Sermons: Nov & Dec 2022
Is This the Right Time?
Isaiah 11:1-10 (NRSVUE)
It happened again a couple of days ago when my plumber arrived at my house. After he and his son checked out the sink that was no longer draining well, my plumber asked me where my dog was. Oh dear…I haven’t had a dog living with me since I put my beloved Maggie Mae to sleep in 2015.
This reminder of sweet Maggie Mae came after I saw a couple of posts on Facebook recently—some of them from some of you—about people putting their beloved dogs to sleep. And then my Google account sent me a picture a couple of days ago—a memory from my photo files—of Maggie and me, taken at the vet’s office the very day I had to let her go.
I’ve had two English Springer Spaniels in my life. Jaymes was the first and while he was not young when he died, his passing was pretty sudden, and ultimately didn’t require a lot of decision-making on my part. Maggie’s health, though, was fading, and it was up to me to decide when the right time was to let her go.
All these memories came flooding back this week due to odd circumstances. And there was an Advent reflection I read early in the week that put the experience of loving and losing my dogs right back in my face.
“I think it is time,” Diana Butler Bass wrote.
“I was home alone when Rowan, our beloved old dog, stopped breathing. I had been sitting with him stroking his warm body. He’d had some particularly difficult days in a long autumn of increasingly hard days. We worried that he was coming to the end of his life. But we didn’t know when or what might take him. He’d been so tough and brave in recent weeks, fighting through dementia and other ailments with a tenacious determination to stay with his people. He was growing tired.
“As I touched him, he drew a breath. And then he didn’t. For several moments. After what seemed forever, his chest moved again — softly, slowly, faintly. Then, it happened a second time, and a third. My heart caught in my throat.
“The time had come. I just knew it…Rowan’s time was fulfilled.”
Advent is an invitation to consider time — with its endings and beginnings. How do we know the fullness of time? How do any of us know when to utter words ultimately unfathomable: “It is time”? How did I come to the place where I could believe that Maggie Mae’s time had been fulfilled?
The “fullness of time” involves some kind of completion, the running of a course. Something ends so that something else might begin. Our reading from Isaiah this morning points toward the end of the times we know — times of injustice and violence — and the times to come — times of equity and peace. Advent reminds us the arrival of the Lord is near. The course of this age is coming to its end. The wolf and the lamb will live together. Peace will hold sway over the whole of creation. The long-promised Kingdom of God is at hand.
Is it time? Now? Is this the right time?
Unless you are a physicist, you probably can’t explain time. You just know when the time has come — you see differently, you experience a flash of recognition, a moment of enlightenment as it were. The fullness of time doesn’t break upon us as much as it cracks us open. It brings forth the wells of compassion that are within us.
And there are no calendars for that.
So, Advent sharpens our sense of time, alerting our intuitions to the fullness of time. Perhaps that’s why John the Baptist wants us to “repent.” To let go of all those things that interfere with the wonders of time — to let our hearts grow toward a more profound awareness of endings and new beginnings. And to prepare ourselves for all the mysterious ways in which the fullness of time presses into our lives.
“On the human side of this mystery,” Bass writes, “we live with clocks, calendars, and chronologies. In this world, grief frequently accompanies endings. It is a strange irony that sadness often follows completion and fulfillment. Many of us fear beginnings as well, apprehensive of new things being born.
“The fullness of time is not an easy embrace. We may long for it, but the truth is that when it arrives it can overwhelm us in sorrow as it moves our hearts in directions not yet known. Perhaps children and animals are, indeed, the best guides toward the Kingdom. Time is more fluid for them; newness is welcomed not dreaded.
“And that’s what I’m contemplating today,” she writes. “The mystery at Rowan’s end. Of the last dog kisses and the final breath. Of knowing that one reality has passed into another, that a treasured companion has moved into memory. Imagining him running free off the leash into that unknown country, perhaps glimpsing back to see if we’d follow. But we can’t. It isn’t our time. His completion — the fullness of his life — leaves a frightening emptiness in ours. Death and life, life and death.
And yet — that’s where faith flickers most brightly. We might experience the fullness of time as the starkest of endings. But the fullness of time also opens to a world new-born. Peace on earth; goodwill to all. God with us.”
So, no matter the sadness, faith lights candles in the dark, marking the journey along the crooked road of human pain and suffering with beams of luminosity — confident that Isaiah’s vision is at hand. “The peaceable kingdom awaits us — and is with us — in sacred time, the sort of time with and in the heartbeat of God. Even when our own hearts catch a beat; even when we feel we might break. Every ending reminds us that time winds toward this glorious culmination, when re-creation enfolds all loss, pain, and death in the totality of love.”
This mystery is always present. It is always deep within, and it hovers just beyond the horizon. That place where all promises are kept, hopes realized, and love dwells in the fullness of time. The time is near. And it is far off. The time is coming. And it is time. May this time of Advent find us alert. Amen.
Rev. Lisa Drysdale
Advent and Grace
Hebrews 4:15-16 (MSG)
I can’t remember where I first heard this story, but I think it tells us a lot about this season we are in, the season of Advent. Listen….
It was the last day of pre-school before the Christmas holiday. As the little boy’s parents arrived to pick him up, he ran toward them with what was clearly a Christmas present clutched in his little hands. It was wrapped as only a pre-schooler can wrap such a thing.
Running, the little boy caught his foot on something. The present flew out of his arms, through the air, and hit the cement floor with an unmistakable ceramic crash. That little boy set up an inconsolable wail.
His father, weary and set on edge by the commotion, said, “C’mon son, it doesn’t matter. Really, it doesn’t matter.” (Note: Forgive the gender stereotypes here, but this is how the story first came to me.)
His mother, wiser in such matters, knelt and swept her son into her arms and said, “Oh, but it does matter, it matters a great deal.” And she wept with her son.
The power of this season was also brought to mind by a similar, yet different, story included in a column in mid-December last year by David Brooks. Here’s that one:
“Rabbi Elliot Kukla once described a woman with a brain injury who would sometimes fall to the floor. People around her would rush to immediately get her back on her feet, before she was quite ready. She told Kukla, ‘I think people rush to help me up because they are so uncomfortable with seeing an adult lying on the floor. But what I really need is for someone to get down on the ground with me.’
“Kukla pointed out that getting on the floor can be anxiety-producing and, when someone is in deep despair, even dangerous to the strongest caregiver. But sometimes you just get on the floor.”
While these stories stand alone, speaking to us of the capacity to hear and acknowledge suffering, they also speak to us of Jesus.
Listen again to the Letter to the Hebrews from the New Revised Standard Version: “For we do not have a great high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weakness, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
Particularly in the seasons of Advent and Lent, I like to find a devotional book of some sort, something that will purposefully guide my thinking each day during the season. I’ve told you before how much I value the daily devotions written by a group of UCC pastors and leaders that come to my email each morning, but this Advent I’m looking for additional insight and encouragement from a different writer, John Pavlovitz. John is a writer, pastor, and activist from Wake Forest, North Carolina. Since retiring from full-time church service, John has continued to minister to the wayward souls of the Internet through blogging, books, social media, online community building, speaking engagements, and one-on-one interactions.
His Advent devotional this year is titled, “Low,” and he encourages readers to be honest about Advent: How we often feel pressured to have it all together and to hide our struggles, to pretend we’re merry when we’re frustrated and stressed and exhausted. The daily devotions in this book speak to the breadth of our journeys: the joy and the grieving, the celebration and the suffering, the belief and the doubt, the good tidings and the bad days.
In the introduction to the devotional, John Pavlovitz talks about how we tend to read the Bible retrospectively, in the rearview mirror, knowing how the story ends. We tend to view the God-narrative, he says, from 30,000 feet, like a movie we are passively watching instead of a story we are participating in.
“But there is a beauty in trying to see these accounts from the ground level, to imagine how they looked and felt from the low places of people’s ordinary lives. When we do this, we remember that this is the story of an olive-skinned baby, born amid the smell of damp straw and animal dung because no human-worthy welcome could be found; of a child of young Palestinian Jewish parents, desperately fleeing politically ordered genocide. It is the story of a poor, itinerant, street preaching rabbi spending his days dining with the lepers and prostitutes, enlisting the doubters and the backsliders, and comforting the bleeding and the grieving. It is divinity coming low to inhabit humanity.
“When Jesus offers the prayer, ‘Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven,’ he reminds us that as we walk this road of Advent, the invitation is not to escape this place to an elevated sanctuary somewhere; it is to bring heaven down. Immanuel means ‘God with us.’ In other words, it is Jesus getting low. And this is really good news for us here on the ground.”
In this season, there is fun and lightness, but also grief for all that has been and is broken in our lives and in the world. Think back to the young boy who tripped and dropped his precious, hand-made ceramic Christmas gift. Sometimes we make that father’s mistake, telling those who suffer—telling ourselves— whether in words or exasperated body language, “It doesn’t matter . . . get over it.”
But in Jesus Christ God says to us, “It does matter . . . it matters a great deal.” And, at Bethlehem, God gets down on the ground with us.
So, friends, let us, as Hebrews counsels, “Approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” And let us extend, as best we are able, such grace to one another. Let’s not be afraid to head to the low places this Advent.
Rev. Lisa Drysdale
We Don't Know What We Don't Know
Matthew 24:36-44 (NRSVUE)
What images or symbols do you associate with Advent? Pink and purple candles? Cozy Nativity scenes on soft-hued Hallmark cards? Pull tab calendars with chocolates tucked inside?
What about a thief prowling outside your house, stealthy and silent? Your front door torn off its hinges, shattered glass in your foyer, and a stranger’s footsteps on your stairs? What about your most prized possessions disappearing while you sleep? Do these images seem “Advent-ish” to you?
Probably not. And yet these are the images our Gospel reading for the first Sunday of Advent gives us. A homeowner caught off-guard. A house that’s been broken into. The Son of Man coming at an unexpected hour, like a thief in the night.
There’s no way around it — these images are disturbing. Maybe even terrifying. They don’t fit with the Jesus we think we know — the Jesus in the manger, the Jesus on the cross, the Jesus who feeds and forgives and heals and saves. The Jesus Matthew describes in this apocalyptic passage is no respecter of boundaries. He’s not invested in the status quo, he doesn’t care about keeping us secure and comfortable, and he’s not thwarted at all by our elaborate defense mechanisms. The Jesus Matthew describes is an invader. An intruder. A disrupter. A criminal.
So here’s a question for our new liturgical season: what should we do with a Son of Man who describes himself as a robber? How should we respond to a Jesus who shows up and takes things away from us? Things we care about? Things we depend on? Things we’re 100% sure we can’t live without?
In her essay in Journey with Jesus on this reading from Matthew, Debie Thomas offers up three things we should do in response:
First, we should recognize that we’re asleep: Jesus likens the coming of the Son of Man to the days of Noah’s flood. “Before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage,” Jesus says. “They knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away.” It’s so hard — so very, very hard — to accept the fact that we’re not awake, that we’re missing profound spiritual realities because we’re fast asleep in the ordinary and the mundane. We want to believe that the status quo will save us. We want to believe that business-as-usual will be good enough to keep us attuned to God. We want to pretend that Christianity will never require anything hard or costly of us.
And yet the message of Advent is, “Wake up!” The message of Matthew in today’s reading is, “Keep watch!” The call of the season is to recognize that we’re not paying attention to what really matters. To confess that we are alive and yet dangerously asleep.
Second, we should surrender our certainties: The implication of the thief-in-the-night analogy is that Jesus isn’t going to come in the ways we expect. If we think we have religion pinned down, if we think we know what revelation looks like, if we think we have Jesus all figured out, then we’re in for an unpleasant surprise. If, on the other hand, we approach with our hands wide open; if we confess that we don’t even know what to look for, or where; that we don’t know what we don’t know; if we empty ourselves of all preconceived notions of God and train our hearts to expect the unexpected, then we will be able to receive the real Jesus with joy when he appears.
Third, we should prepare to be robbed: During Advent, we are called to make room for the long-anticipated Christ. To prepare space for the beautiful new life that is coming. But how can we do this if we’re already filled to the rafters? Maybe Jesus comes as a thief because we need to be
“robbed.” Maybe Jesus breaks in because our valuables have become liabilities, and we need an intruder to sweep in and take what we won’t willingly give up.
What are we clinging to that Jesus needs to steal? Our apathy? Our self-righteousness? Our fears? Our unforgiveness? It’s no coincidence that Jesus comes when we’re asleep and vulnerable. When else would we give over the false gods we cling to? How else would we cooperate with the deep work of God in our lives?
Debie Thomas writes that she didn't grow up observing Advent. She says, “My childhood church didn't follow the liturgical calendar, so the holiday lineup I remember went straight from Thanksgiving turkeys and pumpkin pies to Christmas trees and "Jingle Bells” — one consumer feeding frenzy pressing hard into the next. But as I’ve moved deeper into the liturgical tradition, I have come to love the holy season we’re now entering. I love that the Church begins its new year when the days are still getting darker. I love that the season rejects shallow sentimentality and false cheer. And I love that the Gospel gets us started with images that startle me out of my complacency — not swaddling clothes, twinkly stars, and fleecy lambs, but Jesus as relentless pursuer of my soul. Jesus as thief.”
American novelist Flannery O’Connor once wrote, “To the hard of hearing you shout, and for the almost blind, you draw large and startling figures.” That’s precisely what Jesus does in his prophetic wake-up call. He shouts, he draws startling figures, and he uses every rhetorical device at his disposal to snap his listeners to attention. “Be on guard,” he warns his disciples. “Be alert.” “Stand up and raise your heads.” Look.
These aren’t the soothing, saccharine invitations we like to accept as we shop for gifts, decorate Christmas trees, and sing carols. But as Episcopal priest Fleming Rutledge reminds us, “Advent begins in the dark. It is not a season for the faint of heart.” Whether we like it or not, the invitations Advent offers us are hard-edged; they don’t look pretty on greeting cards. But they are essential and life-giving, nevertheless. They help us to prepare for the birth that is almost at hand. They help us stay alert. They help us receive Jesus in all the shocking and scandalous ways he chooses to appear. Let’s stay awake!
Rev. Lisa Drysdale
Running on Idle
2 Thessalonians 3:6-13
I have to begin this morning with confession. The Apostle Paul’s exhortation in this scripture – the one that says “anyone unwilling to work should not eat” – gets part of me, the little man inside me that identifies as a personal-responsibility Republican, all riled up.
It’s right there in the Bible! this very little man shouts. An earlier translation is, “If any one will not work, let him not eat.” And so when we think about public policy and about our society’s safety net for the poor, it seems to my little man that anybody who thinks they’re going to live on the dole, on my tax dollars, and not even try to work for a living, well, they have another thing coming. No workee, no dinner.
Sometimes it doesn’t feel fair to me, that those who work so hard to make a living should be obligated to share with those who, well, don’t, or won’t. Resentment creeps in. And if there’s anything that colors our political life today, it’s inchoate feelings of resentment.
My little man is mad. I don’t let him out much. To tell the truth, I’m a little ashamed that he’s there at all. I’d like to think that I’ve thoroughly incorporated Jesus’ words when he says, “Give to everyone who asks of you.” And so I recognize that this is a growing edge for me.
And what I want to say first about these words from Paul’s second letter to the church at Thessalonica is that they’re not about public policy. They’re not about welfare or workfare, food stamps or soup kitchens, Section 8 housing or Medicaid. It’s dangerous sometimes to lift pronouncements from the Bible and try to build legislation around them, and this is one of those times. It’s important to understand what’s going on with the Thessalonians and what Paul is arguing with them about.
So I want us to do a little Bible study on the situation at hand, so we can know the context for this passage. And then I want to think with you about where Paul’s words can still move our understanding today.
Paul – or possibly another writer using his name, which was a common practice in the ancient Near East – Paul is writing to the church he established in Thessalonica. Thessalonica was a major port city in northern Greece, on the Aegean Sea, and it was the capital of the Roman province of Macedonia. So there was some money around, and as in every rich society, there were some really rich people and some really poor people. Paul planted this very early Christian church there during his second missionary journey.
Now, it’s important to remember about the epistles, the letters that became part of the New Testament, they don’t come out of nowhere. There’s always a reason – what scholars call an “occasion” – for why the letter is written. In 2 Thessalonians, Paul is writing to set these new Christians straight on both theology and practicality. This church was living in the expectation that the risen Christ would return to them soon – really soon. Like any day now. And in the early part of this letter, Paul says that’s not so. He talks about a period of tribulation and a war between good and evil, but the upshot is that the Second Coming is not imminent.
Which leads to the second reason for his letter, which is how these church people should conduct themselves in the meantime. He has gotten wind that there are people in the church – “idlers,” he calls them – who are not doing their share of the work. Remember that the early Christian churches operated a lot like communes. The members pooled their resources and lived in close community; they were responsible to each other.
So who were these idlers? It’s easy to assume they were poor people who were taking advantage of the generosity of others. But the letter doesn’t say they’re poor, just that they’re idle. Paul might in fact be referring to a group of the idle rich, who had resources for doing good but instead were spending their time meddling, causing trouble, throwing their weight around simply because they could. Or he could be referring to members who used to be rich, but they gave all their resources to the church community and now they’re coasting on that gift, ordering others around because they’re the financial pillars of the church.
Whoever it is Paul is scolding, he says they’re “unwilling to work.” This is causing problems in the church, and that’s why Paul is writing them this scolding letter. He cares about the people, he cares about the church, but mostly he’s worried that they won’t be able to carry out their shared ministry, the work of preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ, if they can’t figure out a way to live peaceably in community.
And Paul isn’t shy about raising himself up as an example of the better way. “You ought to imitate us,” he says (he uses the royal “we”). “We were not irresponsible when we were with you, and we did not eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with toil and labor we worked night and day so that we might not burden any of you.” As their spiritual leader, he says, he could have taken it easy, could have sat on the stoop thinking deep thoughts. But he did his work as a tentmaker, for the benefit of the church but also to show them the way to live while they waited for Christ’s return. A way that includes, well, work.
So Paul is warning the idlers and the troublemakers, returning them to a vision of the beloved community in which everyone makes best use of the gifts God has put into their lives. That’s a model of Christian community that not only works economically, it works spiritually as well. We don’t advance God’s work in the world by hiding our light under a bushel, letting our gifts molder within us when the community and the world need what we have to offer. The spiritually responsible thing to do is make the most of those gifts.
And Paul, here toward the end of the letter, makes that point in an exhortation. “Brothers and sisters,” he says to them, “do not be weary in doing what is right.” That is, keep on doing good things. Don’t get sick of doing good. Never stop lifting up those around you if you can. Do whatever good you can, whenever you can, wherever you can, in whatever ways you can – even if you don’t have to. Even, for example, if you’re rich enough to be an idler.
The Thessalonians were living in a constant tension. They truly expected that Christ would return any day and bring about the end of human history. But they were faced with the problem of how to live in the meantime. And it seems to me that you and I have that same problem.
Because we’re always living in the meantime. That’s what it means to live in hope, and the life of a disciple of Christ is a life of hope. We worship a God who promises that our lives can be a continual, an ongoing transformation, that we can keep on getting closer to Jesus – hope. And we worship a God who promises that our world will someday become the realm of the holy – hope.
But hope is always forward-looking, and in the meantime we’re faced with the problem of how to live in the here and now. Paul’s letter reminds us that we do ourselves no favors, and we deprive our church, our community, our world of all we can bring to it, if we don’t get up in the morning, put on a clean shirt and get to work.
May we do God proud with all we do in Christ’s name. Amen.
Rev. Scott Thomas
Near, Far, Wherever You Are
If you have any long-term memory at all, and you’re older than 25, you will recognize the title of today’s sermon from a song that was on the radio in 1997. Anyone? Yup, it’s My Heart Will Go On, the Celine Dion song that was the theme from the movie Titanic. And now that I’ve said that, I bet you can sing it, right? Choir, you can help me.
Near … far … wherever you are, I believe that the heart does go on …
Ay. Bad memories for a lot of us, because for a long time that song was on the radio day after day after day. At this point it’s become an earworm – one of those songs that once you hear it again, you can’t get it out of your head for days. I will bet you that you find yourself humming it at home today. I apologize.
That’s an earworm. There are eyeworms, too, and one of them speaks to what I want us to think about today, and that is the question of whether God is near to us or far away. If I ask you to picture God in your mind – this would have been interesting to do with the children, actually – what do you see? Dollars to doughnuts the image you see is the one in today’s worship bulletin, Michelangelo’s famous painting on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in Rome, a giant white guy in a white robe with a big white beard, reaching out his magic finger to give life to a naked Adam. In our society, that’s the eyeworm for God – the default way our visual imagination presents the Almighty.
Now, I probably don’t have to convince you that the image of God as an old white man is problematic, to say the least. In progressive Christianity we’re pretty careful about not assigning a gender to God, much less a skin color. For one thing, it’s pretty insulting to God if that’s the best our imaginations can do, to imagine a God who looks like, I don’t know, Ernest Hemingway. That really shows the limits of our understanding of a limitless God.
But I raise up that image because that God is a faraway God. Whether or not Michelangelo intended it that way, when you stand on the floor of the Sistine Chapel and look up at the painting 68 feet above you, you feel really small, and God is way up there. Untouchable. Unreachable. A sovereign God who might just as well have nothing to do with you and me. A God like the president of the United States – you know what he does is important, but you’re probably never going to get to shake his hand.
And I think a lot of us grow up with the impression of that kind of God. It’s even reinforced by some of the traditions of the Christian church. Think for example of the Lord’s Prayer: “Our Father, who art in heaven.” That’s a God who is somewhere else, way up there in a child’s vision of heaven, fluffy clouds and angels and harps and everything. A God who may very well be all-wise and all-powerful, maybe even a God who hears our prayers and intervenes in our lives in response to prayer. But a God who’s far away, not close at hand.
Now, there are some virtues to perceiving that kind of God. There’s a kind of respectfulness, even awe, that comes when we ponder a majestic, faraway God. We don’t want a God who’s at our beck and call, some kind of divine valet. This is the Creator of the universe we’re talking about – the proper attitude has to be reverence. It’s what Moses felt when he came before the burning bush in the wilderness, knowing that even to see God’s face would destroy him. Awe is the right attitude.
But then we have today’s passage from Psalm 145. The Psalmist is ticking off some of the attributes of God – God is just, God is kind, God watches over the faithful. And! “The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth.”
That’s not Michelangelo’s God. This God is not only not up in the sky, this God is as near as our minds, our hearts, indeed the very cells of our bodies. When we call on God – when we pray, or more broadly, when we live our lives open to the idea that God is present in everything in us and around us – that God is indeed there with us. There’s no eyeworm image for that, because how can you imagine visually a presence that suffuses your body and your life? That’s something you can’t tease out into a discrete picture, because that God is part of us just as we are part of God.
I’ve talked to people who have had what are sometimes called mountaintop experiences, really life-changing experiences of God’s presence, and they’re all pretty much the same. A pastor I knew in Rochester said it happened to him like this: He was camping out West somewhere, and he literally was on a mountaintop, just taking in the view, when suddenly he felt this overwhelming wave of peace and assurance. But more than that, he suddenly came to a deep understanding that all of it – the mountain, the trail, the sky, the wind, himself – all of it was part of a seamless whole, and all of it was an absolute continuum of a loving and creative Spirit. He knew that Spirit as God, and for him the revelation was that God is near – indeed, that any construct that imagines God as separate from us is just misguided. This was one of the most formative experiences of his life. It changed him.
As I said, mountaintop experiences are pretty much always like that – the sudden realization of the nearness of God and the continuity of all creation. And human cultures have always looked for ways to catalyze that, to invite that experience, from fasting to breathwork, from scourging the body to smoking or ingesting certain plants.
Toward that end, I want to share with you some really interesting research on psilocybin, the active ingredient in psychoactive mushrooms. Maybe you’ve read about some of this research; I’ve mentioned it from this pulpit before. There are a number of studies ongoing at Johns Hopkins and NYU about this, using psilocybin to treat veterans with post-traumatic stress, or terminally ill people afraid of death, or alcoholics to help them stop drinking. The early studies have been incredibly successful, almost a magic bullet – the subjects are able to leave their trauma in the past, or they make their peace with death, or they stop drinking just like that.
Some of these studies are looking at psilocybin as a way to catalyze spiritual experiences – mountaintop experiences. And people who have done this, have taken the drug, report the same kind of experience that my pastor friend had. They come off that couch knowing – really deep-down knowing – that they are beloved of God, that all of nature and humanity is a unity of beloved creation, and that love is really the only organizing principle of life, including their own lives. These subjects consistently say the experience was one of the very most important experiences of their lives. It changes them.
And these scientists are saying that it seems that psilocybin somehow temporarily switches off an area of the brain called the Default Mode Network, a web of brain areas that coordinates how you process information. It’s sometimes called the “orchestrator of the self,” because it’s how your brain understands what is you and what is not-you. And when this network is deactivated, suddenly you’re unable to draw that line between you and not-you. That sense of ego, of self, dissolves – and what replaces it is this amazing sense of interconnectedness and love.
As I said, human cultures have used all sorts of substances and techniques to induce this kind of spiritual experience. And sometimes it arises spontaneously. You may be tempted to dismiss it as a hallucination. But the very consistency of the experience, across cultures, says to me that the reality of God is right there for the taking. A God who, as the Psalmist says, is “near to all who call on him.” A God who loves us down to our very cells. And a God who, near or far, can’t be explained away in some pretty picture. Amen.
Rev. Scott Thomas