Sermon St. Mary Nanoose Bay March 17, 2019 Luke 13:31-35
For all that we receive, may the Lord make us truly thankful. Amen.
Last Sunday, I spoke about worry. How in our culture, we often confuse worry with love. That worrying about someone is somehow a way of loving them. And how completely untrue that is. Worrying is a form of superstition. We hope that by worrying we have some measure of control over life. But worrying does not and cannot, change an outcome. We cannot help others by worrying. What worrying does change, is ourselves. It prevents us from living fully in the present. And imagining and worrying about a worst case scenario negatively impacts us. Fear constricts us. It puts strain on our hearts. It releases chemicals into our blood stream that are not healthy for us. We lose sleep. We lose perspective. We lose our sense of humour. And we can make ourselves ill.
But it’s hard to stop doing something. In fact, stopping something, resisting it, can be a difficult thing. We all know this. A stopped car is simply waiting to go again. We have to keep our foot hard on the brake to keep it from going again.
The same is true for worry. We get stuck in a story about someone or something and it’s hard to not keep going back to pick up the story and continue with it..
We are more likely to stop something, if we choose to do something else instead. To let go of one thing in order to choose another. To say “yes” to something, instead of focusing on what we want to say “no” to.
In our first reading today from Genesis, Abram worries about being childless. God interrupts Abram’s story about not having an heir by showing him something different – the stars in sky. Abram will have as many descendants as the stars in the heavens. And Abram believed God. If we are worrying, we don’t allow ourselves to see the miracles in our lives; all the ways that life continues and thrives beyond our puny understanding.
The psalmist continues this idea by saying “Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart takes courage; wait for the Lord!”(Ps.27:14). And “The Lord is my light and my salvation: whom shall I fear?”(27:1)
These are inspiring words - hopeful and challenging. How can we wait and be strong and courageous when we know there is and will be suffering and loss? For us and for others?
In the face of inevitability, the only thing we can have any control over is our response. How we choose to see and understand events. Paul, in the letter to the Philippians that we just heard, exhorts them to stand firm and to trust that their suffering will be transformed, that their citizenship is in heaven. Powerful words but how do we really embrace them and make them our own?
For me, the clincher comes in the gospel reading from Luke where Jesus, who has been warned that Herod wants to kill him says, to the Pharisees who have cautioned him that he has life yet to live, on his own terms, “Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow and on the third day I finish my work.” These words strike me. In spite of all the hatred and rage around him, Jesus is choosing to do what he must do. He must live his life – he cannot be consumed by worry or fear. And then he goes on to say how the most holy place is the place where the worst things happen – it is in Jerusalem that the prophets get killed.
So if it’s in our hearts, where the kingdom of God manifests then it’s in our hearts that we love either flourishes or dies. And so it’s in our hearts that we can let go of worry and choose love. Because Love is waiting to cast out the demon of worry and perform cures.
We just have to see Who is in our midst. Who is ready to help us, who is showing us the stars if we would only but lift up our eyes and see.
This may feel like a stretch but it’s one I’m playing with this Lent. Giving up worry and choosing love instead. Changing my focus. Looking up to see the multitude of ways love shines. Looking for the love that surrounds, infuses and informs life. My own, and everyone else’s.
Our work is to see love, to choose it, and to work with it.
And to wait.
Well, once I chose to give up worrying for Lent, I didn’t have to wait long to practice. Ash Wednesday, in the evening, the phone rang. My younger sister, who has had cancer in the past, called to say tests had shown a spot in her lungs that they have been watching for several years now is growing. She will have surgery in 2 weeks, on April Fool’s Day, no joke!
I could feel my heart constrict. Oh no! Here we go again! I thought as images and memories from 11 years flooded me. But as I listened to my sister, I realized that today we are both in such a different place. It wasn’t doom and gloom. It was like a dance. Moving all over the floor I followed her as she moved through anger, fear, humour and sadness, all in the course of an hour phone call. We ended the call feeling so connected and filled with love; I went to bed with a smile on my lips and gratitude in my heart.
We’ve talked since. She knows I can’t worry about her, that I’ve given that up for Lent. And she’s told me how relieved she is that I’m not worrying about her. Because although she has many friends, most are so awkward with her. They’re worried and fearful. They are bringing her down. She senses some are building a coffin for her in their minds, they are so convinced she will die. Statistics say that her survival odds are something like 98% but as she and her surgeon joked the fatality rate for the other 2% is 100%.
My sister’s friends mean well, but they don’t know what to do so they worry and that worry is preventing them from loving her. From being fully present in the moment where life is, and can only, happen. From being able to listen to the full range of my sister’s experiences, to understand that she wants to enjoy life especially as she waits for surgery, to not been seen as something less than, someone to be pitied, or afraid of.
Thank God I gave up worry for Lent. And God has given me the chance to practice big time. Love is a wonderful option. To choose to experience the love that lies beneath worry; the love that casts out demons and performs cures, that points to the stars and promises life forever more in ways we can only imagine.
That love feeds and sustains life; where worry cannot and does not.
We cannot know the future; but we can hold on to the love that will take us there.
So God, we ask you to wake us up this Lent and sothat for all we receive, we can be truly thankful.