Gentle Shepherd Metropolitan Community Church, Phoenix, Arizona
They all laughed as they realized that although they had gone off in different directions Ç from working at home to managing companies Ç they were experiencing similar feelings. Everyone was trying to cope with the unexpected changes that were happening to them in recent years, and most admitted that they did not know a good way to handle them.
Then Michael said, “I used to be afraid of change. When a big change came along in our business, we didn’t know what to do. So we didn’t adjust and we almost lost it. That is,” he continued, “until I heard a funny little story that changed everything.”
“How so?” Nathan asked.
“Well, the story changed the way I looked at change Ç from losing something to gaining something Ç and it showed me how to do it. After that, things quickly improved Ç at work and in my life. At first I was annoyed with the obvious simplicity of the story because it sounded like something we might have been told in school. Then I realized I was really annoyed with myself for not seeing the obvious and doing what works when things change. When I realized the four characters in the story represented various parts of myself I decided who I wanted to act like and I changed.”
— From “Who Moved My Cheese?” by Spencer Johnson, M.D.
“The next day again John was standing with his disciples, and looking at Jesus walking by, said, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God!’ The two disciples heard John say this, and they followed Jesus. Jesus turned, and saw them following, and said to them, ‘What do you seek?’ And they said, “Rabbi’ (which means Teacher), where are you staying?’ Jesus said to them, ‘Come and see.’ They came and saw where Jesus was staying; and they stayed with him that day, for it was about the tenth hour. One of the two who heard John speak, and followed Jesus, was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. Andrew first found his brother Simon and said to him, ‘We have found the Anointed One (the Messiah, the Christ).’ Andrew brought Simon to Jesus. Jesus looked at him, and said, ‘So you are Simon the son of John? You shall be called Cephas (which means Peter).'”
— John 1:35-42
In part one of this series we explored prayer as a tool for reconnecting with our roots. Reconnecting with the “source” that started our spiritual journeys as we look at baptism and what baptism means in our own lives. The poet, Kabir, said, “I laugh when I hear the fish in the water is thirsty.” None of us need to thirst for the source of what we are, for that source lives within each of us. God is with us. In Part two, we continue with our series titled “Will It Go Round in Circles.”
There was a record in 1971 called “Will It Go Round in Circles.” Billy Preston was a child prodigy at organ and piano. You wouldn’t think that it would make its way to rock music but it did and I’ll show you how. By age 10 he was playing keyboard for Gospel Diva Mahalia Jackson. At 12, in 1958, he played W.C. Handy in a movie about the legendary Blues musician (he played the younger version of him) and in the sixties he toured with Little Richard and Ray Charles all over America and Europe. Billy Preston also had the fame of being the only American artist to appear on a label with The Beatles. The only one! In fact, the Beatles bought his contract in the late sixties. But his real shot came when the Beatles asked him to participate in the actual recording of the song “Let It Be.” You know that organ interlude in there? That’s Billy Preston doing that. Finally the man, who had only been of through his, got his big break in 1971 when he was allowed to record his voice, not just his fingers playing. He recorded a simple song. It asked the question, “If I have a song to sing but can’t really figure out how to do it, will I ever get to sing my song?” The answer to that question is his story.
In the book, “Who Moved My Cheese” we actually read a story within a story. You see several high school friends have gotten back together, after many years, and their talking about their lives and sharing stories about what’s going on since they got out of high school and they finally get down to sharing superficial details but they actually get down to telling the truth. And they begin to share how they have experienced fear and how they have struggled in life and how sometimes their fear overwhelmed them and they couldn’t live as fully as they wanted to. Our reading opens as Michael, one of the individuals, tells all the rest of them how he found the courage to finally change. Michael says that at first the story annoyed him. It can’t be that simple. My problems are far too great for something that simple to work. Go tell that simple story to somebody else!
I’ll tell you a simple story. There was a man who walked out the door, he made a left, he walked down the street, he made a left turn and he fell into a hole. The next day the man got up. He walked out the door, he made a left, he walked down the street, he made a left turn and he fell into a hole. The next day, the man got up, he walked out the front door, he made a left, he walked down the street and he kept on going. He learned to change! Don’t do the same things over and over and over again and expect a different result!
Simple stories annoy us. You see the true point — the power to make positive change and forward growth came when Michael realized this one thing. “When I realized the four characters in the story represented various parts of myself I decided who I wanted to act like and I changed.” The power came when Michael realized who he really was! He was all of those people. He was the person who didn’t want to do it and he was the person who wanted to do it. He was the person who had the tools and he was the person who couldn’t find his way out of a wet paper bag. When he connected deeply with the person he really was, the deepest truth, he found the power to change. Only when we connect with our truest selves can we really connect with who we really are. You know that person that you’ve always been afraid that you might be but haven’t always lived out? That person.
Only when we connect with our truest selves can we become who we really are. It is so easy to surrender who we really are to other voices. For some of us, it started in childhood. There were adults around us who explained to us, how bad we were, how horrible we were, how rotten we were or worthless we were. And it’s easy to surrender who you are to those voices. For some of us it was in school. On the playground we were called sissy, fatso. It’s so easy to surrender who we are to other voices. Sometimes it’s adulthood. It’s in relationships where we wind up with someone we are not compatible with and never should have been with and we would seek to destroy each other because of it. It happens. For me, I know that the only way out of that is in deep prayer. It is only in deep prayer that every other voice is silent and the voice that called me into existence can finally be heard. That’s the voice who knows exactly who I am and who I can become. It is only in deep prayer who we discover who we really are. That’s what the Gospel lesson is all about.
You see, the setting of the story of this Gospel reading is very simple. The day before, Jesus had been baptized by John in the river Jordan. Remember what happened when Jesus was baptized? Jesus came up out of the water and he heard the voice of God say “You are my greatly loved son, you make me happy.” Remember that we said in baptism the voice of God speaks to us. “You are my greatly loved daughter, my greatly loved son. You make me smile.”
And now it’s the next day and Jesus is walking along past, when John is yet again preaching to people to come home to themselves and to wash away the past in the waters of baptism. And Jesus walks past and John looks at him and says to those around him, “Behold the Lamb of God!” Have you ever met someone who could look at someone else and see something about them that nobody else could? They almost reach deep into people’s souls and they see something about them. My dad was that kind of a person.
You have to understand something. My family was a bit odd. In my household, it was never just us. We always had other people living with us. I remember Uncle Charlie, who was by no means an uncle, who lived with us for 9 years until he died. But the strangest one of all was Frank, who lived with us. Frank was someone who my dad had met through a circle of friends. He had just moved to St. Louis from the country, na‘ve, young, in his 20’s and simply lost in the big city. Dad brought Frank home for about three and a half years until he got really established. And it was only several years after that I learned this amazing and astounding fact. Frank was never the guy’s name. His name was Louie. But the first time my dad met him he said: “That’s not your name! You look like a Frank.” From that moment on, everybody called him Frank. My dad saw something in this young kid that would only be liberated, as he came to grips with who he really was. He changed his name after that to Frank. John saw Jesus and saw something so pure in his faith that he looked and said: “This is the Lamb of God!”
There were some listening to John and when they heard what John said, they wanted to know about this person whose faith is so pure that they are a Lamb of God and so, they followed after Jesus. They go to Jesus and they say “Where are you staying?” and Jesus says “Come and see,” so they go and stay with him and they decide that there is something that they see in Jesus that touches them. Andrew is one of these two and Andrew has a brother named Simon. So, Andrew goes and says “Simon, I want you to come with me. I have seen something in Jesus that is as if the very finger of God has touched this man.” Messiah means anointed one Ç as if the finger of God has touched him. “Come with me.” So Simon goes with his brother, who’s so excited, and Jesus looks at Simon and says, “So, you are Simon?” And Simon says, “Yes, that’s my name, this is where I come from, that’s who I am!” And Jesus says, “No you’re not.” You are Peter, Cephas, Petra, a stone. Jesus saw something in Peter that he had not yet recognized in himself — the ability to be a bedrock for other people.
Prayer is not something that happens when we are only on our knees. There have been moments of prayer where I have been sitting with someone in a restaurant talking and it was a greater moment of prayer, than anytime I have ever been in a church. Prayer is occurring each time we make deep connection with who we are, with God, with other people. Every time that we look beyond the facades and pretences and see who people really are, there is prayer. Every time we know ourselves more honestly, there is prayer.
Prayer is the shedding of pretense. It is the shedding of our false self. You know what the “false self” is? It’s all the bull excrement that you have heard over the years, listened to and believed. That’s your false self. Prayer is the shedding of that and realizing the depths of who we are and who we are meant to be. I bet that you never heard that that was prayer. We’re always taught prayer is: “Oh God, I need. Oh God, I want. Oh God, I wish. Oh God, you are.” Prayer is reaching the depths of whom we are and who we are meant to be. It can happen anywhere. It can happen at a bus stop talking to a stranger. Prayer can happen when we’re walking down the road and you can see that person and in an instant there is recognition that there is something wonderful there. It can happen in a private moment on a mountain. Prayer can even happen, alone in your bed at night, when you wrestle with some demon from your past and you surrender it and no longer allow it to have power over you. Prayer is the quieting of every other voice and listening to the voice that called you into being. You can hear sometimes in another person who looks deep into you and knows just who you are and who you can be. Sometimes it happens alone.
Peter had a moment of prayer when Jesus said to him, “No you’re not, you are Cephas.” Jesus had it. He heard the voice that called him into being when John the baptizer said, “Behold the Lamb of God!” It is the voice that calls us to our truest selves.
A while back, I led a group of people in a prayer exercise that has become very meaningful in my life. It is praying the Labyrinth. It’s an ancient ritual of walking in a circle that leads you to the center and back out again. It’s a very powerful tool that allows us to center ourselves. It’s an exercise that reconnects you with you. Prayer is meant to do that. Celtic Christianity is where we have taken that from and Celtic Christianity has a fascinating basis for all of its belief. God is in all things that are. Whatever is there, God is in that. It embraces the idea of God in us and that as we uncover our truest selves, then we really come to know who God is. It is in deep prayer, in places where we shed our pretense that we know ourselves fully and God is more fully known. True prayer liberates us to who we are and who we were meant to be. I’m going to tell you something though. If you pray deeply, it can be painful. Do you know why? Sometimes we have to look back past choices we make based on all those false voices. Sometimes we’ve made monumental mistakes. Sometimes we’ve gone down paths that we never should have traveled. In deep prayer, we confront those places. But that’s okay, their merely stops along the road to who we really are. It’s just a layer, not you. For in the very center of who you are do you know what you will find? God. “And God breathed the breath of life into them and they came alive.” If you reach into the very depths of the center of you, what you will find is God.
My whole life I have been moved by the story of Nelson Mandela. If ever there is anyone whose story has consistently moved me, it is his. Here is a man who refused violence but his government found him to be disruptive anyway and so they sentence him to life in prison. He fought for his people’s freedom because he believed this one thing and he uses it over and over again. I find it odd that it’s from early Christian writings. He believed that the glory of God is in every person. In fact, when they put him on trial he says, “I am standing up to fight against white domination and I am standing up to fight against black domination because I believe the glory of God is in everyone, black and white, and that is my problem with this government.”
The Glory of God is in everyone! So he fought. The apartheid Government of South Africa sentenced him to life in prison. He spent 27 years on Robin Island Prison. Do you know what he did when he was there? He educated the other prisoners. He taught them drama. They put on plays, they did musicals, they sang, they learned, they grew together but somewhere around year 20, Nelson Mandela had an awakening. He said: “I am not going to spend my life behind bars doing this. I am meant for something more.” So this “lifer” in prison, opened negotiations with the very government that had imprisoned him! Now imagine this, sending a letter to the president of the country that imprisoned you saying, “I wish to open negotiations with you about my release.” He opened negotiations with them. And over a course of seven years he secured his freedom, helped to shape what would become the new South Africa, and became the first President of that country. In his inaugural address he quoted from Marianne Williamson’s “A Return to Love.” This is the center of what he believes and why for 27 years he kept on going.
“Our worst fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous. Actually, who are you not to be? You are child of God and you’re playing small, doesn’t serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking, so that other people will not feel insecure around you. We were born to make manifest the Glory of God within us. It is not in some of us. It is in everyone. And as we let our light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
Who are you not to be? Billy Preston had dreamed for years of making it on his own and he asks: “Will it go round in circles? Will it fly high like a bird up in the sky?” Do you know what he is asking? You see, you’ll never know if your dream or hope, yourself, will ever make it unless you open yourself up to it; unless you let yourself ‘out.’ If you never reach deep and let it out, it will never get out! It will never go anywhere.
The power of prayer is the power to set YOU free. Pray deeply. There is a melody in each one of us. It was written in the act of creation but it will never be sung if you never let it out.
Amen, Shalom and Blessed Be.
Rev. Brad Wishon was called in 1997 to serve as Pastor of Gentle Shepherd MCC, now Metropolitan Community Church Phoenix, in Arizona. An LGBT activist, he was named to Echo Magazine’s Hall of Fame in 2012 and named its Man of the Year in 2004.
In 2004, as Massachusetts became the first state to offer same-sex marriage, he was part of a local effort by clergy to help couples to try to obtain marriage licenses. When they were denied, he and others performed weddings for about 40 couples.
He was involved with No Longer Silent: Clergy for Justice, a Phoenix-area group with the mission of sharing an alternative religious perspective on homosexuality. He promoted the Phoenix Declaration, which calls for the end of LGBT discrimination.