The Freedom of Detachment
Indianapolis First Friends Quaker Meeting
Pastor Bob Henry
August 18, 2019
John 2:13-22 (MSG)
13-14 When the Passover Feast, celebrated each spring by the Jews, was about to take place, Jesus traveled up to Jerusalem. He found the Temple teeming with people selling cattle and sheep and doves. The loan sharks were also there in full strength.
15-17 Jesus put together a whip out of strips of leather and chased them out of the Temple, stampeding the sheep and cattle, upending the tables of the loan sharks, spilling coins left and right. He told the dove merchants, “Get your things out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a shopping mall!” That’s when his disciples remembered the Scripture, “Zeal for your house consumes me.”
18-19 But the Jews were upset. They asked, “What credentials can you present to justify this?” Jesus answered, “Tear down this Temple and in three days I’ll put it back together.”
20-22 They were indignant: “It took forty-six years to build this Temple, and you’re going to rebuild it in three days?” But Jesus was talking about his body as the Temple. Later, after he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered he had said this. They then put two and two together and believed both what was written in Scripture and what Jesus had said.
Two weeks ago, I began this series by looking at the Quaker distinctive of simplicity, and last week I added to that a subcategory, Sabbath, what I defined as spending time finding delight, wonder and joy in our world. This week, I want to explore another subcategory that deals with the hard work of cleaning out our personal lives and embracing the love of God and neighbor – that through the discipline of detachment.
Detachment is a process that frees us from whatever interferes with our
spiritual growth and helps us avoid disordered inclinations
and relationships with persons or things. (re-read)
For several weeks now, I have been personally reading about the life of the artist Vincent Van Gogh. Actually, the book that started my interest was a book about the great spiritual writer, Henri Nouwen and his love for the artist, Vincent van Gogh. It has surfaced that Henri Nouwen used to teach a spirituality class on van Gogh (How I wish I could have taken that class.) If you know anything about both men, they embraced a deep sense of detachment in their personal lives for the sake of spiritual growth and serving their neighbor. And both wrote about their process of “letting go” of fame and notoriety as a spiritual discipline - one finding delight, wonder, and joy in the faces of mentally challenged men and women at the L’Arche Community in Canada, and the other in what he labeled “potato eaters” and coal miners which he painted in the Netherlands. I find it interesting that these two men were known to have very few possessions or attachments in life, yet they found a deep sense of delight, wonder, and joy in the ordinary, while ironically becoming extremely famous after death.
In this same vein, Richard Rohr once wrote in his book, Healing Our Violence through the Journey of Centering Prayer,
“All great spirituality teaches about letting go of what you don’t need and who you are not. Then, when you can get little enough and naked enough and poor enough, you’ll find that the little place where you really are is ironically more than enough and is all that you need. At that place, you will have nothing to prove to anybody and nothing to protect. That place is called freedom. It’s the freedom of the children of God. Such people can connect with everybody. They don’t feel the need to eliminate anybody . . .”
This freedom was evident in the life of Henri Nouwen, Vincent van Gogh, and many other people throughout the ages, but lately I am sensing a lack of that freedom and connection in the Universal Church and in our World.
In discussing Simplicity and Sabbath the last couple of weeks, I have assumed and briefly hinted on the idea of “detachment” and letting go as part of the process. But today, I want to focus more deeply on this.
To do that, let’s start by returning to that interesting scripture that was read. One may wonder why I chose it and what it has to do with detachment and letting go.
Jesus clearing the temple doesn’t seem to be speaking to us individually as much as it is Jesus “sticking-it” to the religious establishment for allowing the temple to become a marketplace full of sales people, pay-day lenders, and loan sharks (please note: there are several relevant issues in this text that we may explore in later sermons). For my teaching this morning, I believe there is a metaphor, (or better yet) an example, in this story about our own spiritual and daily journeys. And I believe there is an urgent need to begin detaching from the things that clutter our personal temples and detract us from nurturing a trust in God and love for our neighbor.
The scripture is rather dramatic in it’s telling. Jesus on the spot creates and brandishes a whip and begins to clean out the temple. Now, this does NOT seem very Quakerly or for that matter how we typically view our calm, emaciated, gentle, and calm Jesus. What we need to remember is that scripture tells us that Jesus had already been to the temple and seen what was going on and did not act upon it. Instead he let his thoughts brew for a bit, and when he returned he knew exactly what he was going to do. Some of us would call Jesus’ action in the Temple an act of planned civil disobedience.
Even though chaos ensued as Jesus takes his whip and starts driving out the animals, scattering the coins, overturning tables, he was able to get everyone’s attention, including the disciples who were struggling with what was going on and what he was saying.
Folks, sometimes when things get really bad, we need to take drastic measures. Remember Jesus wasn’t hurting people with his whip, he was getting their attention. He was doing what was necessary, and I believe he had a good reason. I think it is interesting, no one comments on how the merchants or loan sharks took it. They were too busy gathering up their spilled money and scattered animals – worrying about their losses. Because, let’s be honest, they probably knew that they should not be doing what they were doing in the Temple in the first place…and yes, I am sure they had been warned.
What this scene unfolds is that Jesus was opening their eyes, getting their attention, reminding them in a serious way that something was wrong in their temple.
As I continue to read scripture with new eyes, I have noticed that whenever Jesus comes on the scene or moves “into the neighborhood” the people around him are almost forced to see with new eyes or from new and challenging perspectives. Jesus was not the comfortable person to have around that we have made him out to be. He shook things up. Let’s be honest…he did things that would ultimately get him crucified. Often, he was asking probing questions, penetrating what was at the heart issues, questioning motives, and always seeking some type of response. And in this case, he was creating a “wake up call” or a “call to action.”
Now, Quakers and Christians from early on have used the term, “the body of Christ” to describe themselves. This is due to the Apostle Paul describing the followers of Christ as a body with many parts in Corinthians. But just following that section of scripture, Paul continues on and takes it a step further. In Corinthians 6:19 Paul says,
“Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?”
As Quakers, we often talk about the Light or the Spirit of God dwelling within us. Just think about this…if our temples are cluttered and needing cleaning – it might be hard to engage that inner light or spirit.
Jesus was cleaning out or clearing his temple – what will become known as his body (the body of Christ). And I believe it was an example of what we are to do in our own personal lives. If our bodies are truly temples – then there are going to be times when we need to get out our proverbial whips and do some deep cleaning and clearing for our own sake and the sake of our neighbor.
I know for me there are times I need more than a “Facebook Like” of encouragement or more than a kind nudge or suggestion. Often, I need, like Jesus, to get out a whip, shake things up, and have a personal wake up call.
Take for example, there is that day when you get up and your pants have become too tight (that was me this past week) – out comes the whip and we need to set in place a discipline of detachment from food entering our body. And yes, I need a whip on me to remind me to exercise – especially after a couple of days of faithfully trying. Come on…we even have an idiom for this, we say, “I need to whip myself into shape.”
Sometimes it’s not just food that is unhealthy, but it can be a boundaryless, abusive, draining person or relationship that is unhealthy, stealing life, time, and robbing us of joy, wonder, and delight. And it’s time to get out the whip!
Or maybe it is getting out the whip and cleaning house because we have been trying to “keep up with the Joneses.” Did you know that there was an actual Jones family behind that idiom. Most think it comes from a comic strip, but in 1853, Elizabeth Shermerhorn Jones commissioned a 7,690 sq. ft. mansion to be built looking over the Hudson River. Elizabeth came from wealth, so she went all out building the mansion in Norman Romanesque architecture. It was so unique, it singlehandedly caused a building boom. Everyone in the area began expanding and remodeling their homes to “keep up with the Joneses.”
“Keeping up with the Jones” is allowing oneself to be attached to the possessions, life experiences, relationships of someone other than yourself. Some days living in Hamilton County it is so evident that it makes me sick. How it effects the education system, sports programs, lifestyles, and daily living is a real nightmare and it is taking a toll on our children, families, and those trying to keep up. No wonder the need for counseling and mental health are on such a rise in our area. We simply can’t keep up.
And let’s be honest, when we try to keep up, we’re not usually trying to match our lifestyles to the 1 percent of Americans who can afford private jets and lavish diamonds. We’re just comparing ourselves to our nearest neighbors – probably the ones who look just a little bit wealthier than we do.
However, if we could peer inside the Joneses’ home and bank accounts, we might not get such an enviable picture.
And in reality, isn’t this all a continuation of what we wrestled with in our adolescence – what we then called “peer pressure?” Some things never change.
Or maybe it is getting out the whip and cleaning house in the area of image.
The fashion industry has always sought to allure us to create an image, a persona. Even early Quakers knew how much fashion set images, thus early Quakers only wore Quaker gray to promote equality, not status.
Have you noticed how Social Media can help you create an image or persona that often is not realistic or true? I wish life was more like what the majority of people posted – all the good and very little of the bad (well, except for political posts).
Every photo has been cropped, blemishes replaced and filters added. Someone once said that the smart phone has completely changed how we literally look at the world. People now take multiple photos and choose the best ones, crop out what they do not like, and make life seem almost perfect. But go to your parent’s house and look through the old photo albums and you will find a much different situation. Crying children at birthday parties or on Santa’s lap, high schoolers with pimples, new mothers looking exhausted, sweat and dirt…I think you get what I am saying.
I was at a very unique conference a few years ago and our speaker was Dan Allender (who wrote the book on Sabbath I talked about last week). He said in his family any time some type of disaster happened, he or his wife would grab the camera to capture the moment. From spilled milk reactions, to broken arms from falling off bikes, to temper tantrums he had images of it all. They kept all these pictures in an album that was labeled “Real Life.” He said when showing his friends, people would be appalled or shocked, even saying, “Why would you do such a thing?” He was clear, it reminded his family that life is not always the image we make of it.
Folks, I think you get what I am saying.
When you and I get the whip out in our own Temples, I see it more as what we might call today a “reality check” or an “eye opener.” All of a sudden, we become aware of how the symptoms we experience, like anxiety, fear, anger, jealousy, hopelessness, sadness, disconnection are part and parcel to the negative attachments we have made to things like I have described. And even more, when we are in bondage to those symptoms, it effects our neighbors, our family, our loved ones, our friends.
I believe God has been teaching us and calling us to detach ourselves from those things that get in the way of fully engaging this life. Those things that deprive us of our true delight, wonder, and joy, that blind us from seeing the beauty in and around us.
When we take out that whip and engage the hard work with the Spirit’s help – it is just like with Jesus – the temple walls we have created may begin to crumble, sometimes they will completely fall apart, or even be destroyed – leaving us feeling almost dead.
But as Jesus said, “Destroy this temple…and I will raise it again.”
And that is when we are reminded of what true resurrection is all about. Author Rob Bell said it well, “To have resurrection…we must have death.”
To die to our selfish attachments, to die to always having it our way, to die to finding our identity in image, possessions, or achievements, is the beginning of experiencing the ongoing resurrection in our lives.
If you and I look carefully, we have opportunities for resurrection each and every day – if our attachments don’t clutter our vision.
This week I want to challenge us to work on the discipline of detachment. It’s time to get out our whips!
I want to challenge you this week to consider how you might tangibly give away or let go of something you are attached to.
As we go into a time of open worship
· Be aware of the feelings that arise in you when you think of giving away or letting go this attachment.
· Spend some time meditating on it. Ask the Spirit for guidance.
· Then commit this morning to letting go. If you sense a need for more accountability feel free to stand where you are and speak out loud what you plan to give up or let go (you don’t have to go into details – you may not know those yet, but speak out what you want to give up letting the Body of Christ surround you in silent prayer.