“Plenty Good Room (Interbeing)”

MLK and Thich Nhat Hanh, Chicago, 1966

Rev. Dr. Todd Grant Yonkman, Transitional Senior Minister

First Congregational Church of Granby

Sermon for the 5th Sunday of Easter

10 May 2020

Text: John 14:1-14

Plenty Good Room

When I was teenager my dad used to say to me, “You’re just like your mother.” Some of you may have read the piece I wrote this week about the complicated relationship between my parents. They didn’t get along well for a number of reasons. Dad only said, “You’re just like your mother” to me when he was upset with me, so I learned that being “just like my mother” was a bad thing. I watched my own behavior to see for myself if dad was right. Am I just like my mother? And if I am, what kind of man does that make me? My mom is a pastor. If I become one, does that make me “just like” her? How does that affect my relationship with dad? It was all very difficult and complicated, but it’s a situation all of us share to some degree or another. Each of us is the product of parents. The very cells of our bodies are built with the genes of others. This is true not only for parents and children, but for all of life on this planet, even, in fact, for the entire universe. Buddhist monk and peace activist Thich Nhat Hanh has a term for this reality: “Interbeing.”

Interbeing is a term that could describe the truth at the heart of our Scripture text this morning. Jesus says to his followers, “I am in the Father and the Father is in me.” “The Father” is Jesus’ word for God. Jesus is telling us that just like you and I owe our very existence to our parents, Jesus owes his very existence to God. Just like we are formed from the very genes of our parents, Jesus is formed from the very spirit or “breath”–which in the Bible is the same word–of God. In the same way that I am “just like” my mother, Jesus is “just like” God. And, by the way, so are you. So am I.

A few verses later Jesus says, “You will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.” In other words, we are just like Jesus. In the same way Jesus is in God and God in Jesus, we are in Jesus and Jesus is in us. God, Jesus, you, me, the entire universe, we all–to once again use the words of Thich Nhat Hanh–”inter-are.” 

This can all sound very abstract and impractical, but it actually isn’t. In fact, you don’t need religion–whether Buddhism, Christianity, or any other–to tell you that we are all inescapably interconnected. Science tells us this. Biology tells us this. Physics tells us this. Common sense tells us this. The coronavirus tells us. What we need religion for is to remind us what we already know–that my health and wellbeing is intimately connected to yours. What we need religion for is to hold us accountable for doing what is right, no matter how difficult that might be.

Dr. King famously said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. nominated Thich Nhat Hanh for the Nobel Peace prize. His statement about justice is a statement of interbeing. Racism isn’t just a problem for the South, racism is a problem right here in Granby. Homelessness isn’t just a problem for Hartford or Springfield. In fact, one of our church members who has been active in affordable housing for years said in a meeting this week that most of the homeless in Hartford don’t come from Hartford. They come from places like Granby, like Simsbury, like West Hartland. To look down on other communities–even if it is in pity–as if these issues are problems for “those people” is to completely miss the truth of interbeing. This is what makes interbeing so difficult. Relieving your suffering isn’t as much about changing you as it is about changing me. Ending homelessness isn’t so much about changing Hartford, it’s about changing Granby.

Because he was speaking in and to a patriarchal culture, Jesus said, “I am in the Father and the Father is in me.” But he could just as easily have said, “I am in my Mother and my Mother is in me.” On this day when we honor mothers, we can honor them by remembering our connection to all of life. On this day when we take time to make expressions of love to our mothers we can consider whether it is truly possible to love our mothers without also loving our neighbors. On this day when we recognize the priceless gift of life our mothers have given us, we realize that life is not ours to keep but ours to share.

Worship Resources for Epiphany 6A based on Matthew 5:21-37

Call to Worship                                                                                      

Jesus said, “Love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.”

Jesus said, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

We do our best to love others.

Sometimes we become angry, even with those we love.

Holy God, teach us how to handle anger.

Teach us how to speak the truth in love.

Prayer of Dedication                                                                            

Holy God, we dedicate our offerings in service of love and justice. Amen.

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 2-14-20

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 2-14-20

Handling anger is difficult to do well. Buddhism, for example, identifies anger (along with greed and ignorance) as one of the “three poisons.” In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says, “everyone who becomes angry with his brother is liable to judgment.” Anger is a human emotion. We feel it, often before we’re consciously aware of it. Anger “overcomes” us, floods our neurotransmitters, narrows our vision, sets our hearts racing, “boils” in our guts. It activates the “fight or flight” response in the most primitive parts of our brain. Anger can be incredibly destructive whether we express it outwardly in hurtful words and actions or turn it inward where it manifests as depression, bitterness, and physical ailments. So how do we handle it?

Although I doubt they intended to, my family taught me that anger was scary and shameful. They didn’t teach me this explicitly. Like all children, I learned my lessons on anger by watching my caregivers (who, in turn, learned how to handle anger from their caregivers.) We were a Dutch immigrant family that tended toward emotional reserve. As an adult I can see that there was a lot of anger under the surface. I’m grateful I didn’t witness any physical violence or verbal abuse. Instead rage seethed underneath and manifested as physical absence, cutting remarks, alcoholism, infidelity, lying, and other passive-agressive behaviors. This disconnect between how we as a family presented ourselves publicly as happy and healthy and the chaos churning behind closed doors created its own challenges for me as I became an adult.

As an adult I’m still very much learning how best to handle my anger. For me, meeting the reality of anger begins and ends with awareness. It was a huge shift for me simply to admit that I’m incredibly angry . . . for all kinds of reasons. These days most of my anger is in the form of “moral outrage.” I anger myself when I notice my own failings as a Christian. I notice loving churches that have so much to offer their communities “hiding their light under a bushel” while mean, vengeful, and bigoted Christians spread their message far and wide and I get very, very angry. Mostly I’m exhausted by the moral outrages of our current politics, but when our government puts children in cages or when 26 first-graders are gunned down in their classroom and politicians cry “2nd amendment” or when I notice the casual, day-to-day violence and racism that implicate all of us who vote, pay taxes, and work for the improvement of our communities, my anger flares up, and I say something.

Just creating the psychic space where anger can come into view increases the likelihood that I can engage it productively. It’s become a joke around our house when I’m moping and acting out of sorts for my wife to say to me, “Now Todd, use your words.” Just saying “I’m angry” opens the door for conversation that can create the conditions whereby anger, which is simply a form of psychic energy, can be directed toward fixing a situation that is not as good as it could be.

Anger arises in the context of love. Mr. Rogers put it this way, “It’s the people we love the most who can make us feel the gladdest and the maddest! Love and anger are such a puzzle!” Jesus’ command to “love your neighbor as yourself” is the context for his teaching on anger. This week at First Congregational Church of Granby we will stand close enough to the flame of anger to benefit from its warmth and energy yet at a respectful enough distance that none gets burned.

Worship Resources for Epiphany 4C February 3, 2019

*Call to Worship                                                                                                   Public opinion blows this way and that. You’re a hero one minute and a villain the next. While that may be the way of politics, it’s not the way of Jesus. How can we ground ourselves in what is really real, really true, and really good? One way to start is through the ancient practices of worship. Let the storms of the world blow, in here we’re calm, centered, and ready for God’s word of truth.

Prayer of Confession

Holy God, we confess our fascination with palace intrigue and political fights. It’s easy to get caught up in the latest outrage. We admit we are all too ready to point out the faults of others, but are reluctant to look into the mirror of your truth. Give us the courage to deal with the log in our own eye before we go searching for the speck in our neighbor’s. Give us clean hearts so that when we are faced with injustice, we can speak to it with a clear voice. Show us where we need to get into good trouble. Amen.

*Prayer of Dedication

We pray that no one would ever have to put their lives on the line for the cause of justice, but we recognize that sometimes you call Christians to do just that. We dedicate these offerings not simply as tools of charity but as tokens of our commitment to justice. Amen.