St Barnabas, Norwich VT
Sermon by Rev Jennie M Anderson
Lord, make us stewards of ourselves, that we may be servants of others. Take my words and speak through them, take our minds and think through them, take our hearts and set them on fire, for Jesus’ sake. Amen. Good morning! Welcome!
…for to him all of them are alive.
Belong - You need not regret the past or fear the future. You belong to God. You need not conform yourself to the opinions of others or struggle to win their approval. You belong to God. You need not grasp for riches or fame or success or power in order to find meaning and purpose for your life. You belong to God. You need not be afraid of failing or falling or fumbling in life. You belong to God. -Br. David Vryhof
Susan Sarandon said, "So I would hope they would develop some kind of habit that involves understanding that their life is so full they can afford to give in all kinds of ways to other people. I consider that to be baseline spirituality."
…for to him all of them are alive.
In this week’s gospel, Jesus is questioned by some Sadducees. They are authorities and have some power… and perhaps feel threatened by this upstart Jesus who has a different message than the one that keeps them safely in their power and authority, or perhaps is simply a message that they truly don’t understand. Jesus’ response is one that steps out of the word-trap they set for him and offers a completely different perspective. He says that God’s business is about the living… “Now he is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive."
How do we find ways to become more alive??? Anabel Proffitt said, "May you stay in that place of wonder and wisdom that lies between the uncertainty of the world and the dependable grace of our God." Believe it or not, Barbara Bush said, "Giving frees us from the familiar territory of our own needs by opening our mind to the unexplained worlds occupied by the needs of others." J. K. Rowling said, "Abundance is the quality of life you live and quality of life you give to others." So of these three quotes, I ask three questions. One, how do you hold on to wonder? Two, “how do we move out of our own way and let the light of God shine in like Barbara Bush suggests we try?!” Three, How the heck do we create a place of abundance in a scarcity-ridden world? Maybe by just one starfish at a time?
I want to answer these questions but not with a direct response, I want to tell you some stories about how it might be that we find being more alive by giving out of our abundance.
This weekend, I got to attend my first Diocesan Convention in Vermont. It was a blast! The key note speaker and presenter who was there the whole time was Becca Stevens of Magdalene House and Thistle Farms… Becca Stevens was born on April 1, 1963 in Connecticut to Anne and Rev. Gladston Hudson Stevens Jr. When she was four years old, her family relocated to Nashville, Tennessee and a year later, her father was killed in a car accident by a drunk driver. After her ordination in June 1991, Stevens began working at the Church of the Resurrection in Franklin, Tennessee, continuing her work with those in need. When in 1995, the Chaplain of St. Augustine’s Chapel at Vanderbilt retired, Stevens accepted the post. She founded Magdalene in 1997, a two-year residential program for former prostitutes overcoming addiction(s) and wanting to restart their lives. She also started Thistle Farms, which employs the same group of women to make products sold in stores like Whole Foods and on the Internet. [Wiki] Not only is Becca Steven’s an amazing person, she is an astounding preacher! She has found a way to tell the truth of the gospel story, her story and the stories of her sisters who now operate a multi-million dollar business in a way that draws out our feelings of generosity, compassion and most important, love! When Becca is telling the gospel stories she invites us to experience our own healing through the love of God in the women who have suffered and found grace. Through Becca’s teachings I caught a glimpse of how we might connect to God who as Jesus said, “Now he is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive."
As I had the privilege of sitting and taking in Becca’s presentations, I took a couple notes on quotes that I want to share with you. First, she said, “We are not called to change the world. We are called to love the world and change ourselves.” We are called to focus on our own spiritual path in a way that invites God’s love into our hearts, and out of the abundance of that life-changing presence, calls us to give that love to the world. When she said this she was speaking in a context of healing from the damage that we do to one another, through oppression, abuse and sometimes even torture. The victims of these atrocities, as they heal, find a way to change themselves through God’s love, - having a home, community, therapy, and good care. They changes that they make of themselves. The love that they gave, at least this weekend, was to us.
Becca told a story about one of the woman from Magdalene. This was a woman who through her healing was getting out to tell her story to people who needed her love. She was on an airplane for the first time and at one point during the flight, she was leaning over Becca to get pictures of the bright moon shining above the clouds. When Becca asked what she was up to and why she was so excited, the woman replied, “It never in my life occurred to me that there was a sky above the clouds!” Becca went on to explain how her heart was struck by this comment, because as a sex-slave, this person never in her life looked up into the sky on a cloudy day and saw that there might be more sky above the clouds.
And Becca offered us this one last reminder about how we can keep healing and growing in God’s love and that is through our rituals, each and every day. She said, “We need to get up in the morning and light the light, as in put fire to a candle, as we prepare to say our dawn prayers. Then we need to bring into the light those things in our lives, our bodies, our souls that are causing us pain. Then we need to burn the incense, say the prayers and give to God the pain so that we can better love the world.” These are some of the things that I took into my heart and also that I also took notes on about how we can better find ways to know that our God is a god of the living... for to him, all of them are alive.
Now he is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive."
Let’s take this message in our hearts here at St Barnabas and pray how we might live into our faith of love in our hearts, our homes, our communities and ministries here in Norwich, in VT and in the whole world… How do we find ways to be more alive? We open our hearts to God’s love. We listen to each other and tell our stories of suffering and transformation. We give out of our abundance in every way we can. We practice our rituals and our traditions. We remember the wisdom of those who are praying the prayers, one of whom said, “May you stay in that place of wonder and wisdom that lies between the uncertainty of the world and the dependable grace of our God.”
Let us pray. Almighty God, you hold all the powers of the universe within your hands, and we are your children. Turn us to the splendor of life in you, transforming us through Jesus Christ our Savior, and strengthening us in every good deed and word. Amen.