Proper 12 7 Pentecost 2022
Holy Baptism & Holy Eucharist
The Rev. Marilyn Anderson
I own a whole slew of big, fat theological textbooks, and a big bunch of Bibles, but I prefer reading Christian theology in story form. It’s much more entertaining, and it’s easier for me to see the truth sometimes. Plus, the stories I like to learn from are often pretty humorous. For me, that’s a real plus.
And so today, given that we’re celebrating the beginning of baby Leo’s journey through this world as a Christian child of God, I thought it might be fun to share with you some of the good stuff I’ve come across in stories, things that tell us how to live in this world as a centered and mindful child of God, no matter our age.
First, let’s consider the writer, Anne Lamott. I hope that many of you have read some of her books already. Her writing is theologically grounded and funny and sometimes it takes your breath away. Here is a little gem from her book, Traveling Mercies. It’s in a chapter where she considers her own resentfulness and her inability to forgive readily, and she puts herself on trial, in a very humorous way. She concludes, “Remember that God loves us exactly the way we are. And God loves us too much to let us stay like this.” [Anne Lamott, Traveling Mercies, p. 135]
Wow, I love it! Yes, Lamott acknowledges God’s love for all of us, which we know intellectually, but we often can’t really believe it. We may be thinking, What—you’re saying that God’s OK with me? But you don’t know half the story—how could I be good in God’s eyes, given all the crummy choices I’ve made??? ///
Well, this saying / covers that worry by reminding us that God loves us too much to let us stay the way we are.
It presents God as cheerleader and craftsman and friend, urging us to listen and grow and learn and become the people we were meant to be. There is never lost hope for any of us—God loves us too much to walk away from us.
A similar statement comes from another writer, whose name is Gregory Boyle. He’s a Jesuit priest who lives in L.A. He’s the guy who started the effort called “Homeboy Industries” to forge a way out of the gang lifestyle that claims so many young men and women. Reading his books is delightful and awe-inspiring. We read story after story of gang members who grow and change and who keep reminding Father Boyle of how much God loves them ALL, and how God always makes new opportunities for them to grow.
In his book called Barking to the Choir, Boyle makes it abundantly clear that “God is too busy loving you to have any time left over to be disappointed.” [Gregory Boyle, Barking to the Choir, p. 26]
Yes! This is the lesson I wish for Leo to receive all his life. This is the lesson that we all still need to hear.
And here’s another gem from this same book by Boyle. This one is amazing, in my humble opinion. Boyle says that “I believe that God protects me from nothing, but sustains me in everything.” [Ibid., p. 24.]
God protects me from nothing, but sustains me in everything. Those are ten powerful words that go a long way to help us deal with tragedies, those times when we ask God, “Why, why did you let this happen?”
Imagine, God allows stuff to happen and doesn’t stop it—and perhaps that’s God’s way of encouraging us all to grow up and do what WE can do to stop the tragedies from occurring again. It’s God’s way to let us find maturity and claim our own ability to make good change.
Now, the second half of that statement is really important, too: God sustains me in everything. God gives me the help I need to get through loss and death, through disappointment and change. God sustains me—upholds me—in everything, even when the pain is so great that I can’t feel that God here with me.
One last powerful truth to leave you with today is this one, also from Boyle’s book: Jesus often comes to us in deep disguise. This is the author’s way of reminding us that the people in our lives whom we least like—or the people we are afraid of—or the people we want to live far away from—these folks often bring with them lessons from God to us about how to live, how to love, how to forgive. Anne Lamott talks about this, too, in lots of her stories.
So again, for Leo (and US, too), here’s a summary, a little theological primer, if you will:
God loves you, no matter what. You are important to God as well as to your family.
God will work with you to help you grow up and be a better person. It’s God great pleasure to do that!
God will bring you through, when you are faced with deep challenges and profound loss. It will be all right, eventually, in God’s time.
Finally, Jesus shows up in people you’d least expect to be carrying messages from the Divine.
And now, to wrap this all up for Leo and for us with a neat little bow, let’s end on a poetic note, from the late poet Mary Oliver. I hope you’ve heard this poem before…and I think we can’t hear it enough. It’s called
“The Summer Day”
“Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean—
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down—
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?”