Sermon 6-7-15 “The Hokey Pokey”
Ruth Haley Barton, Pursuing God’s Will Together – a Discernment Practice for Leadership Groups, Intervarsity Press, 2012.
Pastor Ruthie Tippin, Indianapolis First Friends Meeting
‘They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.’ [Acts 2:42-47]
There’s an old joke about the psychiatrist who asks his patient if he has trouble making decisions… the patient says, "Well, doctor, yes and no."
Making a decision is not easy… some people have a hard time making decisions for themselves, let alone for their family. It’s just that much harder to make decisions in a large group of people. Each person has their own way of thinking, doing, being… This is true in any community – whether at work, in our homes, and even in our faith communities.
Quakers make decisions. We are good decision makers, and in fact, we’re known for our way of reaching an agreement with one another. We’re also known for not doing it very consistently, or very well sometimes. Nobody’s perfect… and no group of people get it right all the time.
Perhaps we can learn something from the first faith community that formed as a result of Jesus’ ministry among them. As we break open the book of Acts, we find that Jesus’ earthly life has ended. The author begins his story with Jesus’ ascension into heaven. The people he has worked with and walked with are left, asking ‘Now what?’ This book – ‘The Acts of the Apostles’ tells that story… just what happened next.
First things first… Judas had died, and the disciples needed to find someone to join them. A decision had to be made! Criteria? The person had to have been with them ‘the whole time Jesus went in and out among us’ – from his baptism to his ascension. They needed someone who could witness with them of Christ’s resurrection from the dead. Joseph or Matthias – which one would it be? They decided by drawing lots – and Matthias was chosen.
At Pentecost, the Holy Spirit was given, with wind, fire, and languages they had not known before. Peter spoke to the gathered crowd, assuring them that the disciples were not drunk, but instead, were filled with the pouring out of God’s spirit. Peter shared familiar scriptures with them – Joel’s prophecy that this would happen, and David’s song recounting God’s promised presence. Peter affirmed that Jesus, the man just crucified, was Lord and Christ, the Messiah. More than 3000 persons were added to the great number of believers that day. Now… how would they live?
‘All who believed were together and had all things in common…’ They lived together, in community. We are told that they were devoted to the apostle’s teaching, to fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayer. They lived God. They loved God. They lived as Jesus had taught them, “Love the Lord your God with your heart, soul, mind, and strength… emotionally, spiritually, intellectually, physically. Emotionally, in fellowship. Spiritually, in prayer. Intellectually, in teaching and study. Physically, in the breaking of bread. They were given over fully, to God. And to each other - they loved each other in the same way - caring for each other’s needs, even at personal cost.
Were they exactly like each other? No. Did they each have the same gifts and tasks? No. Did they think exactly alike? No. But they lived in community. They bought and sold and shared together. They ate together. They listened and studied together. They prayed and worshiped together. They praised God, and held their life in communion with each other. They gave it everything they had.
Two weeks ago, a friend of mine – a pastor of one of the six churches we are in communion with in the “Shalom Zone” asked me to read a book, and join in conversation with him about decision making. His church is moving through a transition, and are looking for transformation. Perhaps I could help? The book is “Pursuing God’s Will Together” by Ruth Haley Barton. First of all, I love this pastor and his church. Secondly, I’m crazy about Ruth Haley Barton. I joined one of her Retreats during a time of sabbatical in my first pastorate…. she is full of life, love, and teaching gifts – especially for pastors and spiritual leaders. And guess what she uses throughout the book to help people learn to discern God’s will in community? Quaker process.
Where does decision making begin? Where does Quaker process begin? In communion… in the giving over of oneself fully, to the voice of God who speaks directly into our communion – into our concern. ‘Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuits and best known for developing a set of spiritual exercises intended to hone people’s capacity to see and respond to God in all of life, defined the aim of discernment as ‘finding God in all things in order that we might love and serve God in all.’ Discernment is an ever-increasing capacity to ‘see’ or discern the works of God in the midst of the human situation so that we can align ourselves with whatever it is that God is doing.’ [Barton, p.20] How can we know what God is doing in any situation unless we seek God, unless we give ourselves over, stop speaking our own truths, and listen for what God is revealing? Do we want to know what God is doing? Do we care what God wants? What God has for us? I say ‘yes.’ I want to know. And I want us all to know.
If we are to live in community – in a Quaker community, we need to remember our common understanding of God – that God is present in us –in each and every person; that God speaks directly to us, and continues to speak, even as we seek; that we are a gathered people – singular and corporal, and our Society was formed as a group of persons, hungry to hear God’s voice.
The first believers had all things in common. Not just one thing, or five things, but all things. There was no holding back… ‘I will offer this, but not this.’ Ananias and Sapphira tried that, were deceitful about their selfishness, and lost their life in community. In fact, they lost their lives. Too many times in our history, Friends have not listened well to each other, have followed their own voice, and the Society has suffered.
There’s a great children’s game that I used to teach my elementary music kids, and many of you would know it… the Hokey Pokey! It’s a ring dance, with everyone standing in a circle, facing each other. It’s lots of fun, with a great song, great movement, a bit of noisy clapping, and a chance to be free within the confines of the song structure…
“You put your right hand in, your right hand out,
your right hand in and you shake it all about.
You do the ‘hokey pokey’ and you turn yourself around…
that’s what it’s all about.”
The game is great for teaching right and left, for including everyone – even those who can’t dance, and for giving each person a chance to express themselves… one person’s ‘Hokey Pokey’ may look quite different from another’s. The game goes on until the last verse… and listen to what it says:
“You put your whole self in, you put your whole self out,
You put your whole self in and you shake it all about.
You do the ‘hokey pokey’ and you turn yourself around…
that’s what it’s all about.”
Everything – all of you – your whole self – is in the dance. Nothing is held back. You put it there. You are willing to participate fully in the exercise of community with one another. This is not one of those games where some sit on the bench or lean against a wall, waiting for their turn to play. Everyone is in this game together – and moving actively all the time. And no one is ever counted out… everyone takes part in the game until the dance is done.
Did you notice what happens just after everyone does the ‘hokey pokey’? Just after everyone expresses themselves freely, each person turns themselves around. Scripture has a word for turning around… it’s called repentance. Metanoeo – the Greek word meaning to turn or change direction; to change one’s mind and purpose, as the result of knowledge… This verb, with (3) the cognate noun metanoia, is used of true repentance, a change of mind and purpose and life, to which remission of sin is promised. A choice to change direction, to turn ‘round right’, to use what you’ve heard to help you see differently. Richard Rohr says ‘Most people do not see things as they are; rather, they see things as they are.’ What a wonder, to turn around fully, viewing things in the Light of God’s truth and love… to see our positions, our stubbornness, our willfulness, our opinions and preferences, our individual lives as one of many… and to use what we’ve seen and learned to build community; to live our one incredible life in common with others – giving it all we’ve got - with humility, trust, and love. That’s what it’s all about.
Making decisions, for Friends, begins with listening for God’s voice, and listening with others. It means staying hungry for more of God’s direction and purpose for our lives – as individuals, and as a Meeting. As a family. As a Society.
Let us enter into the feast of communion after the manner of Friends, hungry for what God has to teach us about Godself, about ourselves, and about one another in community. Let us be ready to turn – to change direction, as God calls us to, to actively seek God, and align ourselves with what God is doing.