Sermon 10-5-2014; “The Life that Really is Life”
1 Timothy 6:17-19
Clarence Jordan, The Cotton Patch Version of Paul’s Epistles, New Century Publishers, 1968, p. 146.
Margery Williams, The Velveteen Rabbit, George H. Doran Company, 1922.
“The life that really is life.” Wikipedia says “Real life is a phrase used to distinguish actual events, people, and activities from fictional worlds or characters, from interactions on the Internet, or, pejoratively, from certain lifestyles or activities that the speaker deems less important, less worthy, or otherwise less "real". On the Internet, "real life" refers to life offline. Online, the acronym "IRL" stands for "in real life", with the meaning "not on the Internet". For example, while Internet users may speak of having "met" someone that they have contacted via online chat or in an online gaming context, to say that they met someone "in real life" is to say that they literally encountered them in a common physical location.” Today, we gather ‘IRL’ in Meeting for Worship. Friends – this is real life!
Real life, for Quakers, is a life experienced… a life of fullness and expression. A life of interaction with both humankind and the Divine. A life that really is life. To live a life only with God, cloistered from the needs and sense of the world around us is not real life. To live a life only with humankind, ignoring that of God within us, is not real life. Real life is the interplay between who we are, and Whose we are. Between recognizing God living in us and our living out God.
How do we do that as a Meeting? As individuals? How do we recognize God, how do we live God in real life?
Margery Williams gives us a lovely answer in her children’s book “Velveteen Rabbit”. One Christmas, a young boy receives a stuffed rabbit as a gift. The Rabbit is snubbed by the more expensive and mechanical toys in the Nursery, who think of themselves as real.
"What is REAL?" asked the Rabbit one day, [of Skin Horse.] "Real isn't how you are made," said the Skin Horse. "It's a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real." "Does it hurt?" asked the Rabbit. "Sometimes," said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. "When you are Real you don't mind being hurt."
"Does it happen all at once, like being wound up," he asked, "or bit by bit?" "It doesn't happen all at once," said the Skin Horse. "You become. It takes a long time. That's why it doesn't happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand."
The Velveteen Rabbit becomes the boy’s constant companion. “And so time went on, and the little Rabbit was very happy - so happy that he never noticed how his beautiful velveteen fur was getting shabbier and shabbier, and his tail becoming unsewn, and all the pink rubbed off his nose where the Boy had kissed him.”
"You must have your old Bunny!" [Nana] said. "Fancy all that fuss for a toy!" The Boy sat up in bed and stretched out his hands. "Give me my Bunny!" he said. "You mustn't say that. He isn't a toy. He's REAL!"
“When the little Rabbit heard that he was happy, for he knew that what the Skin Horse had said was true at last. The nursery magic had happened to him, and he was a toy no longer. He was Real. The Boy himself had said it.”
We are loved into Real Life. God loves us into being Real, showing us through the world God made for us, the life God gave for us, God’s Spirit that lives in us, and the resources God has given us. It is for those of us who have been ‘richly worn loose in the joints’, who have become ‘splendidly shabby’, who have had ‘most of our hair loved off’, to reach out to those who are aching inside their Velveteen coats, their mechanical clockworks, and their shiny, bright steel. God calls us to love them into Real Life, just as we have been loved.
To become real is to become rich – not in the ‘mirage of wealth’ that Timothy describes, but in God ‘who liberally offers us everything needful for our well-being.’ The reading doesn’t say God offers us everything we want, or everything we could ever dream of. God offers us every needful thing. And it isn’t just for pleasure. It’s for our well-being.
To stay real is to do good, to be noble, to share, to act as full partners, and to build a strong foundation for the future. If we are real, we can’t ignore those who are not – even those who think they already are. It’s difficult sometimes to deal with sharp edges, fragile figures, and people that need to be carefully kept. It’s much easier to leave them in the toy cupboard. It’s far easier to deal with them online than in real life. But God calls us to generosity, to partnership, to caring, to share our lives with those who have just as much of God in them as we have of God in us. How dare we choose who should become real, and who should not? God asks us to love everyone into real life.
That is what we try to do at First Friends Meeting. Our budget reflects that. Your money, your riches, your gifts and offerings, make people real, and here’s how:
About 60% of the budget pays Amanda, Beth, Rocio, Dan, Shawn, and me. Together, we greet people, prepare spaces for community groups, worship; connect and educate families and children, clean and maintain the building, serve those in need at the Meetinghouse door, care for the dying, plan and prepare worship, maintain the website, encourage newcomers, and much more - all in an endeavor to make God real, to make life real, to love God and love others for you, with you, and through you.
We spend about 14% of the budget on our building and grounds… keeping our habitation in good order so that it can be used to serve God. This is a place where God becomes real. It serves God well. And it serves a number of people besides us – Meridian Street Preschool Co-Op, AA, Poetry Group, 2 Yoga groups, an annual Neighborhood meeting, gardeners, voters, a kids soccer team, multiple dog walkers, those who stroll by, and many who worship in our Woods. There are probably more, but I can’t think of them right now!
Our Meeting tithes more than 12% of its income to Quaker and non-Quaker organizations who carry out the concerns and testimonies of First Friends, and Friends around the world. We have heard from many of them as they have come to Meeting and shared their hearts with us – Colin Saxton from Friends United Meeting, Dale Graves – Belize, Candido and Odalys from Cuba Yearly Meeting, Tim Nation from Peace Learning Center. These are just a few examples of how you make God real at home and abroad.
We use about 12% of our budget for programs; paper and postage supplies, materials for education, music, worship, our directory… those kinds of things that are a part of real life, and making life real.
We are in the process right now of figuring out how we are going to make God real next year through the ministries of First Friends. I invite you to talk to people, go to Committee Meetings, come to Monthly Meeting, join in the conversation about the budget, consider what God is saying to you about making God real in your own budget at home and how that affects your participation in the budget at Meeting… scrutinize it, and help us improve the way we help others become real. There’s a handout in your bulletin, if you need some context for decision making. I’ve used it for our family, and I think it’s pretty nifty. I hope you do too.
God in You is the Real Life of First Friends. The way you love each other makes each other real. You and I are made real by the way we are loved, and the way we love others. We are called to pay attention… the shiniest toy on the shelf may be the one who needs love the most. Don’t underestimate the power of your reach. Don’t discount the worth of your gifts – large or small. The small gesture you make may be the only motion of love one has had in a long, long time. And you, who like me, have become… who are getting loose in the joints and whose eyes are dropping out… we are the ones who know so well how valuable the generosity of love is. Friends, there is no choice but to be what we are… what God has called us to be. REAL.
‘Plead with the worldly rich not to be conceited nor to rest any weight on the mirage of wealth, but on God who liberally offers us everything needful for our well-being. Plead with them to do good, to be rich in noble deeds, to be sharers, full partners, assembling material for a fine foundation for the future, so that they might hang on to life that’s real.’ 1 Timothy 6:17-19 Cotton Patch Gospel