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

Sermons

  • Maybe God’s Tryin’ To Tell You Somethin’

    July 03, 2022

    A poem from Rainer Maria Rilke, translated by Joanna Macy:

    God speaks to each of us as he makes us,
    then walks with us silently out of the night.

    These are the words we dimly hear:
    You, sent out beyond your recall,
    go to the limits of your longing.

    Embody me.

    Flare up like a flame
    and make big shadows I can move in.

    Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.
    Just keep going. No feeling is final.
    Don’t let yourself lose me.

    Nearby is the country they call life.
    You will know it by its seriousness.

    Give me your hand.

     

    Recently, I’ve been in a bit of a stuck place with something that’s going on. I had been thinking about the situation and praying on it. I had spoken to other people about it too. And I thought I had found a good solution, a great idea. So I began talking to the people concerned and getting some agreement that this was a good idea and I started to take steps towards accomplishing this and things started moving. Then, I started to have some concerns about it… was this a good idea? Was it going to work? But I thought: God is in this. God must be in this because we’re all moving forward. We’re all on the same page. So it’s just my own fear talking.

    And then… just when it looked as though we were all going to be doing this… the whole thing fell apart. A few people who were involved in the plan had some misgivings, they thought it was a nice idea but it didn’t really match up with what they thought should be happening. And all the planning and the preparation came to a loud, screeching halt.

    I wonder if that’s ever happened to you. To invest yourself in something because everyone seemed to be on the same page, only to have it fall apart.

    So, I was talking about this to a friend of mine – Alison Quin – because she’s always really good at helping me see what I’m not seeing. And I was telling her that the whole thing was disappointing and frustrating and I felt like a failure because it didn’t work. And here’s approximately what she said: “Michelle, I think this is God trying to save you. It sounds like the concerns you had were real and the fact that this all fell apart is God saying, “Your concerns were valid. This isn’t going to work.”

    In other words, instead of insisting on seeing it through this lens, what if you saw it through this lens instead? What if our so-called “failures” really aren’t failures after all? What if the things we insist on being necessary or real and being frustrated that they don’t happen or aren’t there… what if they are really not necessary or real?

    In other words, what if, in the ways we are disappointed, the ways we are frustrated… we are being directed by God instead? Not this. That. Not here. There.

    I think this is really what these scriptures today are trying to help us understand. That God works how God works. We don’t have God on a leash and we need to expect to be disappointed from time to time.

    Let’s look at the story from the second book of Kings:
    Naaman was a powerful, accomplished human being. He was a warrior, accustomed to getting people to submit to his will and conquering the enemy. He had the favor of the king of Aram who sent him with a substantial treasure to be given to the king of Israel as a reward for helping Naaman be cured.

    The king of Israel took offense, initially. “The king of Aram is trying to make me look bad by sending this man to me. He knows I am not God, that I do not have the power over life and death.” (So, that’s the first error in this, right? That the king of Israel insisted he knew what was happening when, in fact, something else was happening.)

    Then Elisha steps in and says, “Hang on a minute! Send him to me so that he knows there really is a prophet in Israel.”

    And that’s what happens. Naaman, in all of his importance, his pomp and circumstance, comes with his entourage, all of his chariots and horses and servants. Only when Naaman gets to Elisha, Elisha doesn’t do things the way Naaman thinks they should be done. Instead of coming out himself to wave his hands over him and perform some ritual, Elisha sends a messenger to him to tell him to go wash in the Jordan.

    And Naaman, with his pride hurt and his nose bent out of shape, complains to any who would listen. “The waters of Damascus are better than the Jordan… why could I not wash there?” And he walks away in a huff. But one of his servants says, “Ya know, it’s not like he told you to do something difficult… which you would have done anyway. Why not try this?”

    And so he does. And, he’s cured.

    Maybe God is at work in our frustration.
    Maybe God is at work in the way things don’t turn out the way we’d hoped.

    I’m reminded of the movie, Color Purple. Shug Avery was quite a character. A woman of “dubious morals,” Shug is spurned by her parents – her father being a preacher in the community. But Shug is the most compassionate person in the entire movie, lavishing care and attention on those who are on the receiving end of brutality and cruelty. At one point in the movie, she makes the journey to her father’s church, singing so strongly all the way that the choir starts to follow her voice as the lead.

    And the song that she’s singing: “Maybe God is trying to tell you something”

    Shug sings,

    Speak, Lord
    Won’t you speak to me
    Heal my mind, heal my soul
    Speak to me, Lord
    Save my soul
    You cry all night
    Something’s gone wrong
    Maybe God is trying to tell you something

    Life is hard. Even in the best of circumstances. And we are not living in the best of circumstances right now.

    Someone said to me the other day, “We’re all a lot more on edge that we like to believe we are.” In other words, there is so much exhaustion from the pandemic and the shootings and the removal of rights by the supreme court and the genocide happening in Ukraine…
    It’s almost as though, if one more thing happens, we might lose it.
    Or, perhaps like me, you’re working so hard not losing it that you’re going a little numb.

    I think it’s very easy to become jaded or cynical. It’s easy to lose oneself, to lose our connection to Love itself. To become swallowed up by the world and succumb to its terror.

    I’m not someone who believes that God has a specific plan. I believe that humans do what humans do, acting, most often, in our own self-interest. And when we make a true mess of something or when something tragic happens to us because of other people’s messes, God is there to turn the nightmare that the world can sometimes be into a reason to hope.

    From death into life. Resurrection. Reconciliation.

    When Jesus talks to his disciples in today’s passage from Luke, he’s telling them to remember that God is at work in all of this. He mixes up his metaphors…  The harvest is plenty, but the laborers are few… I’m sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves.

    But this is what he’s saying:
    I know this is going to be hard, this life, especially when you seek to live it in Love and for Love. Especially then.
    When you try to live with compassion instead of judgment.
    When you try to live in hope instead of cynicism or despair.
    It will feel as though you are in this alone sometimes.
    Maybe even most of the time.

    But God is with you in it. So, be gentle, be kind, be loving.
    And when that is not received, as it will not be many times, it’s ok.
    Know that God is trying to tell you something.
    Shake the dust from your feet and continue on.

    It’s so easy to become an agent of judgment in this world. It’s so easy to live a life that is self-interested, so easy to get so accustomed to the voices in our own head that we mistake them for God.

    What is harder is to realize that you are not, in fact, alone. God is here with you. It’s just that sometimes, we may not like what God is trying to say to us…
    About our own judgment.
    About our own hubris, our own certainty.
    About our own agenda, the things we think we should be hoping for and striving for.

    And all we really have to do is reach out our hand, which is to say, all we really have to do is pray. We pray, not to get the things we want, but to speak a simple, yet difficult and sometimes demeaning phrase: “Help me!” Because it’s hard to admit when we need help.

    But this is when we stop taking up all the space in our psyche with plans and judgments and reactions and needs and desires… and we allow space for God to flare up like a flame in our lives. This is when we begin to realize that we are bigger and more beautiful than even our wildest dreams.

    Again, these words from Rilke:

    God speaks to each of us as he makes us,
    then walks with us silently out of the night.

    These are the words we dimly hear:

    You, sent out beyond your recall,
    go to the limits of your longing.

    Embody me.

    Flare up like a flame
    and make big shadows I can move in.

    Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.
    Just keep going. No feeling is final.
    Don’t let yourself lose me.

    Nearby is the country they call life.
    You will know it by its seriousness.

    Give me your hand.