To Divinity, and Beyond! Wisdom

By: Candace Chellew-Hodge

Preached May 8, 2011 at Jubilee! Circle, Columbia, SC

Readings:
Psalm 16: "You show me the path of life."
John 20:19-29: "I will not believe."
1 Thessalonians: 5:15-24: "hold fast to what is good."
  Hear this sermon at the Jubilee! Circle Web site.

Peter Kenneth Frampton was born in England in 1950. He went to school with David Bowie, and one of his early school bands opened for one of Bowie's early bands. He joined the band Humble Pie in 1969, but went on to a solo career in the early 70s. Our first song this morning is one of Frampton's biggest hits. "Show Me the Way," hit number 6 on the Billboard charts in 1976. Let's try it.

I wonder how you're feeling there's ringing in my ears.
And no one to relate to 'cept the sea.
Who can I believe in? I'm kneeling on the floor.
There has to be a force. Who do I phone?
The stars are out and shining. But all I really want to know

Chorus Oh won't you show me the way
I want you show me the way

I finally got a chance, recently, to see Toy Story 3. I know, I'm way behind in my movie viewing. But, it occurred to me while watching the movie, that while Buzz Lightyear may be the inspiration we need to go to Divinity and Beyond, it is really Sheriff Woody - the talking cowboy - who is the best guide for exploring our journey to claiming our divine nature of Wisdom.

In the third installment of Toy Story, we find Andy, the owner of all these toys, all grown up and ready to go off to college. Before he goes, however, his mother insists that he do something with his toy collection - either donate them to a nearby daycare center, or box them up and put them in the attic.

Some of the toys, though they know their time in the attic will be boring, root for that option, because at least they'll be someplace safe - someplace they know - and they'll be together. Rex, the dinosaur toy however, is distraught over the whole situation. "We're NEVER going to get play time!" he wails.

Woody, though, is the voice of wisdom crying out over the chaos. "It's NOT about PLAY TIME!" he counsels them. "It's about being here for Andy!"

All the dinosaur could think about in this time of crisis was himself. All he was concerned about was whether someone would play with him or not. Woody, however, is wise. He understands that life is not all about him - it's about being there for someone else. The truly wise understand that our lives are only fulfilled when we live not for ourselves, but for others - even for those who hate us or persecute us.

It is ultimately this wisdom, this knowledge that the needs of the community outweigh the needs of the individual, that ultimately saves all the toys - even the evil toys - in this story.

Breathe deeply.

Well, I can see no reason
you living on your nerves
When someone drops a cup and I submerge
I'm swimming in a circle ... I feel I'm going down
There has to be a fool to play my part
Someone thought of healing..
But all I really want to know

Chorus Oh won't you show me the way
I want you show me the way
I want you day after day
I bless the Lord who gives me counsel;
in the night also my heart instructs me.
I keep the Lord always before me;
because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved.

Therefore my heart is glad, and my soul rejoices;
my body also rests secure.
For you do not give me up to Sheol,
or let your faithful one see the Pit.
You show me the path of life.
In your presence there is fullness of joy;
in your right hand are pleasures for evermore.

This ancient Hebrew poem speaks of the wisdom of keeping the Holy at the center of our lives. Now, I don't know if Sheriff Woody believes in a higher power, but he does trust his heart - and as we have learned in this series - our heart and God's heart are one in the same - because we have the Holy dwelling inside of us at all times. Our hearts will instruct us if we will only take the time to ask it to show us the way to live in the fullness of joy - and then take the time listen when it responds.

It is Woody's heart that instructs him as a mix-up sends the toys not to the attic but to the daycare. Andy had chosen to take Woody to college with him and had tossed him into his college box. When Woody realizes the other toys are not going into the attic, he goes after them. All the while he is torn. He was so relieved to be going with Andy and not to the attic or the daycare - but as he sees his family carted off to an unknown fate, he couldn't turn his back on them.

He tries to save the toys - but they end up donated to the daycare - which, at first, seems to be heaven. They are greeted by a purple teddy bear named Lotso - a seemingly sweet leader who runs the place in the toy world.

They see a multitude of toys being played with, loved on, doted on, and cared for. The dinosaur, Rex, is so excited. "I'm finally going to be played with!" he exclaims.

To their horror, however, they are put in a room, not with the kids who lovingly play with the toys - but in the toddler room where they are not so much played with as tortured. Their heaven quickly turns into a living hell.

Before they fully understand their fate, however, Woody has managed to escape and is heading back to Andy's house to reclaim his spot in his college box. He believes he has left his friends in a better place, until he comes upon some toys on his journey home who tell him the truth about the daycare.

Again, Woody is torn. He desperately wants to do what's best for himself and get back to Andy - but in his wisdom he knows that a life well lived, is a life lived in service to others. So, he puts aside his own needs and wants and goes back to rescue his friends.

When he gets back he finds that his friends have been imprisoned for their rebellion and are now being guarded by Buzz, who has been switched to a demo program and has lost all memory of his life with the other toys.

Escaping the daycare again, with all of his friends, will not be an easy task, Woody is told by an older toy. The older toy promises to show Woody the way - the path to true freedom and wisdom, but it's not going to be easy. In fact, the wisdom that this toy shares with Woody is the wisdom we all need if ever want to fully embrace our own divine wisdom and go to divinity and beyond!

"You want to get out of here?" the old toy asks. "GET RID OF THAT MONKEY!"

I wonder if I'm dreaming
I feel so unashamed
I can't believe this is happening to me.
I watch you when you're sleeping
And then I want to take your love

Oh won't you show me the way
I want you show me the way
I want you day after day

"Get rid of that monkey." Those are the wise words I want you to take with you tonight. In the movie, the monkey is the security guard - the one watching the security cameras. When something isn't right, the monkey goes berserk, clashing his cymbals together to warn the others of danger.

We've all got that security guard monkey in our heads - the one that tells us to take care of just ourselves, the one that says it's every man woman and child for themselves, the one that says we are not our brother or sister's keeper, the one that clangs the cymbals in our heads when we even think of stepping out of our safety zone to help anyone but ourselves.

You want to get out of here? You want to find true wisdom and go to divinity and beyond? GET RID OF THAT MONKEY!

Breathe deeply.

Our second song comes from a singer songwriter named Susan Werner. She grew up on a farm in Iowa and initially dreamed of being an opera star - until she saw singer Nanci Griffith perform - and she decided to become a folk singer instead. In 2007, she released an album called "The Gospel Truth" which is where our next song comes from. It's called "Probably Not" and could be considered an agnostic person's theme song. Here's how it goes.

[Verse] Well I've travelled far and wide,
'Cross hills and countryside
To answer the questions troubling me
And one day out of the blue, I realized I knew
And the answer was simple as could be

[Chorus] Is there a god above? Is there eternal love?
Probably not, Probably not
Is there a home up in the sky? Will we be there by and by?
Probably not, Probably not

In our Jesus story, we find the resurrected Christ appearing to his disciples. All the doors were locked as the grief stricken disciples hid out from the authorities who might round them up and execute them for following Jesus. Suddenly, he appears in their midst, bidding them peace and showing them his wounds.

Not everyone got to see the show, though. The disciple Thomas wasn't in the room when Jesus showed up the first time and when they told him about it - Thomas' reaction was, "Oh, sure you did!" He doubted what they told him and said, "Look, unless I see it with my own eyes, and touch his wounds myself, I won't believe it."

Poor old Doubting Thomas, he so often gets the short end of the stick whenever sermons are preached on this passage. His doubt is seen as some sort of weakness, since even Jesus said, "Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe."

But, just like Woody, it is Thomas' doubting that leads him to his own divine wisdom and takes him to divinity and beyond! Just as Woody's path to wisdom led through community - Thomas' path to wisdom comes through doubting, through questioning, and coming to know the truth within himself instead of accepting other people's truth as his own. In short, both Thomas and Woody hold the key to getting rid of that monkey.

We defeat what the Buddhists call "monkey mind" when we realize wisdom lies in being both seekers and doubters. Wisdom comes when we make it a practice to say, "Probably not," when faced with life's questions. Wisdom also lies in being dedicated to our community and its wisdom - but also dedicated to finding our own wisdom as well.

As both seekers and doubters, living in a both/and world instead of an either/or world, we soon realize our divine Wisdom comes from that Holy within us all - and if we'll trust in the Holy, She will show us the way - the path of life. Seeking and doubting is what the path of wisdom is all about. Jesus tells us to seek and we will find - but Jesus never tells us exactly what we will find. He doesn't say we'll find exactly what we're looking for, or the answers we seek. Instead, what we often find when we go out seeking the path of life is more questions than answers, more conundrums than solutions, more mystery than certainty, and more frustration than assurance.

What we find is, when we claim our divine characteristic of Wisdom, we need more, not less faith. We rely more and more on the Holy to show us the way, to guide us in life's paths, because as we seek, we learn more, but we also learn that there is much, much more to be learned. What we learn is that we are forever on the path, because true wisdom knows that the journey is the point of life, not the destination.

Just because we have faith, however, doesn't mean we won't ever have doubts - but our doubts are what make our faith stronger. In the end of the movie, Woody and his friends find themselves within melting distance of the trash incinerator at the landfill. Woody has done everything right. He has put aside his own desires to run off to college with Andy and leave his friends behind. He has put himself in harm's way for the sake of his community. He even risks his own life to save the life of their arch enemy Lotso the teddy bear who put them in this predicament after Woody saved him. He's faced danger and betrayal, and finally - he is facing his own death. He begins to doubt whether it's all been worth it.

As each of the toys join hands to face their final destiny, however, his faith is restored and he makes peace with his fate. Even if they are going to die, they are going to die as a community - together - bonded in love and service to one another. This, I submit, is the full message of Easter. These toys, headed to their date with death are still not defeated, because they know that their love for one another is solid and eternal.

They have made the ultimate sacrifice to each other out of love and even death will not overcome that.

[Verse] Think of that Easter day,
When they rolled the stone away
And the apostles said they'd seen Jesus by the city wall
Well Saint Thomas' heart was pure,
When he said, "o right yeah sure"
That's why Saint Tom was the grooviest apostle of all

[Chorus] Is there a god above? Is there eternal love?
Probably not, Probably not
Is there a home up in the sky? Will we be there by and by?
Probably not, Probably not

Just when all hope was lost, when Woody and his friends believed that there probably was not a god above - they are saved. A giant metal claw descends from the heavens and scoops them up and away to safety. The tiny alien toys who had disappeared earlier in the scene are at the controls. Again, this unwavering dedication to community has saved the day! In the end, Woody gets to go off to college with Andy, and Andy gives the other toys away to the child of a neighbor who he knows will take good care of them and play with them.

As he hands her Woody he tells her: "Now Woody, he's been my pal for as long as I can remember. He's brave, like a cowboy should be. And kind, and smart. But the thing that makes Woody special, is he'll never give up on you... ever. He'll be there for you, no matter what."

In the Buddhist tradition, this would make Woody a Bodhisattva - someone who is on the verge of reaching nirvana - which to Woody was going to college with Andy - but turns back because they know they can't enter Nirvana while others are still suffering. Instead, all beings must be set free for a Bodhisattva to really enjoy Nirvana.

To go to divinity and beyond, we must embrace our role as Boddhisattvas - because this is the heart of divine wisdom, Jubilants - none of us are free until all of us are free.

Breathe deeply.

[Bridge] But what if I've been wrong
And God's been up there all along
All along ... all along
And He hands me a heavenly crown,
Would I dare to turn Him down

Probably not, No, probably not
And if He sends me down to hell,
Would I smile and say oh well
Probably not, no Probably Not

Oh, Yeah!

Candace Chellew-Hodge is a recovering Southern Baptist and founder/editor of Whosoever: An Online Magazine for GLBT Christians. Her first book, Bulletproof Faith: A Spiritual Survival Guide for Gay and Lesbian Christians, published by Jossey-Bass is now available at http://www.bulletproofbook.com. She currently serves as the pastor of Jubilee! Circle, a progressive, inclusive community in Columbia, South Carolina. She is also a spiritual director and is currently taking on new directees. She blogs regularly at Religion Dispatches. She can be reached by email at editor-at-whosoever.org or by using the suggestion box.

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