Good morning! And a very Happy Mother’s Day to all of the wonderful mothers out there. I am amazed by all that you do and all that you balance on a daily basis!
Here is this morning’s sermon. Enjoy!
Rehoboth Congregational Church
May 11, 2014
To See What We Need To See
Have you ever had one of those moments in your life where someone just said something or did something that just opened your eyes and made you see something that you really needed to see?
A few years ago, I was posting on my old blog about transitions and constants in life. I am not really sure what specifically provoked the post – I think it might have been one of those general “life meltdowns” that we all have from time to time – but I do remember reflecting on all of the changes I had experienced throughout the prior years. I was beginning to wonder what – if anything – was constant in life.
For me, some of the tangible changes included school, friends, jobs, zip codes and marriage. My life circumstances had changed constantly and rapidly over a span of several years and there did not really seem to be an end in sight.
But more than that – and I think what really was starting to get to me – was the fact that I realized this was the norm; that I was not the only one going through this. All around me, people were experiencing the same things that I was. They were losing loved ones, receiving serious and scary diagnoses, moving from one place to another, transitioning in their jobs, struggling to make ends meet and trying desperately to find more time to fit it all in.
You would think that knowing that it wasn’t just me would make me feel better, but truthfully, it actually made me feel worse! Was this life? Really? A stream of never-ending changes and chaos that just seem to lead to more changes and chaos? Would there ever be a point where the pendulum of life that just seems to swing back and forth and back and forth actually stop and find rest?
A good friend of mine unexpectedly lost her mom this week. As she thanked everyone on Facebook for their prayers, patience and love, she remarked that she had “never been so far on this side of grief.” We are pastors, after all – we are supposed to be the comforters, not the mourners. And when I told her how powerful of a statement I thought that was, she said, “Everything I knew about grief is all so wrong.”
See – this is what I am talking about. Every time we think we have it all figured out, something happens and we realize that we really are not in control. Life is always going to be full of unexpected changes that render us powerless and scared and unsure of what to do next and yet somehow we have to find a way not only to cope, but also to move forward.
The conclusion that I came to at the time that I wrote the blog post was that there really were no constants in life; that everything we experienced was always changing and that we would never really reach that point of equilibrium I was looking for. We would never be able to just settle and rest.
And when I wrote that, I really did mean it and believe it – in many ways, I still do. But then a friend of mine from my home church in Connecticut commented on the post and said, “But Sarah – there is a constant.”
Well, crap. She was right.
As it turns out, I was so focused on the things that define our earthly lives that I forgot that there is something – someone – at work in our lives that is constant. And not only is constant, but is malleable and adaptive to the things that do change around us.
And yet so often, this is what we forget.
Truth be told, I think that all too often we are knee deep in the muck of life, trying desperately just to survive and we forget that we really are not in this alone. God is always with us, the constant and never-changing presence in our lives.
And we know this, we really do. “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” I would be willing to bet that everyone in this sanctuary knows at least the first two or three verses of this psalm. But do we believe it? Do we really, really believe it? “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff—they comfort me.” When push comes to shove and when the things that define our earthly lives test us in real and stressful and painful and tragic ways, do we actually live out this psalm?
It is not easy.
And truthfully? I think when we are just trying to survive, sometimes we forget that God is right there with us – always.
After I saw Nadia Bolz-Weber speak a few weeks ago, I went back and looked at the notes that I had taken on her book Pastrix when I read it last fall. There was a paragraph that struck a chord with me as I thought about God’s presence amidst the chaos. Nadia wrote:
God is not distant at the cross and God is not distant in the grief of the newly motherless at the hospital; but instead, God is there in the messy mascara-streaked middle of it, feeling as shitty as the rest of us. There simply is no knowable answer to the question of why there is suffering. But there is meaning. And for me that meaning ended up being related to Jesus – Emmanual – which means “God with us.” We want to go to God for answers, but sometimes what we get is God’s presence.
It is actually kind of ironic. Because as right as she is and as much as this is the good news that gives us strength in our lives, this is also the hard truth that so often we want to run away from. Sometimes we do not want to believe that God is crying with us, because we so desperately just want God to make things better.
But that is not how it works.
This is the hard stuff that we, as Christians, absolutely have to wrestle with. Because this is reality; this is real life; these are the real struggles that people are having.
And if the church is not able to meet people wherever they are on their chaotic and constantly-changing journey through life and show them in real and tangible and relevant ways that God is present throughout it all, then the church is not doing its job.
People so desperately want and need to see that God is with them and it is our job, it is our duty and it is our responsibility to make sure we create a space for that to happen.
When I read this morning’s gospel reading – where Jesus identified himself as the Good Shepherd – I was really struck by the way that Jesus – in a loving and gentle way, of course – gave us the hard truth about life.
“Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep,” Jesus said. Jesus did not say, “Heyyyy, I’m here if you need me!” Jesus did not say, “Listen, if you run out of other options, just come on over to my gate.” Jesus did not say, “Well why don’t you just come in after you’re done?”
No; Jesus said, “Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep.”
There are certain things that we absolutely need to see in our lives and they include God’s constant presence, God’s constant grace and God’s constant love. We need to see those things in both the good times and the bad times, in the the joyful times and the tragic times.
And if we forget, we just need to be reminded.
Because if we constantly remind ourselves that God is with us, we will be more grounded, the chaos will seem much more manageable and our eyes might be opened to something pretty spectacular.
These are the things that we so desperately need to see.
And even more than that, these are the things that we need to help others see as well.
I think it is our responsibility to continue to share this parable. When Jesus spoke the words of this parable, the “shepherd leading the sheep” metaphor was really relevant to the people that he was speaking to and a real way to tell the story of God’s constant presence. And now I think that it is our responsibility – as Christians and as members of a church community – to find a relevant and real way to tell our story of God’s constant presence in our lives. We need to do what Jesus did through this parable and what Nadia did through her words on God’s presence, and share real stories about the way God is constantly working in our lives.
Because these are the stories that people need to hear. People need to be reminded that God is the one constant in their lives. You need to be reminded. Heck, your pastor needed to be reminded.
And so, we come together as a community of faith. We share our stories and allow ourselves to be vulnerable. We pray that God will open our eyes to see what we need to see and create a space for the Holy Spirit to work within our midst. We remind ourselves that God is with us and we live our lives as tangible expressions of that presence. We believe, really believe the words of Psalm 23, “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me.” And then we tell the world – and we show the world! – that God is always with us.
Let us open our eyes and see what we need to see.
Thanks be to God!