St. Paul’s Episcopal Church | Louisburg, NC | November 20, 2022
Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, oh Lord, our Strength and our Redeemer. Amen
Good morning on this the 20th day of November. I wrote these remarks about a month ago in late Oct. I always forward my Sermon to the Vicar several weeks before you all actually hear these words. I have been so fortunate to have two intelligent and insightful editors in both Lauren and now Amy.
Finding the relationships between the readings each Sunday is always fascinating to me. And those were four powerful readings which Amy and _________ just shared with us.
Four ideas have percolated up for me:
ENDURANCE WITNESS LISTENING BOUND TOGETHER
In the Epistle, we read Paul’s Letter to the Colossians. He challenges those present to feel the strength of power coursing through them. He questions as to why they, and we, have such difficulty in living out a life born of the patience and consistency of the Love of Christ. Under all of my day to day decisions I feel this river of resiliency flowing, trembling deep within the edges of me. I believe our lives should be fueled by this renewable resource of unconditional love, but let’s let those pulsing rhythms of our ENDURANCE stay out on the horizon for the time being.
The Gospel of Luke drags us on our scraped knees up to the rocky ridge of death, Golgotha, a dusty and dismal outcrop of guilt, fear and judgment. We shield our eyes, looking toward a troubled sky, witnessing both death, and a true Salvation which is born only by the admission of guilt. How do we stand in this crossroads of loss, yet forgive and find some hope? That is a quality question. But, we are going to let that idea of being a WITNESS be for the time being also. Now it was tough for me to let this one be. I learned that there 3 types of witnesses,
The Expert Witness The Eye Witness The Character Witness
They populate our thoughts daily. Fascinating to me, but that is a whole other sermon.
Instead, let’s spend our time this morning looking at the Old Testament Reading from Jeremiah and Psalm 46.
In Jeremiah we hear the Prophet’s voice, but these are clearly the words of God coming from his mouth. At some key moments of my life I have felt this, almost as if the words coming from my mouth did not begin in me. At times we all become conduits of judgment and joy, or of shame and wisdom. We open ourselves up at times to feelings much older, much more informed than our individual experiences.
Take a moment and remember someone who taught you a lesson which you carry with you today. Silently thank them in your heart. Not to worry, they will hear you. In many ways we are not the apple tree itself, but only the fruit of our particular season.
The very first word in the 23rd Chapter of Jeremiah, verse one, is the word Woe. “Woe” to the shepherds who are scattering my people. Just the word “Woe” stands me up and demands my attention. “Woe” is a condition of great suffering, from some type of great misfortune, an affliction and a great grief. God is being crystal clear here. Whoever is scaring the people of God and undermining their confidence will have hell to pay. The offense may be financial or emotional, but when the score of our lives is tallied up, we will be faced with these simple and profound words from Jesus, “How you treated the least of these is how you treated me.”
One must hear this life calling to become a shepherd. Shepherds protect God’s flock, especially the weak, the small, and the vulnerable. We hear these opportunities at different junctures of our day. It has become one of my favorite parts of my job as the art teacher up at the college, supporting young adults with some learning or social issue to become more accepting of themselves, to grow into being more of a self-advocate.
We are God’s flock and those who govern us in our culture today protect us. Those who lead us in our homes, our neighborhoods, our town, our state, our nation, and our world are called to keep the peace, build the trust, and nurture the hope of all. We fall short, we stumble, we get up, we dust off. We listen and we recommit. I am reminded of a lyric from a Bob Dylan song, “It may the Devil, or it may be the Lord, but you’re gonna serve somebody.”
I have had a very fortunate life in my 66 years. Very seldom have I been lonely or hungry in terms of security, finances, friends, or food. At times I have understood that things have come too easy for me, too much equity, and too much respect when others have simply not have had this generosity of opportunities. I feel called to have empathy for those younger and older, and those whose life has not come as easy to them as mine has come to me. To be free to make choices in our lives is such a gift. We walk quietly into the voting booth, we sit quietly at the kitchen able, we pray quietly in our pew. Perhaps in some way, each of us gathers in our small Mission of St. Paul’s as an opportunity to give back for the many gifts we have received.
I find good leaders to be good LISTENERS. I have been a college professor for almost 40 years now, and I have improved my listening skills. I have learned that if there is no learning going on then there is no teaching going on. Oh there may be some type of negotiation occurring, but not nearly enough “Aha” moments when new perspectives are experienced and owned.
This is one activity being an educator has taught me. When I am talking with a student, when they finish talking, I look them in the eye, and say, “This is what I heard you say.” This usually stops the student in their tracks. We seldom sincerely listen to each other. Oh we can be polite, but the truth is I am just waiting for you to stop talking so I can start talking. We are all guilty of this, right? Sincere listening is a gift. Like the student must trust their teacher, the sheep must trust their shepherd. We sheep deserve honest shepherds.
Yet even when neglectful and corrupt leaders rise to the top, born of an aggressive posture, we are not doomed. God clearly says through Jeremiah that, “You have scattered my flock but I tell you that I will gather up the REMNANTS and they will become fruitful and increase in number.”
Beautiful realities are sewn from remnants. I am so fortunate to own several quilts made by my grandmother Addie and my great grandmother Susie. Triangles, squares and stripes of worn out britches and dresses and blouses are sewn into geometric gestures of family, tradition and memory which remained from the Great Depression. God made promises to his people. And these women, Addie and Susie, made promises to their future.
I find it a strong buttress to read that God says, “I myself will gather these remnants.” These quilts offer warm embraces on cold nights. And in a similar way, God keeps us safe under God’s wing during times of doubt and worry. At our best we all can become closer to wearing Jeremiah’s cloak. We are God’s hands and God’s feet, as well as God’s mouth. We sew our quilt and we run our own race, assured that we are never totally alone.
With humility, we acknowledge that once we were lost and displaced, but now we begin to feel connected and somehow found, we were blinded, but now we begin to see the shadows of a new path.
Let’s pivot to Psalm 46. Psalm 46 speaks to the incoming and outgoing tides of our lives. Mistakes are covered and solutions are born out of the silt of our experience. Perhaps instead of the TITHES that bind us, it is the TIDES that bind us.
Even if at first as we are overwhelmed by waters of fear in our lives, with faith we have the audacity to believe we can somehow breathe under these waters of despair. Indeed we each have strength available to us only when we accept that some situations are out of our control. We come this morning to worship a God who enables us to find some of that hope in ourselves.
I just finished a little book which has recently been turned into a movie titled “Where the Crawdads Sing.” It is a coming of age story about a teenage girl Kya who grows up mostly alone in the marshes of coastal North Carolina. The entire book rests on her ability to understand the inevitable tides in her life, and in the lives of the reader.
Psalm 46 does not promise us that God is on our side. Instead the Psalm encourages us to stay calm, as we seek the love of God in our lives, even as troubled waters start to surround us, we are BOUND TOGETHER.
100 years ago the Lebanese American writer Kahlil Gibran asked us to understand that even the water herself feels fear. Perhaps we are the water. Here are the words to his poem FEAR:
It is said that before entering the sea a river trembles with fear.
She looks back at the path she travelled, from the peaks of the mountains, the long winding road crossing forests and villages.
And in front of her, she sees an ocean so vast, that to enter there seems nothing more than to disappear forever.
But there is no other way. The river cannot go back.
Nobody can go back. To go back is impossible in existence.
The river needs to take the risk of entering the ocean because only then will fear disappear, because that’s where the river will know it’s not about disappearing into the ocean, but of becoming the ocean.
Indeed, we are enduring witnesses, listening, and bound together in our Faith.