The Religious Society of Friends, known to many of us as the Quakers, make use of a phrase in their meetings–a phrase that was just introduced to me this past week by a fellow Episcopal seminarian here in the Diocese named Ryan Baker. The phrase is,
“That Friend speaks my mind.”
If you’ve been a part of silent Quaker worship, you might understand straight away how this phrase is used. The community sits in silence until one Friend, moved to speak, stands and shares what is on their heart. When they are finished, they sit down and return to listening in silence. Another Friend might then stand, and if they want to express their solidarity with the person who spoke before, rather then reiterate what was said they will simply say, “Kerlin speaks my mind,” or “Derek speaks my mind.”
It is a more poetic and beautiful way of saying, “Yeah, what they said.”
“That Friend speaks my mind.”
My job here today is to say what’s on my heart in the hopes that it speaks your mind.
So what’s on my heart after I hear these readings?
Scripture is storehouse of human emotion. Joy, pain, celebration, lament. It’s all there, in a million different configurations. My heart and your heart, on the page. I read it, I hear it read aloud, and somehow I remember things I thought I’d long forgot. Familiar things.
Like, my grandma grew up with very little. She says that they were poor, but that they never felt poor, because they were happy. They were loved. They worked hard. They didn’t go hungry, but they weren’t rich. They made music together, her brothers. All the kids planted the fields when she was little, and everybody knew everybody in her small, Southern Colorado town of Walsenburg.
Some of my most meaningful theological conversations take place between me and my grandma. To this day, we go back and forth about whether or not God doles out punishment to people for the mistakes they make. Like, is God keeping tally like Santa Clause? If we’re suffering, is it ‘cause of something we’ve done? “I don’t think that’s how it works,” I always say, but I suppose it feels that way sometimes, and it’s hard to argue with feelings.
Jesus tells us today that when we’re weeping, we’re blessed because we will laugh. On the flip side, if we’re laughing, we will mourn and weep and woe to us. Jesus calls out to folks on his left and his right, and says – don’t get too comfortable. It won’t always be like this.
And that message means something different when you’re crying than what it means when you’re not. We don’t want to let go of our comfort, but we do want full bellies. And then when we get full bellies, we don’t want to let go of our comfort. It’s a mess, really.
I think that Jesus was speaking Jeremiah’s mind, and Jeremiah spoke the psalmist’s mind, and then there’s Paul. Paul always seems to be speaking Paul’s mind, whether or not anyone agrees with him. And it doesn’t seem like they do all that often. I know a lot of people don’t these days.
And I don’t know if Paul speaks my mind, but I think he speaks my heart. He’s making this intense, logical argument for the irrational resurrection of Christ, and I recognize something of me in that. I recognize the feeling of needing to try and use my words to nail down the unfathomability of God’s redemptive power. I want to take up my pen alongside old brother Paul and write a treatise about how this world’s brokenness is real and how liberation is coming, and how these systems of domination and control that manufacture poverty and breed alienation between people are not of God…. And I want to use these words to build a wall around my heart so that it won’t hurt so much. Me and Paul, building a wall together.
But God doesn’t do walls.
Walls block the flow of good things moving. People. Food. Light. Water. Love.
I think those of us who’ve been hurt, who feel like the Beatitudes are for us, we will sometimes build these walls around our hearts so that we can feel like we’re rich, even when numbers say different; so that we can store up our food in order not to be hungry again. It’s a false security, but sometimes that’s the only security you’ve got.
And those of us who’ve hurt others, or who have benefited from other people’s oppression, we will sometimes build walls around our hearts so that we can have some distance from the pain we’ve caused or participated in; so that we can create a cleaner image of ourselves, or our families, or our nation — whoever is on our side of the wall. It’s also a false security, but it’s one we will send armies to protect.
Behind the wall, the rich can make poverty into a spiritual metaphor. But poverty’s not a metaphor when you’re broke. And it’s not just the rich. Sometimes the poor make wealth into a metaphor, because it’s a little easier to be poor if you can convince yourself that you’re not. We all are more comfortable in our self-deception than with the world as it actually is.
And if Jesus is trying to wrestle us out of any comfort, it’s that one. “Don’t be deceived, my beloved,” his brother, James writes. “Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. In fulfillment of his own purpose have gave us birth by the word of truth, so that we would become a kind of first fruits of his creatures.”
Maybe someone is speaking Paul’s mind after all.
Name things for what they are. Do not let life-defeating walls be build; not around your heart, and not in your name. The walls you build are futile. They cannot withstand the most gentle touch of God’s hand.
Be honest, because God knows your heart. And when you bring forth from your heart whatever little bit love you can for yourself, and for one another, and for God, then you, friends, are speaking God’s mind.