Sermon – Sunday Scriptures Proper 25 B October 24th
St. Augustine’s in the Woods, Freeland, WA
Over the past few weeks, in the readings from both the Gospel of Mark and the OT, I’ve noticed a pattern of strategic intimate conversations between Jesus and those who follow him, between God and Israel.
One party approaches, makes a comment or asks a question, the 2nd party listens and then responds to the question or comment
the 1st party waits, listening to the reply, and only then replies the 2nd party listens and only then, replies… and so on
Jesus, Son of David, show me mercy
What do you want me to do for you?
In these strategic intimate conversations what happens in the rest of that story depends entirely upon the answers and replies. In these conversations, there is something for each party to say, something for each to listen to, and some response called for from everyone.
No one is left out as a silent, passive observer.
(Including the followers around Jesus in this story, and we who hear this hear today.) None of the parties – Jesus, his followers, the Prophet, Israel, God, and we here –
– assumes that they know what the other party is going to say,
and what happens depends upon what they do say, and do.
And all of this unfolds in public, out loud. Nothing hidden about any of this.
So, today I would like to offer something of a “strategic intimate conversation” that might be useful to us as a congregation, in the hope that many of us will have this conversation in the future.
How Was your Covid?
Not long after the end of WWII in the UK, it was not usual to greet someone you hadn’t seen since the war with the question, “How was your war?”… As heard in the title, Foyle’s War.
That question acknowledged that it wasn’t the same war experience for everyone. Depending upon a whole lot of things, but especially the things that make for diversity and oppression, and particular circumstances,
that war, and now Covid, were and are different experiences for each person who lives through them.
These strategic intimate conversations could be useful to us as a parish as we search for a new rector, if they help to not fear our differences, but rather see them as gifts and strengths.
This is not to come up with some consensus about Covid, but the opposite. So that we can see more clearly that being united, One in the Spirit, is more about being like-hearted, than like-minded.
We are One Body in Christ, even when we understand that in different ways.
[ I still hope and believe that ]as Americans, we can be what we claim to be, E pluibus Unem, from many, one.
The “things” that make for like heartedness and feed our souls, allowing us to remain in community
come not from agreement on points x, y, and z,
but because we care about the same kinds of questions, that often have very different answers.
For, we all can hear the question that Jesus asks Bartimaeus…
”What do you want me to do for you?” And yet, we each have a different answer.
It is my hunch that it is our questions, and the bonds (Holy Strings) that created when we hear the differences between our answers, which forms us into a community.
How as your war? How was your Covid?
In answer the question, “How was your Covid?” I am going to play a song,
Everything Must Change. That song is my initial response to How was your Covid?
Then I’ll tell you what has kept me afloat for more than a year now, my on-going spiritual snacking program on soul-food.
Everything Must Change by Bernard Eighner, 1974 https://www.soultracks.com/story-benard-ighner-dies
Depending upon how many people you know who died, and were or still are sick, lost their jobs, loved ones, homes, careers, community life, access to what they care about, (church, sports, art, music), this has been the worst of times.
And for others, for whom these days have become an extended spiritual retreat, these have been the best of times.
How will telling our Covid stories contribute to our search for a new Rector?
Today, our collect mentionsfaith, hope and love as gifts rather than accomplishments,
things we receive and then figure out how to use in life-giving ways, to provide hope and vision – important kinds of sight – to a world with a supply chain problem low on hope and vision.
When we share these stories, we remove some of the barriers between us, and allow each other glimpses our most pressing questions. With those glimpses, these gifts of faith, hope and love become manifest as a kind of Holy Strings of compassion, dismay, wonder, gratitude, awe, …. As in religio… that is what religion of any kind does, it binds people together with Holy Strings. Together not necessarily because they agree or even are likeminded in all things, but because we care about each other, the Creator, and Creation.
2. Telling our stories is a kind of soul food & the Church a kind of soul food restaurant
We’ve heard something about the four food groups —
Junk Food tastes great, but makes us sick and fat
Health Food often doesn’t taste good, might make us healthier,
Good Food does something good for both our bodies as well as our souls
Soul Food tastes and feels good, inside, and out,
does not make us fat or sick, but rather makes us whole, if not holy, and brings joy, courage, compassion, gratitude, humility, and love.
Early 19th century: from French, from restaurer ‘provide food for’ (literally ‘restore to a former state’).
The use of the words “soul food” is intentional. The “double entendre” = double hearing is not because either meaning is risqué, but because “soul food”, a significant aspect of Black culture reminds us of our covenant to work against oppression, of all kinds, the over and undervaluing of ourselves and others.
These strategic conversations make for soul food, by hearing, sharing, and honoring each person’s experience.
They are indications that the “gifts of faith, hope and love” are at work among us.
We come here to this soul food restaurant,
to feed, to be fed,/ to nourish each other, to be nourished
to “rest” in God, to be restored, to restore others
to be filled and then sent away with both full hearts and full stomachs
… by letting each other know something about our needs, i.e.
which questions matter most to us, and then sharing with each other something of how those needs are met, fed in the life of this congregation, we feed each other’s souls with small doses and (demonstrations) of faith, hope, and love.
My Covid Project begins each Monday morning by reading the lessons for the next Sunday, and then continues off and on over the week, as I chew upon, think about, explore the readings in terms of what the lessons have to offer towards what I saw as my most pressing need for that week.
This is not any great work of scholarship or studiousness, It’s not about being right; it’s more about wanting to be whole, to be restored, in a difficult time.
It is much more like snacking on little bits here in a way that does something to feed my soul, give me hope, help me to look about and see what I was not seeing… the kind of things that with hindsight I would come to label, later on, as our Psalm says, some of the “great things that God has done for us.” But that label, isn’t where it starts out.
This spiritual / soul food program begins each week by taking stock… of what my greatest obstacle to – being okay, to being restored — now?
(And that question can become humbling, when week after week, I continue to come up with the same or similar obstacle. But,…so be it. That question is important.
This snacking program is a way of trying to figure out what is getting in the way of the “faith, hope, and love” that the Collect suggests are gifts “we are given by God, ” and that I’d like to have more present in my life.
3.) This week’s soul food for me
This “program” is Highly flexible. Adjust, adapt, take short cuts… all you like. If you do it at all, it’s just right!!
- Pick my most pressing challenge for the week
As when my faith, hope, and love are in some kind of battle with my fears, doubts, and despair.
[For me this rotates between the most recent physical ailment or fear
+/or trying to love and get along with someone, I’m not loving very well or getting along with
+/or yet another terrifying awareness of one more horrific event of oppression and injustice
+/or some heart-breaking environmental disaster…
any one of or some combination of all four.]
This question is important because in spite of the fact that we’ve used the same lessons in a 3-year rotation for more than 40 years, we have never yet been posed with exactly the same questions and answers because the context of our lives, of our questions and answers, and our reading these texts is ALWAYS changing
2.) I read through the lessons… rather superficially… i.e. sort of speed reading to see what, if ANYTHING, in any way, might in some way link up with the challenge I identified. E.g. It doesn’t have to be “right”…according to anyone else. At this point, it simply needs to fit my need in a way that I understand.
9 With tears of joy they will come; while they pray, I will bring them back.
I will lead them by quiet streams& on smooth paths so they don’t stumble. from Jeremiah
6 Those who sow with tears will reap with glad songs.
7 Those who go out weeping, carrying the seed,
will surely come home again with joy, shouldering their sheaves from the Ps.
And the conversation between the Blind man, in Mark
“Jesus, Son of David, show me mercy!” “Son of David, show me mercy!”
“Call him forward.” “Be encouraged! Get up! He’s calling you.”
“What do you want me to do for you?” “Teacher, I want to see.”
“Go, your faith has healed you
3. ) Keep track, however informally, of what I found that fit the need. Maybe write it down, or just highlight the printed text?
4.) Chew on it for a while What the chewing gave me… two things:
> a beautiful, powerful image of hope to counter act the too many visions of despair that keep showing up for me. An image I keep returning to again and again and again, for hope, vision of something more than what is currently before my eyes, in my heart.
> an example, and encouragement of how those who follow Jesus deal with each other to provide soul food to each other and those around them
For one thing, they argued with each other, and also stayed together, changed their minds, and openly encouraged one another.
They asked Jesus for what they needed. …meaning this glimpse of those who followed Jesus looks more collaborative than I’ve at times come to imagine it.
There are important parts for everyone in the group to play,
something for everyone to hear, to say, to do, to be.
It’s not a story where anyone is sitting, left out in silence, nor does anyone, including Jesus, take over the story telling. They do not begin in agreement; they disagree…and only after the small group conversation do some of them change their minds, and something new happens.
The Blind man approached Jesus, not the other way around,
And he openly shouted, in public and asked for what he wanted. Jesus did not assume to know what the guy wanted. He asked, he listened… and when Jesus responded… he “gave the credit” to attributed the sight to the man’s faith rather than his own superpowers. 5.) Come back a day or two later, and write a response to God based on what unfolded during the week
One aspect of this snacking program is that it resembles a snack in its incompleteness. It doesn’t pretend to be a full meal. As important, or true some of this may be, I find it helpful to see this as more of something small along the way, to tide us over until something more filling comes along at a later time. I am more nourished when there isn’t so much pressure to do it right, etc.!!
6.) Optional. I look up the songs and hymns that we have that go with these lessons, & pick one as a prayer.
The outcome of that step is what you are singing today. Our Episcopal hymnals, all five of them, plus the many hymns that we sing from the ELCA Hymnal are a WIDE range of soul food – we have a lot of hymns to choose from, they are not all alike, they do not all say the same things. It has been very powerful to look through the indexes of these hymnals and see how the many ways in which these texts become beautiful songs, or to realize that some Sundays, there isn’t one single hymn that fits any of the lessons for the day. I had no idea about that.
7.) Find a way to share that song and the prayer with someone else.
This final step… writing this closing prayer and sharing with someone else is a feast for me. Even a little bit of this kind of exchange is a feast… to catch a glimpse of how someone else’s faith, hope and love unfold in their lives, and share some of my own with others is life giving, hope building, connecting…restorative.
4. Conclusion A Soul Food Snack for this Week
Holy One, here we are, together with You and one another, in this long season of distress; part of a great web of people who look to you with this outrageous hope of going out weeping,
and then coming back home again,
singing, with joy!
Here we sing glad songs together, for the many ways you restore us;
together, here in this place, where the soul food we consume,
is rich in the compassion, humility, wisdom, joy, and courage
of Jesus-like lives;
and becomes what we offer to the world around us. Alleluia, alleluia, Amen.
I hope to hear about your Covid.