Embracing Love

Sunday 3-6-16

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! 

Gordon B. Hinckley said, "The willingness to forgive is a sign of spiritual and emotional maturity. It is one of the great virtues to which we all should aspire. Imagine a world filled with individuals willing both to apologize and to accept an apology. Is there any problem that could not be solved among people who possessed the humility and largeness of spirit and soul to do either--or both--when needed?" 

“You’re in TROUBLE! I’m tellin’…!!! Dad! It’s not fair! He punched me first me first!!! “Jennie Anderson, you are to report to the principal’s office immediately!” Rev. Anderson, this is the bishop’s office and we need you to call the bishop as soon as possible… you’re in so much trouble… 

This Lenten season, there are several programs going on that I am participating on in the periphery- Br. Luke Ditewig from the Society of St John the Evangelist Monastery offered this invitation for one of the Creating a Rule of Life Lenten program that I have been reading along with a couple other Lenten meditation offerings. The question posed for the meditation is, “To what will you say ‘no’ in order to say ‘yes’ to what is most important?

Transcript of Video: There are so many good opportunities and yet I find the hardest thing is to say no and yet it’s also, I find, the healthy thing I am often called to. We have the delight of welcome guests into our home most days of the week – and yet we also have a Sabbath in which we don’t. We welcome guests and give them many opportunities – and yet we also define spaces where they cannot come. We give them many things – and yet we also find there are things we cannot give. People come needy and wanting things – and it’s hard to remember I have to say, “No,” that there are limits.

The same is true not necessarily with guests but also just my own experience of… well, most humanly, that I need sleep. That I have to stop. There is always more work to be done. I can make my body function on less sleep, but if I do it over and over again, everything suffers. So the boundary of actually going to bed on time or getting back on schedule when I have been off it is an ongoing lesson and challenge and yet it’s that choosing to stop, what must I say no to, that is actually the freeing “yes.” And I find that’s what I struggle with and that’s what people I listen to struggle with. What must I say “no” to so that I can actually be the healthiest? [Br. Luke Ditewig ] For me, when I don’t say no and create that boundary, when it is most appropriate, I eventually do something for which I later need to be amends.

So, I had a doctor’s appointment this past week and I was surprised and pleased to be asked how I was feeling, emotionally, and I was asked, “How was my patterns of sleep and exercise?” I was able to answer that my sleep seemed to be ok but that my puppy still got me up once or twice a night to go out and not have an accident in the house. So, all in all, I felt pretty good about the appointment. It is medically suggested that I work to reduce my food intake, lose some weight, and care better for my middle aged bones and body. Then, when I woke up on Saturday morning, I was filled with this flavor of trouble that I mentioned at the beginning of this message, trouble was coming, from without and from within. Have you had that feeling before? I mean as an adult? Many of us do. We lose sleep, we wake in the middle of the night or in the very early morning. We have this feeling that we have done something wrong and someone might have to suffer for it. 

It’s pretty common to a well lived Lenten season of self-examination. Stir up your soul stuff and very often trouble or dis-ease rises up… and it comes to us in many ways. It could be old grief from an unbearable loss in your life. It could be knowledge of a way you behaved in a particular context and you caused a great offense and couldn’t find a way to offer amends. It could be that you promised to do something for someone else, even just a little thing, and then forgot all about it… until now… Or it could be that you realize that have been doing something for another person, thinking it has been helping them, only to learn that the very actions that seemed to be a help, actually set person up preventing them from learning just what they needed to learn for later in their lives. There are many, many ways we connect with our culpability in this Lenten season of self-examination and that feeling that I described at the beginning? It is a feeling that sometimes brings me to my knees in prayer because it is there, in the prayer where the fastest connection to hope lives! That’s why I practice praying… all the time. You know, in case of emergency… like finding ourselves way out in the wilderness with nothing to eat and pigs to feed.

We come together in a community at church because we know that we cannot make it in the world by ourselves. We need the love of God and of one another, other human companions, in order to live and love well. It is especially true in our weakness, our frailty, our guilt and remorse. The kind of knowledge that comes with these darker and difficult feelings, living through it with friends and the love of God is the cost of faith, wisdom and strength. But first, before we get to the other side, there is the guilt and sadness, the pain… the trouble...

This week in Richard Rohr’s Daily meditation, he understood this process of developing our faith, and he wrote, “It seems the experiences of specialness and of sinfulness are both too heavy to be carried by an individual. One will disbelieve them or abuse them, either through self-hatred or by ego-inflation and conceit. It is almost impossible for a person to stand before the face of God in a perfect balance between extreme humility and perfect dignity. So God begins with a people "consecrated as God's very own" (Deuteronomy 14:2). The group holds the Mystery which the individual cannot carry. This eventually becomes the very meaning of "church" or the Body of Christ. Membership in the sacred group should and can become the gateway to personal encounter and inner experience, though too often it is a substitute for it. Please trust me on this.” [Richard Rohr]

When we take on leadership positions in our families as a sibling, or perhaps a cousin, and then in a community other people begin to count on us. We are bound to make mistakes along the way and those more simple mistaken experiences can feel very heavy indeed. In the context of this week’s gospel lesson, my friend Kate describes this well, “There seems to be no end to the shame brought on his father and his family by the self-centeredness of the younger son, who apparently also has no regard for the suffering of the wider community that would have been affected by the sale of land held by a family that no doubt contributed to the surrounding economy.

No wonder the father throws a party for the whole town, to ease the anger and resentment of the community toward this wayward, irresponsible son. Jesus' story about a precious son lost and recovered was a response to self-righteous religious authorities who questioned the company he was keeping--tax collectors and other sinners, but it's also appropriate for Lenten reflection on our own lives.

Where do we find ourselves in this story? How are we counted among "the lost"? Why do we so often identify with the older brother? Are we, like that older brother, perhaps stuck in scarcity thinking, when we'd be much happier, much freer, operating in abundance mode? [Kate Huey] How are we progressing in this Lenten season as we wait for the first buds of new life to make their appearance in our lives? Are we praying well for the mercy that God already is pouring into us, along with all the love and compassion that inspires those buds of new life?

Let us pray. Eternal lover of our wayward race, we praise you for your ever-open door. You open your arms to accept us even before we turn to meet your welcome; you invite us to forgiveness even before our hearts are softened to repentance. Hold before us the image of our humanity made new, that we may live in Jesus Christ, the model and the pioneer of your creation. Amen.