Arriving to Where One Loves
All Saints' Episcopal Church
June 26, 2016
God of Invitation, as you moved in the lives of Elijah, Elisha, and Jesus, move in our lives.
Open the eyes of our hearts, and let the light of Your truth flood in.
Shine Your light on the hope You are calling us to embrace.
Invite us to journey into unknown territory - learning to listen for your voice in our lives.
Help us know when and how to speak in a world that does not always want to hear.
Grant us the courage we need to journey, trust, listen, and speak.
I stand here this morning feeling torn.
It is Pride Parade day in chicago and there is a clear invitation to celebrate all that is proud and beautiful about being queer and we are also remembering sorrows cry of tragic loss.
As Orlando joins the massacres that plague this country ... our own communities...
Deaths broken spines go by unaccounted for ...
One year since Charleston we are still decimated by the reality that even the places folks seek out as sacred havens are not immune from horror.
I stand here wanting there to be good and bad people. I want life with the Divine to be as simple as choosing which one I want to be.
I watched a story this week of a contingency from Hawaii who braided a 49 strand lei for each life killed in Orlando. I listened as they spoke in front of the memorial and announced that there still are good people in this world.
And I find myself desperately wishing that freedom was that simple...
I want the freedom talked about in Galatians chapter five to be simple.
I want the simplicity of loving my neighbor as myself to be as simple as having the freedom to choose to be good person or a bad person.
Yet, again and again, I hear of people lifting up and mourning the dead without lifting up the neglect and bigotry the victims endured while living - sometimes by the actions of the same ones who now mourn.
I am reminded that loving our neighbor as ourselves—walking in the light of truth—can be both harsh and beautiful, even at odds.
Loving our neighbors as ourselves requires intimacy with the paradoxes of our own souls and our own communities.
It means learning that the Pulse killer was possibly gay and not being surprised (because anyone who truly loves queer folks knows that self-hate is never easily undone).
I stand here angry and not wanting to learn how to love and desperately needing to know how to love.
How to love myself
How to love you
How to love the stranger
How to love my enemy
Philosophers, mystics, teachers, and prophets throughout the ages have long taught us that the uniqueness of the way each individual loves is best seen in who they become and that becoming and loving is a continuous call and response process, not a sequence of events.
Galatians 5:1 states "For freedom Christ has set us free."
Philosophers, theologians and thinkers everywhere have dedicated a great deal of time to understanding the concept of freedom—particularly how freedom is connected to our wills and our doing, and therefore to our loving.
Understanding that freedom is attached to the choices we make and the liberty to do or to omit things is a commonality for many of us who have grown up in the United States, the Land of the Free.
The land where people have had to fight for the right to say yes or no to marriage.
When we think of freedom as it is attached to what we can and cannot do, we only need to look at the origins of this Nation, and the recent events within the European Union and the United Kingdom, in order to understand that conversations around what is good and bad and right and wrong often dance to a tempo set by a few ones who get to control what is "good" and and what is "right."
While Galatians does talk about freedom as liberty of choice the word used in the Greek in verse one is eleutheria (el - u - there- ee - ah)
One commentary I read points out that the etymology—the parts that construct the word eleutheria—can be understood as meaning "arriving to where one loves."
Arriving to where one loves.
At the risk of causing the theologians among us to squirm (because etymology is not theology!) I do suggest that in Galatians the author is lifting up the principle that in Christ we are free to arrive where one loves.
We are freed to love one another and be on a journey to get there.
We are freed to love ourselves as whole people who—who are at once limited and limitless...
The unfolding answer to "How do we love our neighbor as ourselves?" is deeply influenced by how we live relationships and own our own becoming.
"How do I love my neighbor?" is a question we must keep finding answers to amidst the calls of relationships with ourselves, each other, and our Maker.
In the face of the loneliness and exile of devastation we must attune ourselves to the Maker of Hearts whispering to us through relationships:
the hands of caregivers,
the rhythm of the liturgy,
the transparency of song,
the largess of creation,
the attentions of loved ones,
and ways that only the individual can hear.
The Whisper persists in saying our loving.... my loving .... your loving ... does not happen in isolation.
The fact that we have been given a boundless heart fully capable of loving and relationship opens us to where we are headed.
One born into an ultimate box that was terribly void of relationship to the world around her, Helen Keller was lifted into her own becoming through relationship with her teacher Anne Sullivan. Over time she found her own way into an abundance of relationship with the whole world and it wasn't always accepting.
In a letter to Senator Robert La Follette, Helen Keller wrote:
"So long as I confine my activities to social service and the blind, they compliment me extravagantly, calling me 'arch priestess of the sightless,' 'wonder woman,' and a 'modern miracle.' But when it comes to a discussion of poverty...that is a different matter! It is laudable to give aid to the handicapped. Superficial charities make smooth the way of the prosperous; but to advocate that all human beings should have leisure and comfort, the decencies and refinements of life, is a Utopian dream, and one who seriously contemplates its realization indeed must be deaf, dumb, and blind."
See, there is a risk in loving and living the wholeness of ourselves. It will not always be received well by others.
Dr. Audre Lorde said, "There's always someone asking you to underline one piece of yourself—whether it's black, woman, mother, dyke, teacher, etc.—because that's the piece that they need to key into. They want to dismiss everything else."
I highlight this resistance because I want to acknowledge that we can't be about loving our neighbor without claiming our relationships to our personal social location and how it engages the social location of those around us.
Responding with a critical self-awareness to the call of relationships that resist us and seek to limit us is as important to shaping our love of neighbor and self as the response to the call of our encouraging relationships.
Hellen Keller needed the pretentiousness and devaluing of a senator as surely she needed the support of Anne Sullivan in her learning to love.
Martin Luther King Jr. needed the ignorance and cowardice of Bull Connor as surely as he needed the inspiration and guidance of Howard Thurman to live into his becoming.
So I repeat, truly, the work of becoming puts the wide world in relationship with us.
One of the most powerful things Christianity teaches the larger world is that a tomb of emptiness and abandonment can give way to life unmeasurable.
And this is the hope and assurance we have.
In our loving we are connected to a source of life that goes way beyond our earthly days and the paradoxes of our soul.
Dr. Howard Thurman, spiritualist and mentor to Martin Luther King Jr., frames our loving in this way, he states:
"Don't ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and go do that, because what the world needs is people who have come alive."
When you are answering "How do I respond to the Divine's invitation to love my neighbor?" don't forget that the answer best speaks to how your Creator has made you to come alive!
Also, don't forget that your source of this life is a boundless Divine who has become all things—not just a few things, all things!
As Rev. Osagyefo Uhuru Sekou of Ferguson and Baltimore reminds us, "We have seen the face of God, and God has got tattoos on God's face, and God sags God's pants, and God is angry and God is queer."
One of the few promises in life that I am comfortable making is that the Maker and Keeper of hearts gives life and sustains our wholeness by giving us boundless hearts that know no limits—unless we create them.
I close by wondering what awaits you as you go about the continual work of answering "How do I love my neighbor?"
The more we trust and practice being open to the call and response of all that surrounds us—the good, the bad, the ugly, both within ourselves and without ourselves—the clearer it becomes that it is not the events of our lives that define us but how we belong to this world.
It is how we embrace the freedom to love ourselves and our neighbor―how we respond to the calls of this world―that defines the events of our lives.
I paraphrase a conversation Krista Tippet shared with Courtney Martin when I point out that we are often asked to show up in life as only slices of ourselves. To feel like we're showing up as our whole selves in different settings is a rebellious act.
It is an act of freedom to know Christ, to walk with each other, to be freed to love ourselves—our whole selves—and the whole selves of others, even the pieces we do not like - truly humbling and difficult work.
I sometimes wonder if I am too angry with evil and the human capacity for evil in myself and others to ever freely do this work of wholehearted loving.
But, I find hope in knowing that we have been freed to learn how.
So, I invite you to go forth... learn about this mysterious connection between freedom and loving
I invite you to take in your whole self in the presence of your Maker, be vulnerable to this ongoing work of loving, show up with the fullness of all you can grasp, and rebel against the powers that would ask of you and the Divine's beloved community for less.