Are You My Mother?

Due to technical difficulties, the video for this Sunday’s sermon was not recorded. We apologize for the inconvenience.

First United Methodist Church – Omaha
Rev. Dr. Cynthia Lindenmeyer
Date June 9, 2019
Scripture: Romans 8:14-17 and Tao Te Ching 6
Sermon: “Are You My Mother?”

Romans 8:14-17
So don’t you see that we don’t owe this old do-it-yourself life one red cent. There’s nothing in it for us, nothing at all. The best thing to do is give it a decent burial and get on with your new life. God’s Spirit beckons. There are things to do and places to go! This resurrection life you received from God is not a timid, grave-tending life. It’s adventurously expectant, greeting God with a childlike “What’s next, Mom?” God’s Spirit touches our spirits and confirms who we really are. We know who God is, and we know who we are: Parent and child. And we know we are going to get what’s coming to us—an unbelievable inheritance! We go through exactly what Christ goes through. If we go through the hard times with him, then we’re certainly going to go through the good times with him!

Tao Te Ching 6
The Valley Spirit never dies. It is named the Mysterious Female. And the Doorway of the Mysterious Female is the base from which Heaven and Earth sprang. It is there within us all the while; Draw upon it as you will, it never runs dry.

Everything changes when one becomes responsible for raising a child. When my daughter Carly was about four and showing interest in Princess movies like Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast and Little Mermaid, all of a sudden, I was awakened to how Disney magically morphed a romantic first kiss to an eternal kiss as the animation takes the audience during this lip-locked kiss immediately to a wedding ceremony. Concerned, not only as a mother but also a pastor, I would PAUSE the VHS tape after the initial kiss and explain to Carly that many events happen in stories that are too remarkable to include, and one of those extraordinary occurrences not shown in movies is pre-marital counseling. And so, in the middle of all the splendor, romance and music, I would pause the video, explain that what is not included in the movie due to confidentiality reasons was the vital relational time the couple spent discussing vows and finances and expectations during pre-marital counseling… then I would hit play and the wedding would commence.

So…we were stationed at West Point during Carly’s formative princess years and Carly attended kindergarten at a Catholic church off-post. Our neighbor, Mrs. Alice, taught art there and would bring Carly home. One day, Miss Alice had to pick up her husband, who was a clinical psychologist, on the way home. His office was by General McArthur’s statue. General McArthur’s statue was an authorized place for cadets to greet their dates and a safe area where PDA, public display of affection, was authorized. You can see where this is headed. So, Carly witnesses a cadet joyfully greeting his girlfriend with a kiss. Carly in her outside kindergarten voice, hollers “MAKE SURE YOU GET PREMARITAL COUNSELING!”

We are in wedding season which means lots of pre-marital counseling. When getting to know couples, I always ask about faith—often the response is, “We believe in God, we just aren’t into church.” Many couples I meet with were raised Catholic, but do not want to marry in a Catholic church. The reasons vary. If they’ve been married before, the paperwork to get an annulment is tedious. I get that. Same gender couples who’ve been raised in a church inevitably experience rejection by the church. Totally understand why they aren’t in to church. And some couples just look at each other, like attending church is a far remote idea as attending a convention on entomology, the study of insects, is to me. To each their own.

But overall, for most couples getting married, faith is important. Spirituality is important.
In our children’s book today, we learn of the birth of a little bird whose first words— “Where is my mother?” reveals a spiritual instinct to go looking for her. We are like the hatchling, for we all have spiritual instincts to connect with our Creator, the Divine, and our life journey is about that search. If you’ve ever moved from one location to another, finding a church home can be as traumatic as looking for a loved one. We all crave community, and for me, the faith community is my tribe. We all need a tribe because one of the most basic human instincts is the need to feel connected to others.

One of the fastest growing faith demographics is the Spiritual but not Religious—in 2017 Pew Research reported that more than a quarter of Americans (27 percent) say they are spiritual but not religious. That’s up from 19 percent in 2012. What does that mean, spiritual but not religious? Basically, those who believe in a Creator, but do not affiliate with a church. In Robert Putnam’s book published nearly 20 years ago, Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community, he notes that when baby boomers were in their twenties, in the 1960s and 1970s, many became disenchanted by religion, which affected their children. New generations have no affiliation with a church.

Today is the Feast of Pentecost, considered the birth of the Church, a community shaped and formed by the memory of the life, death and resurrection of Christ. At first, the Church was meant to be an incarnational model but over time changed into an institutional model. What does that mean?

In the midst of Civil Rights and the escalation in Vietnam, German Jesuit priest Karl Rahner (runner) believed that if Western Christianity did not rediscover its mystical foundations, we might as well close the doors of the churches because we lost the primary reason for our existence. Mystic—that strange word…I’ll borrow a definition of mystic from Mirabai Starr: “A person who has a direct experience of the sacred, unmediated by conventional religious rituals or intermediaries, transcending established belief systems, bypassing the intellect and dissolving identification with the separate (ego) self.”

For me, I believe that until one engages in meditation, the ego will get caught up in rules and doctrines and hierarchy, thereby missing an understanding of the mystical incarnational life leading to blindness to an incarnational worldview—what I mean by that is seeing the presence

You are familiar with some mystics—Paul the Apostle, John of Patmos who wrote the book of Revelation, John of the Cross, Hildegard of Bingen, Catherine of Siena, Rumi, Teresa of Avila, Julian of Norwich, the Buddha….and Jesus. I think Karl Rahner’s observation has in many ways been actuated—churches have lost the primary reason for existence because we’ve forgotten, in the Christian church, our mystical foundations.

What if Pentecost is seen as the communal birth of seeing the world incarnationally? I think Pentecost would become a powerful day in the church if we made this feast the birthday of our own courage being infused into our life, summoning us out into the world, asking the question, “Are You My Church”?

It is much easier and comfortable to be dependent on rules and doctrines that that mask our true longing for the Divine and deter us from a life journey of mystical exploration. So, to me, in response to the question, “Are You My Church?” I would hope that the imposters that come across our path in life do not hold us prisoner to a template, to a belief system that leaves out mysticism. And this is where this sermon gets borderline controversial. In military briefings, I would have to preface obligatory disclaimer language, like “These views do not reflect the official position of the United States Army.” But today is Pentecost. It is a day to be prophetic and provocative. Still, what I am about to say does not reflect the views of First United Methodist Church, the Methodist Church, the Protestant Church…just a big metaphorical WHAT IF in the spirit of tying the children’s book, Are You My Mother, to Pentecost and to current context.

About ten years ago I had one of those cloak and dagger meetings with an author looking into the infiltration of fundamentalism in the military chaplaincy. The journalist, Jeff Sharlet, had a theory about Congressional lobbyists using religion to fund various programs. He advised that I attend a National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C., to learn more about what he dubbed, “The Family.” That is when I first learned about the Institute on Religion and Democracy-known as the IRD. Think of all the lobbyist organizations backing pharmaceutical companies infiltrating our health care system; oil companies fueling the military industrial complex; the National Rifle Association lobbying politicians to vote against common sense gun legislation. The IRD is to mainline church denominations, to include the Catholic Church, what pharmaceutical, oil and NRA lobbyists are to government policymakers. The IRD is an American Christian lobbying entity in DC funded by radical, right-wing politicians who believe their mission is to silence progressive prophetic voices in the church—prophetic voices that speak up against racism, poverty, patriarchy, and homophobia.

About fifteen years ago in the United Church of Christ, many pastors were trained about a phenomenon called “steeple-jacking.” It means what is sounds like—stealing a church. The IRD was literally creating conflicts in targeted UCC churches by concentrating on an identifiable “enemy” or issue. The IRD planted operatives to create conflict, usually revolving around a literalist or inerrant interpretation of the bible, such as abortion, the ordination of women, or love between two people of the same gender. Small groups were formed and IRD representatives sought key leadership positions, perpetuating theological fear thus eroding the confidence of the church. Eventually the pastor resigns, retires or is fired, and the transition leaves a church vulnerable to takeover. Hence, “steeple-jacking.” The sense of being separate is at the heart of fear because interconnectedness is entangled in our identity, and much like the little bird trying to find identity searching for its mother, we wander asking the question after we feel like our church community has been steeple-jacked:

Are You My Church?

The IRD originally claimed to be a centrist organization with the mission “to promote spiritual renewal within the Church, and to work for a more balanced and responsible discussion of foreign policy issues,” but in fact it had a right-wing agenda. Well- funded and working with the Reagan administration, the IRD began focusing on domestic concerns which meant monitoring progressive churches.

In 1992, Foundry United Methodist Church located in Washington D.C. was pastored by a very progressive theologian. He supported marriage between all people and denied biblical teachings of the atonement and of the virgin birth. The church hosted a very controversial religious figure, Bishop John Shelby Spong. Does this sound familiar? The IRD condemned the pastor’s theology, maintaining John Wesley would have condemned his theology. The pastor withstood the attacks and Foundry is now a Reconciling church—the pastor was able to retire and many of you may know him, J Philip Wogaman as he served as an interim at St Luke’s about ten years ago.

Are You My Church?

The IRD launched an all-out crusade attacking main-line denominations for their support of same-sex relations and targeted the Episcopal Church in 2003 when the first openly gay bishop, Rev Gene Robinson, was elected. During the smear campaign against Rev Robinson, the IRD helped form a renewal group called the American Anglican Council who embraced a traditional plan aimed at creating a schism between the Episcopal Church USA and the Anglican Communion. Does this sound familiar?

Are You My Church?

The IRD has targeted the UCC, the Episcopalians and no doubt has a strong influence on what happened at General Conference in St. Louis. But whatever the issue the IRD focuses on, their main goal isn’t theological interpretations, but using theology to create fear. Long ago, institutionalized religion created the concept of hell to cause fear in order to control the masses. Now the IRD wants to control the financial apparatus that helps fund denominational community. If the IRD succeeds in acquiring mainline denominations, then they will control quite a bit of real estate and financing.

Are You My Church?

Returning to an understanding of a mystic:
A person who has a direct experience of the sacred, unmediated by conventional religious rituals or intermediaries, transcending established belief systems, bypassing the intellect and dissolving identification with the separate (ego) self.

I can say with certainty that there are no mystics involved in the IRD. Mystics are free of ego-structures. There is a longing that burns at the root of spiritual practice. Meditation is the fire that fuels a mystic’s journey.

Notice in our story the little bird stays on task with one goal, one question, one longing, one desire. Participating in life, our human condition, can be mystifying, bewildering. In our life struggle, how many questions do we ask and lose focus of seeking answers to questions that really matter: “Are You My Mother? Are you the one who brought me into this life and created me? Are you the one who will love me no matter what? Are you the one who will listen to me and believe me when others are too busy?”

This world, thankfully, is filled with those who form a community of faith who help us in our search for the Divine. And this world also is full of those who comprise a church that helps with our desire for connection—a church where humanity is valued over money, where refugees are valued over policy, where the earth is valued over pipelines.

There is a great need to be mothering the world as a community right now, adopting an incarnational world view. Alone, our voice fades. But as a community, we are powerful. A great mystic revered in Islam is Mary, the mother of Jesus. Her life changes when she has a mystical vision and understands she is to provide the nest for the incarnation of the Divine on earth. She agrees to be mother to the whole world, but she does this not alone—she is linked to every mother who lived before her and every mother who comes after her.

Are You My Church?

What if a church community had been present to help the little bird fallen from the tree? The Church would have seen the little bird looking for the mother. The Church would have let the mother know her little one was wondering around. Possibly the Church is the Snort…The community that returns us to where we entered the world, the nest.

Like the Day of Pentecost, our entry into the world through the tree of life is magical–it is like a mystical kiss between the Divine and Earth. In the great timeline of the universe, the pause button is pushed as we learn from our life journey: We fall out of the safety and comfort of a mystical nest searching for the Divine. Before we know it, the play button is pushed, our life ends, and the grand music of marriage to the Divine finds us returned to the nest, transitioning to a new life. We enter our life through the nest, and we depart from life through the nest, at last being reunited with the one from whom we’ve been searching.