St. John’s Episcopal Church
207 Albany Avenue, Kingston, NY 12401

Sermons

  • Love Dwells in Mercy – The Rev. Michelle Meech

    August 22, 2021

    The Psalmist begins: “How dear to me is your dwelling place, O Lord of hosts.”
    The place where God dwells – it’s not in the heavens, that the Psalmist is speaking about, but here on earth.  Where God dwells.  Where God abides here on earth.

    And in today’s Gospel, in the last of the readings from John Ch. 6 this month, about bread, features Jesus’ capstone teaching about the living bread.  He talks about feasting on him and he tells us that it’s not about the physical act of eating bread, it’s about what we choose to feast on.

    He’s talking about where we dwell.  Jesus says, “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.”

    Jesus tells us by partaking of the feast of Love that we are called to – this Eucharistic meal – we become more and more aware of its presence in our lives.  If we choose to feast on love, love will dwell in us.  If we learn to live in God, God lives in us.

    The spiritual practice of the Eucharist, in other words, is to finally come to understand that we are never separated from God, except in our troubled thoughts, in our worst beliefs about other people and about ourselves… which are always connected in some way.

    Jesus teaches us that we become God’s dwelling place in the world, when we dwell in Love, when we feast on Love. Jesus’ teaching here is not an easy one.  As a matter of fact, it’s so radical that Jesus lost many of his disciples because of it. John tells us that they complained about Jesus’ teaching, that they said, “This teaching is so difficult; who can accept it?”… that many of them turned back and no longer went about with him.

    So, why is it so difficult? You would think that accepting Love is easy, right?  That dwelling is Love is effortless, right?  But why isn’t it?

    Because, in some way, the wisdom that we are created in Love… in some way, it is knocked out of every single one of us by being mistreated by other individuals who have forgotten it – sometimes even those who love us. It’s clobbered out of some of us by systemic oppression and institutional sin.  It’s chased away by truly tragic things that happen to us.

    And for some, it’s incredibly difficult to find our way back to the wisdom of Love.  We are given glimpses sometimes, but it feels impossible to live in a place of Love, when love and hope and freedom seem to be so far away from us, so remote from our experience… even though it dwells within each of us, although sometimes hidden until we have healing enough to remember it again.

    Perhaps you’ve read the book or seen the movie called The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd.  It’s a story about a group of people who have learned how to access the place in themselves that has not forgotten about Love. This is a group of African-Americans in the American South in the mid-20th century who, for decades during slavery and after the end of slavery when Jim Crow laws were still enacted, they found an icon of Love in a wooden statue, who they came to know as Mother Mary.

    As she dwelled with them, this statue, Mary… as they told stories about her boundless heart and as those stories became their own… Mary became a way for them to access their own fearless Love.  The Love that heals our own broken hearts and allows us to become stronger… to become who we have been created to be.

    This strength comes, not because we’ve never been hurt.  But because we learn how to stop dwelling in the hurt. We learn how to dwell in Love instead, how to feast on Love. Jesus tells us this is where life is.

    Mary’s heart is known in the Christian tradition as a place in which we learn to heal our broken hearts so that we may love again.  Because Mary holds our love for us when we are so hurt, experiencing such shame, that we are not able to hold it for ourselves.  She is known as the mother of mercy for this reason.  Mercy.

    Mercy has an element of forgiveness but it’s more than that.  Mercy is about compassion because we ask for mercy from someone who is capable of punishing us or harming us. And I honestly don’t know who is more capable of punishing or harming us than ourselves.  We may ask for mercy from God, or ask for mercy from Mary.  But we need to know when we do that, we’re asking God, we’re asking Mary, to help us hold a space of mercy for ourselves.

    A still from the movie Raiders of the Lost Ark.

    The image on today’s bulletin is from a very popular 1980’s movie called Raiders of the Lost Ark.  As we may recall, Indiana Jones is trying to recover the lost Ark of the Covenant, believed to be an item of mighty power that would aid warring armies in World War II.

    In today’s reading from the Hebrew Scriptures, we hear how the new king Solomon orders the ark to be moved – “to the inner sanctuary of the house.”  And Solomon prayed to God, asking: “Will God indeed dwell on the earth?” And Solomon answers his own question: “Even heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you, much less this house that I have built!” Again, referencing the mighty power of God.

    But this power is not a warring power.  The power of God is not a weapon.  The power of God is mercy.  And mercy is, perhaps, the most powerful thing in the universe, because it’s a form of love.

    Another name for the ark of the covenant is the mercy seat, the place where God dwells on earth. The mercy seat, the incarnate love epitomized by Jesus the Christ. The mercy seat, a space in our own hearts, where God dwells on earth.  A space cultivated by the reconciling practice of Eucharist – feasting on Jesus, abiding in Jesus so that he may abide in us.

    And when we’re ready, we come to realize just what it is that we’ve been longing for, that all of creation is longing for… and it’s a reconciliation, a reunion with God… who actually never left us. A return to the Love that was always dwelling within us waiting for our homecoming.

    The Psalmist today gives us the words for this longing:
    How dear to me is your dwelling, O God of hosts!
    My soul has a desire and a longing for the courts of God;
    My heart and my flesh rejoice in the living God…
    Happy are they who dwell in your house!
    They will always be praising you.

    It goes on to say…
    Those who go through the desolate valley will find it a place of springs
    For one day in your courts is better than a thousand in my own room,
    And to stand at the threshold of the house of God
    Than to dwell in the tents of the wicked

    So, where do we dwell?  Where do we spend our time?
    In Love?  In thoughts of Love?
    Or… in thoughts that take us away from Love?
    What do we spend our time thinking about?
    What do we spend our time feasting on?

    Do we spend our time being suspicious?  Or skeptical?
    Do we allow ourselves to think a lot about what we don’t have or what we didn’t get?
    Do we believe we need to solve the world’s problems?  Or do we worry so much that we lose hope?
    Do spend our time trying up to live up to other people’s expectations of us?  Or extreme expectations of our self?
    Living with some kind of shame because someone else made us feel small or helpless?

    Because those places… those thoughts we have, those imaginings and stories we pursue and revisit time and time and time again… can take us down some extremely dark paths – some where we come to hate others and some where we come to hate ourselves.

    And, yet, these thoughts can seem like home to us because we have spent so much time with them, breathing them in, dwelling inside their poisoned and wicked tents. They have taken up so much space in our lives that we are literally haunted by them. They feel comfortable… like the devil we know is better than the devil we don’t know.  They feel more real than Love.

    So, of course it’s hard to leave those thoughts, to believe that Love is what we are, to believe that Love is what we are called to embody for others, for ourselves. It’s such a difficult teaching, that we don’t always get there… just like the disciples who left.  It’s just easier to believe that we have to earn love in some way.

    But we don’t.  We don’t have to earn Love because the truth is that we ARE Love.  Coming to remember this is what Paul means when he says to put on the whole armor of God.  It’s an unfortunate military metaphor but somewhat useful because it does feel like a battle.

    Not an earthly one, as Paul articulates, but a heavenly one, one in our own hearts and minds, where we do struggle against the spiritual forces of evil… those lies that tell us that we are not capable of the Love that already dwells within us.

    It takes some discipline to practice dwelling in Love.  Discipline, that has the same root as the word disciple.

    This armor of God… it is the longing we have for living bread, the longing to experience and to dwell in God’s Love for us. This part of us that has never forgotten. That God’s desire for us is joy.  That God’s hope for us is freedom.  That God’s dream for us is Love.

    Jesus says, “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.”

    As St. Augustine tells us, the Eucharist is our very own mystery because we see what we are on the Table every time we come: The Body of Christ broken open for the world God has made.  When we receive it by saying Amen, we are learning to return, to come home to God’s indwelling Love.

    So let us Behold Love.  Let us Become Love. Dwell in Love as Love dwells in us.