The M.A.D. House Artists (Mom And Dad)

Grand Lake Artistic Chaos Foundation

Dr. Robert R. Ball

Sermon from December 13, 1970
Memorial Drive Presbyterian Church, Houston Texas

             WHERE AUTHENTIC PEOPLE MEET



                                     W h e r e    i s    C h r i s t    B o r n ?

                        WHERE   AUTHENTIC   PEOPLE   MEET

                                  Scripture: Matthew 18:15-20

                                                  sermon by
                                             Dr. Robert R. Ball
                              Memorial Drive Presbyterian Church
                            Houston, Texas - December 13, 1970

          The Christmas season seems a strange time to be thinking
     about loneliness. On the other hand, there may be no other time
     when our loneliness is more apparent. It will be so for our
     servicemen in prisons in North Vietnam, and it will be so for their
     families here at home. It may be so for us in the rush and push
     of the Christmas shopping crowds.

          As we drive and admire the colorful decorations on the homes
     in this community, it hardly seems possible that any crushing
     loneliness exists inside. Father sits in his favorite chair. The
     crackling fire casts a glow of homey warmth. But he cannot
     speak to his wife there on the couch of the ache that fills his heart.
     Mother goes over the Christmas card list one more time. It's
     something to do, something to take her mind from how shut-off
     and helpless she feels. Daughter is half watching TV and half
     studying, and wishing with all her might that there was someone
     who could understand how miserable she is. It could be any
     home. In some way, it is every home. The most confining walls in
     the world are the barriers of fear and feeling that keep us
     separated from each other.

          It's not a new problem. If some hurt feeling separates you from
     your brother, says our scripture, go talk to him about it. If he won't
     listen to you, get one or two others to act as interpreters between
     you. If that does no good, see what your mutual friends at the
     church can do. If, even then, he still refuses to break down his
     wall of hostility, don't storm the gate. No one can be forced to be
     human. God himself doesn't do that. The opportunity to come out
     of our prison of loneliness, to break forth into the beauty of life, is
     always a personal choice. Just understand that it is a choice
     between being alive and existing in a living death.

                                                    I.

          One of the most prominent psychotherapists in the world
     describes loneliness as a prison house, and he calls it "The
     deepest of all human problems." Loneliness is not just a problem
     in itself; it makes every other bad thing that much worse.

          One day something happens that leaves you feeling
     especially lonely and unappreciated. Someone else in the family
     comes along and says something or does something that
     normally wouldn't bother you a bit. In fact, it might even make you
     laugh. But not today. Today it strikes you as just one more
     slighting insult. So you lash back at him. Or perhaps you refuse to
     respond at all. Either way, you have now effectively walled
     yourself off from one more person. You have made your isolation
     even more complete, right at a time when what you need most is
     to be loved.

          Even though you are hurt and angry, you are smart enough to
     have some sense of what is going on. You know you have been
     unreasonable, but that only makes you all the more disgusted with
     yourself; and when you don't like yourself, it is almost impossible
     to believe that anyone else could like you. If they seem to, you
     reason, it's because they are faking, or else they just don't
     understand what a rat you are.

          So, we keep it all inside, hoping they'll never find out what we're
     really like. Life gets pretty tense. They might find out about us in
     spite of our efforts to hide. We're caught between trying to hide
     who we are and wishing with all our hearts that someone could
     know and understand us. That's what you call a "double -bind."
     On the one hand, we yearn desperately for others to give us
     indications of their affection and approval, but we are afraid to let
     them really know us. On the other hand, if any indications of
     approval do come, we don't believe them. We know we're no
     good. If they really knew us, they would know it too. With our guilts
     and fears locked inside of us, it makes every bad thing even
     worse. We can hardly do good things when we are convinced that
     who we are is a bad person.

          Life with other people gets to be pretty fakey. All too often, our
     apparent cheerfulness and confidence is covering for a deep hurt
     stuck in our stomachs. And even when we are truly rejoicing,
     there is no one with whom we have a close enough relationship
     that we can share the euphoric joy of it. We really don't need a
     theologian or a psychiatrist to tell us that being confined within
     ourselves is not really living.

                                 "If no one cares and no one shares,
                                 where's the joy in a job well done?"

                                                        II.

          Jesus Christ comes into the world to break us out of the prison
     house of our loneliness, but he cannot help if we refuse to let him
     come inside.

          When I was a youngster in Sunday School, they used to drill us
     on the catechism. One of the questions was, "What is the shortest
     sentence in the Bible?" The answer is, "Jesus wept." But do you
     know the occasion for his weeping? It was as he looked down at
     the city of Jerusalem, at their arrogant hostility.

                               "How often would I have drawn you unto
                               myself as a hen does her chicks, but you
                               would not. And Jesus wept."

          If I keep up a tough exterior, with the hurts and hopes of my
     life swirling around in the secret of my insides, no new life will
     ever get through to me. If I fear that to confess I am wrong
     would destroy me, then I must maintain a front that says I am just
     fine. I have neither the time nor the need for a Savior. But if I dare
     to believe that my wrong can be forgiven, and that far from
     destroying me it would be a new beginning, then it is possible to
     open myself. Jesus says we don't have to go on living in the
     degenerating prison house of our aloneness. God can produce
     new beginnings faster than we can manufacture boo-boos.

          Last week's paper carried the story of a girl who had been a
     member of the militant SDS organization. Now she wants to have
     nothing more to do with that group. She was quoted as saying, "I
     just wish I could be 19 all over again." There's no way to be 19
     again; but there is the possibility of a new beginning at 23, or any
     other age. That's the kind of world God has created, a world of
     new beginnings; but it won't be that kind of world for us until we
     have discovered it for ourselves. In order to discover it, we have
     to leave the refuge of the lonely prison in which we have
     confined ourselves, and venture out into the world - to
     experience God's grace for ourselves.

          William Temple, the late Archbishop of Canterbury, once
     observed how ridiculous it is for a person to say he will confess
     sins to Almighty God which he would never disclose to another
     human being. There's no great risk or pain involved in whispering
     our guilt and fear to an invisible God in the darkness of our own
     rooms. Neither is there any life-changing reality to the forgiveness
     that comes to us as an impersonal, intellectual idea. We have not
     really opened ourselves to God until we trust him enough to open
     ourselves to each other. Bonhoeffer says, "When I go to my
     brother to confess, I am going to God."

                                                  III.

          Not being much of a mystic, I hardly qualify as an expert in
     religious experiences. I can only say that the most significant
     religious moments of my life have come as a result of
     relationships with people, people who were authentically
     themselves to me and who allowed me to be authentically
     myself to them. They didn't necessarily approve of all i had done,
     but they accepted me as a person who was making an honest
     effort.

          I come away feeling stronger, more capable of handling life.
    Through these persons, I have experienced the reality of the love
     and forgiveness of God in Jesus Christ. Now when I say that the
     love of God is real and the forgiveness of God does change
     things, it is not just something I read in a book. The only way
     anyone ever knows the truth is by participating in that truth. we
     know Christ when we have participated personally in his life - in
     the giving and in the receiving of his love.

          Have you ever wondered why it is that the magic of a
     relationship sometimes happens and sometimes it does not?
     Just being in church doesn't make the difference. An authentic
     relationship can happen only if I am willing to let another person
     know me as I really am, let him know how I feel about being who
     I am. If I am stuck with the fear of his rejection, I cannot let him
     know me. But if I believe the gospel, believe that I am indeed, in
     spite of everything, forgiven and worthwhile, then I can dare to let
     myself be known. My openness offers the opportunity for the
     other person to be open also, if he trusts that I am not just
     conning him into exposing himself so I can shoot him down.

          Two people meet, really meet, when Christ stands between
     them. It is my confidence in Christ's love and acceptance that
     allows me to be my authentic self to that other person. When he
     has that confidence also, the two of us meet as authentic persons.
     No longer do we have to try to impress each other with how good
     we are or how bad we are. We can simply be who we are to each
     other. Each of us is released from our prison of aloneness, and it
     is Christ who sets us free.

          This is what Christ meant when he says,

                               "FOR WHERE TWO OR THREE ARE
                               GATHERED TOGETHER IN MY NAME,
                               THERE I AM IN THE MIDST OF THEM"

          The love and forgiveness Christ brings can be experienced
     only in relationships. Christ comes to us in our relationships in a
     way he never comes to a person alone. Christ breaks us of out
     of our killing loneliness and allows us to be authentic persons.

          The summer after my release from the air force, I went to
     Princeton to take the concentrated semester of Hebrew (which is
     the most digestable way to take it). One of the most intelligent
     and personable of my classmates that summer is now a college
     chaplain and the author of five consecutive best-sellers.

          In his most recent book, Fred Buechner tells of an
     interpersonal relationship group which he and his wife joined with
     more than a little misgiving. For weeks, Fred reports, the focus
     of attention moved from one person to another in the group. Fred
     says that he waited very patiently for it to be his turn, both hoping
     for it and dreading it; but just at the moment when his time came,
     a woman in the group did something that turned the attention
     away from him. It was then for the very first time that he really got
     involved in the group. Here is how he describes it.

                              "I found myself blurting out what was
                              probably the only authentic utterance
                              I'd managed there yet. It had been my
                              moment, my time, I told her, and now it
                              was her moment, and I hoped she was
                              satisfied, or something like that. And then
                              the ancient and I suppose holy thing
                              happened, the miracle, if you're given to
                              such terms.

                              "A man spoke who was a teaching
                              colleague of mine. What he said was,
                              'That's all right, Freddy. Don't be upset.
                              We love you too.' We love you, he said,
                              of all the inane and shattering things he
                              could have said, and he meant it, I could
                              tell, that most unsentimental man in that
                              most unlikely of places.

                              "Whatever 'we love you' means, he meant
                              it - that at least for a moment they had seen
                              who I was, really saw more or less who it
                              was who had been sitting there in that face
                             all those weeks awaiting and dreading his
                             time, and they wished me well, they willed
                             my good, my peace. It was only then that I
                             realized that this was why I had kept coming
                             all those weeks and why, perhaps, they had
                             all kept coming, perhaps even in some sense
                             why I have come here to speak to you now
                             and why you have come to listen: to bew
                             known, to be forgiven, to be healed, which I
                             suppose is to say, if the word is not beyond
                             all hope of salvage, to be loved. This
                             ancient and most holy miracle."

          In some sense, this is why each of us is here today, each in
     our own personal and particular form of loneliness. We may
     choose to remain hidden or we may choose to know and be
     known. It's the choice we have to receive life. If we choose it, the
     Christ who came into the world at Christmas promises to come to
     us.

                              "FOR WHERE TWO OR THREE ARE
                              GATHERED TOGETHER IN MY NAME,
                              THERE AM I IN THE MIDST OF THEM"


     
 
                     

LINKS TO OTHER SERMONS

YOU ARE MY CENTERFIELDER

January 26, 1969

WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE HUMAN?

Sermon from January 25, 1970

FOLK WORSHIP SERVICE

 from April 5, 1970

WHAT SALT IS FOR

Sermon from June 21, 1970

BOLD ENOUGH TO FAIL

Sermon from September 6, 1970

DON'T PUT ME DOWN

Sermon from September 13, 1970

I BELIEVE THAT GOD BELIEVES IN CLAUDE

Sermon from September 27, 1970

 T H E    S E R P E N T    D I D    I T

Sermon from February 14, 1971

FROM: M O N O T O N Y

TO: M E A N I N G

Sermon from February 28, 1971

                    FROM ANXIETY

                                                TO FAITH

                                     Sermon from March 7, 1971

                         

Sermon by Dr. Robert R. Ball

July 11, 1971   

Here Come De Judge

Sermon from August 1, 1971

SMILE GOD LOVES YOU

Dr. Robert R. Ball, Sermon presented September 12, 1971

Seriously But Not Literally

Dr. Robert R. Ball, Sermon presented September 19, 1971

Authority Figures I Have Known

Dr. Robert R. Ball, Sermon, September 26, 1971

IT'S ABOUT RELATIONSHIPS,

NOT RULES

Dr. Robert R. Ball, Sermon presented JULY 31, 2011


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