Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Living in Community

Sermon October 4, 2015
The Rev. Kirsten Snow Spalding

Genesis 2:18-24
Psalm 8
Hebrews 1:1-4; 2:5-12
Mark 10:2-16

Yesterday I talked to a friend who is in her late seventies.  And she told me about a miracle in her life. 

My friend is difficult.  She is often sharp tongued and critical of people.   She has a hard time getting along.  Often when she comes to dinner, she gets into an argument with someone at the table.  My friend was married and in her thirties, she and her husband divorced.  She raised her daughter alone and never remarried.  But she had boyfriends—both casual and serious boyfriends.  She stayed in a long friendship with her ex-husband and became friends with his second wife. 

About ten years ago, her daughter moved away to take a job in Indiana.  Her daughter has a little girl and a husband and they have a good life, but they are far away.  My friend’s ex-husband died about five years ago.  And she was heartbroken when her daughter and her ex-husband’s second wife didn’t make any arrangement to include her in the funeral.

When my friend retired from her job, she felt terribly, terribly alone.  She complained a lot about her daughter ignoring her.  I sometimes felt guilty about not spending more time with her.  She felt discarded by her employer and abandoned by family.  She was struggling to find a way to make meaning out of her life.

I remember that time for her and I was worried about her.  Yesterday, she told me that she had a day when she was thinking that she might kill herself because she felt so alone. 

But the miracle that she told me about was waking up in the morning after going to bed so depressed that she was suicidal and realizing that she had a choice about how to live the rest of her life.  And her realization was that she could value the relationships that she has and instead of regretting the inadequacies of those relationships, she could celebrate the depth of them.  Her example was,  “I used to get a call from a friend saying, ‘Do you want to go to a movie?’ and I would respond saying I wish my daughter would call.  I wish it was a better movie,  I wish I had a husband to do things with.”  But after her miracle realization, she knew that she should say yes to the movie, she should appreciate the friend who called, she should reciprocate and honor, or celebrate the friendship that she has.  Instead of saying, this friendship is inadequate, she could see that it is a relationship that matters. 

And when her daughter comes to visit and then goes out to see her friends instead of staying home with her, my friend realized she shouldn’t complain, but could instead be glad that her daughter has friendships that matter and be glad that her daughter wants to come back to see her too.  Instead of regretting that she doesn’t get enough time with her granddaughter, she could make trips to see her, and stay connected with phone calls. 

The miracle was an awareness that her relationships—as imperfect as they are, are worth investing in, are what matters most to her, are what give her life meaning.  Instead of waiting for someone to come and make it right for her, she should reach out and deepen the relationships she has, keep the friends who matter to her, make a community that matters. 

My friend is not a Christian,  she doesn’t have a Church community.  So she has made a community of musicians, and academics, of neighbors and family all around the world.  She invited graduate students to come into her house and use a big space that she wasn’t using for their work.  Today her life is pretty good.  Her relationship with her daughter and her granddaughter is wonderful.  Her friends care about her, love her and honor her.

It was a miracle that saved her life, and gave her a new life in her retirement.

I tell you this story about my friend, because I think that this miracle was grace—it was a divine intervention that helped her to see what mattered most.

As I read and reread our lessons for today, I heard a truth about who God is.  God holds perfect relationships.  People do not.  But as we come to know God more fully, we can transform our relationships to look more like divine, Godly relationships.

In the story from Genesis,  we hear that from the very beginning, God knew that man was not to live alone.  God made a partner for man.  Many people read this passage as about heterosexual marriage, but look at the first line of the passage:  It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner."  This is the heart of God’s creative work,  from the very beginning, he made humans to help one another, to be a community.

This sense of community is not just about what God wants for us, it is what, who, how God is.  Our Trinitarian God—The Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit,  one God.  God’s very nature is to be community.

In the letter to the Hebrews, we hear another way of articulating this sense of community  “Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters, saying, "I will proclaim your name to my brothers and sisters, in the midst of the congregation I will praise you."

Jesus, the son of man came to be among us. Jesus knew us as our friend, as our brother.  This relationship that we had with Jesus when he lived among us as a man, and now this relationship that we have with Jesus Christ, our Redeemer—this is a relationship of family, of community.   This relationship is how God cares for us, it is how we know God. 

I notice in the letter to the Hebrews, the reference to the congregation.  “In the midst of the congregation”.  It brings to mind the relationships that we have here at Nativity.  I think there is in today’s community a tendency to feel that family relationships matter most.  And we tend to think of family in nuclear family terms—spouses, parents and children.  Maybe grandparents, but we have a tendency to think that the closer the relationship, the more important it is.  But when we read this Epistle, we can see that God is speaking to a community—relationships that are created in families and congregations, in neighborhoods and networks.  We are not meant to be alone.  And we honor God when we recognize and honor these relationships.

When we get to this Gospel passage, we could get caught up in a discussion about the morality of divorce.  But when I read this passage, I hear the Pharisees testing Jesus.  They want him to get into the nuances of when divorce is permissible and when it’s not.  Is it OK for a man to divorce his wife because he doesn’t like her cooking, or because he had an argument with her sister?  But Jesus won’t get into that argument.  He turns to the disciples and  reprimands them.  He says, God gave Moses that law because of your hardness of heart.  The real answer is not about the rules, the real answer is about the mutuality, the centrality of relationships.  Jesus says look at the beginning of creation—God made man and woman so that man would not be alone.  And then he gives them the lesson about children. “For it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.  . . .  And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.”  Jesus is reminding the people that relationships and community are what matter most.

It is in relationship that God made us, that God knows us, and that we come to know God.  This lesson is the miracle that Jean experienced.  

Today as we prepare for our congregational retreat, as we come together around the table for Eucharist, as we think about what we don’t like about this place or what discomforts we have with one another, about the inadequacies of our relationships, I pray that we might put our human differences aside.  Let us not drift apart, divorcing one another.  Let us instead live together, supporting one another, comforting one another, honoring one another—even the children, even the ones we don’t agree with. 

Let us hold up these relationships here as God wants us to hold one another in relationship.  Let us know one another as Jesus knew us—as brothers and sisters.  Let us covenant to love one another as Jesus loves us.

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