Sermon by The Reverend Jodi Baron, Co-Rector, September 10, 2017, Pentecost 14, Proper 18, Year A, Matthew 18:15-20.
“Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.” In the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
About five times a year, I have the opportunity to travel around the diocese, for Diocesan Council, kind of like the Vestry for the Diocese. September is one of the months that Council meets. So yesterday, I found myself in downtown Grand Rapids on a beautiful *almost* fall day, seated around a table with other elected clergy and laity from throughout the diocese to tend to the business of our bigger common life, between conventions.
I went down Friday this time so that I could stay with some friends and not have to get up so early to make the trip. Rarely do I travel without the family and stay the night out of town… I missed them dearly, but it was quite a treat.
These friends I stayed with are really special friends of ours.
Our families have grown together and followed one another through the years, but over the past three, when we returned from Texas, it deepened, I suspect that’s because we both don’t have screaming babies every time we try to have dinner together.
They were curious about this “Council” meeting I was going to, so I had the opportunity to share with them a little bit about the work we do. We deliberate over budgets and policies, pastoral concerns of our sister parishes up and down the coast of Lake Michigan. But this month we had to approve the recommended budget that will be presented at Diocesan Convention in November.
But what strikes me, always, about these meetings, is that it is expected that we won’t always agree on things. It is also expected, however, that we will be kind and continue conversing until we are certain we are understood. We usually begin our meetings with reading a covenant that we all signed at the annual retreat. It is a way to frame the way we will be with one another in our work together.
And that is pretty rare these days, don’t you think?
The covenant is steeped in careful language that seeks to create a safe place for honest dialogue, disagreement, and mutual affection to happen. I’ve served on Diocesan Council for two years now and I still can’t believe we read that covenant each time we gather, and I’m absolutely convinced that it is necessary.
Because if we didn’t, we might be tempted to forget what it is we are called to do.
Because… our relationships with one another matter…. words matter, don’t they?
I’ve been fixated on words this past week, especially. Words that create healing and words that create hurt.
Over the past few weeks, there has been a deep well of grief and loss that has opened up for many folks.
Family members dying, friends losing homes, communities torn apart because of racism and hatred, whole towns being swallowed up in water or burned by wildfires.
I looked on this interactive map last night, thinking it might help me wrap my mind around the magnitude of national disasters happening right now and I was stunned.
To read the whole legend that explained what each icon meant I had to scroll down,
The whole of North America, or so it seemed, was either on fire or underwater or in the path of a hurricane or recovering from an earthquake or marching about DACA or marching about Charlottesville.
And people, peppered throughout those areas and beyond carry on with celebrating birthdays and anniversaries and getting married and having babies.
People have to bury loved ones and pay bills. Athletes need to train and doctor appointments kept.
Things are completely ordinary and completely chaotic, depending on where you live.
But language, through all of this, matters.
Because we all are worthy of love and belonging, aren’t we?
But when I read the headlines and look at my Facebook feed, that does not seem to be what our national dialogue wants us to believe, is it?
These passages this morning are about relationship, remembering God’s mercy, always, and being a people of hope.
And “Relationship” is at the heart of the entire bible.
God’s relationship with us, our relationship with God and our relationship with the rest of creation, the trees and oceans as well as the humans we share this planet with.
All of Creation is filled with our neighbors.
And these past few weeks, I don’t know about you, but I’ve been pretty weighed down with the cares and occupations of the world and our communities.
I’ve spent more hours combing the internet, talking with colleagues and friends, and praying.
And that practice, prayer, is really what brings me back.
When I used to feel this way… filled with anxiety and despair… my Spiritual Director would remind me to remember my practices, remember my Rule of Life.
Pray the Daily Office (at least Morning Prayer), go for a walk, create something beautiful, rinse, and repeat.
What those practices do for me, when I begin to feel overwhelmed, is to teach me about God’s mercy.
They bring me into the heart of God, where my soul can rest and be known.
They remind me that sometimes, all we can do, all we can really ever do, is the next…right…thing.
And I’ve found, that Daily Office prayers steep us in the words of our ancestors. Some of these prayers have been prayed for hundreds of years…that’s holy stuff.
But sometimes our grief is so deep, so raw, that we can’t even muster the energy to open our Prayer Book or say a prayer.
Just sit. And hold something that has brought you peace in the past.
Maybe it’s a figurine that sits on your window, maybe it’s your prayer book given to you at your confirmation.
Maybe it’s your cat or your grandbaby.
Maybe it’s to make your bed.
Maybe it’s a cup of coffee.
Holding that which used to give you peace, will remind your body that this is your next… right… thing to do.
And then when you ask yourself the next day, “Lord, what joyful expectations do you have in store for me today?”
What you’re asking God for is to meet you where you are at and to show you a morsel of mercy.
I leave you here, with a section of an interview I listened to a while ago from On Being.
It’s from Irish theologian and author, Pádraig Ó Tuama, from his memoir, In the Shelter: Finding a Home in the World.
He writes, “Neither I nor the poets I love found the keys to the kingdom of prayer and we cannot force God to stumble over us where we sit. But I know that it’s a good idea to sit anyway. So every morning I sit, I kneel, waiting, making friends with the habit of listening, hoping that I’m being listened to. There, I greet God in my own disorder. I say hello to my chaos, my unmade decisions, my unmade bed, my desire and my trouble. I say hello to distraction and privilege, I greet the day and I greet my beloved and bewildering Jesus. I
“Neither I nor the poets I love found the keys to the kingdom of prayer and we cannot force God to stumble over us where we sit. But I know that it’s a good idea to sit anyway. So every morning I sit, I kneel, waiting, making friends with the habit of listening, hoping that I’m being listened to. There, I greet God in my own disorder. I say hello to my chaos, my unmade decisions, my unmade bed, my desire and my trouble. I say hello to distraction and privilege, I greet the day and I greet my beloved and bewildering Jesus. I recognise and greet my burdens, my luck, my controlled and uncontrollable story. I greet my untold stories, my unfolding story, my unloved body, my own love, my own body. I greet the things I think will happen and I say hello to everything I do not know about the day.
I greet my own small world and I hope that I can meet the bigger world that day.
I greet my story and hope that I can forget my story during the day, and hope that I can hear some stories, and greet some surprising stories during the long day ahead. I greet God, and I greet the God who is more God than the God I greet. / Hello to you all, I say, as the sun rises above the chimneys of North Belfast. / Hello.”
I don’t pretend that prayer will stop cancer or change the course of the hurricane or stop violence, but I do believe that prayer changes my heart and my response to my brothers and sisters. It creates space in my heart to imagine ways I can help make the world a little bit better.
That’s how, I believe, prayer works.
And so, St. Philip’s, I pray that this week, as we contemplate how to apply the words we hear and say today, to our daily lives, that we will learn to say hello to whatever and whomever we meet along our journey. That we will treat the fellow travelers with kindness and dignity and respect. Just for today… We’ll let the prayers of tomorrow handle tomorrow… one day at a time.
I pray that we will look with loving kindness upon ourselves and have the courage to “Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.” Amen.