I’d like to use what is called “appreciative inquiry” into our readings from James and Mark this morning, and zoom in on one image–what James calls “the implanted word”–and see what fruit might be born from it.
In fulfillment of God’s own purpose, [James writes] God gave us birth by the word of truth, so that we would become a kind of first fruits of God’s creatures…Therefore…welcome with meekness the implanted word that has the power to save your souls. Or, as Peterson puts it, In simple humility, let our gardener, God, landscape you with the Word, making a salvation-garden of your life. [The Message]
Now, there is always a danger in taking verses out of context. James is particularly concerned about those who say the right words, but whose actions speak of a very different word. So, we don’t want to lose that important context or wisdom from James.
And in the passage from Mark, Jesus tells those who complain about his and his disciples lack of proper ritual hygiene that it’s not what goes in from the outside of a person that defiles them, but rather what comes out of a person. “All these evil things come from within, from the human heart,” Jesus says.
But if we shine an appreciative light on this one image of the implanted word, we may find a way to put it back in its context–both in Scripture and in our lives–that has more integrity perhaps than simply glossing over as we read. In fulfillment of God’s own purpose [James writes] God gave us birth by the word of truth, so that we would become a kind of first fruits of God’s creatures…Therefore…welcome with meekness the implanted word that has the power to save your souls.
Every Sunday, perhaps every day, we pray the prayer of Jesus. “Thy kingdom come,” we pray in good King James English. And yet the language of Jesus–Aramaic–contains this earthy meaning for that phrase– “In our depths, sow your seed with its greening-power, so that we may be midwives to your Reign.” God’s seed or intention is planted in each of us, with its greening, growing power, able to blossom forth in ways unique to each one of us, each one contributing to the beauty of God’s kingdom on earth. That is our True Self, the core of who we are.
But very early on, layers and layers of hard shells build up around that core–initial layers of limitations put on us by parents or family or early environments. “Oh, you can’t do that. You mustn’t do that. You’re this or you’re that,” when our True Self may not be “this” or “that.” And then we layer on fears over the limitations, fears that we’ll disappointment or anger or call attention to or be found out. And so we create an image which we present to the world, to safely guard all those layers, but too often in the process, lose sight of that true, inner core, that seed or intention planted by God, “the implanted word,” if you will.
It is in the process of covering over, denying, not appreciating that true core that all sorts of distortions and defilements take place. “For it is from within,” Jesus says in Mark, “that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”
All of those “evil things” are distortions of the original intention planted by God.
We all know how easy it is to lose sight of that true core of Light. We know what it is like to act not from our highest Self but from our meanest desire. We acknowledge that reality when we pray our prayers of confession, which, while any one prayer may not speak specifically to our experience, we pray them in acknowledgment of the human experience, and remind ourselves that we are not exempt from that more collective experience.
But, I wonder, what if we prayed a Prayer of Affirmation as well each week? “I am beloved, a precious child of God, beautiful to behold, and I serve the God of Love and Light.” Any of us could pray that each day, and some of us do. We might also get more specific, if we take the time to reflect upon the particular “implanted word” in each of us.
One exercise we did during our Positive Psychology immersion was to think of someone we admired–someone we knew personally, like a teacher or family member or friend–or a public or literary figure, like the Dalai Lama or Eleanor Roosevelt– and describe that person to 2 other people. We each listed the qualities of that person that struck us as being qualities of the ideal person. After doing that for all 3 people in the group, we were each to think of yet another person we admired, and describe that person to the group. Again, we listed the qualities–he is, she is, he does, she has…– until we each had a list of maybe 20 different qualities we thought would be attributes of an ideal person. Then we were to narrow it down to 5-8 of the most important qualities and star or mark those.
Next we were to start on a clean sheet of paper. Write those 5-8 qualities–she is… he is…–only this time writing, “I am….I have… I do…” It was stunning. The image that emerged for each of us rang shockingly true. What we admire in other people cut through the limitations and fears and self-images and went to the core of who we are. Our teacher recommended that we look at that list everyday, remind ourselves of who we really are everyday, maybe reflect on one quality each day with real intention.
Just as an experiment, take out the commission which we say each week, “to remind ourselves how we are to be.” It’s a collective prayer. Try it now, changing each phrase to first person singular–”I go forth into the world in peace. I am of good courage. I hold fast to that which is good. I render to no one evil for evil. I strengthen the fainthearted; I support the weak; I help the afflicted; I honor all people. I love and serve the Lord. I rejoice in the power of the Holy Spirit.” It’s just a slight shift, but notice how different it feels.
“Welcome with meekness the implanted word that has the power to save your souls.” Welcome with meekness. This is not an exercise in puffing up, in self-centered pride. The work translated as meekness here is used in the bible only to describe Moses and Jesus. It describes the quality of being so open–so selfless (small s)–so utterly immersed in God that there is a fearless-ness about it, not the timidness, the milquetoast limpness, that we often associate with the word “meek.” “Welcome with meekness the implanted word that has the power to save your souls.” Our denying or never taking the time to discover the implanted word in us, our True Self, does not serve God or ourselves.
“In our depths, sow your seed with its greening-power, so that we may be midwives to your Reign.” Thy kingdom come. “In fulfillment of God’s own purpose , God gave us birth by the word of truth, so that we would become a kind of first fruits of God’s creatures…Therefore… Welcome with meekness the implanted word that has the power to save your souls.” I urge you, even for a few moments a day this week, to do a little “appreciative inquiry” into the word implanted in you. “In simple humility,” as Peterson puts it, “let our gardener, God, landscape you with the Word, making a salvation garden of your life.”
Acting from this implanted word, nourishing it, watering it, we can become doers of the Word, caring for those who have lost their way, those in distress, loving God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and our neighbors as ourselves. This bread and cup that we are about to share comes into our bodies and nourishes and waters our True Selves created by God and so transform and empower us to bear fruit that will nourish the world. With this promise, with this hope, receive the Bread of Life and the Cup of Blessing. Amen.
Rev. Mary H. Lee-Clark