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 Please excuse typos and grammatical errors, and do not cite without permission.
I have to admit, I feel a bit like Thomas Jefferson at the top of act II of Hamilton… “What’d I miss?”
I’m am hearing about many of the things I missed…and I’m grateful for that…and I look forward to sharing my reflections on the sabbatical time, on Oct. 6. I am still sifting and processing a lot of it myself.
I remain extremely grateful to the Wardens and vestry for all of their work during this time…the staff…Anoma, and especially Amy for her generous spirit and steady guidance during this time. Thank you. This has been a true gift to me, and I pray that the effects of it will be felt by all over the coming weeks, months, and years.
So what was one of the biggest things I learned? Fortunately, it resonates with today’s Gospel, and these parables of the lost and found… and really it’s the finding…and the joy in finding that resonates with me. Truthfully, the parables that really resonate with me are the kingdom parables in Matthew…the ones about fields and pearls , rather than these Lukan parables of sheep and coins.
A bit of context, in Luke, Jesus has already been transfigured, and is making the long, resolute journey towards Jerusalem…towards the cross…his death…and resurrection…and, as last week, he often turns into “scary Jesus”—we get a bit of a reprieve this week, but “scary Jesus” will return.
However, the parables in Matthew come a little earlier, the Transfiguration is still to come…and in Matthew he’s not heading to Jerusalem, he’s teaching by the lake. And instead of justifying eating with sinners, he’s trying to describe what God’s realm is like, “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all the the has and buys that field.
“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all the the had and bought it.” (Matthew 13:44-45).
Find something of value…give up everything to simply have it.
On one level…what a joy it must be to find something like that…what a deep, true joy in that kind of discovery…finding that treasure…finding that a pearl…that sheep, that coin.
On another they’ve somewhat confusing…I mean, what good is finding something and then not using it? The parable never says what’s done with the field or the pearl…just that it is so valuable that you will give up everything simply to have it…to know of it…to be in the presence of it.
To say that my sabbatical time was in large part a journey of this kind discovery would be an understatement. I have discovered riches during this time that I am not sure I will ever be able to put into words. But let me try.
Many of you know, that one of my spiritual teachers is Thomas Merton. And one of his pieces that I return to again and again is “Things in Their Identity,” from New Seeds of Contemplation (New Seeds, p. 29-36). Merton begins this incredible short essay by stating, “A tree gives glory to God by being a tree.” That’s it. A tree doesn’t need to do anything else—cannot do anything else other than be exactly what it is…and in doing that it gives glory to God. “It ‘consents,’” is Merton’s phrase, ”to [God’s] creative love. … The more the tree is like itself, the more it is like [God].” The same, he says, is largely true of animals…they are what they are. It is only humans who can be other than what God made us.
We can, and do, strive to be all kinds of things other than what and who we truly are. “God leaves us free,” Merton says, “to be whatever we like. We can be ourselves or not.” Real or unreal, true or false. And as we grow and inevitably get wounded, we learn how to protect ourselves…learn how to assert our “selves”… learn how to hide, or lose, or forget who we truly are. We put on masks and costumes to make clear who “we” are. “We” are not “them.” Masks to designate who is “righteous,” and who is “a sinner.” Who has wealth, who is powerful, who is blessed, and who is not. These masks—and we all wear them—is our false self…our shadow-self…an ego-persona…the person we want to be…imagine we are…but it is a person who fundamentally doesn’t exist.
Because we are not trees and because we are animals with brains that have evolved this way…we all struggle with this question…“Who am I?” Who am I really? Am I what I do? I’m a priest, a teacher, a doctor, an attorney, a…
Am I what I have? Do my possessions define me? I own a house, or I’m someone who can’t afford to own a house? I drive this kind of car, wear these kinds of clothes…
Am I what other people say about me? I’m kind, generous, faithful, patient…or the opposite of those. (what’s even worse is wondering if I am what my judgy super-ego says about me: I’m lazy, unfocused, too-fat, too-thin, too—just not good enough.)
Who am I? is a question I took with me on a lot of walks. Who am I without the collar? Without social media…without the normal day to day associations and links? And the answer I got time and again was that: My identity is entirely defined by relationships…I’m a husband because of my wife, a father because of my kids, a son and brother, a friend because of those associations…I’m a priest because of my calling and relationship to the church. Every one of those relationships is vital and key to my identity, and none of them is the whole of my identity. Because there’s one relationship that encompasses and surpasses them all. My relationship with God.
One day, I was taking our dog for a walk, and this question was rattling around in my head, and I suddenly thought…how would the dog answer the question, “who am I?” And I realized how ridiculous that was. She just is…like the tree, the dog gives glory to God simply by being who she is and what God made her to be. And that was the answer…that’s the treasure…that’s the pearl. Who am I? I am me.
Merton again, “The secret of my identity is hidden in the love and mercy of God…Ultimately, the only way that I can be myself is to become identified with [God] in Whom is hidden the reason and fulfillment of my existence. Therefore there is only one problem on which all my existence, my peace and my happiness depend: to discover myself in discovering God. If I find [God] I will find myself and if I find my true self I will find [God].”
That’s the journey of discovery I’ve been on…discovering God, and myself in God. This is the journey of discovery I am called and committed to continuing with you here.
Now, in case this all sound too esoteric…too pie-in-the-sky…, let me assure you, this journey of discovery is all about living in the world. I heard a lot of sermons this summer about gun violence, and human trafficking, immigration horrors, and political divides, and climate change… I know there is there is damage and brutality, and destruction, and fear and anger all kinds of mean nasty ugly stuff…It’s there in our readings…it there in our world, and it will continue to show up in both.
I also know that in the midst all of that damage… there is exquisite beauty…and amazing kindness…and genuine affection…and the palpable movement of love in and around us all the time. And in time we will continue to work on balancing those things.
But today, it hope it is enough for me to say and for you to know, that I want to live deeply into this calling in this place, with you….creating and discovering a community who can really become the people God made us to be…the people God needs us to be…Today I recommit to walk with you in your own search for God and your true selves…I want us profess and act and demonstrate what we truly are…we are love, and light, and lost and found…we are pearls of great price…because we find our truest identity in God.