Sometimes I ask my husband Matt, “What do you need to hear in a sermon this week?”
He replies the same way each time: “I need to be consoled, encouraged, and challenged.”
But this week he added, “Maybe leave out the challenge this time.”
There is just Too Much challenge in our lives right now:
Financial insecurity. COVID. Civil unrest.
Too Much challenge right now: for every action taken in the name of justice, racial equity, and democracy, it seems that an equal and increasingly violent reaction is returned.
Including here at home: the violent destruction Friday night of the Maricopa County Democratic offices.
No people were injured or killed in the attack. But for many the loss of this space is the loss of hours and years and decades of participating in the “little d” Democratic process--the kind of active participation in our democracy that defines our shared national life together.
“My eyes shed streams of tears,” the psalmist writes, “because people do not keep your law.”
Many of us have shred streams of tears this year.
Which is why I am grateful this morning for Paul’s letter to the Romans. It is a letter of consolationand encouragement. And, wait for it, challenge. Sorry, Matt.
Let’s look at each in this order: consolation, encouragement and challenge.
Paul writes, that when we don’t know how to pray, “The spirit helps us in our weakness and intercedes with sighs too deep for words.”
Imagine, the spirit of God, interceding on our behalf with sighs too deep for words:
interceding through big, intentional sighs--breathing in and sighing out.
the everyday sighs, too. The ones that escape unexpectedly when we’re folding laundry or doing the dishes or some other menial task--the spirit of God interceding on our behalf with sighs too deep for words.
Little escapes of breath from deep within--a prayer offered up on our behalf by God’s holy spirit.
Imagine, even when we do not know how to pray, it is enough to breathe.
When the challenges are too much.
When the injustice and disfunction and civil unrest is too much.
When the worry about tomorrow and next year is too much.
When it is all just too much and when we don’t not even know how to pray:
Remember to breathe. It is enough. It is the spirit praying on our behalf.
May we be consoled knowing that the Spirit of God, the very breath of God, flowing in and through us, is a prayer offered in sighs too deep for words.
Our word of encouragement this morning is found a little later in St. Paul’s letter to the Romans. He writes:
“Neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come…not anything in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Our fear. Our mistakes. Our sin. Our embarrassments. Our addictions: Cannot separate us from the love of God.
Our political divisions and civil unrest: Cannot separate us from the love of God.
What people think and say about us: Cannot separate us from the love of God.
NO MATTER WHAT: WE. ME. YOU. HIM. HER. THEY. WILL NOT EVER BE SEPARATED FROM THE LOVE OF GOD. EVER.
Smack in the middle of all that it means to be alive, we remain forever anchored to the love of God. Never to be let go--we are moored, forever held, bound to, caught up in, belonging to the eternal source of love, to God.
No matter what, we are beloved by God.
Knowing that we will never, not ever, be cut loose from the love of God--ours is to seek the presence of God in all things, in all places, and in all people---seeking to find the mystery of God revealed,
Like a mystical game of hide and seek.
The love of God: revealed in sighs too deep for words as the intercession of the Holy Spirit.
The love of God: hidden in the tiny mustard seed that grew into a tree of immense shade and shelter where creation takes rest together.
The love of God: mixed, like yeast, into flour and water, rising into nourishing bread.
The love of God: like one who rejoices and is glad at the discovery of a great pearl or hidden treasure.
Be encouraged my friends. God is with us. And nothing will separate us from God.
God’s love is like a gift, waiting for us to unwrap it with each new day.
And this gift is also our challenge.
The gift of God’s love might be set out for us on our kitchen table, wrapped in gold paper with curled ribbon and a card that reads: Love, God.
Easy to find. Easy to open. Easy to receive.
But a mystical game of hide and seek is more likely.
As we move through our days our challenge is to ask: “Where is God in this? Where is God’s Love in this?”
If nothing can separate us from the love of God then God can be found in every nook and cranny of our lives. In the good and the bad. In the storm and disappointment and loss. In uncertainty and disappointment and relatioships that turn sour.
But it is a gift that can be hard to find, hard to open, and hard to receive.
Where is God in Portland, Oregon?
Where is God in our fear? Or embarrassment?
Where is God in our joy? Or illness?
Where is God in destruction?
Where is God in the absence of feeling loved by God?
And when we can’t seem to find God, when we don’t experience being loved by God, when we forget that we are beloved, when we don’t even know how or what to pray: Breathe.
It is enough to Breathe.
We seek and find God in our breathing. Imagine this co-mingling of breath: ours and the very breath of God. God's love discovered in our very breath. Found flowing in and through us.
In sighs too deep for words.
Remember to breathe, friends. It is enough.
The Rev. Anne K. Ellsworth
July 26, 2020
Holy Eucharist Liturgy of The Word
St. Augustine’s, Tempe via FB live
Proper 12, Year A
1 Kings 3:5-12
This sermon is informed by the retreat, "Finding Christ In The World," The Institute of Jesuit Sources, Chesnute Hill, MA by Joseph Tetlow, S.J. and Carol Atwell Ackels.
My Sermons (and other thoughts)
a sampling of sermons preached in the Episcopal Diocese of Arizona and a sprinkling of other writings