Sermon,  Sermons

With All Your Heart: Lament

In the Jewish faith tradition, it is common practice to recite the Shema in a manner comparable to the manner in which we use the Lord’s Prayer. The Lord’s prayer reminds us who we are, what we believe: God is holy, God’s kingdom will come and God’s will enacted, is merciful, gives us strength, present in our need, powerful, and dwells among and in us – forever and ever.

In much the same way:

Shema – hear, listen – O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. Take to heart these instructions with which I charge you this day. Impress them upon your children. Recite them when you stay at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you get up. Bind them as a sign on your hand and let them serve as a symbol on your forehead, inscribe them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. (Deut 6:5-9)

Both tell us a great deal about who we are and who this God is. This holy, royal (ultimate) power, is merciful, always there, and dwells with us – committed to us, covenants with us, chooses us – over and over and over again.

I love how the Shema passage also acknowledges that we need to be reminded of these things by outlining ways to remind ourselves (hence, my tattoo).

So, where did and does everything go wrong? In essence, it is in the forgetting who we are, who our God is, and what we believe about those realities. And so we choose to trust what is immediately before us: other gods (money, power, place in the friend-hierarchy); and easy ways out of our discomfort (food, substances, Netflix, Elderscrolls) – ignoring the reminders that our God is holy, powerful, merciful, always there, committed, still chooses me.  

And I effectively go into exile . . . when I choose these other things and not God.

Who among you are living in exile? Who among us are exiled by us?

On Ash Wednesday we listened to the lament of Israel, the lament of Katrina survivors, the lament of not having a home, not being at home. Who among are in exile? Perhaps literally without a home? Maybe you do not feel at home in this space? Maybe you do not feel at home in your own/body skin?

So what is the alternative to exile when there is very real pain and grief and fear? The antidote to exiled living is lament. 

Lament as worship. It is revealing that lament constitute forty percent of the Psalms, while the percentage in our hymn books tops out in the single digits.

Remembering our stories – is powerful. where have we come from? Wandering now? Exiled by dint of not knowing which direction to go?

Lament is about remembering from whence we came. Lament is about noticing something is not right and sitting with that discomfort, the pain, for a while. Lament is about welcoming the grief as a guest – writing a psalm about it, a poem, a song; painting a picture to describe it; lighting a candle to represent that which is now missing, the flame a symbol of my grief, my lament, a prayer carried in the smoke into the air – where God. Is. Present. Dwelling with us.

Lament is about remembering our stories, and what is true about who we are.

In todays Romans passage: no one who believes in Jesus will be put to shame. The Word is already on your lips, in your heart. The God of the universe – the Word, Jesus – is in your heart.

That breathtakingly beautiful and utterly dangerous hurricane that is the Trinity-dance – giving up space to make space for the other, to be filled again and be more than . . .

How much space am I letting Jesus occupy in my heart? How much do I hold onto – standing my ground, not giving up space to Jesus? to hear God’s spirit? hear God through you?

John Wesley talks about Prevenient grace. It is this grace that is already here. Without looking for it, not working for it, nobody holding it all and refusing to share – God’s grace is.

Fr. Thomas Keating says this about the what this looks like:

“The spiritual journey is not a career or a success story. It is a series of humiliations of the false self that become more and more profound.”

Fr. Thomas Keating

            Humiliations of the false self. It is only humiliating because it is a fragile thing. Yet we continue to choose to put on that false self. I hold my ground, stand firm, not giving up my space – this fragile, faux covering. So when I am exposed, the glue that I used to affix that faux exterior might pull off a bit of skin. But even more, I erected that encasement out of fear – that what was underneath was somehow not good enough.

            Which begs the question: not good enough for whom?

            Our God is Love, is merciful, gives us strength, present in our need, powerful, and dwells among and in us – forever and ever, Amen. This God indwells us – and I want to cover that up?

            It is humiliating because I have to say, wow, I was so wrong. I have to lament. I must.

Please, don’t make me sing this song – a reminder of when it was all good, or what I thought was good – an anchor in the past. Still, I must sing it, lament. Each layer peeled away, more and more profoundly real, profoundly indwelled by the God of the universe – our God, is one God.

Our true and full self

“What we hunger for perhaps more than anything else is to be known in our full humanness, and yet that is often just what we also fear more than anything else. It is important to tell at least from time to time the secret of who we truly and fully are . . . because otherwise we run the risk of losing track of who we truly and fully are and little by little come to accept instead the highly edited version which we put forth in hope that the world will find it more acceptable than the real thing.”

Frederick Buechner

            So here we are in this time of Lent, this season of walking with Jesus through the wilderness – and ultimately, the cross. Jesus was tempted to forget who he was. Jesus was tempted to exploit his power to get what he wants – forget that God knows what he needs. Jesus was tempted to forget that his role is to let God be the power, that as a human being, he cannot be in charge of everyone, exert his own power over others. Jesus was tempted to forget that he doesn’t need all of the attention to be of value – to receive recognition, to impress others to be worth something.

With all your heart, soul, strength – that is, the body  . . . prayer poses, breath, hugs . . .

In 1964, a philosophy professor named Jean Vanier invited two men with disabilities to live with him in a house in Trosly-Breuil, France. This was the beginning of L’Arche, now a network of 154 intentional communities in 38 countries centered around people with intellectual disabilities. At the heart of L’Arche and Vanier’s work is the conviction that people with intellectual disabilities have something important to teach everyone else — “something,” Vanier says, “about what it means to be human and to relate and to celebrate life together.”

[take from OnBeing’s Kristin Lin]

L’Arche offers us the wisdom that the seeds of healing are planted in our physical presence. “As the body can become comfortable, then the spirit can rise up,” Vanier says. “There’s a recognition. There’s a contact. There’s a relationship.”

This is a concept that Matthew Sanford also works with in his yoga practice and his life as a father:

“There’s a reason why, when my son who’s six is crying, he needs a hug. It’s not just that he needs my love. He needs a boundary around his experience. He needs to know that the pain is contained and can be housed, and it won’t be limiting his whole being. He gets a hug, and he drops into his body.

When it comes to healing, when it comes to aging, we admire that 80-year-old guy who runs a marathon … but you need all kinds of strength. You need to be able to also surrender. Being more present, surrendering into the world, feeling more. I don’t mean intellectually. I mean literally having your body as if you’re getting hugged like my son.”

Matthew Sanford

When we say that we love God with all our heart, soul, strength, we recognize that God loves us with everything – that God is Love. When we lament, we surrender to that ache and remember – we remember who we are and whose we are. We remember that God surrounds each of us in an embrace, and then settle into that – make space for God to move in (perhaps through another person) and to each other.

Remember who we are – generous, people of faith. Giving as a Lenten spiritual practice.

Meditating on an image, a word that centers us for a few moments each day – participate with us!

Bible study on Thursday mornings discussing the crucifixion

Lenten meditations on Wednesday with lunch

And let us say together what we believe, in response – page 7 in your hymnal.