Harrowing Of Hell
February 18, 2018

Inspired to Act

Preacher: The Rev. Doyt L. Conn, Jr.

There is tragedy and then there is horror. Tragedy breaks the heart. Tragedy presents in many ways: accidents, natural disasters, illness. Tragedy causes us to wonder about God.

Horror rattles the soul. Horror presents one way: human. Horror causes us to wonder about the stability of our species.

A horror took place on Wednesday. Nikolas Cruz with an AR15 automatic rifle shot people at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL. It was his choice, and ultimately his responsibility. And yet, a lot of people are asking how they missed connecting the dots around the choices he was making.

And I don’t know the answer. I wish I did. But I can’t help wondering what my Uncle Bob would have done with a kid like Nikolas, because kids like Nikolas are Uncle Bob’s niche market as an educator. He has been a teacher forever… He is super old.

Every summer when I was young we’d go to Nebraska to visit relatives. Uncle Bob lived there at the time, and there was always some High School kid living in his basement. Some boy whose parents kicked him out; or whose parents died; or whose parents deserted him. The kid always looked sort of tough to me, but in Uncle Bob’s house it didn’t matter; everyone was beloved.

Uncle Bob is a great guy, but he is not a soft guy. He is a man who listens well but is also very clear about what he expects. He expected these boys to work, and they did. He expected them to help around the house, and they did. He expected them to go to school, and they did. Uncle Bob is the kind of guy who makes you feel safe, but not in a pampering, picking the clothes up off your bedroom floor, kind of way.

One of the secrets, I suspect, to Uncle Bob’s success with troubled kids is that he doesn’t chart the data of their lives on a conventional graph. {I’m talkin’ metaphor here} Uncle Bob is not aspirational on behalf of the students, he is inspirational in their lives. There is a difference.

Aspirational moves the person from point A to point B. Aspirational measures against the cultural benchmarks. Aspirational is about achievement. Inspirational, on the other hand, is about filling a soul with equanimity, while allowing it to feel safe and loved…Love is the graph paper Uncle Bob uses, and he writes with the pen of inspiration.

Inspiration vs. aspiration: it is the difference between trying to go somewhere versus trying to be someone. In a perverted way, Nikolas Cruz was trying to be someone through his actions, but in the end, with no inspiration, it was only horror.

And so, what I’d like us to wonder about today is: How can we be more inspirational? How can we change from the lightweight graph paper of achievement to the bonded grade graph paper of love?

There are three questions I’d like us to wrestle with:
1) Am I inspiring?
2) Do I see belovedness?
3) Am I present?

1) Am I inspiring?
2) Do I see belovedness?
3) Am I present?

We’ll start with inspiring. The word “inspire” means to stimulate, hearten, and encourage. It draws it source from the Greek word pneuma, which means spirit, like we hear in today’s Gospel. It is the spirit that descends like a dove and settles upon Jesus, but that only happened after Jesus stepped into that cold Jordan River and said “yes” to God. And when he did the spirit descended like a dove upon him, and he was inspired! He was filled with the breath of God.

This word “breath,” is first seen in the Bible in the Adam and Eve story. God takes earth, forms a human, and breathes into it. The word breath in Hebrew is naphach, which in Greek means pneuma.

Inspiration comes from the breath of God. Are you inspired? Do you have the courage to be inspired? Because it is pneuma that drove Jesus into the wilderness; pneuma that put before him challenge, trials, and tribulations.

Being an inspiration isn’t always easy. It requires something from us, some part of us has to be given away for the benefit of the other.

Are you courageous enough to be inspired?
Are you generous enough to be inspired?

If not, or not always, then it may have something to do with: How you see others. Which is the second question I’d like us to explore today. How do you see others?

In a world of aspiration it is easy, at least for me, to see the other in the place where I think they should be. That may be based on an accurate assessment of their gifts and potential, and that is good and reasonable.

But the inspired person sees deeper, into that place God sees, into belovedness. That is the word: beloved. It is how God sees Jesus and how Jesus sees you and me. We are beloved. To be inspired begins with knowing you are beloved, and then seeing this belovedness in the other. That is job requirement #1.

And sometimes that is a struggle… at least for me, which is why I read the Bible regularly (I’d recommend it). If you do, you’ll come across good advice, like we heard last Sunday…God saying, “This is my son, the beloved. Listen to him.” Listen to Jesus. If you’re wondering how, let me give you two tips: Pray and study his life. Prayer is an open conversation with God. If you’re wondering how to pray, here is what I’ll say: Same time, same place, same way, every day. Not hard, unless same time, same place, same way, every day is hard for you. It is the first thing I do every day, and so far, I’ve gotten up every day.

Prayer is within the strike zone of everyone in this room. So is reading the Gospels. They are the life stories of Jesus. Knowing the Jesus stories are important if you want to be an inspiration to others. It is by his stories that we learn about the presence of God.

Which brings us to question #3 for today: Am I present? Let me give you a dramatic example of what presence can look like. I have a friend who was in an awful car accident. She hit a big street pole and wrapped her car around it. And when I say wrapped her car around it, I actually mean that. The rear lights and the front head-lights were facing the same direction. It happened late at night. The roads were wet. She was the only car on the road and the only person in the car… and when her car hit that pole it made a sound like, well, crash.

That huge noise ripped through the air. We don’t know how many people heard it, but we know one man did, because despite the cold and the rain and the darkness, he got up and went out. I don’t know why. I don’t know what drove him. Maybe he was an inspired person; maybe he knew his belovedness; maybe he imagined the belovedness of another in a car that went crash. I don’t know. We’ll never know, because no one knows who he was.

But he got up and went out and walked toward the sound and saw my friend’s car. Now the moment he saw the car he had to have known this was really bad. But he soldiered forward, like the Good Samaritan. He peered in and saw my friend. She was in bad shape, hanging on by a thread.

And then he did the best thing he could do. He didn’t aspire to move her. He didn’t aspire to free her from the mangled steel. He didn’t try to stop the bleeding; or run get some help. No, he simply spoke to her. I imagine he took a deep breath and spoke. He sought connection, not information. He was just present to her. He was naphach, pneuma, breath, inspiration. He must have seen in that broken body belovedness.

Now this story of the unknown man who kept my friend connect to life, is a big story of inspiration. But the reality is there is only one size of inspiration.

The breath of God is a one size fits all proposition. There are no circumstances in which inspiration cannot be applied. There is no place in your life, in which you cannot be inspiring. There is no person in your life incapable of being beloved. There is no one you meet who you cannot be present to.

Where presence, belovedness and inspiration meet there is a new matrix, a new graph upon which to plot the data points of a life. I believe that the identity we draw on these maps of belovedness through our inspiration by our presence, makes a huge difference in the lives of those people who feel like they can’t meet the aspirations set by the people and the schools and indeed the culture of our times.

There is a better way than achievement…presence, belovedness, and inspiration. Presence, belovedness, and inspiration cannot eliminate tragedy, but they can blot out human horror.