One Last Sermon About Feelings, Vulnerability, and Community
I’m greedy, and I’m a worrier. I always have been, and given how easy change seems to be, I predict that I probably always will be–at least to some extent.
Greed and worry were just part of the air I breathed in my childhood. And they’ve followed me ever since–much more difficult to shake than many of my other personality quirks.
All of my grandparents were the children of recently-arrived Eastern European immigrants, who came to the United States during the Great Depression. And as a result of this poor timing, they lived with the ever-present threat that there might not be enough, that things might run out, that they might be deprived of the basic necessities of life.
Greed isn’t exactly the right word for the mentality of my forebears. Hoarding isn’t quite it, either. Perhaps, “anxiety-induced extreme savings?” Or maybe just self-preservation in a treacherous world.
A story that we tell and retell as a family is that when they reached their 80s, my mom would write my grandparents a check every year. It was designated to allow my grandmother to keep the thermostat a few degrees warmer that my grandfather’s frugality and toughness normally allowed, even in the cold Ohio winters.
Their life certainly wasn’t joyless, even when it was a bit chilly. But it was most definitely inflected by a toughened insistence on self-sacrifice. Coupons were clipped religiously, filed away in a taped-together shoebox, even when they were no longer a financial necessity. Extravagance was to be avoided at all costs. Indulgence was always to be regarded with suspicion. And restraint was the most celebrated of virtues.
So I come by my “greed” honestly. It was nurtured from a young age by a family that was afraid there wouldn’t be enough. A family that certainly would have built barns if there was enough surplus to require storage. Unlike the rich man in Luke, however, my family would never have been able to convince itself that we had “ample goods laid up for many years” and that we should therefore “relax, eat, drink, [and] be merry.” We weren’t necessarily storing up treasure for our use, with plans to eventually live higher on the hog. Rather, we were storing up treasure as a prophylactic against the ravages of anxiety…the worry that we could barely manage to contain.
No matter the lilies of the field. It would be foolish and irresponsible to stop striving, to stop saving. To leave our basic needs up to God.
Maybe you had a similar experience growing up. Maybe it feels foolish to even imagine not saving, not worrying. It’s unclear if or how God really has the capacity to provide for our basic needs. So we’ve got to fend for ourselves. To live as if God and God’s promise of provision are a fairy tale.
We take texts like Luke’s and file them away in the cute-but-impractical drawer. “No one really lives like this. No one really trusts God this much. Maybe long, long ago in a world far, far away. But not here, not now.”
Texts like these also don’t seem to know much about psychology. Just telling someone to stop worrying generally isn’t very effective. If fact, it tends to makes the worrier worry even more….about all of their worrying!
So what do we do with a text like this? Don’t store up treasure! Stop worrying so much! God will provide!
We forget so easily, I think, that Jesus’ words were spoken in the midst of gatherings of people who were learning how to live differently with one another, who were learning how to share in radically generous new ways.
And therefore, it wasn’t just trust in God that Jesus was inviting his followers into. It was also trust in one another–trust that in God’s family everyone’s needs could and would be met. That no one would be abandoned. That all were worthy of care.
And I think that as American Christians, conditioned to try to be self-reliant at all costs, we so easily forget that the trusting way in which Jesus is encouraging us to relate to God is made possible precisely by experimenting with a more trusting way of relating to one another.
This, of course, is a notion that I’ve tried many times, in many ways, to express from this pulpit–just how much we need each other. And that when we can express our authentic needs to one another, all sorts of amazing healing and transformation become possible.
Since my very first sermons at St. Peter’s, and I counted them this week…this is number 82–I’ve continually focused on the importance of feelings and vulnerability and community. I’ve often shared experiences from my own life. Sometimes difficult ones. Sometimes embarrassing ones. Sometimes funny ones.
And what I was always trying to do with these stories was to use my own life experience to invite you to reflect upon analogous experiences in your own lives. To explore your own vulnerabilities, your own joys and sorrows, your own bravery and shame, your own hopes and fears.
As we’ve walked along together over the past 4 years, more and more of you have joined me, I think, in engaging in these explorations. More and more of you have begun to see emotion as a profound portal to deeper intimacy with God and with one another. And I want to thank you, sincerely, for joining me in exploring this sometimes risky territory. It’s so very brave to engage with your feelings, to engage with relationship, to engage with community.
It’s brave. And it’s also important. Because this, ultimately, is what it’s all about. This whole faith thing. This whole Christian journey.
Because only when I know you have my back, can I begin to imagine releasing my insatiable greed and worry. Only when I know that you will be my safety net can I begin to imagine living in freer, more abundant ways.
God has promised us that there IS another way to live. But most of us will only take the risk of trying to live in these ways when we have the real support of a community behind us, when we have a deep bench, when we know we’re not doing life alone.
So, St. Peter’s–In the years to come, I hope that you will continue to go deeper into community with one another. I’m so very excited for you to have the new building that we’ve all been working toward for the past few years. But this building can’t and won’t create community on its own. That will still be your work, your calling.
And it’s work I know you can do…and can do really well–if you want it badly enough. To want it badly enough, though, you just might have to get in touch with your own deep need for connection, with your own yearning for a community of care, and even…with your own loneliness.
Because if everyone here is just fine how they are and no one really needs much of anything at all, community is always going to be a hard sell. And this is sometimes how I’ve experienced you. As a group of people who are quite relentlessly self-sufficient. And while self-sufficiency certainly has its merits, I’m not sure that self-sufficiency is ultimately a Godly virtue.
Rather, I think Jesus came among us to teach us how to NEED one another. To teach us that we can never be fully ourselves on our own, isolated in our own little worlds. To teach us that life is better, together. Indeed, without the backing of a community, few of us will ever take God-sized risks.
And, my friends, do not be alarmed. But know that you were created precisely for God-sized risks.
For God-sized risks, for God-sized love, for God-sized hope.
You were created to grow, and grow, and grow. Don’t stop now. There is so much more you can be and do, so much more life to be had.
If only you’ll take the risk, the risk that is most terrifying to you. The risk that feels most uncharacteristic and uncomfortable. Which for so very many, is the risk of being seen. Truly seen. In the midst of your greed, your worry, and every other thing you find shameful about yourself. There is room for all of it here. You don’t have to have it all together. It’s okay. It’s really okay. It’s okay not to be okay. Church should be the okayest place of all to not be okay, shouldn’t it?
Don’t you want a place where who you are is enough? A place to just be. To let your guard down. To be forgiven again and again for being human. To rejoice is the messy beauty of life. Life together. In community.
It’s what we’re designed for. It’s what church can be. And I can’t wait to hear about all the holy trouble you’re getting into here on the corner of 3rd and Pine.
I love you.
I’ll miss you.
Thank you for everything.