August 30, 2020 ~ Service and Sermon

Dylan Mello/ Northwest Regional Missionary

In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Good morning everyone,

It’s great to be back here worshiping at St. Michael’s with you this morning.   I was thrilled when Bevan asked me to come back and preach, which means it must not have been terrible my first time visiting, and it’s a real joy to be here in Litchfield with you all.  The last time I preached here at St. Michael’s, it was March 8.  It was right before things drastically changed.  I remember what I spoke about and there were plans for upcoming events in the Region and activities that I was so excited to share, and just like that, it all had to shift.   I’ve really reflected this week on that time frame and how a half year of confusion, fear, grief, and a whole range of emotions can really change us as individuals and as a collective community. 

     On Friday, I finally took a hike through White Memorial.  I have heard such lovely things about it over the last year of living in the Region, but had not yet made it yet there.  So two days ago, my socially distanced partner for the afternoon was Bishop Laura and we really got to experience it.  I have very little natural sense of navigation or direction, and so we ended up in the midst of forest, lake, wetland, and yes, route 202.  One of the things that I kept thinking about was that at points during this hike, we were isolated from reality.  Just down the road from here on those nature trails, you can have zero awareness of what is going on in the world around us.  The fear, the grief, and anxieties seem to temporarily set themselves aside in the beauty and vastness of Creation.  You can look out and see the lake.  There is so much life brimming there, and yet it’s so different once you check your cell phone again and hop in the car, and once again go back to daily life.  That oasis, where each of us can find our own space and solace, away from the pandemics, I think is a really useful thing.  It is a time to reflect and inwardly focus.  Thinking of the Gospel this morning, I understand ways to combat some of the stumbling blocks that confront us.  I think however, I would like to dwell on these hindrances that Jesus talks about. 

     The Gospel passage is one that we have heard many times, and I have heard it preached in many different directions about those things in our lives that get in our way, and yet I wonder now though, in the times of the pandemics of Covid-19 and the pandemic of racism, what do these stumbling blocks look like?  Are they the same as they were before?  Has it been a drastic shift to something else? This wondering has been resonating with me this week.

 These days we live in, it seems like the blocks that I encounter are not always material or tangible per say.  These obstructions can be abstract and truly engulfing.  The grief that comes with the loss of our previous, pre-pandemic lifestyle is normal and necessary, and it can also feel so overwhelming.  I wonder how this is affecting us from moving forward in our call to live out our Christian duties.  The grief of losing our everyday interactions is drastic and something to work through, but I know, as we heard in the second reading, there are a litany of ideals we need to strive ahead towards.  Those are the things of the Divine.  Yet, we know our fears are elevated these days, and our emotions are on higher alert.  We live in such a polarized world that I often think about how it is just so HARD to achieve Divine over human things.  So when Jesus says “Get behind me Satan”, I so want these feelings of today to go far, far away.   But I wonder, and I am starting to truly believe, if we did not feel these human emotions, we would be unable to tread deeper into the Divine needs. 

     The more I meditate on the stumbling blocks in my life, it seems that I have this endless list.  Interconnected and overlapping.  Each person and each community shares commonalities of these obstructions, but we also have our own particular ones too. 

     We hear Jesus also tell the disciples that we need to deny ourselves and take up our cross.  Some of our crosses might seem heavier or more burdensome than others, but we all, including Jesus, have the crosses on our back.  No one escapes that.  The part that strikes me in this call by Jesus is that we need to drop our fears.  We need to be bold.  The burdens are on our back, but it requires strength to persevere through.  That is not an easy task.   

     The recipe for the call to be bold is this section of the letter to the Romans.  I was thinking about all the directions that we are given and what stands out to me, is the theme to be vulnerable.  By being vulnerable, we are open to the realities of both the human need and the Divine need.  Some of the tasks seem pretty straightforward and fairly easy.  I can love genuinely.  I have a wife and two children. I absolutely genuinely love them.  But am I genuinely loving the one, or I’ll admit possibly multiple family members that can really irritate me with their Facebook posts or other challenging interactions?  I’m not, I’ll be honest, and that’s hard!! Am I loving my neighbor who is politically opposite of me?  I don’t know.  And this concept for almost all of these orders have a “yea, but” approach if we let our humanness take over.

     Be patient in suffering.  Persevere in prayer.  Weep with those who weep. My personality is one that loves quick fixes, and not having that can sometimes drive me nuts.  But I get it.  This is about being vulnerable.  Putting ourselves with people who experience struggle, heartache, pain, and isolation is where we need to be.  It can be all these and more.  We are required to live the Gospel, not just conveniently live certain parts of the Gospel.

     I think about in our everyday life where I see denying ourselves or being open to the call or just forcing ourselves to be uncomfortable.  There are so many systems out in the community that are causing suffering amongst our neighbors.  Here is an example.  I live in Waterbury, and since about April I have been connecting routinely with social workers to approach Region food insecurity.  Only about three weeks ago I learned a horrifying fact.  The city of Waterbury has about 900 school aged children who are housing insecure.  900.  When I graduated from high school in Massachusetts, there were 125 students in my grade.  That is 7 times the amount of my high school class living homeless, just in the city of Waterbury.  That number does not even include all those students living in poverty.  And that’s not just a Waterbury problem.  There are places where this problem is out in the open, and there are places in this Region where it is quietly swept under the rug.  Throughout our rural, urban, affluent, poor areas of the Northwest Region, there is food insecurity and housing insecurity.  This is all in the realm of our Gospel this morning.  We know these problems exist.  How do we deny ourselves, make ourselves uncomfortable in order to address the problems around us?  There are systems to help people and there are systems that keep these travesties in place.  I don’t have an answer and I know that I don’t always live up to the expectations of the words we hear this morning.  The march of the Gospel continues though, and it does not stop.  I think however, that it’s through genuine love and allowing ourselves to be vulnerable where we are able to make changes.  I know this church of St. Michael’s, even in just the year I’ve been on the job, is engaged in the work.  Denise has shared with me the Feed Your Neighbor NWCT program which has developed here.  The Food Pantry here was one of the first things I heard about when I came into this position as Region Missionary.  There is more good work that I have heard about and I’m sure much more work that I don’t even know about.   It’s happening.  People recognize what we are called to do.  It’s challenging work.  It requires perseverance and strength, and we’re not doing it alone.  We have each other.  The community rallies together, the Region rallies together, and God’s ever abundant love never leaves us in this work.  It is my prayer this morning that all of us continue to move forward together, possess the gentleness to treat ourselves with, all while holding the strength to be a catalyst for change.  Amen.