Bishop Rob Wright: The Sound of the Authentic


Happy New Year!

Ever heard the name Howard Thurman? He was an extraordinary academic, teacher and preacher of the Christian faith. A Floridian. Some folks say that he is among America's greatest mystics. I heard an audio of him speaking at a college graduation once.

Graduation speakers have a tough task. People want wise words about life, learning, even love. And all of this with a good dose of humor. It's sort of like a New Year's Day sermon! In the cadence of a loving grandfather, in his beautiful round bass voice, what he said has attached itself to me. Spoke to me. Called my name. Blessed me. Maybe even made me new.

He said, "There's something in every one of you that waits and listens for the sound of the genuine in yourself."

He said the sound of the genuine " the only true guide you will ever have. And if you cannot hear it, you will all of your life spend your days on the ends of strings that someone else pulls."

Thurman went deep. Down into the heart of things. Down into what can make our New Year a happy and even a holy year.

What is the sound of the Genuine? It's just a way of talking about God...the most genuine thing there is. The most whole. The most authentic. 100%real. God. Superior in consciousness. Matchless in knowing. Source of all there is.

Author of the visible and the invisible. More ubiquitous than mass or gas or space. Not the "unmoved mover" as Aristotle believed, but the most "moved mover" as Rabbi Heschel taught. God of all things.

In all things. Through all things. Distributed into each of us. Closer to us than our kin or our skin or our synapses. The core. The still point of the circle. The mother and father of everyone that has ever been or ever will be.

And if that isn't enough to blow your mind, Thurman says that the Genuine, God, is a communicator. God dwells in light but emits sound. Sings a song. Has a vibration. He is audible. Not just a laughing dolphin, the singing bird or the rustling breeze, but a tone. A note.

An audible word that can be heard in and nurtured by the music of silence. The sound of the genuine is best discovered on that beach that is within each of us--that beach that is just beyond the crashing waves of our lives.

When we hear that God spoke to Moses, I hear that Moses heard the sound of the genuine. That Moses heard through the ears of his spirit. That either on the shore of the Red Sea or on the crag of some red desert mountain, Moses heard the Genuine's whisper. And that that whisper he heard was a blessing for Moses and for his people and for generations and generations.

What Moses heard was that God is a blessing. A God that has made us the object of graciousness. A God that wants us to shine with the radiance of what it means to be beloved.

This is what is genuine of God: All life is lived in God's gaze. "I see you," says God. I value you: both the genius and the death row inmate. The innocent child and the unrepentant sinner. Each one of you is the epitome of my blessing. Each one tattooed with my name.

This is what is genuine of God; God is the giver of peace. Peace! Not the absence of pain or strife but an anchor in a tossing sea. Or laughter in a hospital waiting room. Or comfort at a funeral. Or hope in the face of dismal data.

A New Year has come. Thank God. But this, God's voice, attending to that can make us new every day. This is what we've got to get to this year. After the New Year's resolutions have crashed, burned, been swept up and discarded. We've got to hear. Hear. Hear words of blessing. Words of healing. Words that form in us a deep confidence which makes peace in us. Words that lead us to life with the genuine.

As a nation, we've just come through a pretty brutal election process. Lots of words were exchanged in the media. And with one another. We were bombarded with breaking news of every kind. Old news and code words for hate resurfaced. Some of the breaking news broke our spirits. Democracy is messy, our union is still being perfected, and all of this through the fire hydrant of the 24-hour news cycle.

But in all of this, what is genuine is that we are people of faith. You might say we are trans-political. We're in politics, but we are not of it. We are a part of the political process, but we are deeper than the political process. To hear the voice of the Holy is to know that we are called to unity. Made for unity. Unity made from dignity for all.

Yes, we're from different political parties. Our ethnic and racial backgrounds are diverse. Our ideas to solve the problems we face differ. We even root passionately for different football teams, but the fact remains we are one human family! Not a human race--a human family. To hear the sound of the genuine is to know that God is our Governor and that God's name is above all names we swear allegiance.

Not only that, but that somehow because of what is the most genuine in all the universes, not only am I connected to you, but I am connected to everything, the sun, the moon, the planets. The quasars, the quarks. The nightingales and the supernovas. (Psalm 8) And if that is true. If that is genuine. If we are hearing right, then division, malice, hatred and indifference are scientifically illogical. They frustrate grace and are an affront to God.

Some years ago I remember participating in an exercise with a group of folks. We were asked to write down ten ways in which we described ourselves. Our primary self- identifiers. Some folks wrote down the part of the country they were from. Some wrote that they were ex-military. Others wrote cancer survivor. Or widow. Or father. You get the picture. Then we were asked to trim that list down to five identifiers. Then three. Then one. A difficult task. What would your primary identifier be? It was an exercise I'll never forget. As we went around and shared our answer with the group. only one person ended up with Christian as their primary identifier. Just one in a room full of Christians! No judgement, just an observation. Only one said the most genuine way to understand themselves was first and foremost as a follower of Jesus.

Consider this, when Paul says that we are to have "... the same mind that was in Christ Jesus," (Phil. 2:5) he means Jesus is to be venerated because of what he replicated. That Jesus, if nothing else, is a soul that singularly and uniquely lived out of the reservoir of the genuine. That he was obsessed with what is most genuine. Most authentic. That at the intersections of his life, he chose the eternal over the temporal. He chose the whole over the partial. The capacity for the genuine broke the power of pretense over his life. That was true for him and it's true for us. Jesus refused to dance at the ends of strings pulled by other people. He couldn't. Such was his sense of God's trustworthiness. Such was his sense of faithfulness. He found nothing other than the guidance of the Spirit worthy of his full attention. And having heard the sound of the Genuine, he gave himself to it. The gospels record time after time that he heard the sound of the genuine; and without fail in response we see him move and turn, bless and encourage, comfort and confront. I guess that's the point. To hear is to act.

Just like the shepherds who heard the angels' announcement and ran to Bethlehem to see the new thing God had done in a manger. Just like Mary who with adolescence abandon said yes to the angel's invitation to birth the pioneer and perfecter of our faith. Just like the soldier who saw the hanging body of Jesus on the Cross and in an instant knew that God was doing something, genuinely transforming death into life and darkness into light. The years come and go as they say. Time cascades like the falls at Niagara and roll on. Birth gives way to life and comes again, but thanks be to God what is constant is that God keeps on speaking. Keeps on singing God's settling song. God's sending song. God's blessing song. And every year what I know more and more is just how true the words of that old song are. You know the one? "Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, there's just something about that Name. Jesus, Jesus, Jesus. Like the fragrance after the rain. Kings and kingdoms will all pass away, but there's something about that Name."

Let us pray. Eternal Father, you gave your incarnate Son, the holy name of Jesus, to be the sign of your salvation. Plant in every heart, we pray, the love of him who is the Savior of the world, our Lord Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.