First United Methodist Church – Omaha
Rev. Kent H. Little
January 13, 2019
Scripture: Sutra of Forty-two Sections 10
I was listening to a local radio station the other day and the host was talking about this fall and winter here in Omaha. He was speaking to the fact that he had never been able to get the leaves raked in his yard because of the rain and now snow that keeps coming. Just about the time he thought things had dried out enough to rake, here came another round of moisture preventing him from getting the job done.
I remember thinking to myself, “Yes, that’s why I haven’t managed to get the leaves picked up out of our yard too! It’s the rain and snow’s fault!” Friday, I had minimal tasks to do around the house, one of which was to take the outdoor Christmas lights down, which I did. The whole time I was outside unclipping them from the gutters and gathering the extension cords I was looking at the yard thinking, I should get the leaves picked up. Of course, then it was time to drive downtown and have lunch with TruDee, our Friday tradition. Then I had some other tasks to do in the house, you know like, do a little laundry, send some emails, take a nap. The next thing you know TruDee is home from work and it is starting to get dark and then…well…yesterday morning, that dang snow again! I am the king of procrastination. I saw a saying the other day, “If a man says he’ll do something he’ll do it. No need to remind him every six months about it.” It’s easy to blame the weather for the fact I still have the oak leaves in my yard now under the snow again, but obviously it is not the weather’s fault.
I think about the parable of Jesus we read this morning about the two sons in relation to our topic this morning, Right Intention. One son says he will do something and does not, a procrastinator. The other son says he will not do it and does, perhaps even a procrastinator of sorts himself. Which one, Jesus asks, does the will of his father? Well, the obvious answer is the second son who actually does the work. This parable could certainly be seen in light of intention. Perhaps even pointing to that tired cliché “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” Perhaps, at least in this sense… having good intentions is not a way to practice our faith or life and place in the world. It is one thing to say we are an advocate and ally for justice, peace, compassion, and love in the world around us…but if our actions, practice, and lives do not reflect those ideals, the intention become empty hollow words. So, in terms of this parable and the concept of intentions there is truth to this, we are challenged in this story of Jesus to do what we say we are going to do, be who you claim you are, words are just words unless the come to life in and through your practice in the world.
While this is true, and it does relate to our theme and message for today, I think we need to take it deeper. Last week we talked about Right Mindfulness, if you were here perhaps you recall my suggesting Mindfulness can be seen as rather the foundational piece of the Eight-Fold path we are working through. A presence of mind, a constant reminder to stay in the moment without judgement, a way to be in the world and hold all things in tension, embrace them for what they are; good, bad, ugly… and then release them. It is an appropriate segue into Right Intention, related in an inseparable way. For if we are mindful enough to hold all things in tension in this present moment, perhaps the question we ask ourselves is… what is our intent. In Buddhist thought, right intention is the intention and resolve to give up the causes of suffering, to give up ill-will and to adopt harmlessness. It contrasts with wrong intention, which involves craving for worldly things (wealth, sex, power) and the wish to harm. In this sense, right intention then, can become more than what we do or do not do… it becomes who we are and how we see and practice in the world. Right intention becomes the lens through which we see the world around us as we not only give up the causes of suffering (attachment) for ourselves, but alleviate suffering for others. Right intention become a part of our state of being and how we are present in this moment that we and others can draw from as we practice as well.
The Buddha said, “When you see someone practicing the Way of giving, aid them joyously, and you will obtain vast and great blessings.” A shramana asked, “Is there an end to those blessings?” The Buddha said, “Consider the flame of a single lamp. Though a hundred thousand people come and light their own lamps from it so that they can cook their food and ward off the darkness, the first lamp remains the same as before. Blessings are like this too.”
We are to be light in the world…in the moment that alleviates suffering, release ill-will, and to do no harm…which stirs others to be the same. I think of another parable of Jesus which takes the parable of the two sons deeper… the parable of the Samaritan who came upon the traveler beaten on the side of the road. The Samaritan tends to the stranger, cares for his wounds, provides shelter for him, and promises to return. The Samaritan has alleviated suffering, carries no ill-will, and does no harm, he is present in the moment without judgement of this man who presumably does not hold the same beliefs as himself, and yet he cares for him with no restraint or concern for what he himself believes either…other than a lens of compassion he obviously carries with him…the “lighted lamp” so to speak, others can draw from without diminishing the giver or the one who receives.
I think herein is where we can encounter difficulty in our own journey and practice, or at least I can. This practice of mindfulness and intention holding no judgement but rather is guided by compassion and non-violence, of word and deed. I would suggest right intention in Buddhist thought can be seen as a lens through which we approach the world. I suspect, based on the stories of Jesus we have, similar thought would be present there as well. Jesus, while turning over tables and making a whip out of cords were obviously in his tool box, he never walked away…he remained engaged with those he disagreed. Challenged them yes, resisted them yes, exampled for them yes, taught them yes, but never abandoned them. His “intention,” I believe, was always to alleviate suffering, release ill-will, and to adopt harmlessness.
This intention as a lens…as a posture and practice in the world…a way of being that holds the whole of the world in a place of peace making and reconciliation. Intention is the compassionate lens through which we are called to see and act and respond. Do you remember Jesus words in his sermon in Matthew… “Do not judge.” “Do not love only those who love you but love your enemies as well?” Intention then becomes less about what we do and more about who we are and how we are present in the world. Present to those around us for not only what we bring, but from what can we learn from them and the world, even those with whom we may vehemently disagree.
I remember several years ago I was taking a class at a Buddhist Sangha. Sitting on a cushion on the floor listening to the teacher a fly began buzzing around my head. I shooed it numerous times and it was really becoming an annoyance, it was a very persistent fly and I am not sure why it picked me out of the group of students in the class at the time, but it had. After numerous attempts to catch it, which in hindsight I am glad I didn’t, and numerous shooing’s… the teacher, Namdril, finally asked, “Kent, is that fly bothering you?” I apologized for interrupting the teaching, “So sorry, yes, it is a persistent one.” She answered, “Yes they are persistent and want to teach you, we call them our kind mothers…these flies, are teaching us patience and gratitude.” It is about our posture and presence in the world, our practice, and the lens through which we see and respond to those around us. What is our intent?
In the book, “The Chocolate Cake Sutra” by Geri Larken, the author speaks of everyone as holy… in the context of intention I would suggest, all things holy; everyone and everything. It is about mindfulness and how we intend to affect the environment in which we find ourselves. In Thich Nhat Hanh’s book, “Being Peace,” he writes of peace making. He says, “If we align ourselves with one side or the other, we will lose our chance to work for peace.” He goes on, “If our true nature is to be interconnected selves, then our peacemaking, if it is going to be effective, must flow out of our interconnectedness. That includes our interconnectedness with the people whose actions we have to oppose.” It is about mindfulness and intention in the moment to alleviate suffering even from those who do not know they are suffering. In Knitter’s book, “Without Buddha I Could not be a Christian,” he writes of this intentional posture when he says, “[In the Buddhist] there is an aversion to violence, I believe for the Buddhist there is no such thing as “just anger.” Of course, we feel anger and it will motivate and direct our energies. But, for Buddhists, it will not determine what those energies lead to. We will not act out of anger. Rather, when anger surges, we will be mindful of it, and that means embrace it, be kind to it. Our anger will point us to those people or events which, through mindfulness [intentional] We will seek to respond to with understanding and compassion. Yes, we may have to oppose them, seek to stop them from their agendas, but our opposition will be one of non-violent resistance; that means compassionate resistance. One of the most quoted verses of the Dhammapada is: “In this world hatred is not dispelled by hatred; by love alone is hatred dispelled. This is eternal law.”
So, in this sense, Right Intention is a lens through which we see everything with compassion and love, even those things that we must resist. In Knitter’s book, he suggests Buddhist thought would be, “Justice will, as it were, take care of itself if compassion is truly present.” The lens of Compassionate Intention will not judge, will be mindful of the present moment, will resist non-violently, will stay engaged, and such presence will change the world for the common good of all.
I think about these things with our upcoming informational meetings, letter writing campaign, and our United Methodist Special Called General Conference on a Way Forward in February. At the Conference there will be three primary plans presented as a Way Forward of our denomination in relation to full inclusion of Lesbian, Gay, Bi-Sexual, Transgender, Queer, plus…persons in our United Methodist Denomination. As I consider and reflect on the current state of things in the church, I see the plans as the United Methodist “Intention” of how they are going to relate to LGBTQ persons in our congregations and in ministry. The three primary plans are identified as The Traditionalist Plan, The Connectional Plan, and The One Church Plan.
The Traditionalist Plan leaves the current discriminatory language in our UM Discipline as well as adds more stringent penalties for those who do not abide by the rules regarding same gender weddings and ordination of LGBTQ clergy candidates. It also requires clergy, churches, conferences, and bishops to sign off on the language and if they refuse these will be invited to exit the denomination. In my opinion, this plan, if we use the language of Intention and Practice, is grounded in an intention of fear and judgement. It is a plan formulated with an intention that does not alleviate, I would say increases, suffering, promotes ill-will, and does harm to our LGBTQ brothers and sisters in our congregations and the world at large. This is a lens of intention that does not follow the Way of compassion and love Jesus lived and taught.
The Connectional Plan is a plan that recreates the structure of the church in terms of conferences and jurisdictions. Creating a theological and philosophical divide where clergy churches can relate to conferences that fit their theology and view regarding LGBTQ persons role in the church. The conferences and jurisdictions will no longer be geographical in nature, but rather theological and philosophical in nature. While it follows some other models that seem to work well in other denominations it will take a great deal of constitutional changes to get it into place and I do not think it will pass any vote. For me, in terms of intention, I think it is a good intentional view of a way forward…but a complex and difficult journey at best.
The One Church Plan creates a denomination that also allows for differing theological viewpoints. In essence it creates local control and decision making. Each clergy, church, and conference will decide if they will or will not officiate or host same gender weddings or ordain LGBTQ persons in the church. Of the three plans this is the one I support. I support it because it reflects the long history of the United Methodist Church of openness and conferencing. The One Church Plan brings to the table a mindfulness and intention of recognizing we do not all agree one this and makes room under a large tent non-judgement and compassion for both sides of our struggle. This plan gives opportunity to continue to practice patience, to hold in tension opposing viewpoints, to resist non-violently and compassionately, to stay engaged and not walk away from those we are called to love. The One Church Plan makes great strides to alleviate suffering, gives space to release ill-will, and offers hope in doing no harm.
Beginning Sunday, the 27th of this month we here at FUMC will invite our entire congregation to participate in a letter writing campaign to delegates who will be voting at the General Conference in February. I hope we all participate, this is an important and crucial time for our denomination and our church. As one of, if not the, flagship Reconciling Congregation in Nebraska and our Annual Conference we need to make our voice heard and I believe of the plans to be brought before the Conference, we need to support the One Church Plan. We need to make our voice and our intention known at General Conference.
I think of the world in which we live today and the deep divisions we have across our country and in our church. There is too much vitriol, there is too much hate, there is too much walking away and not staying engaged. It is time we truly open ourselves, not to just those who agree with us, but engage and embrace all persons with compassion and love… for this is what will change the world for the common good of all. May it be so. May it be NOW. Amen.
Hanh, Thich Nhat, (1996). Being Peace, Parallax Press, Berkley, California
Knitter, Paul F. (2010) Without Buddha I Could not be a Christian, One World Oxford Press, Oxford, England