There is an American Indian painting called “Returning”. The figures in the painting are dancing together as they used to. They are moving on across the page, in pastel colors, they are not dancing to create war. In this painting they are moving together to peace. They were pulled away by the expansion and development of this country, their land taken, their customs diluted, their spiritual practices subjugated.
This artist is portraying the hope of returning to the ways of simple tribal life, where they lived together on the land in community, eating what they could hunt and grow, living in peace and relative prosperity.
They had been divided and their identity, torn apart, their dignity disdained. They came face to face with a people whose lives were different and perhaps both groups passed judgment upon each other, not taking the time to understand.
This image of a people returning, who have wandered away, is what comes to mind as I look at today’s words in Paul’s letter to the Romans. We are admonished by Paul. Well, Paul was admonishing the Christians living in Rome. Perhaps we live in the Rome of our day and, just maybe, the message here is big enough to be for us too.
We are told to welcome others, but not for the purpose of quarreling over opinions. And isn’t it interesting that he brings up this issue of diet. “Some believe in eating anything, while the weak eat only vegetables.” That’s an opinion in itself and quite the opposite from the Old Testament story of the young Hebrew men in the Persian court of King Nebuchadnezzar, who grew strong and healthy eating only vegetables, not the rich food of the king’s court. We are still arguing about what to eat.
As we continue the reading of the scripture, we see that the point isn’t about veggies vs meat and sweets. It says, “Who are you to pass judgment on others?” And it goes on to speak of some who judge one day to be better than another, and others who say the days are all alike.
I remember one day saying to a friend that Santa Lucia is holy ground. I guess holy because we have prayed there, had baptisms, weddings and funerals and many people have come for 30 or 40 years to play and camp together as families. And for some of us, it is Holy Ground.
My friend’s godly response was everywhere God is, is holy ground! And God is everywhere we are and God is everywhere. Everything is holy ground. He made it and he inhabits it. Now, I could have argued my view and how I was thinking, but I seems that what Paul is saying to us is something like, “Either way we look at it, it is God’s.” My friend just had a bigger view, at that time, than I did.
The scripture goes on to say, “Why do you pass judgment on your brother or sister? Or, why do you despise your brother or sister? For we all stand before the judgment seat of God.” Why do we say, “I am right and you are wrong?” Why do I have it all figured out but you just have things mixed up and messed up?
That’s what we do every four years at national election time. And we get down and out and mean and nasty. We don’t say, “I have a different idea,” or “Can I share my idea with you?” And will you listen to mine?” “Maybe we can come up with something better for all of us,” or “If we can’t then… we can just respect each other’s dignity.”
Why do we think if we are in the same family, blood family or spiritual family, that the other person is so wrong that we run away from home or from each other instead of saying, “Whatever we do, we do to the Lord.” Why do we have to win instead of understand. As I sat with these questions in my mind this week, the words of a poem came dancing before me.
Most of you know that before I came here to be with you at All Saint’s, I lived in Tucson, Arizona, where for 6 years I served as a hospice chaplain.
One day, I made my first visit to George, a ninety year old man, who was suffering from an increasing dementia. I was surprised at his excitement to see me. He knew the chaplain was coming. His grandson was staying with him and greeted me and brought me into the living room to meet George.
George was an accountant who had served professionally, as an officer, for years, in the Coast Guard. He was a devout Lutheran. For many of the ocean sorties they made, there was no Coast Guard chaplain with them, so he had taken on that role and had taken seriously his calling to be a pastor and the voice of God to those he served.
When I walked in that day, within 10 minutes he was up and rummaging through his desk to find a paper he wanted to show me. I couldn’t believe what I saw! It was run on sentences, far worse than we ever see in the work of the Apostle Paul. Very hard to read, without periods and commas or even paragraphs.
Nevertheless, I started to read and looked up to see him smiling at me. I knew I was reading something wonderful. And he knew it too. It looked like it was typed, not from a computer and I wondered how old it was. I asked him if he’d like me to go through it and make it easier to read. Yes, He would be grateful. Fearing it as the sole copy, I asked the grandson to make a copy and I would come back the next week to get it.
I managed to divide it into sentences and paragraphs. I imagine it was written many years ago, but with words like “ego” and “consciousness” and “may we not teach the body to rule the mind” and “galaxies and beyond.” It seemed almost new age like, but you will see it was very much about our journey with Christ.
It feels to me like he is standing with the Apostle Paul. He talks about understanding each other, going through stages, dropping our egos and the awareness that we should be at one to help each other. I thought I’d let him speak to you with his own words.
He wanted this poem to be published. It seemed that his family didn’t really get it.
He gave me permission to have it published in the newsletter of a Lutheran Church and I was able to bring him a copy. I read this at his funeral. It is called “The Plow.”
Help us to understand that we were all intruders in this land of cause and effect. We ourselves and everything around us are the products of the energy of your will. We give thanks for a free, conscious mind and for the energy we receive to sustain it.
We contribute to the compromise of our ideals, even in the name of our Lord, who allowed himself to be crucified in that the forgiveness could be started. We prepare ourselves to live our faith and for the advent of the Lord through us by generating cheerful conscious minds of service that cultivate the ability to build up the self-respect of others.
Minds that look to you as home, rest here calm and still, alert to receiving an element of God through others and from within because we were, we are, we always will be companions to the center of creation with prayer.
Knowing adversity may come without warning, we prepare to hold this ideal of love. Through the ordeal of the adversity, we know that any obligation at hand is always less of an ordeal than hanging and dying on that cross.
Hatred and anger will only give life to the anti-Christ. We bring a mental picture of the twenty third psalm together with the ordeal of the adversity, again, again and again, until we can hold them in our mind simultaneously and we have de-sensitized ourselves and we have forgiven!
May we not teach the body to rule the mind. Nor let the ruler emerge a judge, an expert on weakness and differences of others, but we look past their personality through the gentleness of their childhood and then we see our Lord in the eyes of every man, woman and child.
We point home our conscious minds until we are aware of your Holy Spirit. Always, we resolve to lay aside our egos replacing priorities of self with priorities of family, friend, neighbor and enemy, in that order.
We look for these elements in us that are like our Lord and allow them to emerge unimpaired to the end that someday we may drop our egos altogether, develop our understanding of your Holy Spirit, understand that we should be at one with you and gentle conduits of your divine love, joining you in building all of us to be acceptable in your presence.
We resolve to look for and hold to this ideal with all of our hearts, minds and souls and may it be a path to you, toward you, through our Lord crucified, condensing it quickly as we need it, under pressure.
May we not take our hand from this implement as we plow our way through our detachment, the understanding, the righteousness, the love and all the other stages we may pass, as we return toward you, knowing we are the object of your love and are separated only when external stimulation and self-gratification are the objects of our love.
We are to the ends of the galaxies and beyond, and the use of our ability to ignore God is our primal enemy, through which all enemies flow.
We give thanks for these accomplished resolutions as they now unfold to our understanding, committing them to memory, prayer and meditation.
– George Roath
Well, it is George, not me who has given you today’s challenge.
Let us pray
Sweet Holy Spirit, how thankful we are that you have given these words to your servant George. Give us, we pray, minds to understand and hearts to love and the grace to forgive ourselves, our families and friends, our community and our enemies.
Help us, God, to end the wars we create and restore the balance. Help us to make you, and all who we meet, the object of our love. In the name of Jesus, the word, who is the way.
The Rev. Cynthia M. Spencer (Retired) preached at All Saints’ Episcopal Church, Carmel