21 August 2022 – Eleventh Sunday After Pentecost
by The Rev. Dr. Richard Burden
Sermon preached by The Rev. Dr. Richard Burden
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 Please excuse typos and grammatical errors, and do not cite without permission.
“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you.”
Can you hear those words spoken to you? Can you feel…in your very being…the truth of that statement? That before God formed you in the womb…God knew you…God consecrated you…The Hebrew also says…”selected you“ (Jewish Study Bible, Jer. 1:5)…set you apart. Can you feel that? Do you know that…deep down? Can you at least think…imagine…hope that this is true? Or do you think, “No, God’s talking about Jeremiah…not me…” Well. Yes and no. God is talking about Jeremiah…this is a traditional call narrative, but…We are all born in God’s image…bearing the imprint of our Maker…and given certain gifts and abilities to use for the sake of the world.
But, it’s hard, isn’t it? Remembering that…Tapping into the truth of that…really feeling that calling…that specialness…that responsibility…that comes with God knowing you…loving you… and having certain tasks—for the sake of the world—that God would love for you to accomplish.
Why is it so hard…being aware of this all-encompassing truth…that God is Love…and that Love is all encompassing Goodness, and Truth, and Perfection…and Peace… Why is it so hard holding onto to that? Remembering that…Remembering the truth that each and every one of us is entirely, and eternally held, and sustained by this Goodness, and Love, and Truth…”I have been sustained by you ever since I was born; from my mother’s womb you have been my strength;”…
Why is it so hard…to trust that…? To simply abide in this truth…that each and every one of us is known, and treasured by God, as a unique, beautiful, perfect manifestation of the total, loving reality which is God?
Our baptismal candidate this morning doesn’t have as much trouble with this as the grown-ups here do. At just over 4 months old, he’s still spending more time in the blissful Essence of Goodness and Truth than he is out of it.
But for us it’s the other way around…We spend more time in scaffolding we have made…that we have learned keeps us safe…and that we think…helps us make sense of the world. The scaffolding that we build experience by experience as we grow up.
As a child you do something, and your caregiver smiles, and you feels good. So you do the same thing again, but this time the caregiver is busy, or distracted, or irritated, or whatever…and doesn’t smile…and you feel something other than good…bad? Confused? Frustrated?
You have thousands of interactions like this every day for weeks and months and years and all of those feelings multiply…and begin to harden into patterns…and ideas about those patters form…”It really feels like the world is divided into “good things” and “bad things”… And then stories to explain all this begin to coalesce and become elaborate theories and certainties about how the world works…Here are several. See how many resonates with you:
“No matter what’s going on, I’m fine…as long as everyone around me is chill, I’m OK.”
“I know there is a right way, and a wrong way. I know the difference, and everyone should just do things the right way.”
“Vulnerability is a sign of weakness, and in order for me and mine to be OK, I need to be strong and in control.”
“I just know what others need, and I love providing it…if I’m indispensable, then I know I’m loved.”
“Success is the only thing that matters…I am only valued because of what I accomplish, and I can accomplish pretty much anything.”
“Feeling sad, or hurt, or even worse bored is a waste of time…there’s so many interesting things to see and do out there, just look on the bright side, you’ll be fine.”
“No one understands me, but my inner world is richer and more beautiful, and more real and perfect than anything out there.”
“It’s hard to feel safe, unless I’ve thought through all of the possible outcomes and gotten enough of the right people on my side.”
“People are weird…but if I rigorously study them, I’m sure I can figure them out.”
Did any of those resonate with you? We all have these archetypal stories that help us navigate this complex and confusing world and at some level they do keep us relatively safe, and sort of happy…but really they are pale shadows of the Divine Reality that encompasses and infuses all of us…
It’s so hard to feel, to imagine that direct and intimate connection to Holy Love, Holy Perfection, Holy Truth, Wisdom, Will, Strength, Omniscience, Origin, Harmony…It’s hard to feel that because we have covered over all of these Holy Virtues with these stories…the scaffolding of our personalities…with… what one author calls, “the veils of reactivity,” (A. H. Almaas, Facets of Unity: The Enneagram of Holy Ideas).
It’s hard to really feel that sense of God knowing and loving us, because that truth is veiled with all these stories…Stories that we settle for, because we’ve convinced ourselves that they are more real than the Divine Reality we all come from.
Jesus seems to always be trying to wake us up from this slumber…to pull these veils off of our eyes. To call us back to that primary wonder that we are known, and loved, and sustained, and that this moment is perfect…and enough.
We’d probably all like to be like Jesus in today’s parable and be able to do and to say the exact right thing at the exact right time…The reason he is able to do that…and we so often are not…is because he has never forgotten…never fallen asleep to the fact…never veiled over the awareness of the primary, sustaining presence of God in his life.
The spiritual journey is really one of remembering…of letting go of the stories…the “ego fixations”… and remembering that even before we were formed, God knew us. That all through our lives, God sustains us. And that no matter what happens God will always love us.
May today’s baptism wash more of these veils away…not only for our candidate, but for all of us…that we might see more clearly and know more intimately the ineffable breadth and depth of God’s grace and love.