My sister and I disagree on many, many things. We don’t talk politics, and it would be better if we didn’t discuss religion. And never, never, never mention Planned Parenthood. Like I say, we disagree on many, many things. But my sister is also a very wise woman, and I often go to her for advice. After all, politics doesn’t define life, right? And one of the wise things my sister told me once, which I have often reflected on, is that the best thing we can do for our children is to enjoy them.
Sure, discipline is important. A vision and hope for their lives is important. Telling them you love them is vital. But if you really want to nurture a loved, confident, and whole human being: enjoy them.
There’s something incredibly empowering when we know that we can bring pleasure to another person. A five-year old may not be able to flip a perfect pancake, but if they can make you laugh; if they can make you smile; if they know that you LIKE being around them: they become powerful in a very good, life-changing way.
Mike and Melanie, you know what it’s like. Mira smiles at you, and you beam right back.You don’t want to put her down. You want to make her smile even more. Before she is even one year old, she has the ability to bring you joy. And with every adoring look you give her, you are teaching her that she is powerful; she can make you do things, like not put her down! Her very existence is enough to make you happy. That’s powerful.
There is that winsome phrase of yesteryear that was always on invitations: Mrs. Davies requests “the pleasure of your company.” Doesn’t that just give you a picture of an elderly woman intentionally, deliciously getting ready for your visit-setting out the tea biscuits, the good china. Putting out the linen napkins that she saves for special occasions. The very thought of your visit fills her with anticipation.“ The pleasure of your company.” Our ability to enjoy another person gives them meaning and purpose.
And this doesn’t just go for babies and elders, right? Spouses and significant others; co-workers; the bagger at the grocery store. When we allow ourselves to enjoy another person, we are not only making our own lives brighter and more open, but we are putting them in the position of being able to bring good into the world. And who doesn’t like to do that? Who doesn’t feel better when we’ve made another person’s day? When we know we have the power to make even a small difference in the world? Enjoyment allows the joy to abound and spread, and it makes the world a better place.
And as it is in our family, so it is in our church. In the scripture this morning, there’s this picture of the early church as being a place where people really enjoy being around each other. They take delight in each other. They meet every day to worship together, and then they go to each other’s home to hang out over a sacred meal.
A sacred meal. That’s when God is present. And they linger with each other, and laugh at each other’s jokes, and smile when the children come around to dangle on their parent’s knees. And when anyone is in need, it’s just taken care of. You know what I mean. No fuss, no bother; it’s just taken care of, because that’s what we do when we truly enjoy each other.
And the result is that their neighbors look at these churches and say, “Oh, look how they love each other.” And God touches their hearts with a yearning that says, “I want to be loved like that too.” That’s how God redeems the world, by creating disciples who love each other, enjoy each other, and open their arms to others who just want to be loved and enjoyed. Winsome. That’s a word I use about that early church in Acts. Winsome. You just want to be around them!
Now, the key, of course, was that these church members didn’t become just an in-group, a group of good friends that didn’t let other people in. No, somehow they managed to keep their sense of community open, inclusive. We do that here at Emmanuel, I think. At the Passing of the Peace, we greet old friends, but we never just stay with our old friends. We go out of our way to meet people we don’t know (a stranger being properly defined as a friend we just haven’t met yet.)
In the Wednesday morning book group, we’re delving into The Book Of Joy, which tells of a week-long giggle-fest between two old friends, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama. Both men have suffered intensely in their lives; both struggle with their 80-odd year old bodies now. But both of them look at each other, and their eyes shine: utter delight.
And I am told that when they look at other people- some whom they’ve never met- their eyes shine with the same delight. They have made taking pleasure in others a form of spiritual discipline. Teasing and smiling and joy as a spiritual discipline. Their delight is actually the monitor of their spiritual depth.
One of the things that Archbishop Tutu is always stressing is an Zulu word: Ubuntu. It literally means, “I am because you are.” I exist because I am in relationship with you. I become the human being God intended me to be because I am in relationship with you. Without you, I am not.
There was an article this past December in the New York Times entitled “How Social Isolation Is Killing Us.” It’s by a doctor named Dhruv Khullar. He says that “Social isolation is a growing epidemic- one that’s increasingly recognized as having dire physical, mental and emotional consequences.” People who are lonely, who don’t have significant relationships, or even just other people around them, are 30% more likely to die- from stroke, from heart disease, from auto-immune disease. And “since the 1980s, the percentage of American adults who say they’re lonely has doubled from 20% to 40%… About one-third of Americans older than 65 now live alone, and half of those over 85 do.”
Dr. Khullar writes that loneliness is as important a risk factor for early death as obesity and smoking. Loneliness kills. Isolation kills. Community gives life. Or as Archbishop Tutu says, “I am because you are.” And without you, I am not.
Which makes me think about our church. What if our mission was to reach out to the lonely? What if our mission was to reach out to those who don’t have anyone? The elderly, sure; but children can be socially isolated as well, and suffer greatly from it. Middle-aged people can be socially isolated. Rich and poor and in-between: loneliness is no respecter of income or class.
There was a time when people didn’t work as long or hard as they work now. There was a time when people belonged to bowling leagues or the Lions and Lionesses. There was a time when families were larger, and didn’t move far away. But that is not our time.
Which makes me think about our church. What if our mission was to reach out to the lonely? What if our mission was to reach out to those whose families live at a distance? What if our mission was to reach out to those who have no community to share their lives in?
If we intentionally reach out, and intentionally seek to enjoy the people who have forgotten what it’s like when another person delights in them… you know, in our day and age, that might just be salvation. Not salvation from sin, but salvation from isolation, from loneliness. Salvation into the body of Christ.
In South Africa, people greet each other with these words: Sawu bona (I see you). The reply: Sikhona (I am seen). I see you; I am seen. I am because you are. I am because you see me. Salvation into the body of Christ.
What an amazing thought: that our pleasure in another person- our beaming delight- could save a life, could give meaning and purpose to someone who is burdened. Sure there is a time to be serious; but what if simple, heartfelt enjoyment could be even more transformational?
Enjoyment is a spiritual practice, like the spiritual practice of gratitude. And the two are related. When we see the beauty, the grace, the pleasure of another person, we are grateful. And when we are grateful for them, it’s easier to see their beauty and grace; easier to find our pleasure in them.
It’s not always easy to do. As with any spiritual practice, it takes intention, and sometimes it takes some effort. It takes reframing what we see, so that when we look at our teenage sons and daughters, we don’t just see the little twerp who hasn’t cleaned their room in a month and who always leaves dirty dishes in the sink.
No, we consciously reframe what we see: This is the person who brought me flowers in their grubby hands. This is the person who made me a Mother’s Day card with every color of the rainbow. This is the person whom God has chosen for me to love.
It’s easy to look at a person and see the chores they haven’t done, rather than the person they are. But oh what pleasure there is when we can teach our hearts to look deeper- look for the gift- look for the pleasure of their company.
Your 5-year old beings you pancakes in bed on Mother’s Day. They are on the far side of crispy on the outside; runny on the inside. They are not perfect, and neither is your child. But when you take your first bite (and every bite after that until you finish it because they are standing there with their face beaming at the pleasure of pleasing you) you look at them with such joy, such gratefulness, such enjoyment.
And your enjoyment of their gift, and their enjoyment in pleasing you, brings a little piece of heaven to earth.
In the Name of the One who really does take pleasure in us, and who will never let us go: even Jesus the Christ. Amen.
Resources: New York Times, Dec. 22, 2016, Dhruv Khullar, “How Social Isolation Is Killing Us”
Scripture for May 14, 2017
Those who listened to the apostles and gave their lives over to the way of Christ committed themselves: to the teachings, to their life together, to eating common meals and to praying. Everyone around was in awe- all those wonders and signs done through the apostles! And all the believers lived in wonderful harmony, holding everything in common. They sold whatever they owned and pooled their resources so that each person’s need was met. They followed a daily discipline of worship in the Temple followed by common meals in their homes. Every meal was a celebration, exuberant and joyful, as they praised God! Their neighbors liked what they saw, and every day their number grew as God added those who were saved.
Friends, listen to what the Spirit would say to us today.