On Sunday, February 2nd, Dr. Dan Moseley, professor emeritus at CTS, was our guest speaker in Meeting for Worship. Dan is a minister, consultant, coach, and the author of "Lose, Love, Live - the Spiritual Gifts of Loss and Change". Based on the belief that the deepest dimensions of organizational conflicts are about loss, Dan’s leadership skills have moved many organizations through difficult transitions enabling them to discover barriers that block productivity. This is the second of a four-part series at with Dan, entitled “Discovering God in a Changing World.”
Below is the main body of the message given by Dan Moseley on February 2nd:
It’s good to be back here at First Friends. The last time I was here, the trees were orange, and now they’re white. We’re on a journey together through the seasons of the spirit and we are looking at the issue of opening ourselves up to the life that God has given to us. The life to which we have been called. The assumption we are making over this journey of four different weekends of this year is that the way in which we open up to the life that God is giving us is to learn how to grieve the life that God has given us that is no longer our lives. In other words, all of the changes that make up the nature of existence are not only changes that open us to a new and unknown future, but cause us to lose something of what it is that made up our life before.
While we are talking about grieving and learning to live through loss, we are also talking about living and how to be open to embrace the gifts that God grants us. Yesterday, in our retreat, we talked about how to be open to the life that God gives us. The strange life in a foreign land that opens up ahead of us as our life changes.
I like mysteries. I like to watch mysteries on television. It’s nice to have all the mysteries solved within a 44 minute timeframe. When you watch a mystery on television, one of the characteristics is “who done it,” and why they done it. That is the purpose of a mystery. It usually begins with an ending. Something ended, somebody’s life ends, a relationship ends, someone is missing, a nation is threatened somehow…there is an ending that is eminent or has already occurred, and the rest of the story is trying to figure out why the ending occurred. What happened? Who caused it? What is to blame? If we’re lucky we find that out, but we also find out their punishment. We find out why it’s not a good idea to cause people endings. That’s what a mystery is.
The mystery that is explored in our scripture today is a little bit different. They don’t simply deal with how something ended. You will recall that Jesus was crucified, and the disciples and followers of Jesus were confused, as we all are when there is an ending of a relationship that is significant in our lives. They were confused, they were sad, they were angry, and they didn’t know what to do. On this particular journey, these two people were talking about that and were trying to figure out not who did it, but what does this mean.
That’s the thing that is often missing in the mysteries and the dramas that we watch on television and read about it in books. By focusing on “who done it”, we miss the more important mystery of what it means that this life has been lived and what it mean that this life is no longer here with us today. What does it mean for our future? That is the mystery that we are exploring through our journey these next weeks and months and year. What does it mean that something ends in our lives?
These two disciples are on the road. They are leaving where they were and going someplace else; to another village, to someplace different. They are leaving the home that they had known with Jesus and they are on the road. That’s what it feels like when something has ended and you are trying to figure out what life is going to mean in the future, what life is going to reveal to you. You get on the road. That’s what so many of us do when we have had significant changes in our lives. We get away, we can’t deal with being where we were, we have to get on the road and go be among strangers. That’s what happens on the road, you meet strangers. You leave home, you leave the comforts of people who are familiar and you go on the road and you discover people out there who are different. That’s how we learn to live again when somebody has disappeared from our lives, when certain relationships have ended, when we are no longer what we used to be. We often get on the road.
I was pastor for thirty years and one of the things I often observed about people who’s children who graduated and left home is that the parent left home too. They never came to church anymore because they were always on the road, they were always looking for something else because something meaningful was no longer there sustaining them in their lives. They went out among strangers. That’s the way one grieves loss. That’s the way one opens up to new life, is to go out among strangers.
It’s not easy to go amongst strangers. Strangers are often threats to us. That’s one of the reasons we don’t like strangers in our house. It’s one of the reasons we don’t often welcome strangers into our church. We are afraid of what they might do because strangers are unpredictable to us, we don’t know what they might mean to us.
Yet, according to our tradition, we are to be hospitable to strangers. We are to welcome strangers. This isn’t simply because of the desire to be kind to somebody else. It’s also because God is doing something new, and the way God does something new is to introduce us to strangers, strange ideas, foreign ideas. Ideas and thoughts and people that are alien to our comfort level. That’s what it means to be a part of a community that follows in the footsteps of Jesus. We are open to strangers, not simply for the transformation of their soul, but for the transformation of our soul.
In church we welcome strangers in the midst of a predictable and safe place, that’s how we learn to welcome strangers. When we come to church, the liturgy and the worship is designed not only to help us meet and know each other, but also to help us discover strangers. I’m a stranger, I’m a Disciple of Christ, I am not a Quaker although I’ve been accused by some people in this Meeting of being a closeted one. We welcome strangers in the security of this sanctuary space.
Earlier, when your choir director asked if Quakers have rhythm, I couldn’t help but remember when I went to Ghana some years ago, after a series of losses in my life. I was on the road looking for something, looking for a place. At the time I was serving a high church of the South where everybody dressed to the nines and the music was classical and nobody clapped their hands. It was very formal. We went to Ghana and we went to a Presbyterian Church, and I thought, “I can handle this.” Presbyterians are pretty heady people, not much emotion, not much rhythm. It was a huge place, and everybody was dressed to the nines, a different style, different colors, different dress, but still dressed up, and I thought, ok, I’m comfortable. The pastor got up there in his robe, and I thought, that’s the way, we are in a formal church. And then they decided to take an offering. The way they take offering is not the quiet way Quakers do, they dance. They danced down the aisle and bring their offerings while everyone is dancing. Everyone in my group, all thirteen of us, were sitting on the platform or the facing bench, and I was standing next to a dear old woman from Ghana and we were singing these songs as people were dancing down the aisle. I’m an old white guy, you know…the stiff, silent type, a formal person. I was sort of tapping my toe, but that’s about all I was doing. After two songs while were singing and dancing, this little old lady reached over to my pant leg and started yanking on it to get me to move more. So I got a little bit more active. I learned that going someplace different helps you discover new things about yourself, you discover new life in yourself.
The disciples on the road to Emaeus told their story of grief and loss to a stranger. Which is a really important part of grieving a loss. One of the things you do is tell what happened, over and over and over. That’s what these two disciples were doing, they were telling the story of what happened to them, so that they could figure it out. That’s how we figure out what it means and what our new life is going to be, by telling the old story over and over in the midst of a stranger.
But, they did more than tell their story to a stranger. They offered him hospitality. They offered him a place to eat and sleep. They came to the village and said, “It’s getting late, you don’t need to be on the road late at night, come on in and have a meal with us.” And the stranger did.
And when they offered hospitality, a strange thing happened. The one they were seeking, the one they were remembering, the one about whom they were telling was the very one who was with them. Not until they began to break bread, that is, until they provided hospitality did they recognize him. Not until they welcomed him to their table, was he made known to them. He was not the old Jesus. The old life had been crucified. It was a new life that God was revealing to them in this new manifestation of the divine in Jesus.
Hospitality is what makes it possible for us to see the divine in the face of a stranger. We have to give up our expectations of what God is going to be like, or how God may be coming to us in order to discover the new life of God in our future.
When I was freshly widowed, some twenty years ago, I found myself on the road a lot. I traveled to visit family and friends. It was Labor Day and I went to Chicago to visit my niece, Sarah Mae. Sarah Mae went to a little United Church of Christ in the Wrigley Field area. It was kind of a run-down area of Chicago, kind of tired. The church was a 150 year-old building, that had these stained glass windows of Jesus standing at the door knocking and the other kind of images that are in those old stained glass. I went with Sarah, who had to go to church because she was in charge of the music with the youth. The youth were going to sing, and she had to be there early so they could rehearse, so I went with her. While she had the youth singing, I was hanging out in the building and looking at all the windows. The minister came in, in her robe, and introduced herself and I introduced myself as a stranger and Sarah Mae’s uncle. We were chatting and she was telling me about the church and apologizing, saying that there wasn’t going to be many people here this morning, and that it’s kind of quiet on Sunday morning. She said that during the week it was actually very noisy and we have 350 people in this sanctuary for AA meetings on Tuesday night, then on Wednesday morning we have another 65 people who are blind come in for AA meetings, so there is a lot of energy, a lot of life in here.
Remember that I come from a formal, uptight congregation, and I’m thinking, “Ok, not a whole lot is going to happen here that is going to be important to me, but I will be here because Sarah Mae wants me to be here.” As I was standing talking to the minister, a young man came in all hot and sweaty. The minister went over and talked to him and then came back to me and she said, “I hate to ask you this, but would mind going out and digging a grave for me? This young man needs to rehearse with the youth choir.” I thought, well, this is a first. I’ve been in church for fifty-sixty years, and no one has ever asked me to dig a grave before church, or after church for that matter. She said, “We’re going to have a burial of ashes after this service, and we need a grave dug beside the foundation for a woman that died. We aren’t just going to bury her, but her mother as well, who’s ashes have been on the mantel for several years, and we’re also going to bury the ashes of her dog at the same time, so we need this hole.” I took off my tie and my suit coat, and I went outside and found an old broken-nosed shovel. The ground around an old church in Chicago in September is as hard as it would be in the winter. The reason they didn’t bury them in the winter time was because the ground was too hard. I dug a grave. I went back into the church and the service started. They introduced me as Uncle Dan, and welcomed me. The sermon was kind of casual, just chatting. I thought, this isn’t church, this isn’t the way God comes to people... God comes to people in classical music and formal worship service. I’m sitting there, wondering why I’m there. Then it was time for Holy Communion.
Being a good Disciple, I take communion regularly. Those who know the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) know that we take communion every week. So we had communion. Sarah Mae turned out to be the organist, since their regular organist had a new seeing-eye dog that hadn’t yet been acclimated to the church. Sarah Mae was playing and there were about 25-30 people, a motley crew of people, dressed in shorts and t-shirts, and here I am, looking for God in all the wrong places. We go up and take bread and wine, we break our lives and offer them to each other so that the spirit might be in the room, even the way you break your lives in your communion with each other, so that the spirit might be in the room. Much to my surprise and delight, God was there. I was blessed, among strangers, who showed hospitality to an old, stiff, tired and winded white guy. In their revealing of their wounds to each other and to me, in the sharing of their lives with each other, I saw God, and got a glimpse of who I was becoming, and who God was calling me to be in the future. Strangers, scary. Revelations from God.