24 March—The Third Sunday in Lent
Below is a DRAFT text of the homily. It may vary considerably from the recorded version. Please excuse typos and grammatical errors, and do not cite without permission.
“If it was easy, everyone would do it.”
That was a piece of advice given to me when I first started to think about working towards a PhD.
It was advice that kept me going through some of the long, dark nights of doubt and confusion and wondering what in the world I was thinking.
“Just remember, if it was easy, everyone would do it.”
These words came back to me on Wednesday night as a group of almost 30 of us sat in a circle to begin work on Liberating Ourselves from Racism.
It was, as the facilitators promised, a messy process.
We struggled with terms: “what does it mean to be liberated?” Is that even possible? And what about racism? What does that mean? What is a racist? We struggled with the process…”where are we going?”…With the lack of clear answers…”we’ll know when we get there…” For some it was hard getting out of our heads and into our emotional reactions…for others it was harder to not stay in an emotional space.
We clung to hope: for direction…for clarity…for enlightenment.
And at the end of the evening, we were grateful for the courage and vulnerability that people showed…for the glimpses of truth and honesty that appeared… for the wider vista that appeared— the recognition that the range of personal experiences was vast…utterly unique to each person…and universally heart-breaking. We were grateful for the new-found depths in ourselves and each other. And when someone asked me at the end of the night what I thought, the only thing I could really say was, “This is hard work…but if it was easy, everyone would do it,” or would have done it by now.
As I’ve reflected on it that past few days, I’ve come (again) to understand the importance of learning to sit with dis-ease…how to be ok with the discomfort change causes…how to “embrace the suck.”
Liberation is almost never a single, shining, complete and completely clarifying event. And we never, ever, do it alone. The journey is not always done willingly, and it’s never, ever a straight path.
The journey Moses sets out on today is THE iconic faith journey of liberation. Paul retells it in a (very unhelpful) and abbreviated fashion. Paul must assume that all the Corinthians are very up on their early Israelite history, because the references he drops are not ones you can pick up from a half-remembered Sunday school lesson, or a periodic rewatching of the Ten Commandments; these are graduate level references from deep in the catalog. But you all remember the basic outline.
Moses and Aaron go to Pharaoh several times. Each time Pharaoh says “Ok, you can go,” then “his heart is hardened” and he changes his mind.
There’s a whole bunch of plaques, and finally, there’s the passover, with the angel of death killing all the first born, and the children of Israel escaping in the night. It often requires a big, scary event (or a series of them) to encourage us to move from our place of stuck-ness.
But escape is only the beginning. First, they come to the sea and have to cross, with an army behind them. So another life or death decision.
Then there’s the long trek to Sinai, and the complaints about water, and food, and “remember how much better it was back in Egypt.”
Then Moses goes up the mountain to get the covenant and it takes for ever and they get antsy and start in with the Golden Calf.
Then there’s more travel, and more complaining, and when they arrive at the border of the Promised Land, they send in spies who return and say, “This place is AWESOME. Oh, and, there’s a whole bunch of big scary dudes, and it’s probably gonna be really hard to move in there.” And Joshua and Caleb say, “OK, let’s do it.” Everyone else says, “Nope. Not going.” So they go back out into the wilderness for a really long time (let’s call it 40 years). And there’s snakes, and famine, and disease, and a lot of them don’t make it. Even Moses who started this journey years and years ago by turning aside to see a burning bush dies before they move into this land “flowing with milk and honey.”
See, “If it was easy, everyone would do it.” Or it would have been done by now.
Something else the facilitator said stayed with me. “Jesus never asked his disciples to be perfect. He asked them to be present.”
Jesus never asked his disciples to be perfect (well, except for that one time when he did—“be perfect, therefore as your heavenly Father is perfect,” (Matt 5:48). But even there it doesn’t mean “perfect” in the sense of being without blemish, or morally pure, it means be “complete”…be “whole”… which could mean “be fully present.”
Don’t try to be perfect…be present. Be present on the journey. Be present in the process. Be present in the messiness. If it was easy, everyone would do it.
One last thing: Take our your Parish Notes, and look at the very bottom of the first page.
That’s our Mission Statement. [The mission of All Saints is to be a Community—searching to know and accept God’s purpose for us, uplifted by worship together, sustained by a sense of Christ being in our midst, and inspired by the Holy Spirit to become more than we are, here and in the world.]
I don’t know when it became our mission statement…some of you may…I know that it hasn’t been visible much in the past several years. I was reminded of it when I got the latest issue of Saints Alive. And there on the front page, right under the table of contents was “The mission of All Saints Parish…” And I thought, “huh.” We’ve been talking a lot about community and belonging, and being living stones, and maybe having this more in front of us regularly would be a good thing.
Now, I have to admit, I’m not big on mission statements or vision statements. Especially ones that require a committee to write and then get put up on the wall and forgotten about. I’m one of those who says things like “The church doesn’t have a mission! God has a mission and God’s mission has a church!”
But…as mission statements go…this one isn’t bad.
“The mission of All Saints Parish is to be a community.” And then some nice Trinitarian language about how we do that. But our mission is to be a community.
I know that “community” is also a word that get’s thrown around a lot…we bemoan the loss of it…we know that people need it…seek it…hunger for it…and yet it seems to still be elusive. We can idolize community when we think it means those images of perfectly integrated, wonderfully diverse spaces with happy, shiny people in manicured parks where dogs never poop and children never cry or throw tantrums when they play. But the truth is, community is messy…it’s a process…a journey…Community is people turning up to do things they don’t have time to do. It’s picking kids up after school and getting them to practice; it’s making a meal for someone going through chemo; or sitting with someone recovering from surgery. It’s taking the dogs for a walk with a neighbor. It’s agreeing to be part of a task-force in town; or volunteering at school (or church), or signing up for a class. It’s showing up. It’s being present…present and engaged. There is no “hack,” for community. There’s no easy way to it…no short-cut…there’s only the long and winding daily road.
I know that every morning there is a fresh crisis. Every morning we wake up to our own atrocities: the blood of innocent victims mingled with sacrifices to unholy deities; towers and other infrastructure collapsing on unsuspecting victims. And with climate change continuing largely unaddressed it does feel like time is running out. I feel that anxiety too. And if the fix was easy, everyone would do it, or it would have been done already.
It’s hard, messy, and absolutely vital work of building community—of BEING community—that needs to be done. Maybe we need to relearn the lesson from this fig tree and the gardener. Show up. Do the work. Dig down to the roots…pull up the weeds…embrace the mess…and trust that God will be with us and lead us every step of the way.