From Hummus to Humus

1 Corinthians 13:1-13    Jeremiah 1:4-10

Fourth Sunday after Epiphany    January 31, 2010

For the past few Sundays, we have been exploring different aspects of the various gifts we bring to life.  What do we have to offer to the world, to God, to our families, to our community?  We talked about the fact that there are certain abilities we have that we tend to hide from others, and perhaps even from ourselves, out of embarrassment or fear of being misunderstood.  This morning I want to look a bit at the question of what kind of a difference really using our gifts might make in the long run, in the big picture.  At a gathering of women earlier this week, we went around the circle talking about the fact that sometimes we feel as if what we do is a bit futile.  The question came up, “what difference does it make that I was here?  Does it make a difference in any way that matters, really?  Is it okay of it doesn’t make a difference to anyone but my family?”  I found myself going back to a conversation I had with a very wise man whom I consider to be my teacher and a true elder.  Martin Prechtel teaches writing and is an amazing storyteller, among other things, but primarily he is one of those people who knows a quite a bit about a lot of things, and so he seemed to be a good person to ask one of the questions that has taunted me throughout my life.  I asked him what difference it makes to live a good and full life.  Why should we spend so much time attempting to educate ourselves and trying to live up to any expectations that God might have for us.  He replied right away; “to make good humus for the soil.  To be rich compost so that future generations have the nutrients they need to grow strong.”  I have to admit that his answer caught me off guard.  I am not sure what I was expecting, but probably something more philosophical and certainly something less earthy.  I have had the opportunity to spend some time thinking about what Martin said for several years now, and I wonder if there is any higher calling for any of us than to live in such a way that the people who follow after us have what they need to thrive, really thrive in this world we have helped to fashion.  In fact, I have come to see his comment as a comforting thing, rather than something that threatens my well-being.  For a while, I resented the thought that my life might not amount to more than some dark, moist humus.  Heck, I couldn’t even pronounce the word half the time, getting mixed up with that garlicky middle-eastern spread made from chickpeas.  And I certainly didn’t think it was okay to become hummus.  I took myself far too seriously to let that be okay.  I wanted to know that my life would count, and a part of me wished there was some way I could tell how this might happen.  Gary wrote a poem some years ago that captures this feeling many of us struggle with:

Some day I will catch a falling baby

I will looking up and see its little body

Hurtling toward me along a vertical wall.

Why me? I don’t know why it should be me.

Where will this happen? When?

I don’t even know if anyone will thank me.

I only know that it will happen as I know it will

And that it will justify my life.

Afterwards only habit will impel me

To lift my eyes frequently, oh, very frequently

From the sidewalk, where it is plainly written

That a man can be born to accomplish one thing

And never know what it is.

We never know in our lives, when we might be called upon to do some great thing.  We may even go through our lives without knowing when we have made a difference for someone.  The difference may be for our family or for someone close to us, but it could also be for someone we never get to meet.  

The reading from 1 Corinthians is one with which most of us are familiar.  It is a favorite reading for weddings, and there is plenty to say about the nature of love that comes out of it.  But what I want to focus in on this morning is the fact that love changes everything.  When love is present, then actions become less important.  If your heart is in the right place, then sometimes it really doesn’t matter what you do.  Love is what comes through loud and clear.  Our lives, if they are permeated by love, are filled with far more potential than they would be otherwise.  Have you ever done something out of love?  If you have, then you know what I mean.  When you do something out of love, no matter what it is, it is not difficult - or at least it doesn’t seem difficult.  Acting from love somehow makes everything flow smoothly.  It is almost as if when love is the motivator, it gives us the secret code to unlock difficult situations.  When love is at the center of things, we can walk right into situations that might otherwise make us pretty nervous.  We have a sense of clarity about what to do next or what to say in order to smooth the way for what needs to happen.  It is as if love takes over and tells us what to do and how to go about it.

Standing in this place where love is guiding you is magical, but it can also be a little tricky.  If you are like me, you can ruin it by thinking too much.  The possibilities stretch out in front of you, and anything seems possible, but then you feel the need to bring it all back and worry over it some more.  By the time all the worrying is done, it can be hard to get back to a place where it feels possible again.  But it is there, if we try, and as we work with it more and more, it can become easier.  Living from the place where love is guiding and encouraging us and our actions is something we can get accustomed to, the more we try.  We get a brief introduction to the prophet Jeremiah this morning.  In these few verses, we hear him complaining to God that he is just a boy and cannot possibly do what God expects of him.  But before he gets too many excuses out of his mouth, God thwarts him at every turn.  The main argument from God is very much what I am speaking of with regard to love.  God tells Jeremiah, “Now I have put my words in your mouth.”  To me, God is saying that Jeremiah should not worry so much about the details of how his service to God is going to play out.  If Jeremiah is open to allowing God to speak through him, then he basically just has to show up where God needs him to be.  It doesn’t mean it will be easy or fun, just that he will not be alone, and that he will be given what he needs when he needs it.

If we allow God or love to speak through us, to act through us, then maybe that’s all we need to do too.  But it can be a little unnerving for us to make ourselves available to God in such an open and relatively vulnerable way.  When we ask love to rule our hearts, then we give up a certain amount of control over our lives.  It is like falling in love with another person, really.  When you fall in love with someone, you give up a bit of your autonomy.  You let go - willingly, most of the time - of your ability to be in charge of situations.  Love seems like a worthy risk, and so you simply let go.  You open your hands and don’t need to have a death grip on situations anymore.  You open your heart and open yourself to possibly being hurt.  You open your life to a certain amount of chaos, in terms of the reality that, under normal circumstances you just cannot control the movements of everyone with whom you come into contact, and by falling in love, you let that lack of control extend into your home and your heart.

So, here we are, each faced with the opportunity to invite love or God to come into our hearts, into our lives, and change us, move us, motivate us.  It could be wonderful you know? And the worst thing that could happen is that we end up being the very ground in which the next generation grows.  The best thing that could happen isn’t even anything I can speak to.  We each just have to live into it and see what unfolds.

Dear God, you are the love that exists at the center of all that we are and of this entire world in which we live.  We pray that we might be faithful to the calling of love in our lives.  We ask for your guidance as we open our hands and hearts to both receive what you want to give us, and to offer whatever we have.  In Christ’s name we pray, Amen