Still Speaking After All These Years

July 11, 2018

And so, my friends, I’m a certified lay speaker in the United Methodist Church.  Have been since around the turn of the century.  Quite something for a formerly shy girl!  I get to do continuing ed to keep up my credentials.  Yes!!!  As a CLS I’m in a rotation of clergy and other lay speakers to give the homily at our church’s Wednesday night service.  After all these years I fit easily into this small service.  I know what to expect.  They even let me pick the opening and closing hymns.  But it’s never old hat.  I’m still amazed at the honor bestowed.  I work at it harder that ever.  And after all these years, it’s still sheer fun.  Even when I have to wrestle mightily with what wants to be said.

 

And so…tonight’s homily.

 

Refresh Worship Service

Trinity United Methodist Church / Beaumont, Texas

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

“Log Removal”

Phoebe Hambright Dishman, Lay Speaker

 

Opening hymn: 662 Stand Up and Bless the Lord / Closing hymn: Open My Eyes

 

These words tonight I offer in memory of my mother, Edna Hambright, who died on this day, sixteen years ago. Mother had a lively mind, a keen eye for the way people are, and a tender heart. I hope some measure of that lives in me.

 

Our text for tonight is a fresh translation of a teaching we’ve heard many times:

 

Matthew 7:1-5 (The Passion Translation) Refuse to be a critic full of bias toward others, and judgment will not be passed on you. For you’ll be judged by the same standard that you’ve used to judge others. The measurement you use on them will be used on you. Why would you focus on the flaw in someone else’s life and yet fail to notice the glaring flaws of your own? How could you say to your friend, ‘Let me show you where you’re wrong,’ when you’re guilty of even more? You’re being hypercritical and a hypocrite! First acknowledge your own ‘blind spots’ and deal with them, and then you’ll be capable of dealing with the ‘blind spot’ of your friend.

 

Jesus says, we have to judge. For the common good and our own, we have to. But before we take the bench or the jury box, look ye first in the mirror. Justice may be blind, but we should keep our eyes log-free.

 

Speaking of keeping a log, I don’t know if you know, but I’m Historical Chairman for our church this year. So let me give you some church history:

 

Early in 2011, Bill Strait decided he needed to lay down Explorers Sunday school, which he had faithfully taught for many years. Reason? His hearing had diminished to the point where trying to follow our classroom conversations was just about impossible. This made me very sad.

 

How many times, dear church, have our hearts been pierced when a good person we’ve loved and worked with has to leave us?   If it isn’t deafness it’s some other changing circumstance. This is hard enough. Consider the final goodbye. The art of being vulnerable creatures, evidently, is learning to live with tears in the night, and joy in the morning.

 

The poet David Whyte puts it this way: ‘The only choice we have as we mature is how we inhabit our vulnerability, how we become larger and more courageous and more compassionate through our intimacy with disappearance.‘

 

Intimacy with disappearance. Yes. All things are of a nature to die. That perspective alone ought to make us more inclined to deal with the logs and planks and beams and blind spots in our own eyes, before we undertake speck-inspection of others.

 

Back to Bill Strait, who by the way is still faithfully in his pew of a Sunday. When he had to leave our class, he said he was handing the leadership to me. By then I was a seasoned Disciple Bible Study leader. So I wasn’t as panic-stricken as I might have been.

 

He gave the class to me, and Mitch Watkins. Bill had noted our Bible background, and not least, our regular attendance.

 

So, with Bill’s departure, one chapter of Explorers ended, another began. Mitch and I brought the best we had to the table. He produced ponderous books, heavily underlined. I brought lyrics and lecture notes and poems … and a number of Bible translations, from which I happily read aloud, with great drama, and we would listen oh so carefully for what might want to be brought to the class.

 

I trust our teaching brought a measure of light to the place we inherited.

 

And I give thanks for the seven years of partnering. Now Mitch is gone, gathered to his fathers. And teaching without him is heavy.

 

Heavy, but the lamp is still lit. The vision unwavering.

 

One of the many things I learned from him was how to get clear on purpose. He would read some meandering thing I wrote, or listen to some half-baked inspiration I was going on about, and he would pause diplomatically, sometimes for several days. And then he would say, What exactly is it you’re aiming at?

 

As iron sharpens iron, so the mind of a man sharpens the mind of his friend. Or, as my husband might say, Give me wings to fly to the point.

 

Mitch was fond of frameworks. His disciplined framework for every statement of purpose was this:

 

‘To. In a way that. So that.’

 

Let me explain.

 

You know our church’s mission statement:

 

‘Know God. Be transformed. Love.’

 

Mitch resolved to make that statement his own. Why? Every day of his life, as near as I can tell, he labored intentionally for precision and coherence as to how he could best align with the Will and Purpose of that which he called His Endlessness. This he did so he could be of utmost usefulness and help to others. So it’s no wonder he felt the need to work till he understood his church’s mission statement for himself.

 

Here’s what he came up with:

 

To be transformed through Grace and the proven disciplines

in a way that we come to recognize and remove logs from our eyes,

be able to love God and relate to all of nature and

to our fellow human beings,

be wise as serpents and harmless as doves,

and restore our conscience to its proper place in our lives

so that the highest Will be done on earth and in our individual lives.’

 

Wow. Always keep your eye on the ‘so that’: Thy will be done. Thy will be done. Thy will be done.

You know what the Proverbist says: Apt words, fitly spoken, are like apples of gold in a basket of silver.

 

And then my teaching partner died. Basket turned over, apples scattered. This cannot be happening. But it is. After the shock abated enough, I trusted God and did the next right thing. That is, I picked up the apples, and put them back in the basket. Page One of each week’s lesson now includes the date, the season of the church year we’re in, the liturgical color for that season. Next, Trinity’s mission statement. Then, Mitch’s mission statement. All that, to keep us Explorers firmly grounded in our investigations. So that the highest Will be done on earth and in our individual lives.

 

It is meaningful to me that Mitch included in his mission statement the concept of log removal. I want to offer here a comment on log removal by another serious man of the church, Oswald Chambers. Listen:

 

The teaching of Jesus hits us where we live. We cannot stand as humbugs before him for one second. He educates us down to the scruple…There is no getting away from the penetration of Jesus. If I see a mote in your eye, it means I have a beam in my own. Every wrong thing I see in you, God locates in me.

 

If I see a mote in your eye, it means I have a beam in my own. This is the first Jesus-teaching I remember hearing in ‘big church.’ At six or so, I was absolutely thrilled by the outrageous hyperbole of logs in people’s eyes. The point of the hyperbole being that people need to be blasted out of their hypercritical hypocritical half-blind trances. Appeal to their imaginations, get them laughing, and maybe they’ll understand.

 

There is no getting away from the penetration of Jesus. One way or another, here he comes. But take comfort:

 

The flame shall not hurt thee: I only design

thy log to consume, and thy gold to refine.

 

So that God’s sacred Will be done. At six I could not articulate all that. But I sensed I was onto something interesting.

 

Clear eyes for all Creation. Nothing less will do. This was the mindset of Jesus. This was the heart of Jesus. It’s easy to make religion “private, personal, and heaven-bound.” To snuggle under a warm blanket of “Jesus loves me,” leaving the “all of Creation” to others. But Jesus would be amazed at the infantile narrowness of that. Babies are supposed to demand instant gratification of their personal needs. Not you. Open your eyes.

 

Says she who stands before you wrapped in a warm blanket of privilege. And nearsighted besides. In other words, a humbug!

 

Oh well, recovering humbugs unite! Good spiritual vision takes the sustained labor of many people. I’m beginning to think that such labor can no longer be viewed as optional. Oh for a sense of urgency to wake up and take up the instruments our tradition has given us:

 

Meditation. Prayer. Fasting. Study. Simplicity. Solitude. Self-denial. Service. Confession. Discernment. Worship. And the crown of all—Celebration.

 

To take up salvation, we have to put aside some things. For instance, we have got to stop fighting and blaming. We have got to stop fiddling, trying to make things better by our own imperfect understanding. We have got to stop with the ‘private, personal, and heaven-bound.’ If these approaches ever worked, they don’t anymore.

 

To take up salvation, it’s urgent that we wake up and take up the proven disciplines, and start practicing. Always praying for Grace to guide our labors. Always praying that the fog will clear away, and we will see.

 

I have just said, by my computer’s count, one thousand five hundred and thirty-four words.

 

As for Mitch, he suggested a bumper sticker.

 

‘How’s your log removal going?’

 

Amen.

 

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