July 1 Sermon

“Meditation”                                                                                                               Exodus 20:18-21
Rev. Sean Weston                                                                                                          Psalm 63:1-8
Lyonsville Congregational UCC, Indian Head Park IL
July 1, 2018

A few years ago, at the start of the new year I planned a silent retreat for myself. I arranged to stay in an apartment at the United Church of Christ’s camp in Kansas. I would spend Friday to Sunday afternoon alone, with nobody else around. The plan was to hang out with God and make goals for the year. “I’ll finally have the time and space to listen to God,” I thought. I’ll be able to do all the prayer I don’t usually have time for! I’ll cook real meals! I looked forward to it for weeks.

On New Years Day I was so excited as I got in the car and drove to the camp. I got settled in, put the food away, went on a quick walk, and returned to the apartment as darkness fell. Ready and excited to hang out with God, I sat in silence. But the feelings of spiritual joy didn’t come. Instead I began to feel a sense of dread and panic. The silence was so…silent. My aloneness was so….alone. The darkness was so….dark. Suddenly the idea of a weekend spent this way terrified me. It took everything in me not to pack up and leave just then.

I was eventually able to quiet myself down a little bit. I got some goals for the coming year figured out. I realized that the silence and darkness wasn’t going to swallow me up. But I couldn’t make it as long as I planned. I went home early.

It turns out I wasn’t quite ready to spend a whole weekend just with myself and God. I was so used to a loud, busy, fast-paced life that having some time and space just for myself was too much. Most days I hadn’t set aside five minutes to connect with God. What made me think I could make up for it all at once?

Today begins a sermon series on spiritual practices. Spiritual practices are the things we do to be closer to the Holy. Today we’ll begin with meditation. Before I lose you I want to make clear that meditation is not something that only extra spiritual people with tons of time on their hands can do. Neither is meditation a way to escape from the world and avoid facing human suffering. No, meditation doesn’t take people away from the world, or make you distant from the world. It helps us live better, more fully and faithfully in it. Meditation will often help you find direction in very practical ways: how to relate better to a loved one, how to resolve a challenging situation, how to put your ideals into action. Spiritual teacher Richard Foster says this: “Christian Meditation, very simply, is the ability to hear God’s voice and obey [God’s] word. I wish I could make it more complicated for those who like things difficult. It involves no hidden mysteries, no secret mantras, no mental gymnastics…the truth of the matter is that the great God of the universe, the Creator of all things [wants to be with us.]”[1]

But letting God near us is often hard, and scary. Think of God’s people the Israelites in today’s reading from Exodus. They knew that God was nearby talking to Moses. They saw lighting and thunder and lots of noise and wanted nothing to do with it. So they said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we’ll listen. But don’t let God speak to us, or we’ll die.” So they stood at a distance. Moses told them not to be afraid, God just wanted to make sure that they would act right. That didn’t really help, after all, who always acts right? They didn’t want to get too close to God. It was too risky. So they asked Moses to go as a go-between. And ever since people have been looking for someone to stand between them and God. To be in God’s presence and hear God’s word is to change. And who wants to change?

I might not want to change but I do want change. I can rattle off a list of things I don’t like about the world, and I can rattle off a list of things I wish were different in my life. I imagine you can too. I want to live in a world where everybody has what they need. I want the endless stream of bad news to stop. I want love and justice to be the law of the land, not greed and violence and hatred. God can help us build a that world, but we must listen. God can help us lead better lives, but we must listen. Maybe you’ve seen the internet cartoon of the preacher in church asking the people “who wants change?” Then she follows up by asking “who wants to change?” and every single hand goes down.

Christian Meditation is the ability to hear God’s voice and obey God’s word. If we want change in the world, if we want change in our lives, we must want to hear God. So the first step in meditating is to pray for the desire to hear God’s voice. Something like this: “God, I’m not completely sure that you really want to talk directly to me. And if you could, I’m not sure I’d like what you have to say. Help me want to listen, anyways. Help me try.”

God wants to be near us. God will help us try if we ask.

I’ve included a half-sheet in your bulletin with some more information about meditation and different ways to try it. If you want to explore this more, grab a cup of coffee after worship for a while and then head to the East Fellowship Hall. But right now I’d like us all to try a quick meditation exercise called “palms down, palms up.”

  • Palms down – turning over concerns to God. Give examples. When you’re ready, say “palms down” and release it.
  • [give some moments of silence]
  • Palms up – receive something from God. Give examples. When you’re ready, say “palms up.”
  • Spend a few more moments in silence. Don’t ask for anything. Let God love you. If you hear some direction or insight, fine. If not, fine.

Like me a few years ago, you might want to start big and then get discouraged quickly. It’s exciting to start something new, but hard when it doesn’t seem to work at first. Growing spiritually takes time. Be patient with yourself. As Foster says “it is wise to have some experience with lesser peaks before trying to tackle the Mt. Everest of the soul….you are learning a discipline for which you have received no training. Nor does our culture encourage you to develop these skills. You will be going against the tide, but take heart; your task is of immense worth.”[2] So try, and keep trying, one little bit at a time. Trust me, I’m learning too. I’m far from an expert.

Despite all of the good reasons to avoid being close to God, the joy and peace that God offers makes it worth the risk. The transformed world God wants to build with us makes it worth what we must leave behind. Over time, we might learn to say with the Psalmist: “I will bless you as long as I’m alive; I will lift up my hands in your name. I’m fully satisfied—as with a rich dinner. My mouth speaks praise with joy on my lips—whenever I ponder you on my bed, whenever I meditate on you in the middle of the night—because you’ve been a help to me and I shout for joy in the protection of your wings. My whole being clings to you; your strong hand upholds me.”

God wants to be with us. And it is so very worth it. Amen.

[1] Richard Foster, Celebration of Discipline (London: Hodder, 1980), 21. The quotation was altered to avoid gendered language for God and provide more reading comprehension while preserving meaning.

[2] Foster, 36.