|Hurricane Katrina||El Salvador|
|"Letting Go" February 19, 2006|
|St. Luke's Episcopal Church, Atascadero, CA|
|This sermon is the kick off of my mission fundraising. It calls you to let go of that which separates you from the love of God, and step out to share in the experience of the other. It is based on
Isaiah 43: 18-25, Psalm 32:1-8, 2 Corinthians 1:18-22, Mark 2:1-12
|“Happy are they whose transgressions are forgiven and whose sins are put away” Amen
The readings today talk about sin—the forgiveness of sin. We Episcopalians don’t like to talk about sin, we’re not so comfortable with the topic. But I think we do ourselves a disservice by not talking about sin, because the good news is really about sin—the forgiveness of sin and new life in Christ. And we can’t fully experience the joy of that unless we talk about sin.
Sin is anything that separates us from the love of God, anything that keeps us from becoming the people that God wants us to be, that holds us back. It’s obvious things like holding onto anger or hurting someone on purpose, but it’s also less obvious like holding onto guilt or not accepting the gifts and talents God’s given us, or being too busy, or too focused on our goals, or too anything. This definition of sin is really challenging, it says to me that I’m sinning pretty much all the time. And we’re taught to be ashamed of that. But I don’t think we should be ashamed of being sinners, because God loves us as sinners. God loved us so much God became one of us to teach us and to live, die, and rise again to break the bond sin holds over us.
The world teaches us we should be punished for our sins, but God says differently. Just listen to the readings today: “For Jesus Christ…was not yes and no. In him it is always yes.” “I will forgive your sins.” “Son your sins are forgiven.”
So if we can accept that we are sinners and that God loves and forgives us anyway, there is still one thing we have to do. We have to let go of the things that separate us from God. That’s hard to do. There is evil in the world, and evil does not want us to let go of sin. Evil does not want us to reconcile ourselves to God. Evil convinces us that we need the things that separate us from God, that we are weak, and that the pain of following God is more than we can bear. These lies enter our hearts and we believe them. I believe them. But if we can stretch ourselves and follow God on faith despite our fear, we can break through into the glorious joy that is the Truth. The Truth that we only need God, that we are strong in God, and that the pain of following Jesus is coupled by great joy.
It’s not easy letting go, and it’s not something we do just once. Look at the disciples. They made the decision to follow Christ, but they were messing up all the time, they even denied him and doubted the resurrection. Just like them we have choices to make every day as to how we are going to live our faith, and every day we fail. But every failure is an opportunity for us to experience the joy of turning back to God.
Last year I quit my jobs, and I pushed aside the negativity and doubt that was keeping me from doing what God was calling me to do. But even when I was in Mississippi doing Hurricane Relief work or in El Salvador experiencing the hospitality of people who had so little, or in New York learning how to be a missionary, even in all these places I found things to put between me and God. I lost sight of what was important; I doubted; I got angry; I got overwhelmed. But each time was an opportunity to experience grace, and to be strengthened in my walk with Christ. I think that that’s the rhythm of faith, that’s the rhythm of following Jesus, sinning and being forgiven.
We can be tempted to think of forgiveness, even our relationship with God as something we just show up to, and God does all the work, because we know that God has already forgiven us. But I think there’s more too it then that, and I think that the Gospel reading today speaks to that. The friends of the paralytic show up to the place where this great healer is, but when they get there, there is all this stuff between them and Jesus—the crowd, a house. But they don’t give up, they don’t even wait for Jesus to come out. They see what is separating them from him, and they climb on top of it, they dig through it, and they let down their friend. And it says that Jesus saw their faith, and that’s when he said, “Son your sins are forgiven.” Jesus saw their faith, but I think they saw their faith too. They had to struggle and risk to get to Jesus, and in that struggle and risk, I think they found out what their faith was, how much it meant to them to get to him. I think that we are called to live out and grow our faith in the world, and to live out the letting go of our sins.
We are all called to be Missionaries, to live the Gospel in our daily lives, to seek the face of Jesus in the suffering, in strangers, to encounter God in the world, not just in our hearts.
I personally feel called to the mission field of the church abroad. From July to July I will be participating in the Young Adult Service Corps, which is a mission program of the church. I will be sent most likely to Africa or Latin-America, by myself, and I will serve a community and share my agricultural skills with them. But I will also be opening myself up to experience their lives, to experience the way they see God and the world. And I know I will be changed by that. I have already been changed by the joy, thankfulness, and presence of the spirit I have encountered in Mississippi, in El Salvador, and in my fellow missionaries.
When I went on these different adventures, you all gave me your love and prayers and I felt the power of that supporting me and encouraging me. And I shared my experiences with you by email. But I was not dependant on you to send me. This adventure is different. I am dependant on you. Missionaries of the church have to raise the majority of their own funds, and I have to raise $10,000. That figure seemed daunting at first, but now I see it as an opportunity to share my passion for mission work with this church and others in the diocese, and to gather a community to go on this journey with me.
I’ve split up the total by the days of the year, and it’s $30 a day. I have a sign up sheet in the back, and I am asking people to sponsor a day. And on that day, I will pray for you, and I will carry you with me in the work that I do, and I know that I will be strengthened by that. I also have a sign up sheet for people who want to sponsor me in prayer. I will keep in touch with everyone by email, sharing my experiences, and asking for specific prayers.
I want to thank you all for contributing to the Soup-er-Bowl offering a couple weeks ago, it totaled almost $600, which is 20 days St. Luke’s is already sponsoring.
By sponsoring me with your prayers or financially, you become a part of my ministry in a very real way. I will be carrying your love to the people I serve, and beginning a relationship between you and them. This world is such a broken and fractured place, but it’s love, and reaching out wanting to share in the experience of the other that begins to bind us back together and heal us. I don’t think any task is to great for God’s love.
I want to close with a story about sharing the experience of the other. After the mission orientation in New York, I was going to visit some friends in the north east, and I had a long layover in a train station. I was sitting there thinking about the things I had learned at the orientation, and I got to thinking about homeless people, and how even when I stopped to give money to someone on the street, I had never been willing to try to understand their pain, or to think of us as equals. I had my guitar with me, and this thought stuck in my mind, (I won’t attribute it to myself). “Why don’t I sit with my guitar and a cup, and start raising money for my mission by begging.” And I thought, “Nope, unun, not gonna do it.” But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that the only thing that was holding me back was pride and fear, and I remembered a quote from Mother Theresa, “the only way to learn humility is through humiliation.” So I went and I sat with my guitar and this cup [held up the cup] and I made noise on my guitar for an hour and a half (I’m not good enough to really play). Hundreds of people walked by me, and only two people looked at me and smiled, and no on put anything in my cup. The longer I sat there the more I lost my sence of self, and after a while I wasn’t thinking about why I was there, only that my cup was empty, I was cold, my fingers hurt, and no one cared. I felt like I was dirty, like people were ashamed of me, like I didn’t deserve to be there. And even when I went out on the street later to get lunch, the feelings stuck with me, I thought people could tell I was homeless. And as I walked along I saw a man who was dirty sitting on the sidewalk. I looked at him and smiled, and in that moment I felt more connected to him than anyone else in the world, because I had just experienced some tiny portion of his pain, and realized that it wasn’t the poverty that did the most damage, it was the indifference of the rest of the world. He saw me smiling at him, and he asked me if I could spare some change. I said, “Absolutely,” and handed him 2 dollars. He looked at them for a moment and said, “No, no, no, no, no.” He handed me one of the dollars back and said, “you need this one.” [pulled the dollar out of my cup] It wasn’t until later that I realized that the first dollar for my mission came from a grumpy homeless man named Mark.
I wanted to share this story with you because I wasn’t in Africa, it was an ordinary day in an ordinary place, and God turned it into an extraordinary day, and taught me a lesson that will always be with me. And I know that God will do the same for you.
I am asking you to join me on a journey, to open yourselves to it, and to be changed by it.