Sunday, December 4, 2011 ~ Advent 2

Mark 1:1-8

Discerning Amongst Mixed Messages”   

Franklin Circle Christian Church

(Disciples of Christ)

Cleveland, Ohio

Rev. Allen V. Harris, pastor & preacher

Watch this sermon on YouTube at:

Perhaps it is the single most frequent piece of advice I give in my pastoral counseling: “Trust your gut.”  It’s also the hardest.  It’s the most frequent advice because trusting your gut is the single best and easiest guidance possible.  Everyone has a gut!  Everyone has an instinct and intuition.  I believe God has imbued wisdom deep inside each and every creature God has made and that this profound wisdom is enough to get us through almost any crisis in life.  But it is also the hardest piece of advice because modern folks, especially those of us in the Western world, are so disconnected from our bodies that we usually don’t recognize or trust our own deep wisdom planted deep within.

And it is this inability to truly get in touch with our deepest and wisest instincts and rely instead upon our knee-jerk reactions or upon convoluted thinking that has led us to conflict.  We are at war with ourselves, our families, our neighbors, and other tribes, peoples, and nations in large part because we fail to trust our innermost instincts and refuse to seek our best communal wisdom.

Trust your gut.  This is the essence of spiritual discernment. But because of culture, fear, divisiveness, and good old fashioned laziness and bad habits we are unable not only to trust the wisdom deep within us, but to even know or believe there is a greater truth within to be found.

* Our culture promotes a dependence upon knowledge beyond ourselves by touting “experts” and selling us ideas and products that will fix-it all, save-the-day, help us hit the target.

* Our fears have been stoked by the powers that be that constantly look for bogeymen around every corner and then provoke us to rely upon the safety, security, and power which only they can provide.

* Pundits and politicians play upon any opportunity for divisiveness to keep us always at war with ourselves and with each other, leading us to a world where trust in any form is scarce and cooperation is considered treason.

* And through a culture of conspicuous consumption and technological idolatry we have become lazy.  We believe we don’t need to word to solve our problems because we can just purchase a product that will solve the problem for us.  Nor do we have to think deeply about things someone else will do it for us in the time it takes to “google” it.

And then there is the number one reason why we have a hard time truly trusting our gut: the mind/body split that we’ve suffered from for over a millennia.  Somewhere along the way we as the human race were conned into believing that all things physical, everything about our bodies, was bad and wrong and sinful.  We were tricked into thinking that only that which passed the muster of a full-out assault by our minds and our thought processes was worthy of our time, attention, and trust.

Saint John the Baptist, Donatello, 1438. Web Gallery of Art

John the Baptist was by all accounts a crusty character.  Clothed with camel’s hair ensemble, sporting a leather belt around his waist, and dining on fine wild locusts and honey, he preached something that would be counter-cultural in any age of human history.  He preached that he was not the most important person ever alive, but that someone else was.  I am fascinated by this untamed and outrageous preacher who preached not of himself, but of someone who would come after him, and an unknown, untested, commoner at that!

I see in John the Baptist a person who truly trusted his gut deeply, a man who was willing to discern a message and a purpose deeper than his own needs and wants, broader than his own ego or comforts, outside of his own tradition’s expectations.  I see in John the Baptist and his wild non-conformist lifestyle and even more outside-the-box message someone who calls us to a profound and life-changing spiritual discipline of discernment.

Discernment, when done well, is neither over-thinking a conclusion or idea nor is it knee-jerk decision-making.  Discernment is the process of getting in touch with one’s gut instincts in a way that moves beyond and around the harmful effects of our culture, fears, divisive tendencies, and bad habits and leads us to reconnect out mind with our body and our spirit!

I have passed out a simple outline of a Discernment Process by Danny E. Morris and Charles M. Olsen (1).  Let’s walk through it, briefly, because I believe it will help us as individuals and as a community of faith to make better decisions by listening to the wisdom God has placed deep within us.

1.         Name the Goal (framing) – focusing on what’s at issue

2.         Working Rules (grounding) – setting the boundaries for behavior

3.         Naming Our Concerns (shedding) – being honest about our positions & perspectives

4.         Wisdom From The Bible [and beyond] (rooting) – seeking for divine wisdom

5.         Gathering Information (listening) – “widening the circle for ALL God’s children”

6.         Proposing Ideas (exploring) – playing with possibilities

7.         Fine Tuning (improving) – improving upon the best ideas (of others/ourselves)

8.         Moving Toward A Decision (weighing) – letting go/holding on to possibilities.

9.         Deciding (closing) – finding consensus

10.         Living With The Decision (testing) – prayerful pondering before implementation

I’ve begun to believe that communities of faith need to move beyond the rigid and all-too-often dictatorial structures of our decision-making (Roberts Rules of Order, for example) and live more deeply into the harder, but more spiritually truthful means of decision making as is found in discernment and seeking consensus.  One of the most profound gifts of the Occupy movement (Occupy Wall Street, Occupy Cleveland, etc.) has been in their ability to show that consensus-building can be done on a large scale and for a greater good. (2)

Scenes from the Life of St John the Baptist, Master of the Life of Saint John the Baptist, 1330-40

I think biblical figures like John the Baptist call us to trust our guts more, to seek the will of God through spiritual discernment, and not sound-byte, knee-jerk, political posturing.  John the Baptist had a message that was as powerful as it was radically different from anything anyone else was saying.  He could only have announced the coming of the Prince of Peace after a deep encounter with God’s wisdom.

We also will find this Prince of Peace, the one who promises a “peace beyond all human understanding,” (Phil. 4:7) when we discern deeply and wisely from the depths of our divinely created guts, so that to which God is calling us this day is what we will be about.

May it be so!


(1)  From Discerning God’s Will: A Spiritual Practice For The Church, by Danny E. Morris and Charles M. Olsen, Upper Room Books, 197 (2012 revision coming!).  Learn more and order this at:

(2)  For a better idea about how Occupy Wall Street makes decisions based on the consensus model, go online to: