Monday, August 08, 2011

Lightness has a call that's hard to hear

Sunday's sermon was entitled "Lightness has a call that's hard to hear." If you don't know the Indigo Girls tune that inspired the title you should. And thanks you YouTube, you can:

As for the sermon, you can watch it here.

Or you can read it here:

Lightness has a call that’s hard to hear
Proper 14A Psalm 85: 8-13; Matthew 14:22-33 August 7, 2011 Susan Russell

Welcome to August! We have well and truly arrived at those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer … and with them come the memories of summers past. I’m remembering with particular fondness those wonderful years when the Dodgers were the Boys of Summer – not the Boys of Bummer.

I’m remembering when my parents loaded us up in the Rambler station wagon for a road trip to somewhere-far … me in the back seat with a pile of books to read through the trip: The Little House books summer … the Nancy Drew summer … the Madeline L’Engle summer. I’m remembering when my own now twenty-something sons were little and summer was an organized blur of swimming lessons, Vacation Bible School and play-dates … with one eye on the countdown clock to the start of the school year.

And this morning I’m remembering a particular summer – the summer of 1996. It’s hard for me to believe it was 15 years ago but it was. It was the summer I was ordained. It was the summer I came out. And it was the summer I discovered the Indigo Girls.

The title of this morning’s sermon – Lightness has a call that’s hard to hear – is a lyric line from an Indigo Girls tune. I picked it as a sermon title a couple of weeks ago when we decided to launch this staff preaching series connecting the dots between the challenges of the “new normal” and the opportunities to proclaim God’s love, justice and compassion.

At the time picking a sermon title that far out felt a little arbitrary – but given the events of the last few weeks I think I’m clearer than I’ve ever been that the Holy Spirit can use absolutely ANYTHING to get our attention – even an old Indigo Girls CD and an arbitrary sermon title deadline. You may know the tune … it’s called “Closer to Fine” … and for the record, here’s the part of the lyric that got my attention:

Darkness has a hunger that's insatiable
And lightness has a call that's hard to hear
I wrap my fear around me like a blanket
I sailed my ship of safety till I sank it, I'm crawling on your shore.

15 years ago I felt like someone had looked right into what was going on in my life and written the words to describe what it felt like to be going through what was for me a “coming of age” process long after I thought I was all grown up. What it felt like to be …

• stepping out into the unknown
• figuring out things I thought I’d figured out
• looking for answers and just getting more questions.
• finding that the ship I thought was labeled “safety” in fact offered no safety at all from the tumult of life’s challenges.
• finding that sometimes stepping out in faith feels like drowning in very deep water indeed.

What I came to understand in that Summer of ’96 was that coming of age wasn’t a destination -- it’s a process. And it turns out it’s a lifelong process.

And so when I listen to this Indigo Girls tune today, I find it speaks to me of the challenges we’re facing collectively in 2011 in exactly the same way they spoke to me of the challenges I was facing personally in 1996.

And I wonder if just maybe our friend Peter wouldn’t think so too.

I love Peter. When I served at St. Peter’s in San Pedro for five years we sometimes called our patron “Saint Two Steps Forward, One Step Back.” They same guy who proclaimed with such power and certainty “You are the Christ – the Son of God – the Messiah” turned around and swore, “Never heard of the guy. Don’t know him, can’t help you.” Peter always seems to be stepping out – speaking out – ACTING out … and whether he was stepping out into tempest on the Sea of Galilee or into the tempest in the Council of Jerusalem over whether Gentiles could be part of the 1st century church … over and over and over again Peter responded to that call of lightness that’s hard to hear … even when his response was sometimes two steps forward, one step back.

Lightness may have a call that’s hard to hear … but if we listen carefully we can hear it today in the words of the psalmist:

• Love and faithfulness have met; justice and peace have embraced.
• Justice will march before you, O God, and peace will prepare the way for your steps.

I grew up in the Episcopal Church inspired by the words of then Presiding Bishop John Hines who told us “Justice is the corporate face of God’s love” – so I grew up understanding justice as a profoundly theological concept.

A few weeks ago we had the singular honor of welcoming to this pulpit our friend Dr. Maher Hathout – who shared with us his own insights as a justice maker within his Muslim faith family. He challenged us to go out and be the best Christians we could be … just as he strove to be the best Muslim he could be and called our Jewish brothers and sisters to be the best Jews they could be … recognizing that the commitment to peace, justice and compassion that unites us is greater than the theological differences that divide us.

And he challenged us as well to work within our tradition – as he was working in his – to end the tribalism and exceptionalism that keeps us from uniting as peacemakers in the world.

And we went out the front door to find some picketers across the street – yelling at us through their megaphones about how we were preaching heresy and leading people into the Lake of Fire. They didn’t just have megaphones. They had a bigger-than-life-size Bible … it was taller than me … on wheels. And it wasn’t just “The Bible.” It was “The Holy Bible by Jesus.”

There isn’t time to unpack for you this morning all the ways that’s just plain wrong … but suffice to say we could not have had a better example waiting for us outside the church doors of what Dr. Hathout had called us to challenge in our Christian family if we’d asked for it.

Darkness has a hunger that's insatiable
And lightness has a call that's hard to hear

Lightness was hard to hear over the Crackpot Christians yelling at us from across the street through their megaphones … and it has been equally hard to hear over the cacophony coming from congress during the debt ceiling debacle we’ve been watching in Washington.

My favorite comment on the whole sorry mess went like this:

“Wizard of Oz Sequel: 2011” -- Dorothy encounters men with no brains, no hearts, and no courage. But she's not in Oz ... she's in Congress.
I wrote a blog comparing the willingness of the debt ceiling zealots to tear the American economy apart to the willingness of Anglican schismatics to tear the Anglican Communion apart. And in it I referred to a joke that used to be funny … but isn’t anymore. The joke is “What’s the difference between a terrorist and a liturgist?” And the punch-line is: “You can negotiate with a terrorist.”

It hasn’t been funny since 9/11 when we moved past the time when hostages were taken and negotiations resulted in their being released. The world is different now – and we’re dealing with a kind of absolutism that makes negotiation impossible. There is no such thing as compromise with absolutism. And when that mindset translates into our political life, if politics is the art of the possible, without the possibility of compromise it becomes an impossible art to practice.

Mahatma Ghandi famously said, "A nation's greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members." And the Circle of Protection – an interfaith coalition committed to a moral budget – had this to say about what was happening on Capitol Hill:
“In the face of historic deficits, the nation faces unavoidable choices about how to balance needs and resources and allocate burdens and sacrifices. These choices are economic, political—and moral. As Christians, we believe the moral measure of the debate is how the most poor and vulnerable people fare. We look at every budget proposal from the bottom up—how it treats those Jesus called "the least of these."
All of which precipitated this actual comment on my actual blog:
When the Bible teaches to 'do good and share with others', it means within the Bible Faith Community. It doesn't mean the whole world, or the whole country, or even the whole state, or city. What we take issue with is the Federal Government forcing us to share our wealth with those outside our religious community.
Seriously. So here’s what I take issue with – I take issue with the Good News of God’s love, justice and compassion being hijacked by the insatiable hunger of the darkness called fear, anxiety and exceptionalism.

I take issue with those who are so convinced they have sole possession of the capital T Truth that they miss the capital F Fact that we are all part of the same human family.

My brothers and sisters, Jesus calls us to be better than that. He calls us not to create a club that takes care of its own but a community reaches out to the world. A community Sr. Joan Chittister describes as the place:

“… we work out our connectedness to God, to one another and to ourselves … knowing that we will be caught if we fall and we will be led where we cannot see by those who have been there before us.”

Will be led where we cannot see – will be caught if we fall. Like Peter stepping out onto that deep water … thinking he’s drowning … and instead being caught by Jesus who will not let him fall.

Peter stepped out onto his deep water and we step out into ours. I look out into this congregation this morning and I know some of the stories of what the deep water is about for us.

• The anxiety of a son fighting in Afghanistan and the anxiety of a daughter fighting addiction.
• The fear of an upcoming medical diagnosis and the fear of an impending layoff.
• The grief of the loss of a loved one and the grief of the end of a relationship.
• Coming to terms with coming out and coming to terms with moving on.
• And that’s just the tip of the iceberg

And here’s the Good News “News Flash” of the day:

Whoever you are and wherever you find yourself on the journey of faith … in deep water or safe on the shore – wrapped in a blanket named fear or looking for a ship named safety … wherever you are on that journey today you are in a community of faith committed to putting its faith into action. And we put that faith into action every time we send a letter to Congress AND every time we knit a prayer shawl. It is all part of our job description: making God’s love tangible 24/7.

Because our job is not to hoard our “stuff” within the “Bible Faith Community” – whatever the heck THAT means -- but to catch people who are about to fall – or who think they are.

Our job is to make the call of the light of God’s love, justice and compassion easier to hear over the din of the insatiable darkness of fear, anxiety and exceptionalism.

I want to close with a story. It is one author Robert Fulghum tells about a philosophy professor who ended a class by asking if there were any questions … and who told this story in response to an uppity student who replied, “Yeah, I’ve got a question. What’s the meaning of life?” And the professor said:

"When I was a small child, living during the war [WWII], we were very poor and we lived in a remote village. One day, on the road, I found the broken pieces of a mirror. A German motorcycle had been wrecked in that place.

"I tried to find all the pieces and put them back together, but it was not possible, so I kept only the largest piece. This one. And by scratching it on a stone I made it round. I began to play with it as a toy, and became fascinated by the fact that I could reflect light into dark places where the sun would never shine - in deep holes and crevices and dark closets. It became a game for me to get light into the most inaccessible places I could find.

"I kept the little mirror, and as I went about my growing up, I would take it out in idle moments and continue the challenge of the game. As I became a man, I grew to understand that this was not just a child's game but a metaphor for what I might do with my life. I came to understand that I am not the light or the source of the light. But light - truth, understanding, knowledge - is there, and it will only shine in many dark places if I reflect it.

"I am a fragment of a mirror whose whole design and shape I do not know. Nevertheless, with what I have I can reflect light into the dark places of this world and change some things in some people. Perhaps others may see and do likewise. This is what I am about,” he concluded. “This is the meaning of my life."

And that is the meaning of our life here together at All Saints Church. To shine the light of love, justice and compassion into the dark places of this world and change some things in some people. And to invite others to go and do likewise. Because…
Darkness has a hunger that's insatiable
And lightness has a call that's hard to hear
But together we can not only hear it -- together we can reflect it. And together we can become not just closer to fine … but closer to the kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven … for absolutely everybody. Amen


Evan said...

Awesome. Thanks. The only thing better than the Indigo Girls is the Indigo Girls incorporated into a sermon. :-)

Incidentally, speaking of IG, they apparently have a new album coming out on October 11th.

susankay said...

Susan -- agree with all your sermon but am especially taken with discussion of St. Peter -- or as I think of him: St Peter, the klutz. He is the reason that I (mostly) believe in the New Testament. I understand that when old documents contain embarassing stuff, the stuff is probably true. And, heavens knows, Peter is uniformly goofy. Perhaps my favorite is the Transfiguration story in Matthew where Peter says: O golly gee, lets do something cool like build tabernacles. The "let me walk on water -- oh shit, I'm on water" story is pretty good too.

Thomas Squiers said...