Service at First Church on May 19, 2002 by Rev. David HutchinsonCARTOON INTRODUCTION
The exile is a dissident voice in a foreign environment out of place out of synch with the anticipated norm. The exile is a disconcerting critique that peeks beneath the tidy consensus of cultural approval into the hidden and undisclosed neurosis of national soul. The exile is beholden to no power or government or church, but only to the unanswerable; the holy space within this world that fills all, and fills the cities, and the smallest market of thought, not for sale, or for profit, but only to pursue the intricate precision of the ultimate and to see the daily expression of the unspoken in every event of the day, on every newscast, in every human relationship. This is the timeless center from which all proceeds and from the human soul the source of all worlds world of exile and home world without end. AMENSCRIPTURE READING
When asked when the Kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, "The Kingdom of God does not come visibly, nor will people say ĎHere it is,í or ĎThere it is,í because the Kingdom of god is within you." St. Luke 17.20,21
His disciples said to him, "When will the Fatherís imperial rule come?" "It will not come by watching for it. It will not be said, ĎLook, here!í or ĎLook, there!í Rather, the Fatherís imperial rule is spread out upon the earth, and people donít see it." Gospel of Thomas 113
Be on your guard so that no one deceives you by saying, "Look over here!" or "Look over there!" for the seed of true humanity exists within you. Gospel of Mary 4.4THE KINGDOM OF GOD - Stephen Mitchell
There is such a thing as nostalgia for the future. Both Judaism and Christianity ache with it. It is a vision of the Golden Age, the days of perpetual summer in a world of straw-eating lions, when human life will be foolproof, and fulfilled in an endlessly prolonged finale of delight. I donít mean to make fun of the messianic vision. In many ways it is admirable, and it has inspired political and religious leaders from Isaiah to Martin Luther King Jr. But it is a kind of benign insanity. And if we take it seriously enough, if we live it twenty-four hours a day, we will spend all our time working in anticipation, and will never enter the Sabbath of the heart.
When Jesus talked about the kingdom of God, he was not prophesying about some easy, danger-free perfection that will someday appear. He was talking about a state of being, a way of living at ease among the joys and sorrows of our world.
Passages about the kingdom of god as coming sometime in the future are a dime a dozen in the prophets, in the Jewish apocalyptic writings of the first centuries B.C.E., in Paul and the early church. They are filled with passionate hope, with a desire for universal justice, and also, as Nietzsche so correctly insisted, with a festering resentment against "them" (the powerful, the ungodly). But they arise from ideas, not from an experience of the state of being that Jesus called the kingdom of God.
The kingdom of God is not something that will happen, because it isnít something that can happen. It canít appear in a world or a nation; it is a condition that has no plural, but only infinite singulars. Jesus spoke of people "entering" it, said that children were already inside it, told one particularly ardent scribe that he, the scribe, was not "far" from it. If only we stop looking forward and backward, he said, we will be able to devote ourselves to seeking the kingdom of God, which is right beneath our feet, right under our noses; and when we find it, food, clothing, and other necessities are given to us as well, as they are to the birds and the lilies. Where else but here and now can we find the grace-bestowing, inexhaustible presence of God?!
ARRIVING WHERE YOU ALREADY ARE
As promised, we are finally wrapping up our extended series on Modern-Day Exiles. This is one more good reason for Unitarians to take the summer off. It gives their minister a good stopping point in case a sermon series has gone a little too long!!!
Exile refers to anyone who is displaced geographically, socially or philosophically and finds themselves in a culture that does not support their lifestyle decisions, or political or religious viewpoints. This can happen in many different ways and thatís what makes this image so versatile. (You can find some sort of exile around every metaphoric corner!!)
And as you remember (or you may not, thatís okay), there are two perennial dangers for the exile:
The key for the exile is a solid groundedness of self. This is just as much a psychological state as it is spiritual, characterized by interior peace and relaxed centeredness. This is the interesting paradox of the exile; being at home no matter where he or she might be. This is the kingdom of God that Jesus talked about. I donít think he was promoting any particular metaphysical theory or overly concerned about a specific afterlife. The simplest words of Jesus spoke of the blessed life here on earth as it is in heaven. It seems to get more complicated as the followers of Jesus and the church started adding to it after he was gone. But thatís another sermon.
Friday I was here at the office working on this sermon and I was at one of those stuck points where you donít quite know where itís heading next. Thatís when Jeff walked in the door and talked me into going to the park next door and grabbing some lunch. (It doesnít take much to twist my arm!!) We walked over to the bus and thereís something about the aroma of fried food in the air that hits me just right; sitting on a park bench with an order of greasy fries, a coke and the conversation of a good friend on an all-out gorgeous day is all a person can ask for!! Itís one of those moments when you clearly know, "This is good." It also gave me something to get my sermon going again - sitting in the park on a day like Friday is like being in the kingdom. Itís a sense of being at peace with the world, and yourself, and the kind of day it is (good or bad), and the food as well. The details donít matter as much. Itís our state of being. That is the kingdom.
And it is not just an abstract, "head-game" reality. The details are concrete.
For me, my little 7.5 acres in the woods in Monticello is where I feel most at home. When I cross that property line, I am grounded in where I want to be and the work that needs to be done (and thereís lots of it this time of yearÖ) and the dreams of what we want to do next are not laborious. When I met Linda, we described our relationship as "like coming home"; in the sense of feeling so comfortable, safe and so right. It only took one, or maybe two, long conversations at the truck-stop to figure all that out. At times I wasnít so sure I might find something like that. But I have.
And for me, this spiritual community is like coming home. The Unitarian Society is a place where I can speak my mind, find an invigorating exchange of ideas, explore my spiritual interests, and feel the support of intimate relationships. When you feel like an exile in the larger society of culture, thatís when a small society becomes essential. Plus, for me, itís also a job!! It provides my livelihood and enables me to pursue my professional interests as well, all in the context of trying to be there for each other as ministers among many and seeing what that looks like. This really is a unique model if we take it seriously, and thatís what we are slowly attempting to do. And at times I wasnít so sure I might find something like this. But I have.
All of this is the kingdom; a state of being that is, and is the expression of All. It is a wide-open reality that is larger than our largest thoughts.
Last Saturday night we watched the movie K-PAX, a soft-science-fiction film starring Kevin Spacey. (Spacey has the perfect name for a science- fiction flick) His characterís name is Prot and he claims to be from the distant planet K-PAX. This gets him placed in the psychiatric ward at a New York City public hospital under the care of Dr. Powell played by a skeptical Jeff Bridges. One of the interesting side-plots develops around Protís offer to take one of the psyche-wardís residents along with him to K-PAX when he leaves. He makes it perfectly clear that he can only take one, but everyone is convinced it will be them!! They all want to go to K-PAX. One of the patients propose they have an essay contest explaining why they want to go, and Prot gets to pick the best essay. The winner goes to K-PAX. Of course, we donít even know if Prot himself is going to K-PAX, let alone anyone else!! (The hospital staff place bets on it, and a few even pass in an essay.) In the end, Prot does go (kind ofÖ) and one of the patients, Bess, is also unaccounted for. All thatís left is her crumpled essay laying lying! on the bed. And the one line that I could make out in her essay was,
"I have no place to call home."I have my own personal theories on what happened (as does just about everyone else whoís seen the movie), but what I find interesting is the word PAX is the Latin word for peace. Going to K-PAX looks to me like another modern re-telling of the same basic story:
Like The Wizard of Oz Or Alice in Wonderland
Itís the arriving where you already are. The home that is not far away. The kingdom of God that is everywhere and nowhere. Like Dorothy, we each have to find it for ourselves, then those magic slippers will take you home in two-seconds flat. Thereís no place like home, modern-day exile or not, thereís no place like home.
And now may peace abide with each of us today, and reside within us, as if we were home, in this world, and in our body natural and free; the timelessness of this instant flashing an insight that each of us already know only to forget a thousand times, but on the inside, we are still in the know.