July 16, 2017
Psalm 113, Matthew 6:11
“All of It”
One day near the end of seminary, my friend Jan Richardson told me she wanted to write a book. My young adult self thought, “Can you do that??” I wondered how someone in her early 20’s had enough wisdom to write a book. Fortunately, whatever came out of my mouth was more supportive than that. Jan is both a writer and an artist. Jan wrote a book, and then another, and then another. She writes books and blogs. She makes beautiful art. But the thing about Jan that captivates me most is the blessings that she writes. When I saw her a few years ago, she said she had been asked to compile the blessings into a book. A much older, wiser me was able to say, “Yes, Jan! Please write that book. We need it.” In her introduction to Circle of Grace: A Book of Blessings for the Seasons, she talks about how she began writing blessings.
She was studying the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead and it came to her that “the most profound blessings we will ever know are those that meet us in the place of our deepest loss and inspire us to choose to live again.” She said, “I found myself enchanted and compelled by the power of blessing: how, in the space of a few lines, the stuff of pain, grief, and death becomes the very substance of hope. I wanted to know more about that place; I wanted to live there.” (pp. xiii, xiv) She goes on to say that she suspects that one of the primary reasons she writes blessings is because she is in such need of them herself. (p. xix)
We live in such an either/or world. Things are good or bad. They are black or white. They are interesting or boring. They are fast or slow. They are smart or dumb. We are for or against an issue or a candidate.
But the real world is not either/or. We are not good or bad. We are both. We are living and dying at the same time. And God is in it all. It is easier to see God in the goodness. If I ask where you see God, most will say you see God in something beautiful or good or hopeful. I would do the same. And yet, God continues to show up in the broken and the painful. It is certainly in the most difficult times that I “pray without ceasing.” It is in those times that I know how much I need God.
Jan Richardson’s husband, Gary, died unexpectedly. They had been married less than four years. In what they thought would be a routine surgery for a brain aneurysm, Gary had a massive stroke and he never recovered. She wrote blessings learning that they helped her to “keep breathing—to abide this moment, and the next moment, and the one after that…A blessing helps us recognize and receive the help of the One who created us in love and encompasses us when we are at our most broken.” (from The Cure for Sorrow: A Book of Blessings for Times of Grief, p. xv)
Today we are beginning a series called “Bless to Me.” This series takes us into the Celtic world. I first discovered the Celts on a trip to England and Scotland 20 years ago. I am fascinated by these early Christians. They were deeply grounded in the world and so tuned-in to the holy in all things. They didn’t separate heaven and earth. They talked about thin places. A thin place is where the distance between heaven and earth is indistinguishable. I experienced this on the island of Iona, off the west coast of Scotland. Holiness permeated everything. It wasn’t like there were holy places and unholy places. God was in all of it.
When we decided to do this series months ago, I could not have anticipated what the first week would look like. An Iraqi man who was staying in our church basement received a notice from Immigration and Customs Enforcement to Report for Removal on Thursday. This week has been a flurry of activity in response. I have seen blessing over and over in it. It is astonishing how many in the community have shown up to support Kadhim. They have volunteered for hours at a time.
In the midst of the fear and pain, there have been so many beautiful moments. A close friend shared a dream that was full of hope. Three hundred people showed up to support Kadhim Thursday morning. Kadhim has expressed deep gratitude for our congregation and said that no matter what happens we will always be “brothers.” I sat with the family as they told stories, and I saw their love for one another. Somehow in less than a week, my life was profoundly changed by this man and his family. In the midst of their fear and devastation, they have been so gracious.
The Psalm that Frances read earlier is a call to praise or bless God in all things. At the same time, it calls us to join God in caring for the most vulnerable in the world. There are two important reminders in this text – don’t leave God out and don’t believe everything is up to you. There is a beautiful weaving of relationship. We need God and God needs us to care for one another.
This same thread is found in “Give us this day our daily bread.” That one line is a recognition of our dependence on God for sustenance and our commitment that all will be fed. Notice the word US in the prayer. We pray that all will have bread, that all will have shelter, that all will be free from harm or violence.
We are reminded again that life is not an either/or. It is brokenness AND it is blessing. It is pain AND it is hope. It is fear AND it is courage. This is so important for each of us, and it is deeply important for our community. We are in this together. We do not always agree or see things from the same set of lenses, but we can be in relationship with one another. We can recognize God’s goodness and we can reach out to those on the margins. Relationship is at the heart of the gospel and it is the heart of the Celtic way of being. Jesus calls us to love God, neighbors, and ourselves.
The Celts were profoundly shaped by the Trinity. They believed that the trinity meant God is community. We are made in the image of God and we find our fulfillment in community.
God is in our relationships. When we struggle or are alienated, God calls us to reconciliation. It is clear that no matter what the circumstances, we do not do this alone.
When we ask hard questions like the question of becoming a Sanctuary church, we do so out of a deep commitment to be in relationship with one another and the world. Blessing is when we discover how intricately our lives are woven together.
I had the privilege of seeing the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington D.C. – all six floors of it. As I walked through that museum and tried to view the world out of a lens other than my own privilege, I realized over and over again that things only change in our world when we begin to stand up and say no to injustice. There was an interactive lunch counter where we could imagine ourselves sitting as people spit on us and poured ketchup on us. I am astounded at the people who showed up for the sit-ins and endured that treatment. They were afraid, but they were also courageous, and they showed up and things began to change. I am not trying to simplify this. There were thousands who stood up to an unjust society in so many ways. But what I kept experiencing that day in the museum is that things only changed because people stood up and said “NO.”
We are compelled to do the same for all; for those who are undocumented, for those who are hungry, for those who are losing their healthcare, for those who are abused, for those who are afraid, and the list goes on and on…
We do that because we recognize God’s goodness. Caring for the least of these is the way we praise God. God blesses us when we bless others. It is not an either/or. Blessing is not linear. It is a circle and it flows in all of life. It flows through the privileged and those in pain. God is in it all of it. God is in all of us.