Sunday, May 25, 2014

not alone

Easter 6, Year A, 2014
St. George’s Chapel

May the words I speak and the words you hear be God’s alone. Amen. 

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15). When I first read that sentence while preparing for my sermon, I must admit that I took a big gulp. I made a mental list of all the things I had done and left undone this week, remembered the times when I could have been more compassionate or worked harder or listened better. How I should have prayed more and eaten better and exercised and gotten more sleep. 

In the Gospel according to John, Jesus is much more demanding than in other gospels. If you’re a perfectionist like I am, that responsibility can be intimidating. We have this idea that we have to be perfect before we can be considered a leader or a professional or sometimes even before we can be a “good” Christian. But placed against a model of perfection we always fall short. A lot of the time I am so far away from this ideal that it is embarrassing, and I get discouraged. 

Sometimes you have to go away somewhere to put things back into focus. Two weeks ago I left for a CREDO conference—you may remember that Fr. Chris helped lead some of these conferences. I journeyed down to Fairhope, Alabama with 24 other recently ordained clergy. We had 8 leaders who helped mentor us in financial, vocational, leadership, physical, psychological, and spiritual aspects. Our days were filled with prayer, plenary sessions, delicious food, and honest conversations about our lives and calling as ordained leaders in the Church. More than anything, I loved being with others who were in similar situations and remembering that I was not alone in this calling. 

At the end of the conference each one of us wrote down our Rule of Life, a way of structuring our lives to intentionally put God at the center. One of the suggestions for crafting the Rule of Life was to look at our lives in three sections: our relationships with God, with our families, and with others. In each section, we examined what our needs were and then developed practices to address those needs. But instead of just being like another set of New Year’s resolutions, we were told to write down who was going to help hold us accountable for doing these practices. Almost 100% of the time, we cannot achieve things completely on our own. We have been shaped—in ways both good and bad—shaped by the experiences we have had and the people we have met. We cannot achieve things truly on our own, but rely on the support of others: family, friends, leaders, and mentors.

We hold each other accountable here at St. George’s, too. Now, that doesn’t mean we have free reign to criticize every single thing that someone does, but we instead try our best to gently encourage each other along the way. Being a Christian is hard work! We are to love each other—even, and perhaps especially, the people who get on our nerves. We are to love the world, acknowledging the beauty despite examples of hatred and violence. We are to love God, even when things go wrong and we feel like God either can’t hear or just isn’t listening to us. These aren’t easy tasks we are called to, but in today’s Gospel Jesus promises that after he dies we will not be left alone: "I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you” (v. 18). We have an Advocate in addition to Jesus in the form of the Holy Spirit, who regularly speaks through others.  

Every day is a new opportunity to reorient ourselves to God. Every day is a new opportunity to support each other on our journeys. To encourage you on your journey, I leave you with a prayer written by Thomas Merton, Catholic monk and mystic. Merton reminds us that it not about doing things perfectly that matters, but about attempting to do them in the first place" 

“My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone” (Thomas Merton, Thoughts in Solitude). Amen.

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