On Boundaries Fixed and Fluid
May 14, 2023
Bless our God, O peoples, let the sound of his praise be heard, who has kept us among the living, and has not let our feet slip. For you, O God, have tested us; you have tried us as silver is tried. You brought us into the net; you laid burdens on our backs; you let people ride over our heads; we went through fire and through water; yet you have brought us out to a spacious place. Selah Come and hear, all you who fear God, and I will tell what he has done for me.
[Jesus said,] “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you. “I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.”
Today’s sermon is titled On Boundaries Fixed and Fluid; this sermon was originally offered in May of 2020.
My book collection is not very impressive even though I have one hundred square feet of bookcases in my house. Those shelves are mostly filled with children’s books and enough arts and crafts supplies to make just about anything imaginable. I keep two shelves for my own books and among them is a book titled Sensitive Chaos. I can not remember how I came across this book, but it may be the most unusual book on the shelf. It is all about the behavior of air and water and how that behavior is reflected, in form, in the human body. The book is equally scientific, artistic, and spiritual in the sense that the same forms are found over and over in nature as if they are an essential representation of what I think of as the Divine Pattern that runs through all things. These forms appear microscopically in the structure of nerves in the eye and in weather patterns that span hundreds of miles across. According to the author, Theodore Schwenk, water and air both react the same way along boundaries of contact. For example, when warm water whose molecules are moving rapidly, enters cold water where molecules are moving much slower, the boundary of contact between the two will ripple and wave and form some of the most surprising shapes and patterns. Just what happens along this boundary of contact is captured in photographs in the book. The author considers these boundaries of contact as the most sensitive and the most chaotic, hence the title, Sensitive Chaos.
I had not opened this book for a year or two, but in considering the scripture reading for today, especially the part where Jesus says “…you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you,” I have been thinking a lot about boundaries. Boundaries can be helpful and boundaries can be hurtful, but either way (and in every way in between), boundaries are a place of tension and a place of sensitivity. Boundaries can give us a sense of security, a sense of safety, and a sense of knowing where we stand and what we stand for. An example in my own life would be a commitment neither to tolerate nor to engage in physical violence; this is a fixed boundary and it is non-negotiable. Other boundaries are more fluid, like what kind of behavior I will tolerate from my children, changes as they change and as I change, too.
After years of therapy, I like to think that I am able to create healthy boundaries for myself and for my children. I feel that boundaries within human relationships are necessary because we have a lot to learn about how to love one another. What Jesus is offering in the scriptures today is a very different kind of relationship that is only possible with a being who is already perfected in love. What Jesus is offering us is a relationship that is free of boundaries. Jesus says, “You will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.” There are no conditions here, there are no boundaries between the Divine and ourselves unless we put them in place. What is being revealed in this beautiful, poetic language is the very essence of Jesus’s ministry. He came that we might realize humanity is in an eternal relationship with God, forever and ever and ever. He came to prove that the Divine can be human and that humans can realize within ourselves a sacred alignment with divinity. And he does not say, “If you are good enough, you will know that you are in me and I am in you.” He says, “You will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.” There is only one thing that he asks, “If you love me you will keep my commandments.” When asked what the greatest command is, he said there are two, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22).
How are we to do this? Can we love God with all that we are? Can we truly love one another across the great divide of differences? On our own, I would say, “No way; we can not.” So here is the catch, and the release, all rolled into one: “with God, all things are possible” (Matthew 9:26). We are not alone, unless we have established a boundary of separation. We are invited into an eternal relationship with the most powerful force in the universe, the force of goodness, of God-ness, but it is always our choice to either enter into relationship or pull back from that relationship.
I will tell you right now, it is our tendency to pull back because in allowing the power that is God to work through us is opening up to a life where all the boundaries that limit us are deconstructed. That can be terrifying, I can attest to that. I gave up a life-long career that I loved, a career that I excelled in, a career that would have taken me safely and securely into retirement. I gave all that up to enter the great unknown of ministry where I lacked the education and the professional experience that would have given me at least a little bit of confidence. It can be absolutely terrifying to let go of what has provided comfort and security and step out into the unknown. I imagine it to be a little bit like dying. The words of our teacher come right up off the page; he says, “I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.”
We are called, as Christians, to allow the love that is God to fill us so that we, in turn, can lift up our brothers and sisters. We are not independent beings as much as we may like to think about “our” accomplishments, “our” freedoms, “our” liberties. Our freedom has come at a great price and with that freedom comes a responsibility, a responsibility as Americans and as Christians to use our freedom and our privilege to carry on the work of those who have come before us until all people have equal access to education, to housing, to preventative health care, and to timely treatment. If you remember one thing from this sermon today, I hope it is this: until we deconstruct the boundaries that separate us from God within, we can not effectively deconstruct the boundaries in our culture that favor some over others.
Jesus said, “I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.” We are asked to make room for God to live within us. We are asked to give our hands to the work of God in service to others. We are asked to look for the God spark in the other person, especially those who are radically different in opinion, in practice, in presentation. We are asked to see with the eyes of God. We are asked to love with a love as close to Divine love as we can allow to pass through us. We can only do that if we allow the power that is God to act within us. We have opportunities every hour to draw closer to that place within us where God, where love, is all there is. Jesus teaches us that place exists within each of us.
In closing, I challenge myself, and I invite you to join me, to actively seek the place within where there are no more boundaries. I hope there is a place within my heart where I can access some form of love for those whom I find it challenging to like. I believe that with God, that kind of love is possible. That kind of love will change the world. So be it. Amen.
Pastoral Prayer: Holy One, I thank you this morning for this practice of prayer. Just how it works, we may never know, but we are grateful to be participants in something deeper, something wider, something far beyond who we are. We extend our prayers over all the world this morning and we call on the highest, purest form of mother love to aid us in the healing of our Selves, the healing of our relationships, and the healing of our planetary home. Give us the courage to pray about anything, about everything.
I leave you with these final words:
For the many ways women share their love, their concern, their wisdom and their time, may they receive abundant strength and clarity from the very heart of God and may the most tender aspects of mothering be an expression of love that each and every one of us, both men and women, can embody, with the grace of God. Amen.