Bearing Light to Strangers: A Sermon Preached at St. Stephen's Episcopal Church in Fargo, ND

So I prepared this sermon differently than the others I have given.  For this one I applied my new skills I'm learning in my priestess training to "download" the message by going deeply into meditation first and asking Jesus and the saints what needed to be said today.  I began by sitting at my desk and just struggling on word smithing and I realized that the energy of my computer was distracting to me.  So I shut it down and made my way into nature, barefoot, and I began recording on my iPhone.  After I received the sermon I typed it out and added things here and there.  If you are interested in the original message, you can listen to it here:

May I be a vessel proclaiming to God’s people, what the Holy Spirit is saying today. 

Grace and Peace be with you in the name of Jesus.

What is your relationship to the strange?

What is your relationship to the mystery?

Do you lead with curiosity to explore and discover a world vast and beyond anything you’ve ever known?

Or do you seal yourself off and protect yourself from the unknown?
Or do you try and dominate and control that which frightens you?

I believe some of the most fundamental questions we can ask ourselves is what is our relationship to strangers and what is our relationship to the mystery that we are surrounded in?  And whom do we serve?

In the Old Testament text today, three strange beings of light come across the desert, find Abraham and Sarah at the Oaks of Mamre and appear as the Lord.  Abraham’s response to the strangers is full of passion: he runs from the tent to greet them, he hastens back into the tent and tells Sarah to make ready quickly some cakes, and he runs to the herd, picks a calf and gives it to a servant to hastily prepare it.  This is extreme hospitality.

Hospitality to strangers is a huge theme in the Old Testament.  The prophets often warn the people of God about forgetting to practice hospitality.  In the tales of Sodom and Gomorrah and in the book of Judges where cities were condemned and burned, to this day some people interpret these texts as being punishment for homosexuality, punishment for something strange that we don’t understand about someone else’s human nature.  However Bible scholars who look closer at the texts reveal that the true teaching in these stories serves to remind us of what happens when we forget to be kind to people who are different than us.  The people in these cities and towns had forgotten how to welcome the unknown with surprise and wonder and haste and instead tried to dominate and control strangers, to bring them into submission and abuse them.  This was evil in the sight of the Lord. 

These strangers of the Lord come to Abraham and they come to us today bringing an announcement of a new world.  Strangers are like a universe unto themselves.  People come with their own histories and each of us born into the human family comes from a history of violence.  Each of us, as we move back into our ancestral lineage, will find victims of violence and perpetrators of violence; it is inescapable in the human family.  The strangers of the Lord come to us today and they are wondering how we will welcome them.  They are wondering if we will hear their good news. 

When the stranger comes us do we even have time these days?  Do we do violence to the stranger as we quickly judge or write them off?  Or do we take the time to listen deeply to their stories? Do we listen to the soul that lives within?  Do we feel the resonance of the light, the light that binds us together, the light that shines through us and connects us back to the same source? Can we look into the face into a stranger and see not our fears, not our enemies, but see our beloved, to see our Creator, to see our brothers and sisters. 

We are all one in the human family.

People who study genetics have linked all of humanity to a common ancestral line that comes from Africa, probably from seven African mothers.  Pigmentation of the skin is caused by how we have lived in different climates and how the UV rays have affected us over time.  Scientists tell us that we are more alike than different.  And this is the same message we have heard also in the ancient spiritual teachings of the world.

The apostle Paul, maybe pseudonym Paul, introduces us to the cosmic Christ.  He introduces us to the one who is before time, who was at the beginning of creation, the one who is after time, the one who is the head of all creation and the one who links us together with God eternally so that no sin—NONE can separate us from God.   This cosmic Christ connects all beings, all of creation is reconciled and connected back to our divine source.  This is the good news and it’s an incredible gift when we stand facing the graves, when we stand in the face of violence, when we stand on top of land that contains the blood of whole nations of people that our forefathers have conquered.  Strangers appear to us just as they did to Abraham.  The Lord says to us, look, I know you’re old.  I know this is ridiculous.  But a child will be conceived, things can change.  A whole new world can be born here and now.  Even after all of the things we have been through.  Even after all of this.  Yes.  Christ can reconcile all of this. 

We are connected to Christ.  We are connected to God and we are also connected to our sinful nature.  We are connected to the collective unconscious.  We are still in many ways denying the consequences of our actions, living our lives as if we were not connected to one another, living behind masks that are too tough, hiding our suffering, hiding our humanity which has the power to connect and unite us all. 

I had a dream once many years ago before I started Jungian analysis, and one of the first dreams I had was of a highway and on this highway there were many vehicles traveling at fast paces and on the highway were these adorable tiny baby creatures.  Some of them looked like my pet guinea pig, others were baby ducklings, and they were all being run over by the cars.  I was scrambling to the road to try and save the innocent baby creatures while everyone around me was telling me:  this is just how life is, there is nothing that can be done.  And so I went and I painted a picture of the tragedy so people could see what was happening, but no one wanted to look at it. 

I believe that dreams are God’s forgotten language.  All throughout the Bible, God is speaking through dreams.  At the time, I began to explore the relationship between these two energies within me.  I began to look at the ways in which I was the reckless vehicles.  And the ways that I was also the innocent baby creatures.  I was both energies.  Both energies exist in all of creation.  We are all both.   

I was thinking of this dream I had over 10 years ago as I was reflecting on the news of the man who drove recklessly in the city of Nice… just listen to the symbols of that statement, ye who live liturgically… a man drove recklessly in the city of Nice…  I can’t help but think of the prophet Nathan saying to King David last week:  you are the man.   It’s easy to point a finger at evil in the world, and much harder to point at yourself.  But if we want to stop evil in the world, we have to look within.

I used to work with a Saint, Miss Daisy Mae at the Salvation Army’s Boys and Girls Club.  She was a tall powerful black mother who looked after all the kids in the city.  She used to say to me:  Jessica, I won’t be surprised if you murder anyone.  And I still love you.  I’d say: Daisy!  How could you think that about me?  Daisy would say:  it’s not about you, Jessica—it’s about how much God loves you.  Even if you were a mass murderer.  Just think about that.  Cuz those who have been forgiven much, love much.  Miss Daisy was always trying to get me to see how much God loved people—even the ones we labeled as evil among us.  She knew how far God’s love could go, because she ministered to a group of inner city children and teens that most people had already given up on.

I am understanding more deeply how we are one.  And I am recalling Jesus’ teachings about how sin begins in our thoughts.  I am seeing how we are manifesting and co-creating what we are thinking.  If we are living in a way where one part of ourselves violently mows down another part of ourselves, then we have sinned just as this man has sinned.  I want to take it even further.  If we remain unconscious of the ways in which we participate in being violent to ourselves and others, then we are co-creating a violent world together.

I was listening to the news, and I was listening to a woman from the New York Times say, this is just the new reality that we all have to learn to live in.  This is just the new way of life.  And I thought, NO.  This is not going to be the new way of life.  This is not going to be the new reality.  I am not giving up on God’s dream for us.  Because, see, you and I have a choice in creating a reality.  We are called to be co-creators with God and to create a divine story together.  We have a choice about what kinds of stories we’re going to tell ourselves.  And we have a choice to emerge fully with Christ’s body which all of creation is connected to.  We have a choice to admit our weaknesses and to ask forgiveness and to grow in humility and community with one another.  We have a choice to wake up to the ways in which we all participated in violence big and small, whether it’s being so busy, so driven, that we are willing to run down our bodies or we are willing to work 60 or 80 hours a week.  Are we really willing to stop playing and imagining and exploring the mystery that surrounds us?  Are we really willing to destroy our planet and creation which is also connected to Christs’ body? 

If we are brave enough, if we are awake enough, we can rise up and say this is not the story we are living in.  The story we are living in is one of new life.  It’s one where we welcome the stranger.  And where we can also see that I am no worse than my brother.  That I am no worse than my sister.  That all of us can be forgiven and restored to love in God through Christ. 

I believe that we are being called to wake up to the fact that too many of us are acting violently towards ourselves and others and that a part of us is allowing this to continue even at an unconscious level.  In many ways we all have positioned ourselves on the social ladder of success and it’s easy to find some person, some target, some sacred ground to designate and say this is going to be the landfill where I put all of my garbage.  This is going to be the scapegoat that I blame for all of the evil of the world.  This is my excuse for not being a better person, for not loving more.  And Christ is saying: no that is not the story I am writing.  Put your sins on me, he says.  Let me reconnect you with God.  Because as long as you’re putting your sins on other people, as long as your cut off from the awareness of your own sinful nature, you’re also cut off from the awareness of God’s deep forgiveness and love for you. 

The person who is aware that they are sick is one that is aware that they need a doctor. The one who has been forgiven much, loves much. 

Paul tells us:  we are the hope of glory!  Christ has shown us what is possible; we are all able to become mature in love, mature in Christ.  But there is still a lot of denial and disassociation in the human family right now as we are still waking up to what Christ taught us many years ago: that we are one and that what we do to another we are doing to our very selves.  (Even Buddha taught:  it is our sufferings, our humanity that make us one.)

The question our texts ask us today is: whom do you serve?  Abraham serves the strangers, Paul is a servant of the gospel of Jesus, Martha seems to be the servant who is doing all of the work, but Jesus points to Mary as the servant, the one who is sitting at his feet, feeding on wisdom as she dwells in the presence of Jesus.  See our work can be much easier if it flows from this divine connection.

So let us sit at the feet of Jesus.  Let us get off of the trauma trains we have been riding, let us wake up to the fact that many of us remain busy because we are avoiding dealing with the pain that lives inside of us, avoiding the soul that is here waiting to be tended to, waiting to mature in Christ, avoiding sitting at resting at the feet of Jesus, because there’s simply more important things to do, because there’s not.  We (and I am so guilty of this) plunge deeply into our own problems and get stuck in survival mode that we feel all alone in our troubles, when there are people all around us who are here to walk with us and share in our burdens.  This is the gift of community: a safe space to reveal our humanity to one another, to encourage one another as we share in one another’s sufferings and joys. 

But there’s a lot of temptations and distractions to keep people from having time for sacred community these days.  There’s a lot of kudos out there for those of us who are willing to run ourselves into the ground, there’s a lot of kudos out there for stuffing our weaknesses, our sorrows, our tears, there’s a lot of resentment feelings of great loss because we have not allowed ourselves the time and space to feel our own feelings and commune with God in the depths of our body’s wisdom.  Instead we have driven these sacred vessels, these sacred temples, our bodies, with impossible duties which leave little time to entertain strangers, to wonder at the mystery to play as we were designed.  We have poisoned and hated these bodies.  We have not been good stewards of the gifts God has given us.  Many of us have lived as one part slave driver, one part slave.  We too have run over things sacred as we built our lives over consuming upon a nation that once reverenced our connection to the earth and worked to live in harmony with creation.  We live on land that experienced the biggest genocide in human history, as over 20 million Native Americans lost their lives before we settled here.  We are all connected.  We must remember this so we can help heal the wounds of our ancestors.  So that we can heal our own wounds.  So that we can create a healthy future for our human family.  

The story of Mary and Martha is familiar and frustrating to many of us, as we each identify strongly with one character.  In some ways these two women show us the fragmented nature of our humanity and our feelings.  They reveal to us the divide between our duties and our desires to be still with God.  Be still and know.  Let your life flow from this knowing.  Don’t let your duties keep you from your deep knowing.  Let your deep knowings direct your actions in the world so that they are not harming the innocent, but protecting them and giving them shelter.  Jesus is reminding us to let our duties be in line with our deep desire to be present with the mystery of God, to allow ourselves drink deeply of the well that flows through us and to us. 

Sit at the feet of Jesus be connected to God’s love, be connected to God’s deep peace, because you need it.  You were created for this.  Do not deny yourself the nourishment that you need.  Do not be ashamed of your weaknesses that hunger for God.  Gather them all like little babies around you.  Sit and rest and receive the connection with the love that created you, with the presence that new your face before you were born, with the God who has called you here and now into this time in to this place to shine the light that lives within you in a dark world that has forgotten the story God wants to write with us. Share the good news to a world telling a story that says we must accept violence.  Stand in the light and dignity of your own being and say we are creating communities of peace.  We are welcoming the stranger.  We are restoring the old ways.  The lion shall lie down with the lamb again and we shall live in the garden and eat from the tree of life, and God will wipe every tear from our eyes.  So sit, at the feet of Jesus and hear what it is you need to hear today.

When we do our work, let us do our work in peace.  Let us do our work in love.  Let us do our work rooted in the story of new life that has come into a dark world.

The world is hurting and traumatized.  You and I are hurting and traumatized.  Let us feast on the light of Jesus, let us allow his story, his energy, the alpha and the omega the beginning and the end, to come through us in this present moment to shine ever brighter as we allow ourselves to be healed by the word of God and as we manifest and co-create God’s gracious love and hospitalities to the strangers that live within us and in the world.  Let us see again the face of Christ in all of creation. 

This week may we see the Lord coming to visit us in strangers.  May God appear in the deserts of our lives and give us a word of hope.  When our plans are interrupted, when things change, let us be open to the mystery knocking on our door.  Let us greet the mystery with our time and with our presence.  Let us offer the strangers our gifts, let us take time to rest and be nourished by the messages and the messengers that God is sending us this week on our path to be light bearers in a dark world.     

And let us honor the work of the late Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, Edmond Lee Browning who proclaimed: this will be a church that welcomes outcasts. And let us go and do likewise.