11.28.2021

Expand Your Heart

Sunday, November 28, 2021
Featuring: Rev. Richard Maraj
Final Week of the 4-Week Series, "Know the Truth"

Rev. Richard Maraj: So a very frugal Lutheran walks into his house just panting heavily, and almost completely exhausted. So his wife concernedly said, “Honey, what’s happening? What happened?”

And he said, “It’s a great idea that I have. And I want to a better steward of our resources, so I ran home behind a bus after the stewardship meeting, and I saved $1.50 in fare.”

And the wife, a little disappointed, said, “Well, that wasn’t very bright. Why didn’t you run behind a taxi and save us $10, instead?” [Drummer does “rim shot” drum roll – Congregation laughs]

Okay; I get it. The jokes are bad, but the intentions are good! The intention is good!

So how many people would say you like people, you love people, you’re a people person? How many “people people” are here? But how many would say, even though you’re a people person, you have at least one or two people that kind of irritate, frustrate you; you can’t stand them? [Congregation laughs] In some way, they just get on your nerves! And how many people have at least one relationship in your life that you would like to improve? To heal? To get better? To fell closer? To get more connected?

You know, I’ve come to believe more and more that life is a “people business”: that the quality of our lives are impacted by the quality of our relationship. If you look at the highest highs and joys that we feel in our lives, it often has to do with our connection in relationship. And the lowest lows and the biggest frustrations and hurts we get are also related to our relationship with some people.

And the fact is: there are a whole different types of relationships that we have: relationships with our parents; relationships with our siblings; relationships with our partner, our spouse; relationship with our children; our in-laws; our ex’s; our cousins; our friends; our neighbors; our co-workers; our church-goers. You know, politicians, leaders, people all over the world. And I would say how we feel about the people in the aggregate affects how we feel and experience our lives. I would say if we want to have a better life, it absolutely would include something to do with improving our relationships. Improving or shifting our consciousness in how we see and how we interact, how we treat, how we care and how we love one another.

Jesus said — one of his great commandments — was to love one another. The second greatest commandment is to love others as we love ourselves. And in several places in the Bible in the Old Testament — in Book of Ephesians in the New Testament — it actually tells us some aspects of how to love and treat each other. In Ephesians it says, “Be kind to one another.” “Be tender-hearted with one another.” “Have compassion for one another.” “Encourage one another.” “Be hospitable with one another.” “Be generous with one another.” “Forgive one another.” “Be good to one another.”

Jesus, in so many ways, was trying to teach us how to care and how to treat and how to feel about one another. In the story of the Good Samaritan, he pointed out that that person had compassion, and that we need to have compassion. Remember the story of the adulterous woman? They wanted to stone her, and Jesus said, “He who is without sin, cast the first stone.” He’s talking about having understanding and mercy, and being kind.

Today we are in Week #4 of our four-week series called, “Know the Truth.” Jesus said, “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” So we’ve been really looking at four different spiritual truths to help us live our lives better. And these things are simple, but they’re powerful in transforming our lives. They’re powerful, simple, spiritual truths that absolutely make a difference.

 

Week #1 was — the truth was — to have a willing mind. That doesn’t sound like a big deal, but if you flip it on the other side … When you have an unwilling mind, a stubborn mind, a resistant mind, hard-headed or rigid, or unwilling, it makes life a lot harder to feel joyful and succeed. But when we’re willing to learn, willing to change, willing to let go, willing to see things from a different perspective, willing to pour ourselves fully into life, we tend to open more to life, and open up to more possibilities.

The second week was to believe in yourself. And, again, the value of it is emphasized when we don’t believe in ourselves. When we don’t feel confident. When we aren’t willing to risk or try or dream. When we don’t believe in ourselves, we tend to give up a lot easier. But when we believe in ourselves, we tend to be more resilient, more capable, more confident; willing to go after what it is we want in our lives. Believe in yourself!

Week #3 was about using the creative power of our feelings. Sometimes we think it’s only about thoughts: you know, as we think, so it is. No! It’s, “As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.” It’s the thought plus the feeling. Our feeling energy magnetizes whatever it is we are seeking or desiring.

Last week we looked at the power of practicing feeling good. Feeling good is something we can cultivate! We talked about being intentional with our feelings: to figure out what we want but, more than anything else, figure out what feeling are we trying to create. And then, finally, to feel grateful. Because I think gratitude is the second greatest feeling and vibration we can cultivate other than love, itself.

And today, the final one of the truth that will set us free is to know that we are here to expand our heart. I bet we have somebody in our lives that we probably have our hearts a little closed off to. And maybe we’ve been a little hurt, and we tend to just be tentative and not fully open in our willingness to share ourselves or our love with others. And the truth is: if you want a better life, we need to expand our hearts. We need to open our hearts in greater ways.

You know, the word “heaven” — it actually means expansion. It’s a heavenly experience as we expand our faith. As we expand our love. As we expand our joy. As we expand our understanding. As we expand our wisdom. And so, for our hearts — at whatever level it is — I’ll bet every one would benefit from expanding and opening our hearts a little more. Because I believe, if you want a better life, it includes having better relationships.

And so today, what are the things we need to do to expand our hearts, and to live better lives through having better relationships?

And the first one is to expand our hearts by SEEING THE DIVINE IN OTHERS. There’s a story all the way … Remember Chicken Soup for the Soul? This I got from Chicken Soup for the Soul. It is so old, but it doesn’t matter, because the truth is as active and relevant as today.

So it’s about this monastery that fell on hard times. It used to be a thriving monastery with a lot of monks; it was down to, like, four monks and an abbot. And the abbot was really worried about what to do; it was a dying order. And so there was a rabbi that stayed up in a little hut, and he went to see if he had any wisdom. And he shared what was going on, and he said, “Do you have any wisdom you can share with me?”

And he said, “Well, the only thing I can share is that the Messiah is one of you.”

And he said, “What?!?”

The rabbi said, “The Messiah is one of you.”

So the abbot goes back and, as he’s going back to the monastery, he’s thinking, “The Messiah is one of us?” And he’s thinking about the four monks. And he starts thinking about them, and the perspective on them. “The Messiah is one of us.” And then he goes back and he tells them: “The rabbi said the Messiah is one of us!”

 

So they all start looking at each other a little differently. And one of them, “I wonder who it is! Maybe it’s the abbot; he’s been our leader. He’s been around so long.”

And then he says, “Well, maybe it’s Brother Thomas; he’s a very, very, very wise and holy man.” And what about Brother Elrod? No; it couldn’t be him. He’s kind of crotchety and cranky.” [Congregants laugh] “But when I think about it, he is very insightful and wise.”

He said, “But maybe it could be Brother Phillip. No, but it couldn’t be; he’s so passive. But, then again, somehow magically he always seems to be there when you need him.”

“But it certainly couldn’t be me. God wouldn’t have me hold such a big role, would He?” An so each of them contemplating “One of us is the Messiah” started looking at each, treating each other, interacting with each other in a whole different way. And the energy in the monastery just started picking up!

People used to come and visit and picnic, because the grounds were really beautiful. More people started coming. More and more started coming. Younger people started coming. Someone asked the monks questions; after a bit, one of the young men said, “Could I join the Order?” And, over the years, more and more joined, and it was thriving again.

And so the point of the whole thing is: they didn’t really do anything different except change how they looked at each other. Could you imagine if you just changed how you looked at the people in your life, what a difference it would make? In our work? In our home? In our neighborhood? It seems like not a big deal, but I think it’s a huge deal! Because the rabbi’s gift was really bringing an awareness that we’re more than just human beings, but we’re spiritual beings. Of looking at ourselves, instead of with fear or judgement or criticism, to look through the eyes of love. Look through the eyes of Spirit and wholeness and fullness and goodness.

I mean, to literally change how we see people begins to expand our heart and open ourselves to interact with them in greater way. Instead of seeing us from the lowest place, we see them from the highest place. See them from their spiritual nature. To acknowledge that they’re spiritual beings, and to realize that they are expressions of God. That we are all children of God.

Everybody know the word, “Namaste”? A Sanskrit word; I think we all know it. And it means, “The divine in me acknowledges the divine in you.” And when we begin to see people as spiritual beings — you know, when we see the divine in them: that light and spark of God in them — we begin to interact with them and see them in a whole different place. And even when they’re not expressing at their highest and best, we can still know that this is a child of God. That the divine spark of God is in them.

So I want you to think of somebody that maybe you’re not clicking with as well as you’d like to. And just … Let’s just say, “This person is a child of God.” Let’s say that half-voice together: [with congregation] “This person is a child of God.”

Keep that person in your mind. “The divine in me sees the divine in them.” Together: [with congregation] “The divine in me sees the divine in them.” And take a deep breath.

Put a smile on your face and feel a sense of peace. And now let’s say it together: “Namaste.” Together: [with congregation] “Namaste.”

Now, it doesn’t seem like that big of deal: just changing our mind. But you saw the difference in that story: that, when we shift our perspective of how we see people — see them at the highest level — we begin to draw out and call forth more of the good that’s in them. And it also gives us a sense of peace!

I think to expand our hearts, the greatest thing we can do to start is to see the divine in others. Because, when we do, guess what? All the ways we relate to them afterward are enhance and improved, whether it’s to like them or have a better understanding of them, or to accept them, or to forgive them, or to work well with them. Everything that we do with them, by seeing the divine in them, is enhanced. And it’s a stronger foundation to build healthier relationships and have more positive interactions.

The second thing … So the first one is to see the divine in them.

The second one is to DO GOOD FOR THEM. I read an article called, “The Secret to Happiness.” It was a study done by Harvard University. And what they said in this study is, consistently — decade after decade — all the different people that have ever studied happiness say it always come down to three things: do good things for yourself, meaning take care of your body, your health; have more balance in your life.

Second: do things you’re good at! Fanning the flames of your strength and your passion — the things you’re really good at. Even if it’s not your job: things that you love doing. Do those things.

And the third one is: do good for others. That you cannot have a happy and fulfilling life without doing good for others. Without thinking about others. Without helping others. Without encouraging others. It is not possible.

You know, it is important that we have a balance of knowing how to take care of ourselves, and also the importance of taking care of others. In the Book of Philippians it says, “Look out, not only for your own interests, but for the interests of others.” And what it’s saying is: if you want a happy life, that it’s a balance of caring for ourselves and others. That we will actually limit our own experience of happiness and fulfillment if we aren’t doing good, and looking out and thinking and considering others.

Seth Smith said, “When we’re constantly thinking of ourselves, our world shrinks.” That, when we only think of ourselves, we actually deny ourselves greater connection and joy, and feeling a sense of meaning and belonging. But, as we think of others, we actually expand our world!

And so, back to this study. It says that we feel good when we help people and think of others and support them and encourage them, because we are “hardwired” to. We are absolutely hardwired: mentoring, supporting, encouraging, taking a pie to somebody’s house … these things sound simple, but we feel a sense of joy. And they said that, not only will you be happier, but when you help others you’ll be healthier; you’ll be wealthier; more productive; and have more meaning.

I think it sounds like a lot, but here’s why I think so: because if we’re created in the image and likeness of God, and God is love, that means we’re love. And the reason we feel happier and more fulfilled is because when we help others, we’re in line with our true nature. So we just feel more fulfilled. We feel more joyful.

The other things they say is that, as you interact and connect with people in helping them, that social connection and bond actually opens you up to greater levels of connection and love, and a greater sense of belonging. And, as you do it physically — helping people out — that it actually increases your level of well-being. So it makes us happier; it spreads greater joy; and it increases the flow and the energy.

And one of the things about is: Jesus said, “As we give, so too shall we receive.” That, as we help others, the energy goes and, not only blesses them, but keeps circulating and increasing to bring blessings to us and others.

You know that study — I’ve cited it a number of times — but it is that: when somebody does good to somebody else, it improves and increases their endorphins. When a person gets helped, it increases their endorphins. But even somebody watching someone be kind and help somebody increases. That is how we are hardwired to help — hardwired to care for one another — because it makes a difference. And our lives cannot get exponentially better unless it includes a commitment and a desire to think of others, to help others, to encourage and support others.

So my question is: who in your life can you help? Where in your life can you serve? Where in your life can you give? Where in your life can you encourage or mend? I mean, as helping someone fix a flat tire, to giving someone a ride. Taking someone some food. You know, whatever it is!

You know, I had someone last week help me buy a big-screen TV and install it. And I tell you, that made me very happy! [Congregation laughs] I have “warm fuzzies” thinking about it now! And it’s not just that big TV, which is a beautiful sight, by the way. [Congregation laughs] But there’s something about helping one another. There is just something about it that absolutely makes a difference.

And I bet you the first thing we’re all going to think of is: “Well, I just don’t have the time. I’d love to help, but I don’t have the time.” I remember I used to say that to myself all the time. In my Prosperity class — I think I’ve mentioned this — one of the things is that you have to go help somebody. Go give support, help, encouragement: a neighbor, or whatever. And I told myself, “I don’t have enough time.” And I wanted to do Homeward Bound: this baby-cuddling thing. I kept telling myself, “I just don’t have the time,” because you have to go in blocks of, like, four hours, or something.

And so I ended up going and, suddenly, I had enough time! Not only did my heart expand; time expanded! I mean, my energy expanded! Not only was I investing my time, and it was making me feel good, and my heart was more open … but I felt like I had more energy to get everything I needed done.

You know, sometimes we just kind of minimize and think, “Oh; that’s a bit of a hassle.” No; it’s a vital component to being fully alive. To being an amazing spiritual being. And it is a vital part of being happier and having a fuller life!

So in what ways are you willing to do good for others? In what ways are you willing to look for ways to help and encourage and support and serve? I have a suggestion! Maybe lighting a candle at one of our candle lighting services! [Congregation laughs] Maybe being a greeter! I know it’s a shameless plug, but it’s also important! And it is a simple way to share your gift and love that’ll make a difference in the lives of others.

The final one is to DARE TO BE VULNERABLE WITH OTHERS. You know, if we want our lives and our relationships together, we have to open our hearts and put it out there a little more. We have to share a little more with others.

Sometimes we’re scared, you know, that we’ll get rejected. Scared we’ll look bad or silly. You know, but the truth is: we’ve got to be willing to be vulnerable and to open our hearts, and to be willing to share what’s really going on with us. What are the things that are hurting? What are the things that we need? What are the things we want that aren’t willing to say?

Sometimes to the very closest people, we aren’t willing to open up fully to what’s going on with us. Brene Brown says at the very core of what human beings want, more than anything else, is connection. We want connection! We want to know that we belong and that we are loved and appreciated.

And she said every time she does interviews … like, if she does it on the topic of love, people always drift to ways their hearts were broken, or they didn’t get love. She wants to talk about connection — and interview them about connection — they all want to talk about the places they felt disconnected. Whenever she wants to talk about belonging, people want to talk about that.

And the question is: why? Because it’s a core value. It is something we all want and week and need and desire in our lives. And she said the reason that we struggle with it so much is because every human being has some level of shame. And she says shame is some belief or idea that, “I’m not good enough. That something is inherently wrong with me. That someone will not want to connect with me, love me, and feel a sense of closeness with me.”

And she says the thing to get over shame — and that feeling of disconnection — so we can feel closer and have more intimate relationships is vulnerability. The only challenge with vulnerability is it scares the heck out of us. Because being vulnerable — sharing what’s going on with us or what’s hurting or what we need — puts the risk that the other person may not care. The other person may not reciprocate. The other person, you know, might reject us.

And the thing is: it takes a lot of courage to be vulnerable. But that courage can also lead us to more authentic connection and deeper relationships and greater levels of happiness and fulfillment. It takes a lot of risks, but you’ve got to be willing to be vulnerable.

I’ve shared this story before. And I don’t know if you know my history here, but the first time I came as a guest speaker was in the year 2000. And Richard would bring me back once a year — usually in July; God bless him for that! [Congregation laughs] Not in January, or when the weather was good … But anyway …  [Congregation laughs]

So he did in 2000, 2001, 2002. And usually when you are invited to a large church, and most churches, somebody else picks you up; the minister is gone, because they want a weekend off. So after the third visit, he picked me up, which was a shocker. So we were driving along; we were chit-chatting a little bit. And he says to me, “So where do you see yourself in five years?” And I thought, “Well; let me just lay it out.”

So I said, “Well, I see myself at a really large church with another dynamic, powerful minister, and we’re sharing the place, rocking the house … [congregation laughs] and getting to speak and go travel nationally. That’s the kind of thing …” And I just went on and on about how great and exciting this thing was.

And then, after me just sharing and pouring it all out, he says, “Uh huh.” [Congregation laughs]

And I didn’t say a word, but in my head I was like, “Uh huh? I just poured my heart out to you and told you exactly what I want, which means I want to come here to Unity of Phoenix, and all you give me is uh huh?”

And so, you ever felt like you shared too much? [Congregation laughs] You’re just, like: you’re a little over-exposed? And I gotta tell you, there’s something that felt like, “Oh, I hate that! Why couldn’t I have been more stoic and calm and cooler? Play a little hard to get?” [Congregation laughs]

Now, ultimately, even though I was embarrassed in that moment, it worked out the way it was supposed to work out. And the fact is: it was risky, but I didn’t die. He didn’t respond the way I was hoping he would … but, ultimately, it went the way it was supposed to.

And here’s the thing I noticed … because I’ll tell you the truth. I was upset every time I thought about it. Even a year or two after, I’d get mad and wish, “God, why did I let it all out like that?” And then I realized, “You know what? It’s okay!” In fact, it was good that I did, because it helped me make a commitment to be more authentic, and to share who I am and right where I’m at and what was going on.

Every one of us is yearning for connection. Every one of us wants to feel a sense of belonging and love and acceptance. That we are valuable, and our lives mean something. And vulnerability is the way. It truly is the path to authentic love and authentic connection.

I read a really fabulous article this week about … Remember Jesse Owens, 1936 Olympics in Berlin? And all of the energies around that — you know, about Aryan supremacy, and that — right in Berlin. And he is an athlete; he ended up winning four gold medals: the 100, the 200, the 4×100, and the long jump. And in the long jump, his number one competitor was a German guy named Ludwig Long.

And so Jesse misses on the first one; he fouls. Misses on the second; fouls. And the third he would have been eliminated. And so he’s there, and you could tell he’s a little stressed about it. And Ludwig comes up to him and says, “Hey; for you not to foul, maybe you should go back a little further, and then you’ll either hit before the board or, worse, on the board, and you’ll qualify and go to the next round.”

So here he is in Germany, against this German compatriot who’s actually helping him, and wants him to do well. And so he follows advice, and he gets into the round of finals. And he ends up breaking the world record, winning the gold medal. And Ludwig finishes second. He gets the gold medal.

And then the thing is: they both shared so much with each other — Jesse shared about how stressful it was, the pressure with him as an athlete and all the conditions going on. And Ludwig shared about himself. They ended up staying in touch, and Ludwig ended up going and fighting in the war. And he would write Jesse letters all the time.

He died in 1943, and his last letter was written to Jesse. And it said, “This might be my last letter. I don’t know what’s going on.” But he said, “The thing I’m concerned about that my son is young and he may never really get to know me.” And he said, “I would like you to do me a favor: if you could connect with my son at some point and tell him about who I am. Tell him about me and about us.” And he did.

And he went and he connected with his son. And, in fact, they became close friends. That even the children and grandchildren of Jesse Owens and Ludwig continued to stay close together.

And Jesse Owens once said, “You could melt all the gold from my gold medals,” and he said, “It would never come close to the 24-karat friendship that I feel for this man.”

And I’ll tell you: you think it’s about sports. It’s not. It was their willingness to be vulnerable about their fears and their needs. His desire about his son. You know, what it was like to be in Berlin as a black man winning gold medals.

And just reading the story of their vulnerability and their open-heartedness, to me, just still touches and inspires me, even though it’s been years.

Vulnerability seems like a risk. But you know what’s a greater risk? Not being vulnerable. Because to not be vulnerable means to keep distance and not be as close. Not actually been seen and loved for the fullness and truth of who we are.

My question is: Are we willing to be vulnerable and share our bumps and our bruises? Our greatness and our insecurity? Our confidence and our fears? Because loving all of the person requires that we share the fullness of who we are.

So my niece posted something on Facebook yesterday. And she got some kind of big promotion; it’s a huge step in leadership. She’s teaching at the university. And she could have just left it at that, and would have gotten lots of accolades. But she said that AND she said, “It’s really cool, but it’s scary, too. And if you want to know the truth, I’m feeling a bit of the imposter’s syndrome: feeling like a fraud … like if they really find out, this thing ain’t going to work.”

And I loved that she was willing to put it out there! She got as many congratulations, maybe even more. Because, I guarantee you: even me, reading it — not just because she’s my niece! — touched my heart and opened my heart. To make us realize that we’re all struggling with some area of not feeling worthy. I bet you she liberated more people sharing her vulnerability than she did just her good news.

And so my question for you: where in your life are you being called to be a little more vulnerable? To share a little bit more of what’s really going on with you? Of what you’re wanting? What you’re needing? About who you are? Some things you may not even have shared with some people. Because it is that vulnerability that is the pathway to connection, to belonging, to greater closeness and intimacy, and fulfillment in this amazing gift of life that we have been given.

“You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free!” And this is one of the ways we can set ourselves free. It is by opening our hearts. It is by seeing the divine in others. It is by doing good and thinking of others. And it is by being willing — and being daring — to be vulnerable, and to put ourselves out there and share ourselves a bit more.

If you want a better life, it’s about better relationships. And a better life is awaiting all of us if we are willing to expand our hearts.

Vulnerability seems like a risk. But you know what’s a greater risk? Not being vulnerable.

God bless you all! [Congregation applauds]

Copyright 2021 Unity of Phoenix Spiritual Center/Rev. Richard Maraj

CLICK HERE to view Rev. Maraj’s guided meditation during the service.

Location and Contact Information

Unity of Phoenix Spiritual Center

1500 E Greenway Pkwy
Phoenix, AZ 85022
Phone: (602) 978-3200

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