The Sacrament of Relationship
The Rev. Fran Holliday
All Saints’ Episcopal Church
Sunday February 16, 2014
If there is one thing that I have learned in my 10 years of being ordained it’s “never go to the grocery store wearing my collar.” Yes I have made that mistake on a few occasions, and it always makes for an interesting shopping excursion. The last time I did it I was in a long line at the Jewel and the woman in front of me turned around, looked at me and then asked me if I was a nun. When I told her I was an Episcopal Priest she proceeded to ask me “What made you decide to become a priest?” I really just wanted the cream and sugar for my coffee and I wanted to get home.
As we stood in the line she looked at me waiting for an answer so I blurted out, “Relationships, Christian community, That is what really matters in life and that is what I think most matters to God.” I am not sure if that was a sufficient answer for her because she was by then checking out and went on her way. But as I pondered this conversation and my response I know that I answered her truthfully.
For me, what I call the sacrament of relationship is by far the most important sacrament. Everything else follows from this. We do not consecrate bread and wine privately it is done in the midst of community and by the community. Likewise baptism is done in the midst of community. We say our baptismal vows in the presence of one another not just to ourselves. We publically pledge as a community of faith to support the newly baptized.
Everything we do flows out of our relationships. The sacrament of relationship is the primary thing that defines and shapes us. It is the most crucial element for our existence and growth and it is here in the midst of our relationships messy though they can be at times- it is here -where we find hope and new life.
A quote I once read comes to mind, “Did you know that a person can live weeks without food, days without water, minutes without oxygen. But not one moment without hope?” Relationships are the key ingredient that we need, to create, foster and sustain hope within us. And we all need hope not just to survive but live abundantly.
We need connections and relationships with others to sustain us, to feed us and to move us beyond ourselves especially during times of difficulty and despair. I don’t know about you but I often cannot muster up a sense of hope all on my own—especially when life gets hard and disappointments come. On my own I am stuck in my own head replaying my own negative tapes, thinking my own thoughts and caught up in a reality of my own making.
In community I have reminders that my failings do not define me—and the support to see that life will go on—no matter the situation. Relationships provide the door to new life and new possibilities if we dare to engage in them. I am reminded of a young man named Michael who I met many years ago while I was in high school. Michael had lost his place on the high school football team, he had lost his closest friends following his family’s move to a new suburb.
In general he suffered from depression but never spoke of it to anyone. He kept all of this pain and sense of loss to himself. Over time he became more and more isolated until one day he attempted suicide. He lay on the floor in his room and cut his writs. He became weaker as he lost blood which, he was doing quickly. Then something inside him made him call out to his family who was two floors up having dinner. A relative heard his faint cry and rushed to the lower level. He was quickly taken to the hospital and saved.
Michael was the brother of my high school psychology professor and every quarter he came to her class to tell his story. He came to talk about his battle with depression. But most of all he came to the high school to implore us not to isolate with our problems. He reminded us that isolation is often the road to deeper despair. He came to tell us that once he began to share what was going on with himself with others he began to gain back a sense of hope—this was a turning point.
Choosing to be in relationships with others and deciding to be honest with someone about what is going on in our life can open the door to hope and new life. We may not find ourselves in an extreme situation like Michael, but we often are faced with choosing between hope sustaining relationships with others, or the despair of isolation.
Throughout our lives and most especially during times of stress, disappointment and crisis, we stand at a crossroad and we must choose: What will we do? We are reminded in this mornings reading from Deuteronomy that often the choice between doing that which brings death and that which brings new life and hope is ours to make. The Israelites are crossing over into the promised land and Moses cannot go with them. At that moment he reminds them that they are at the crossroad and they must make a choice. “I have set before you today death and life.” Which will you choose?”
As a community of faith we are called to make the choice of being in relationships with one another. To create, foster and sustain hope. There are many ways we can and already do provide support for each other in this place. Most of you know that Bonnie and I are available for hospital visits and to be with you during medical emergencies. We are also available for pastoral conversations especially during times of crisis. Additionally this community has the Care Ministry which is a group of volunteers providing visits, rides and meals on a short term basis during times of life transitions, such as the death of a family member the birth of a baby, a new job or a move.
We also have lay chaplain, John Sattelmaier, who brings communion to homebound and hospital bound people and we have more Lay Chaplains being trained as we speak to provide these supportive visits. It is our hope to have our “listening circle” up and running in a couple of months. This is a peer facilitated support group that will meet once or twice a month. If you need this type of support or if you would like to volunteer to be part of the care ministry team please contact me. We always need new volunteers to sustain these supportive ministries.
But in addition to all of this I invite you to connect with new people, and with each other. Right now you can sign up to be part of a Lenten supper group, the Monday night Lenten bible study or the newcomers inquirer’s class also meeting in Lent. These are great opportunities to connect with others. Reach out to someone you don’t know and meet them. Have coffee with one person you have not spoken to before. If you are a newcomer or even if you have been here awhile but are not very connected I invite you to reach out—let one person get to know you better.
We need each other—we are called to care for one another to engage in each others lives and provide each other with hope, support and new life. Today and every day we are each standing at a crossroad and we must decide Will we open ourselves to each other, and to this new life? Today God has put before us death and life.
Which will you choose?