Friday, November 7, 2008

Sermon for Year A Proper 19

The Pilgrim Way

Some of you know
that I have just returned from 12 days in Wales.

I helped lead a pilgrimage.
There were 11 of us who traveled together,
ate together, worshipped together, learned together,
laughed together, prayed together.
For those 12 days we were a small and loving community,
our own little congregation.
I was repeatedly astounded how this group shared and helped
and loved one another.
It was an amazing time.

In Wales we traveled several ancient pilgrimage routes.
Paths that have been traveled since the early centuries of Christianity.
We learned about St. David, St. Non, St. Beuno.
We worshipped in a church in Llandanwg that has celebrated
with prayers and hymns and Holy Eucharist
since the early 5th century.
We met clergy and parishioners from a variety of parishes.
We noticed differences but we also noted similarities.

We visited three Cistercian monasteries—
the ruins of those monasteries, to be more accurate.
Strata Florida, Valle Crucis, and Tintern.
The Cistercians were very important to Christianity in Wales.

Once we have fully recovered from jetlag,
Organized and edited our 3 million photographs,
and had more than 24 hours to reflect upon this experience,
we will certainly share more about our pilgrimage
with all of you.

On pilgrimage afar and on our daily pilgrimages
we receive so many blessings in the people we meet,
the places we visit,
the prayers we offer and the prayers that are offered for us.

When we touched down at the Charlotte airport yesterday evening
we immediately began to hear news.
Gas had gone up 85 cents a gallon since we left--
IF you could find gas
(indeed, we had to stop at two stations
before we found any gas at all)
There was political news in abundance.
We were well soaked in rain in Wales
And happy to find out that you, too, had some rain here
while we were away.
We were not so happy to hear that
Hurricane Ike was heading straight towards Galveston and Houston.

To go away on an intentional pilgrimage, or a retreat,
to purposefully fast from the media
to let go of control and focus one’s heart on the spiritual
stops time in a way--
So that we might intentionally make ourselves present
and open to God.
That is a gift.

But upon return
We also must face that time has not really stopped.
We must learn to make ourselves intentionally present
and open to God
even amidst the hubbub of our daily lives.

Following the Cistercian tradition that we heard so much about in Wales
was a very well known American monk
by the name of Thomas Merton.
Until his death in 1968,
Thomas Merton lived at a monastery in Gethsemane, Kentucky.
You can still go on retreat to that monastery today.

Thomas Merton wrote a prayer
that I keep taped in the front of my hymnal.

Here are the words:

My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going.

I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.

Nor do I really know myself,
and the fact that I think I am following your will
does not mean that I am actually doing so.

But I believe that the desire to please you
does in fact please you
and I hope that I have that desire
in all that I am doing.

And I know that if I do this,
you will lead me by the right road
although I may know nothing about it.

Therefore will I trust you always
though I may seem to be lost
and in the shadow of death,
I will not fear,
for you are ever with me
and you will never leave me
to face my perils alone.

This is a wonderful pilgrim prayer.
This is a wonderful prayer for all of us trying to follow God.

My Lord I have no idea where I am going…

Our scripture readings today are all about forgiveness.
Forgiveness is often a long and difficult journey.

Sometimes our anger and bitterness and hatred over being so wrongly hurt
has consumed us and every nook and cranny of our lives.
Sometimes we are afraid to forgive those who have hurt us--
because we don’t know where that forgiveness will lead.
Will it lead to more hurt, more abuse?
Does our forgiveness mean what they did is right, is okay?

.To the contrary,
Forgiveness is about truly freeing ourselves.
Forgiveness is about letting go of denial
and acknowledging the truth,
Forgiveness is about letting go of all those hurts that have kept
and keep us captive
and finally—FINALLY--moving on.

Forgiveness is not about forgetting.
Forgiveness is not about being someone else’s doormat.
Forgiveness does not mean staying in a hurtful, abusive relationship.

Forgiveness means, with God’s help,
We unlock the chains that have bound you to the perpetrator,
We lay those chains down upon the ground
for good and for ever.
Forgiveness gives us the freedom
To once again walk as a child of light.

Peter questions Jesus
about how far does forgiveness really need to go,
Jesus responds: to infinity—
not seven times but seventy-seven times.
Never stop forgiving one another.

Forgive your brother or sister from your heart.

Forgiveness is unconditional.
It cannot depend or rely upon the repentance of the wrongdoer.
Forgiveness does not wait
for someone to be sorry for what they have done.

We cannot possibly repay God for all our blessings.
But we can show our gratitude by the way we treat others.

We choose.
Whether we close ourselves in by putting on
the armor of hate and resentment, bitterness and judgment.
Or whether we open ourselves up
by putting on the face of Christ, the armor of light,
and offer mercy and grace, forgiveness and love.

We are so quick to judge.
So slow to forgive.
The world may give us a million messages
that tell us that is the way to live, the way to be,
But Christ tells us that is backwards.

The teacher and poet Wendell Berry writes:
Friends, every day do something that won’t compute.
Love the Lord.
Love the world.
Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.

We find the stepping stones to the path of forgiveness
in those words in Thomas Merton’s prayer:

I will not fear,
for you are ever with me
and you will never leave me
to face my perils alone.

It is with God’s help
that we learn to forgive from our hearts.
Forgive us our sins
as we forgive those who have sinned against us.

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