I found myself carrying my phone around and checking it for the time (isn’t that a statement of our times!?)… I found myself curious about where we were in time, how much longer.
And yes, that was on All Saints’ Sunday.
As people of faith, we mark time.
We live in a liturgical year. Seasons are marked by liturgical events. Some correspond with Calendar dates, some correspond with the Lunar Calendar (Ah, Easter/Passover). Biblically time is marked by 40’s (days for Jesus in the wilderness and Noah on the ark, and 40 years in the wilderness for Moses). We can think of the 7 days of creation and even the number 12. We mark the three days after Good Friday, the 50 days after Easter, the four weeks of advent, the 12 days of Christmas.
We are constantly marking time. Last week in particular my time was marked as a bible study that started the first week we closed the church completed a 31 chapter book. One week at a time, we marked our weeks with a small gathering to talk about the message of hope even in trying times.
We are marking time differently in these pandemic days, perhaps no one other than Dr Fauci knew we were going to be counting time like this for so long.
With hope and lament we realize the differences from now and March.
We recognize with sadness that we cannot do everything that we might want to do and when we might want to do it.
Reflecting back in our bible study, we realized we have had some rough times. We have lost members of our community and we have also had new beginnings, births, weddings, baptisms. New little Joys that we savor and treasure.
We know that we are never alone.
As we enter the month of November we journey towards an American holiday of Thanksgiving and our culture emphasizes gratitude.
We are also living in an election season. A time of waiting and process and potential dispute.
The Days are shorter and the nights longer here in the Northern hemisphere, it’s easy to only see the darkness.
In the christian faith tradition, we light candles as we prepare for Christmas. Our Jewish brothers and sisters light candles for Chanukah, celebrating triumph in trying times. In the season of Advent we hear a lot about light shining in the darkness, reminding us we are never alone we are never without help.
In this season, remember to reach out. You are never alone. We are here for each day each other.
Update on my watch: My watch needed to be turned off and rebooted and re-sync-ed with my phone. I had to manually shut it down and then wait while it reacquainted itself with my Phone. It took time, patience and letting go- the re-syncing takes time to do it right.
Where can you see the seasons right now?
Where can you see the need for light in our anxiety?
Where can you re-sync yourself? Re-Boot? Re-connect?
You are not alone, you are enough, you are connected. Remember to take time to let that “sync” in.
Dear Jesus, Flood my soul with Thy spirit and love. POSESS my whole being so utterly that all my life may only be a radiance OF YOU. Shine through me and be so in me that every soul I come in contact with may feel Thy presence in my soul. Let them look up and see no longer me but only Jesus. Stay with me and then I shall begin to shine as you shine, so to shine as to be a light to others. Amen.
When I was younger I thought Mother Teresa was the most amazing person. I wanted to be just like her when I got older. In my eyes, her life was uncomplicated, she lived simply, spoke truth and served others. That was her life.
We see what we want to see sometimes, don’t we?
When I realized that she owned only two saris and was only 5ft tall, i realized quickly that i might not grow up to be JUST like her, yet her life’s work is a legacy and inspiration to us all.
A fierce tiny woman who showed love to each person she encountered and was a force to be reckoned with.
When I realized that being a short nun wasn’t my calling, I then decided I would be a doctor and serve with Doctors Without Borders. Well, organic chemistry helped steer me out of that field quickly…..
And yet a call remained.
And also for me (and in turn you) a reminder that your call fits you right where you are.
When we look to others and marvel at their gifts and compare ourselves to another’s vocation, we have sold our own selves short. If we covet those gifts and strengths of others, we will continue to find ourselves inadequate compared to someone else, and in turn we have under-realized that God has called us right where we are, who we are, to do work right where we are.
Elisabeth Kubler Ross says, “the most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that filled them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.”
Beautiful people do not just happen.
If we pause for a moment and look to our neighbors to our right and our left, let that sink in.
The beautiful person beside you has known struggle, loss, and found their way or are finding their way right now. This shapes their beauty and who they are to you. It also is their story to tell and ours to walk alongside of and be neighbors, friends, angels along the way with them.
Recently, I was reminded of a quotation by Abraham Lincoln, “We are FRIENDS not enemies. We’re going to look for the better angels in each other and embody the best of the American Character”- words from another time of division in our nation. When the beautiful people around us were not all seen as neighbors.
In this election season it is easy to see the divisions that currently exist, to choose to live ignoring those who have a different opinion than we do. To turn beautiful people into enemies, over simplifying their story and beauty to simply a single solitary position. In this pandemic season it is easy to not seem to be able to meet new people because of precautions and yet we are still in community, together.
If we truly listen to Jesus’ words today we have to acknowledge the reality that we are to love our neighbors- all of them. We are to see the beautiful people that they are, the struggle that has formed them and all of who they are. We are to live with our neighbors and care for those around us, as family should.
We are to seek out the better angel in each of us and in that search, let go of our self-induced dreams of control, domination, and catch the glimpse of the divine in the face of the other- (Barbara Holmes)
The Pharisees today are asking Jesus a testing question, “What is the greatest commandment”- they bring their illusion of control in their favorite lawyer who asks the question (remember Lawyers know the law and how to debate).
And Jesus answers. He answers his neighbor, the lawyer, seeing the beauty of the individual. Jesus answers with compassion, with grace, with focus, and with directness. Quoting our passage today in Leviticus, Jesus says, “LOVE GOD, LOVE your neighbor as yourself”- he states the first of the Ten Commandments and then summarizes the other 9 into 1 single sentence.
Similar to last week’s answer about render to Cesar what is Caesar and to God what is god’s creation. Jesus is saying if you love God with all of your whole self, that sort of love should spill over in all that you do, each person you encounter and all those you find yourself surrounded by. Our Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry said it this way recently, “love seeks the welfare of other, the well being of others. Love is about living for WE, not just me. (See the full conversation here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gsT0hBJtRnI&t=3438s)
Loving our neighbor starts with loving our own self, loving who God has created us to be and THEN in response we are to share that love we have received, unconditionally, without judgment and accepting us for who we are – If we are so accepted, why wouldn’t we see this divine nature in those beside us and acknowledge the beauty that lies beneath the surface of our neighbors?
Hard to do?
Still called to do it? Yep, Daily.
Loving our neighbor is what we are called to do and why Mother Teresa spent her days in prayer. Opening her day with the prayer that started this sermon. Beginning with prayer, ending with prayer and praying her steps everywhere between….. this close and constant relationship with God gave her courage and a fierce love to advocate for those who were cast aside and establish the sisters of charity organization- providing care for the elderly who needed care and those who are left behind.
Creating a space where each person was treated with dignity and respect and equally cared for as treasured family members.
Mother Teresa lived a life of service. Not a one sided “always giving without receiving” service but in the manner with which we serve one another in family. She lived a life of service in relationship, in deep knowing , love, respect and admiration of the other person. She always beheld the face of God in the person she met from the beggar on the street with tatters of clothing to the head of the system when she wanted change for the poor. She saw the beauty of person within, their struggle, their likeness of God, the beauty of who they truly were.
St John’s has a deep and long legacy of servant hood.
Our mission statement says that we are shine the light of Christ in Tallahassee and beyond. Seeking to build up the community and kingdom of God.
In our deep gratitude of being a community these brick walls have not kept the love that we know retained within them. We see this weekly from Deacon Joe’s own weekly command to us to “GO in peace to love and serve the lord” in our dismissal, to his living example of caring for those in the prison, those who call the church and need pastoral care. We see this call to mission in the daily work and mission of Grace mission, to the gift of our school mentors giving of their time and growing in relationship with the students of Riley Elementary around them. Even in these pandemic times.
Growing up I thought serving meant I should travel to different countries, give up everything, be short and wear a sari.
The truth is that while some ARE called to serve in far way lands, our neighbor can also be found right here beside us, inviting us to open our eyes to listen deeply, see the divine in the person beside us and remember that they too are family- THIS is what Jesus is talking about …. serving is walking alongside of, being present and not always filling a financial gap but wrestling with our inner assumptions and injustice and striving to bring our neighbor, our brother and sister the equity that should be available. Love seeks the wellbeing of others.
Loving God and Loving our neighbor is the teaching that Jesus lived for us, he daily served through conversation, walking with, meeting with, asking for change, and even tossing some tables along the way. Jesus was constantly upsetting the normal flow of things because all of god’s children were not receiving the care they deserved.
Servant hood is about relationships, not judging the outward appearance but recognizing the deep beauty in each person and being willing to fiercely love them too.
This week, reflect on who has lived out this form of servant hood for you- the people who have tenaciously loved you, right where you are. Who challenged you to keep growing, to ask questions, to challenge the norm?
How will you do something different this week to live into this servant hood you too are called to…. start or strengthen a relationship with a neighbor?
We live in a world of too many divisions and silos. This week how can you seek out the better angel, the beautiful person in those you might otherwise quickly judge and dismiss?
Will you lean into this call this week, this month, at this time?
The Collect: Almighty and everlasting God, in Christ you have revealed your glory among the nations: Preserve the works of your mercy, that your Church throughout the world may persevere with steadfast faith in the confession of your Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
It is great to be here this morning with you and I bring greetings from all of your sisters and brothers at St. John’s in Tallahassee. It is a gift to be here today and I am thankful for the invitation. These times we are living in are different aren’t they? They are challenging… they remind me a bit of Moses wandering in the wilderness and a bit about the never ending season of Lent, crying- how long, how long….
So I ask you…take a moment and pause for a second.
How are you doing?
How are those around you?
Are you tired? Do you feel alone?
Are you tired of the headlines in the news or people telling you how you should or should not be acting? (I would love for everything to stop telling me to vote, I did already and it’s been counted and I can only vote once!)
Do you feel like people are not listening to you at all?
Our first two readings today are approaching these questions in two very different ways.
Moses, in leadership is asking for more support, encouragement. I sense he is feeling just a little bit overwhelmed, exhausted and daunted by the task of leading people at this point in time. The journey has not been short, comfortable and many have forgotten the why they are now wandering. Moses needs a pep talk, a bit of an embrace, hope. And God says, I am here for you. The road is no shorter, but i will meet you where you need me. I will give you rest.
In Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians, different time, different place but the same need for encouragement. While Paul himself cannot go and visit them directly, he is there through word and encouragement, reminding them of their identity, to be steadfast and endure. There is hope, their work has been with love, and God is there in their midst.
The God we believe in meets us where we are when we are lost, when we are exhausted, when we are afraid, when we desperately need God to be present with us.
Especially in these days when we are tired of not hugging our neighbors, of staying behind masks, of plans changed or been interrupted.
Our first two readings remind us to hold firm and be steadfast, caring for our community and our own selves. To live in hope, to know God is there also.
In baptism we are called by name to live a life of Love and the funny thing about this call is that it doesn’t protect us from harm rather just like Jesus after his own baptism, he was called into prayer, fellowship, teaching, and healing- from the muddy waters of the Jordan to the muddy waters of human life and suffering.
The is a story that at one of the times that Jesus stumbles on falls a third time, that there Veronica gives him a towel to wipe his brow. It is that towel where they say they saw the imprint of Jesus’s face, left behind. Now whether the image still exists on fabric or not is not the point of my story, the name given to that woman is veronica which literally means true image. And if you ever find yourself in Jerusalem (after the pandemic of course) the station where this act is remembered is right in the intersection of two streets, it’s a thorough fare where daily action flurries past as one prays the way of the cross. Right in the midst of the chaos and the daily tasks the Muslims, Jews and Christians, there is God, the true image in the midst of the chaos- present, showing god’s self to those who pause, saying- I am here with you in each person around you.
In the pain, in the difference, in the division.
We are in some muddy times right now, aren’t we- divisions seem further apart than in the past, exhaustion seems to be more common as we have limited connectivity, and things are JUST different.
And yet there is still hope, there is still the time to come together, to recognize the image of God in each person we encounter. To, as we say in our baptismal covenant to seek and serve Christ in each person.
And that brings me to the Gospel lesson today.
AS it says, the Pharisees were trying to trick Jesus, they wanted to get Jesus in Trouble with the greater authorities. Their question for Jesus was about authority and they are asking about the political authority that governed them.
Jesus does not fall into their shallow trap of answering a political campaign question- rather he refocuses the question with refocusing what this life is all about. God’s call to each of us to be stewards of creation.
In the midst of the muddy waters of our time, it is easy to lose sight that we are stewards here (like our parables a couple of weeks back shared with us) we are here because of God’s grace and we are caretakers of God’s creation, That is what our life’s direction is about.
How then do we seek to glorify God in all that we do,
how do we see beyond seeing political party only in order to see the best for all of God’s creation.
In Jesus’ holding up a coin, he reminds the Pharisees’ that money is man’s creation and therefore part of the political system.
We, on the other hand, are the image of God. Each of us, all beautifully and wonderfully made, equally made to be a part of this community.
So, I wonder, what do we do in these times where we are tired, we are frustrated, when we are tired of waiting?
Paul reminds us to stand firm in faithfulness.
Our baptismal covenant says, we will God’s help take one step at a time, listening and learning more about God in our midst.
I invite you this week to seek out someone, remind them of their identity through God and, like Paul, support them in this time.
Render to Caesar what is Caesar’s but remember that you are God’s and are called to swim through these muddy waters to endure the suffering and also experience deep gladness too.
Grant us, Lord, not to be anxious about earthly things, but to love things heavenly; and even now, while we are placed among things that are passing away, to hold fast to those that shall endure; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
In Mid June I hit that moment, you know, you have all had it.
Staying within our precautions began to really grate on me. I felt gloomy, lost, foggy and tired of trying to be creative. I had had enough of being in one space.
SO, I looked outward and discovered the spiritual joy of Leslie Jordan. The actor.
Mr. Jordan has a 90+year old mother that lives in Chattanooga and in the midst of his visit with her he ended up stranded in the 30 day quarantine in TN.
Rather than moping about how he wasn’t in LA. He took to his Instagram feed and started telling short 30 sec stories. He greeted all his followers with. “Hey there Hunker Downers” and with a twinkle in his eye he would begin to tell a story. His stories are about not getting jobs and what he learned about that experience, the people he thinks are cute, the silliness of those around him and a general real sense of endurance. His first video made me cry. I laughed so hard. (It wasn’t that funny, well it was at the time).
His point is that we are all hunkered down here friends. While school has resumed and many activities are being creatively accomplished, we are still hunkered down as this virus is still around. We hunkered down just this week as Hurricane Sally blew past us and we waited to hear about our friends west of us.
Hunkering down and making due with where we are, listening deeply and reaching out to those around us.
We reach out of course through Calls, emails, drive-bys, notes, treats, random acts of kindness.
I have found that I live for hearing the “Silly Joke on Tuesdays” from my goddaughters. (They are pretty amazing)
We have been given schedules that are different, and so much more time for some to hunker down and to dig deep.
Howard Thurman, one of Martin Luther King Jr’s mentors used the words “center down”
My mother used to say that we all need to “Simmer down” as And the bible says “be still and know that I am God.”
And what then do we do with the stillness?
Howard Thurman says when we center down we:
“sit quietly and see one’s self pass by!
The streets of our minds seethe with endless traffic;
Our spirits resound with clashing, with noisy silences,
While something deep within hungers and thirsts for the still moment and the resting lull.
We listen to the deep still voice that runs through us, that lives within us and assures us that we are beloved, that we are who we are called to be uniquely, individually, in new ways and deeply in the environment we have been given to be community.
As we listen, floating up through all of the jangling echoes of our turbulence, there is a sound of another kind—
A deeper note which only the stillness of the heart makes clear.
It moves directly to the core of our being. Our questions are answered,
Our spirits refreshed, and we move back into the traffic of our daily round
With the peace of the Eternal in our step.
How good it is to center down!
Let’s be honest, we react differently to this isolation. Some embrace it and thrive with the space to dig deep, pray and accomplish the hard work of our own spiritual formation.
And others, fall into the category Of “I am tired of this hard work. I was thankful for the elimination of the distractions but now ‘who am I without those activities?’”
I wanna go back to Normal (whatever that was)
Another theologian, Richard Rohr talks a lot about our true selves, he says that we
We wear our outer selves as a mask to the world and our true selves are our inner selves that we often hide from the world and often we also hide from embracing.
God meets us when we are hunkered down, tired, isolated, in search of meaning and can’t find our way.
Remember the Israelites- wandering the desert not for just 40days but 40 years- they were tired, it isn’t exactly at the beginning or end of their story but in Exodus Chapter 16 they are fed up with hunkering down, centering down, discovering their identity as chosen people of God in the wilderness without the structure.
God Bless Moses, right?
The Israelites are so tired of it they would rather go back to Egypt and be slaves.
And God meets them where they are and gives them exactly what they need. As the Israelites redefine hangry- God provides bread from heaven, food for their bodies and soul. White fluffy manna straight from the skies.
A new way to be fed.
The people of God are still wandering but they know they will be fed. Lean into me, hunker down and we will get through this, God says.
In our Gospel reading we hear the familiar story of the Vineyard and laborers.
This Landowner is economically ridiculous.
He employs all the workers,
He keeps going after people to hire and then, then even more ludicrously (when compared to a normal world of economic efficiency) he then chooses to pay everyone the same amount of wages regardless of how long they worked.
It makes no fiscal sense.
AND this is Jesus’ point.
The kingdom of God is not like the system here on earth.
God’s kingdom is so very different! Jesus says to us with this parable, “remove the distractions and stop projecting the earthly system and rules upon God’s love.”
God does not bestow grace upon you because of how long you have been present.
God does not dispense love because of how much you have worked or when you arrived.
God loves who you are, your deep inner core that even you might be hiding.
God hunkers down and invites YOU to join in the vineyard work.
Right where you are.
You are a part of the community
And God wants you to listen to this call in this isolating confusing distanced time, be not afraid of the silence, do not let the distractions tell you that you are not enough.
Instead feel the closeness of God,
The consolation of God, as St. Ignatius calls it, and listen deeply.
Reach out to those around you when you feel like the despair and difficulty might be too much.
And keep reaching out.
Listen deeply to those who reach out.
Be with them.
As God met the Israelites, in their dismay.
Today’s unexpected white fluffy bread like manna comes in the form of prayer, walks, notes, flowers, unexpected ways from each of us.
The abundant love of God is there for you and in this topsy- turvey world.
Do not be afraid to take your metaphorical mask off and listen to God’s loving embrace right where you are.
We are all laboring in this vineyard, doesn’t matter when you arrived, we are here with you.
It’s time to rediscover that love we were given when we were created and in turn help strengthen our larger community and start to heal with the abundant love that God greets us with us with in the stillness.
This week keep your eyes open for the manna God gives you in this wilderness time as you hunker or center down and embrace God in your midst.