God is the offering, God is the offered

I wrote this article for the Southwest Michigan Association of the UCC’s monthly newsletter. I think I blew the word count, so I’m posting the whole thing here.

This past Sunday, as I have each week since late March, I led worship for a congregation in absentia.

The routine is not altogether different from what a typical Sunday looks like: I arrive at the church far too early and wolf down some protein at my desk before revising my sermon manuscript again, just to make sure. I assemble my worship binder and then sit in silence to gather my spirit. I drape myself with the prayers of those who have come before me in this ministry as I vest in alb and stole (and chasuble on the Sundays at which we celebrate the Eucharist).

And then worship begins, unfolding in the unblinking gaze of a live streaming camera mounted on a microphone stand, attended by a small and crucial team of musicians and technicians. The service ends and I walk in silence back to my office.

The nagging questions started popping up back in April.

Why? Who is this for? Is it to make my congregation feel connected to the community? Is it to make myself feel okay, like I’m doing a good job? I could just as easily record a sermon from my home office and post it to Facebook on Sunday morning, with playlists of music from Spotify or YouTube to invite our folks at home into a celebration. But I doggedly persist in this. And dogged persistence usually leads to burnout.

From my warped perspective, I had become a technician whose job was to create an hour-long block of content for my audience—I mean, my congregation—to consume at their leisure. The thought of having to continue in this way for the foreseeable future hung like a heavy cloud over my head, not unlike the miasma of anxiety that accompanies our collective journey with the little packet of life gone rogue that we call a “coronavirus.” Of course, it was a perfect recipe for burnout.

But something has cracked open within me as of late.

In early August I read the entire Bhagavad Gita over a week spent at the Outer Banks of North Carolina. (The Bhagavad Gita pre-dates the New Testament and is as important to Hindus, particularly devotees of Krishna, as, say the Gospel of John is to Christians.) Reading a strange text in a strange land is a recipe for those kinds of sea-change moments where we cannot go back to seeing things the way they used to be. This is what caught me:

“When a man has let go of attachments,
when his mind is rooted in wisdom,
everything he does is worship
and his actions all melt away.

God is the offering, God
is the offered, poured out by God;
God is attained by all those
who see God in every action.”

(Bhagavad Gita 4.23-24, trans. Stephen Mitchell)

Jesus offers another entrée into this truth, saying:

“…the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”

(John 4.23-24 NRSV)

What made this past Sunday different than those which came before is that, with the lens of Bhagavad Gita helping me to hear Jesus more clearly, I was able to move away from leading a virtual worship service as mere content creation. I was instead able to preach and preside as an offering of devotion, a gift of love to God, the same God who breathes all of us into being. Not only that, but I was able to begin to see anew how every action, no matter how simple or mundane, can become such a gift.

The takeaway here, if there is one, is that the uncanny nature of this season might break us open for good, in every sense of that phrase. Perhaps that break is one unto burnout and exhaustion, and from the rift, God calls out “rest!” Perhaps that break is one unto recognition that our need to control chaos is doing more harm than good, and from the rift, God calls out “let go!”

And perhaps, as it was for me, that break is one that helps us to realize that there’s an unshakable core of Love in every Thing. That center holds, no matter the chaos that surrounds it. And every action we take and choice we make, however imperfect, can itself be an offering of love back to the same love in which we live and move and have our being.

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