Reading: You Do It When You Do It by Meg Barnhouse
Rev. Meg Barnhouse writes:
I’ve been in a serious writing slump. I haven’t been doing enough nothing—just sitting around reading or puttering in the yard. Those things free my mind to remember, to enjoy, to create. I don’t think that’s the real reason though. I’ve had church work to do, newsletter articles, and tons of email, and sermons, but that’s not the real reason either. The real reason I haven’t been writing is that—I haven’t been writing. It has burst on me like a revelation. I do what I do, and I don’t do what I don’t do. I feel embarrassed by this, as if everyone on earth knows this except me.
…This is the secret to eating right and exercising, too. I do what I do and I don’t do what I don’t do. I can plan to eat more fruit and vegetables. I can buy them at the store. But I have to actually eat them instead of eating something else.
I can plan to exercise. I have planned to do yoga for about six years now. Last year I bought a mat. A friend made me some tapes. But I am not feeling stretched out, strengthened, balanced. I may have to actually do the yoga to reap those benefits.
I do what I do and I don’t do what I don’t do. … I think the Buddhists have been saying that for years. … It seems like the Buddhists get all the good insights first. It makes me feel a bit surly, if you must know. They are so calm and patient, and they nod when you have a realization and they don’t say things like “I’ve been trying to tell you that all along!”
Jacob is a legendary figure in both the Jewish and Islamic scriptures. Grandson of Abraham, he fathers 12 sons who become the 12 tribes of Israel. He is, however, no paragon of virtue.
He colludes with his mother to steal his twin brother’s inheritance. That brother, Esau, furious, vows to kill him, so Jacob hotfoots it to live with other relatives. They turn out to be just as underhanded as he has been. To say that this whole family was dysfunctional…well, that would be kind.
Jacob is greedy. Self-centered. Duplicitous. In this year, I thought there might well be something for us to learn in his story.
Jacob, finally, yearns to return home.
He knows he needs not just to return but to turn, to find a different way, to reconcile with his family, with himself and with God.
So he heads home and one night, en route,…here is the KJV text…”there wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day.”
When this figure, whoever he was, could not defeat Jacob, he struck Jacob’s hip and put it out of joint…but Jacob did not relent.
The figure said, “Let me go, for daybreak is almost here.” But Jacob responded, “I will not let you go, unless you give me a blessing.”
The figure said, “You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel… for you have contended with God…and have prevailed.” Then God, or the angel of God, offered Jacob his blessing and departed.
And Jacob, now limping, but with his blessing, continued his journey home.
“Wrestles with God” or “God wrestles with us” is the primary meaning of the word “Israel.”
Jacob wrestled God to a draw, would not let God go…reached his limit because he knew he needed a blessing.
Jacob knew he needed to find a different way, because too much was being destroyed…in himself…in his dysfunctional family…in his world.
I don’t know if there are any Jacobs here, folks who feel like you’ve been wrestling…all night, just trying to find some blessing. Folks who feel that too much is being destroyed in our world. I don’t know if there are any other Jacobs here, but let me tell you, I can relate to Jacob.
I’ve been trying to resist the lying and the violence, struggling to reject the greed and the hate and the casual despoiling of the planet.
Now, this is Celebration Sunday and I am going to get to hope…rest assured of that…but we need a hope deeper than just a feel good optimism.
Like many of you, I know that the path we are on as a nation does not point in any way toward the Beloved Community.
We need to turn. We need a different way. We need to find a hope that can sustain us. We need to find a blessing.
Our spirits are at risk.
Here is one description of the danger, from Susan Griffin:
“We never lose soul but we [can] lose knowledge of soul. We cease to know ourselves…and others. We begin to believe the world is soulless, and our belief begins to make that true.”
We’ve heard it again this week. “Well, if those allegations of abuse are true…” If they are true? The courageous voices of the survivors of sexual assault are being denied yet again and that denial of their truth means that we accept that violence.
Even worse, the talk of fake news and the cavalier disregard of facts…the refusal to see truth…makes it impossible to address the violence.
If you deny that violence is there, well then there is nothing to do. If there are good people carrying those Tiki torches and chanting Nazi slogans…good people, on all sides, on all sides. Well…
If you say you are going to bring back “Clean Coal” when no such thing exists…well…
Every lie that we allow is further proof…for us and for everyone else…that the love of power is in fact stronger that power of love.
Let me be clear. There are signs of change…in the most recent election…and here in Portland…that we the people are reaching our limit of belief in the lies. There is love in us just waiting for the light of day. I do believe that. But we still have our work cut out for us.
Rebecca Parker, former President of SKSM, argues that the apocalypse, the end times, are not in the future. She believes that the end times are now and that seeing the world through that lens should begin shaping our religious mission.
Is that a hopeless way to view our situation? I do not think so.
Because a time of breakdown can also be a time of breakthrough. A time of chaos can be a time of creativity.
But only by insisting that the truth be seen, can we claim a mission that will move us forward…
It was James Baldwin who said: “’Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”
I am coming to believe that it is not enough to say that we are building the Beloved Community…though that remains the goal.
Building the Beloved Community? That should be quick…when I was moving into adulthood, we thought my generation would surely get it done…probably wouldn’t take that long.
But we have had to give up that belief. The structures of privilege…the principalities and the powers…have proven persistent and resistant…they have mutated in response to our efforts.
Our building project does not start from scratch. We must clear away some of the ruins, some of the past devastations … and we must salvage what is of value from what has gone before. Because there is much there that should be salvaged:
The value of freedom…freedom from bondage and freedom of speech, justice…equity…compassion. These values are being eroded, but they remain values of great human importance. We cannot discard these values as we clear away the failed attempts to live them out.
Building the Beloved Community…well, those first blueprints didn’t do the job. It is going to be more complicated than we thought.
And the religious community…this religious community… has a central role to play.
From Rebecca Parker: “Soul comes back to us in tears that break through silence and in great laughter that shakes the foundations of this world’s structures of denial and exclusion.”
Tears and laughter.
“The church must be such a place of tears and laughter… A religious community in which these things can happen is a sanctuary for the recovery of soul and a school for the transformation of society.”
Religious community, this sanctuary for the recovery of soul, enables us to sustain the depth and courage needed to stand for the goodness of human life and to answer the call of love.
Is it as clear to you…as it is clear to me…how important our role is? How important this sanctuary for the spirit is?
I think you know. I read it in your statements on the prayer flags hung around this sanctuary.
Here is what you said:
We must “continue to be a voice for all that is holy in this upside down world.”
We must “love, even and especially when we feel unlovable.”
We must “care for and support each other in the work of justice.”
Nurture, love and guide the children.
Support communities of color, show up, take a knee, reach out.
Channel our fears and anger into hopeful, creative action.
Yes, Yes, Yes.
We must, you said, “regenerate hope, resiliency and kindness…week after week.”
This celebration and the pledge drive we conclude today are not about a church budget…not fundamentally.
This celebration is about “regenerating hope, resiliency and kindness” …week after week…for the long haul.
This celebration is about blessing.
Blessing the mission of this church with our support. Blessing the importance of this church in our individual lives and the life of this community. And blessing the hope this church can represent.
We’ve been wrestling and we have more wrestling ahead of us. And we will not let go until we live into our blessing and live our blessing out into the world.
Yes. And Amen.