noise, fear, anger, and such, the more they begin to believe that’s the voice of authority only feeding in more to the unclean spirits within us.  We all have them and they love to be fed by anything that is going to feed them the lie that we’re something less than we are.  That’s not the prophetic voice that we hear of in today’s readings.  As a matter of fact, Paul will go onto say that that’s nothing but clashing cymbals and such, simply noise that comes from no greater depth.  I could only imagine what Paul would think today in the face of so much negative chatter, noise capturing our attentions, pulling us away from our truest selves, our deepest selves, the voice of authority in Christ that remains and yet often suffocated by the outside world.  It’s what this community of Corinth faced in trying to conform to the culture rather than to the Christ.

Even in today’s first reading, though, we hear of Moses speak of the prophetic voice that is to be raised up, which is more often than not how it happens, it has to rise up from deep within us.  It’s a lot of work, which makes medication and coping the easier answer.  For the community that Moses speaks to today it’s more about trusting fortunetellers and soothsayers that precedes this reading we hear.  They’re looking for guidance and direction from beyond themselves, and like Corinth, often succumb to the fear of believing.  The path to the prophetic voice takes a great deal of patience, and Moses will go onto say, a learning of how to discern these voices that work in our lives and recognize the voices that lead us to further fear and anxiety and learn to turn them off.  They are loud and unruly, often appealing to the worst of our instincts to react to everything that comes our way.  The prophetic voice requires that will rise up as Moses speaks requires silence and the space in order for that voice to grow.

We are only a week out from the disciples being called in Mark’s gospel and today they’re already thrown into the muck of it all.  As much as Mark’s focus is getting them to Jerusalem and the reality of the cross, Jerusalem has a way of finding them on the way.  Here they are, first stop, and it’s the Sabbath and they’re in the synagogue and Jesus is going to dispel the unclean spirits.  This whole process of following for these would-be disciples is about learning to trust the voice of the Christ in the midst of Jerusalem after Jerusalem.  Just like the people of Corinth they’ll slip into that fear and anxiety.  They’ll have to face the controversy of the religious and political authorities that feed on that fear and will try to appeal to their worst instincts, trying to pull them away from the Christ out of fearing rejection.  That need to please will leave them with, as Paul tells us, a divided heart which only leads to greater anxiety.  If it’s the prophetic voice, that voice of authority, it will continue to rise up until it is acknowledged and followed.  It’s what will see them through some of the most difficult times of their lives when Jerusalem is faced head on by the disciples and each of us.

We aren’t much different than these communities.  We’ve allowed the clashing cymbals to be the so-called prophetic voices in our lives, rooted in fear and insecurity.  We want things instantly and love to react to it all, especially the unclean spirits of our day and the amount of negativity that bombards us day in and day out that over time drowns out the voice of truth, love, peace.  It doesn’t mean that it’s easy or we’re naïve about the realities of the world, but the voice of authority, the voice of the Christ, the eternal, leads us to the deeper place, beyond the differences and divisiveness of our day.  Paul knows by experience, as does Moses.  It’s the journey we must be willing to take, to learn to discern the unclean spirits of our own lives that we’ve taken for granted and learned to trust.  They tend to have all the answers and try to convince us that we’re right and often unworthy.  The voice of God, though, is always breaking through, rising up, trying to remind us who we really are.  It’s that voice, and only that voice, that will take away our fear and anxiety and lead us to the fuller life we desire, a life of peace and a deeper awareness of God’s love.

Save What Was Lost

Wisdom 11:22-12:2; Luke 19: 1-10

In most areas of our lives, we have bought into the idea or belief that “knowledge is power”.  If I want to succeed at anything, I have to have the right knowledge or intellect and I can get what I want.  In the age we live, we are also inundated with information through internet and other sources that we just keep accumulating.  Yet, maybe that’s part of the reason why we change careers so often in this day and age…the knowledge gives us part of the equation, but we know if our heart and soul isn’t into something, it makes it very challenging.  All the knowledge in the world won’t give us what we want in that instance, we will always be left feeling empty when we spend our lives climbing the tree as Zacchaeus does in today’s gospel, trying to find what was lost. 

I think it helps to know some of the symbolism from myth, soul, and dream work to understand what’s going on in this passage.  Many scholars question whether Zacchaeus has already begun to have a conversion in his life and has been feeling empty.  He had all the knowledge and was quite successful at what he did, but it was about him more than it was the people.  He knew how to play the system.  He knew how to make money off the less fortunate and he did it, leaving people resentful of him for what he had done.  Again, though, he did it through his mind.  If we look at all of this as symbol, climbing  the tree for Zacchaeus is where he was comfortable; it’s Zacchaeus getting “in his head” thinking that he could encounter Jesus that way.  We could think and study all we want about Jesus and God, but that’s not where the encounter will take place.  I had a gentleman tell me last evening that it took him 70 years of his life before he knew what it meant to say that he loves Jesus.  We think we can think our way to God, but like Zacchaeus, it will often leave us feeling empty and lonely, knowing something is still missing.  We just can’t think that we can think our way to God!

But then comes the invitation and the openness on the part of Zacchaeus.  Once it comes, nothing will stop us from making the journey.  If climbing the tree is getting lost in our heads, the other symbol of the story is the house.  In dream and soul work, the house often represents the soul.  He is invited down out of his head and into his soul where the encounter will take place.  That doesn’t mean that he could just go from one to the other.  There is a crowd of many negative voices and feelings that Zacchaeus is going to have to encounter before he gets there.  He has swindled people and taken advantage of them and for once he’s going to begin to see what he has done and what has led him to such emptiness.  He will begin to recognize all that he had done to build up his own ego and inflated image of himself while knocking everyone down in the process.  Like Zacchaeus, it is often a stumbling out of the tree that is going to lead us down into the soul, but again, when that invitation comes and we hear the voice of Jesus speak, not much is going to stop us from making it.  We, like him, finally begin to see who we really are.  Like Zacchaeus, the one we often need to be saved from is ourselves and thankfully, as the writer of Wisdom tells us today, God remains patient with us in that process because God is “the lover of souls”.  It becomes authentic to Zacchaeus in the way he wants to reconcile with others, finally knowing in himself that he is a loved sinner.

If our faith is simply about knowledge and intellect, we become dangerous.  We start to lord it over others, build judgments, and become critical of others.  Just think about it, if coming to this Table each week is about trying to understand what transubstantiation is all about or some other big word, it may never lead us to God.  We can go our entire lives and never have an encounter with God.  But like Zacchaeus, when the invitation comes from somewhere deeper within our souls and tells us to leave the tree, we will begin to move and this will become much more than an intellectual experience.  The last line of the gospel today, “For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost.” is a major theme in Luke’s Gospel.  When we are open to this invitation, we begin to realize just what has been lost and sacrificed and that is our soul.  We see it in ourselves; we see it in our world, the absence of soul.  We feel safe in our heads and minds.  We know it and it always seems to be faithful to us.  It has all the answers that we could ever want, but most likely will never give us what we truly desire.  We are invited today, like Zacchaeus, to come out of the tree, probably stumbling along the way, and enter into what has been lost, our souls, so as the Gospel tells us, salvation today will come upon this house.  We don’t have to wait until the end of our lives; salvation is today when we say yes to the invitation from Jesus to come down out of the tree and into our souls.  We can’t think it.  We can’t even know it as an intellectual entity.  We can only be it once it finally comes upon our house.  Come down quickly, for the Lord has invited himself to your house!