Yes

Reading


by Fra Giovanni
 
I salute you. I am your friend, and my love for you goes deep. There is nothing I can give you which you have not. But there is much, very much, that, while I cannot give it, you can take. No heaven can come to us unless our hearts find rest in it today. Take heaven! No peace lies in the future which is not hidden in this present little instant. Take peace! The gloom of the world is but a shadow. Behind it, yet within our reach, is joy. There is radiance and glory in darkness, could we but see. And to see, we have only to look. I beseech you to look!
 
Life is so generous a giver. But we, judging its gifts by their covering, cast them away as ugly or heavy or hard. Remove the covering, and you will find beneath it a living splendor, woven of love by wisdom, with power. Welcome it, grasp it, and you touch the angel's hand that brings it to you. Everything we call a trial, a sorrow or a duty, believe me, that angel's hand is there. The gift is there and the wonder of an overshadowing presence. Your joys, too, be not content with them as joys. They, too, conceal diviner gifts.
 
Life is so full of meaning and purpose, so full of beauty beneath its covering, that you will find earth but cloaks your heaven. Courage then to claim it; that is all! But courage you have, and the knowledge that we are pilgrims together, wending through unknown country home.

 

Sermon


I must answer yes to life.  Just as long as I have breath, I must answer yes to life. Though pain may accompany me, I will keep the spirit of hope alive in my heart and I will answer yes to life. Yes.  Yes.  Yes.

As I pondered the content of this sermon on Friday, I decided to go for a walk to clear my head.  I stopped at the local green grocer, and while I was picking out some apples, I noticed a man - a very thin, shabbily dressed man - approach another shopper for something. She dismissed him quickly without ever looking him in the face.  I guessed that he was begging…  He came over to me next.  I quickly mumbled “no - sorry - no.” I was careful not to look him in the eye.  He moved on.

“That was fortunate,” I thought. I was glad he wasn’t persistent.  He accepted my “no” without pressing me. Now I could go back to thinking about my important sermon on the topic of answering “yes” to life.

I began to walk back home and I hadn’t gone more than 50 yards when there he was in front of me again, walking my way looking directly at me - there was no escape this time. “Hey man, I’m hungry.  Can you help?” He muttered.  I didn’t hear a voice from the heavens or receive the holy rap on the head that I may have deserved, but it did begin to dawn on me at that moment that I wasn’t exactly practicing what I was preparing to preach!  

[Sing first verse of Just as Long as I have Breath]

I looked at the man.  He looked back. I said “I won’t give you any cash, but I’ll buy you some food if you like.” He nodded. We walked together to the small café that he pointed to.  I ordered the food he wanted - weak tea and a bacon roll.  It came to £2.20. 

Earlier, we heard these words from Fra Giovanni:

      Life is so generous a giver. But we, judging its gifts by their covering, cast
      them away as ugly or heavy or hard. Remove the covering, and you will
      find beneath it a living splendor, woven of love by wisdom, with power. 
      Welcome it, grasp it, and you touch the angel's hand that brings it to you. 
      Everything we call a trial, a sorrow or a duty, believe me, that angel's
      hand is there.

The man took my hand in his - I noticed how it felt - it was somehow different from what I expected. His hand was warm, dry and strangely comforting. He looked in my eyes, and said “Thank you.  God bless you.”  

It was £2.20 well spent. 

[Sing first verse of Just as Long as I have Breath]

I had been entirely ready to push away a part of life because I expected it would be unpleasant…  It would be a distraction and a waste of time. The man might do something embarrassing and make me look bad.  He might start raving or yelling. He might get out of control and make me afraid or even put me at risk. If I got closer to his pain, I might feel too sad, too hopeless, too despondent.  So I tried to push away the experience - tried to avoid it - to deny the existence of his situation and his suffering.

We live in the busiest city in a busy nation at the busiest time in human history.  Each day, even before we leave the relative quiet of our own homes, we may be exposed to television, radio, newspapers, family, the internet, neighbours, traffic noise, barking dogs, sirens…  It goes on and on.  And when we do go out into the streets, the demands for our attention are even greater and more pressing. There is no way that we can engage with everything that comes our way.  We have to filter most of it out just to be able to function. We have to say “no” to most of life in order to survive.

But what do we choose to filter out and what do we choose to allow in?

Think back for a moment to a momentous time in your life - a time when you grew and changed in some major way. What events or influences made that happen?  Were they things that - at first - you would have labelled as good? As welcome? 

For me, most of these events were what I would have called “bad” and “unwelcome.”  I would have avoided them - pushed them away - if I could have. 

There was the confrontation that led to a stronger more loving friendship. There was the criticism that led to greater self knowledge.
There was the disappointment that led to a more authentic path.
There was the need to move to a different country that led to my being here with you…

Sometimes, like the man who approached me on Friday, these opportunities were insistent and I was blessed by the goodness within these bad events. 

More often, rejected, pushed away, these chances for change and growth simply evaporated. I can only guess what gifts were hidden beneath the coverings that I judged as ugly or heavy or hard. 

[Sing first verse of Just as Long as I have Breath]

Just as long as my heart beats, I must answer, Yes, to love,

Do you answer yes to love?  At first blush, it seems an easy thing.

I imagine my door bell ringing - I open the door - a delivery person hands me a dozen red roses. Their sweet perfume greets me, envelops me like an embrace. “Sir, would you agree to accept this love?” Oh, yes, thank you! I take it inside and my life is warmed and changed by its presence.

It doesn’t quite work that way. Love doesn’t arrive unbidden and without risks. It grows out of the hard work that we do.  Love comes when we give, and give, and give…  It grows from the digging we do to know our own hearts - to remove the stones of anger, and break through the thick crust of self-protection. It is watered with the tears of compassion as we are affected by the lives we move close to.  

Love grows in the bright light of openness and honesty - the shadows of hidden sorrows and unmet needs stunt its growth. And love is nurtured by understanding. Only the rich nutrients derived from the struggle of seeing the world through another’s eyes can bring this flower into bloom. 

The work of love is hard work.  It is frightening work as we are forced to understand another person and - maybe harder still - truly get to know ourselves.  It is dangerous work – it makes our hearts more open and vulnerable.  It is hard to say yes to love, and so we push it away just as surely as we are tempted to push away the other growing parts of life.

The action of the sacred in our lives comes in many forms.  Occasionally, it may arrive looking like a gift - a dozen red roses at the door.  More often, it is hidden within a covering that is “ugly or heavy or hard.” Each day, the universe offers us opportunities that will propel us toward wholeness – toward unity, They come at a price, which is usually much more than 5 minutes of time and £2.20. They may bring sadness, anxiety, or a challenging realisation.  But, it is by seizing more of these opportunities that we become the people we aspire to be.

Are you ready to answer yes to love? 
Are you ready to answer yes to life?

Let us sing once again.