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"From Apathy to Empathy"

This sermon was delivered at Cobleskill United Methodist Church on July 18th, 2021 The Eighth Sunday after Pentecost , by Pastor Anna Blinn Cole

Ezekiel 2:1-7

2 He said to me: O mortal,[a] stand up on your feet, and I will speak with you. 2 And when he spoke to me, a spirit entered into me and set me on my feet; and I heard him speaking to me. 3 He said to me, Mortal, I am sending you to the people of Israel, to a nation[b] of rebels who have rebelled against me; they and their ancestors have transgressed against me to this very day. 4 The descendants are impudent and stubborn. I am sending you to them, and you shall say to them, “Thus says the Lord God.” 5 Whether they hear or refuse to hear (for they are a rebellious house), they shall know that there has been a prophet among them. 6 And you, O mortal, do not be afraid of them, and do not be afraid of their words, though briers and thorns surround you and you live among scorpions; do not be afraid of their words, and do not be dismayed at their looks, for they are a rebellious house. 7 You shall speak my words to them, whether they hear or refuse to hear; for they are a rebellious house.

We’re in a summer worship series right now where we’re exploring who we are and how we see the world. It’s about understanding that deep inside each of us is the person God created us to be. That person is healthy and whole and can interact with everyone and everything around them compassionately. But that whole, healthy and compassionate person is, for many of us, hidden behind a mask most of the time.

Seeing with Compassion Series - Week 2

Spiritual self-awareness is about finding the image of God that is behind the mask and understanding how your unique self is made to move through this world with understanding and compassion. To help us through this journey of self-awareness, we’re using a tool called the Enneagram, an ancient spiritual tool that sets forth 9 different personality types that people generally fall under. Week by week this summer we’re working our way around the numbers, talking about each type’s core motivations and fears, and how we can show ourselves and others compassion. I hope you have been and will be thinking about which type fits you best. I heard a wise person once say, you’ll know you’ve found your type when you hate it. Unlike other personality typing systems, the Enneagram is oriented to help show us our unique growing edges….how the unique mask we’ve been wearing is separating us from the love of God. To do this, the Enneagram can help us see our short-comings and vulnerabilities. This is why when you hear the type that resonates most with you, it can give you both the cold sweats and also a reassuring feeling that your deepest fears are seen and also overcomable.

Last week we talked about the Challenger, Enneagram Type 8, the person who moves through life desiring to have impact by exerting large amounts of their own energy and power. We talked about how this power can be used to do great harm and how it can also be used to help the powerless, when The Challenger, Type 8, can connect to their own vulnerability and accept God’s ultimate power in their life.

Today we’re talking about the Peacemaker, Enneagram Type 9. I intentionally started with 8 so that this week we could see what a contrast Type 9 brings. If the Challenger of Type 8 is about taking charge and challenging the status quo, Type 9 is about taking a giant step back from conflict of any kind, and deciding the best course of action is to either take a nap or sing “Kum Ba Yah,” or maybe both. This type of person, the Peacemaker as they’re often called with the Enneagram, is motivated by the desire for harmony. They have an innate ability to see the interconnectedness between all things. They are great at putting people at ease by accepting them for who they are and relating to them in an endearing way. The motivation to maintain harmony and peace also leads the type 9 to never want to do anything that might possibly ruffle any feathers. “Peace” to some people can really just be a desire to stay on the sidelines during conflict. They want so much to maintain a peaceful environment and to not rock the boat, that they will agree and go along with most everybody and everything, even if it’s not truly what they want or believe. If you asked them where they wanted to go for dinner they would respond without a blink, “whatever you want!” and if it ended up being a place they absolutely despised, they would cheerfully smile and never let you know otherwise.

Over time, giving up one’s own needs in order to make other people happy takes a significant toll on one’s health and on the greater world, as you can maybe imagine. You lose your sense of self and begin to wonder if the “you” hiding inside even matters at all. Your mask is made of camouflage and you begin to blend into the background, forgetting your own potential and the beautiful image of God that lies under the mask. And while the compliance with those around you might seem to keep the peace, it can actually prop up and enables unhealthy behavior; behavior that you don’t have the courage to stand up to. These are the challenges of being a Type 9.

But God has good news for the Type 9s and for all of us when we feel like our presence doesn’t matter and that the world is better off if we just sit on the sidelines. Our scripture reading today takes us to a book of the Bible not often featured in Sunday worship services. The Book of Ezekiel. Ezekiel was a Jewish priest who, with the rest of his friends and family, had been taken captive by his enemies to the country of Babylon. This captivity lasted for many decades and was a period of great pain and reckoning for the Jewish people. This passage that Noelle read recounts the moment when Ezekiel felt called to get up from a passive position on the sidelines of the conflict and to take a stand. It says, “He (God) said to me: O mortal, stand up on your feet, and I will speak with you. And when (God) spoke to me, a spirit entered into me and set me on my feet, and I heard (God) speaking to me, saying, I am sending you to the people of Israel, to a nation of rebels who have rebelled against me… and you shall say to them ‘Thus says the Lord.’” Ezekiel was being asked to deliver a hard message of repentance to his own people, the people of Israel.

Now, I do not know what Enneagram type the prophet Ezekiel was, but he himself was clearly feeling called to move from a state of passivity to a state of bold action, which is the courageous action of Peacemaker Type 9, moving toward spiritual health. He was deciding that his voice mattered and that he was needed to insert himself into the problem and speak up on behalf of God. I think it’s very telling that he calls himself a “mortal” in this passage several times, as if to reinforce the idea that he was inherently much less powerful that God, and yet God still entrusted him to be a messenger. In his mortality, he still mattered.

And so this is the word for us today. How can we move from a state of passivity, and even apathy—a state of going with the flow and sitting on the sidelines waiting for the conflict to blow over—to an active state of hearing God’s call on our lives and standing up to say, “Here I am Lord!” How can we get to a place where we are willing to step outside of our comfort zone when it’s most important and to take a stand even though it might rock the boat.

The blessing Type 9s have, and why they’re named the Peacemakers, is that they have the ability to relate to everyone else in the world and see each person for where they’re coming from. This can, as we just talked about, can be damaging if they always just go along with everyone else’s ideas. But when 9s use their gift of listening and relatability well, it can move them from apathy to empathy. And that empathy gives them a message to share with a conflicted world: that there is an alternative to bitter disagreements. The alternative is seeing one another is bridging our differences with compassion, understanding why people are who they are, and acting with grace. A healthy 9, a true peacemaker, has the unique gifting to teach all the rest of us how to do this.

So let’s summarize what we’ve learned today. First of all, naps are good! Taking time to check out and rest is a good and healthy thing that is required for healthy souls. God knew this well when God took an entire day to rest after six hard days of work. But we can’t nap through our whole life even though we might think it’s easier than actually dealing with the hard things. Don’t let “peace” become the new word for burying your head in the sand. Let your desire for inner peace spill outside of your own being. God wants the peace that we desire inside of us to be a peace we spread with the world. God is here today to say that your voice matters. God is here today to say the world needs peacemakers who step out of their own complacency with the courage to disagree when they know deep down that dissent is what is needed. Stand up for God; stand up for yourself and don’t be afraid to rock the boat from time to time.

Let us pray.

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