What's inside?

Proper 5B

In the name of God: our maker.  Amen.

The Broadway musical Waitress tells the story of a waitress with a particular gift for baking pies.  The show begins with this quiet, droning refrain: sugar, butter, flour; sugar, butter, flour…  Above the slow, steady drone, the song begins:

My hands pluck the things I know that I’ll need.
I take the sugar and butter from the pantry.
I add the flour to begin what I am hoping to start,
And then its down with the recipe,
And bake from the heart.

And butter.
And flour.
And mother.

What’s inside?
Everyone wants to know what’s inside.
And I always tell them,
But I always feel more than words can say.

You wanna know what’s inside?
Simple question, so then what’s the answer?
My whole life is in here.
In this kitchen baking.
What a mess I’m making.

The show begins by asking what’s inside.  And like a lot of us, the show spends its life exploring that question.  What’s inside?

Each of the readings we heard today take us on a little journey of how our faith has explored that same question through the ages.  What’s inside?

We start near the dawn of creation.  Adam was made in God’s image, as was his partner in life, Eve.  They lived in the paradise that God had set aside for them.  But where the story picks up today, we find them hiding in the garden.  Trying to hide from God.

They were hiding because they learned shame.  “I heard the sound of you in the garden,” he said, “and I was afraid because I was naked; and I hid myself.”  They felt shame for what was seen on the outside.  They were still the people that God had created; they still bore the image of God in their created selves.  But what had changed was what was inside.  They saw themselves differently than they had seen themselves before.  And, like so many of us, their inclination was to try to hide from God.  But that never works.  And when God found them, God could see instantly what was inside.

So much of the rest of our faith journey is about facing what’s inside ourselves, and learning to differentiate the inside essence from all the rest that exists beyond it.  But it was always about what was inside.  That was always God’s main focus.  Not on the stuff on the outside that so easily distracts us, and makes us feel separate from God.  But the inner truth.

Where we meet the Apostle Paul today, in his second letter to the church in Corinth, he is helping that faith community to see that line.  “We do not lose heart,” he says.  “Even though our outer nature is wasting away,” – our bodies betray us – “our inner nature is being renewed day by day.”  The essence of who we are – our truest selves – stand up to the weathering nature of time.  Time is the enemy of the body, but it holds the eternal renewal of the soul.  The soul keeps being new, even as the body starts to fade.  The soul is still tied to God, even as the body clings to the earth.

I saw a post on Facebook a few days ago that put a really interesting spin on the whole conversation around Artificial Intelligence.  The writer said, “AI accidentally made me believe in the concept of a human soul – it did this by showing me what art looks like without it.”  We can artificially engineer products – be they art or writing or whatever else.  But we can’t artificially engineer the heart that longs for the product.  We can’t artificially engineer the soul that craves creating – the soul that yearns to share in God’s image by making something new.  We can build computer programs that respond to prompts, but we can’t build the inner nature of humanity that sees the world and is unswervingly compelled to answer it.

What’s inside?  My whole life is in here.  Not where you can see it, but inside.  It’s what’s inside that counts.

In the story of Jesus the journey of differentiation continues.  We’re told stories of Jesus casting demons out of people – freeing them from the aspects of their inner selves that had been getting in the way of their truest, most honest and sincere selves.  Freeing them from all that separated them from the image of God.

And we’re told that after that, he sat with his followers and began to teach.  Word came that his mother and his brothers were outside waiting for him, but he said no, it’s what’s inside that counts.  These who are gathered – these who follow me in their quest for connection with God – these are my family.  These are the ones inside.  The deepest connections don’t come from the flesh, which fails us, but the deepest connections are tied to what’s inside.

It’s what’s inside that counts.  God’s truth is that inner truth.  It was souls that were freed when the demons were cast out.  You may have seen symptoms in their bodies and their behaviors, but it was their souls that were set free.

We still have the power to cast out demons.  It’s power that comes from looking more closely at what’s inside us.  It’s power that comes from paying more attention to the image of God that lives in us (and in everyone else), and learning to differentiate that image of God from all the trauma of life that’s been piled on top of it.

We still have the power to cast out demons.  We do it by lifting up the image of God in ourselves and in each other.  When the image of God – when the Body of Christ – is our focus, everything else – all the trauma and pain and mess – it all loses focus.

What’s inside?  Like that waitress, my whole life is in here.  Like her pie, there are the ingredients you’d expect – a life’s equivalent of sugar, butter, and flour – the stuff.  But that’s not all there is.  There’s the truth that lives in the midst of those ingredients, but still somehow rises beyond them.  There is the whole that is greater than the sum of its parts.  My eternal life is in here.  The image of God is in here.  That’s what’s inside.

That’s what we’re called to find – in ourselves, in each other, and in this Body of Christ that we, together, help to embody.  That is the journey of our faith from the beginning, and it is our journey, still.  Amen.