Sunday, November 7, 2010

Sermon for Year C Creation 3

Do not lose heart

Many of us, along with people all over the world,
were glued to our televisions this week
as the 33 miners in Chile were rescued.
Rescued after 69 days of captivity beneath the earth.
They all made it out of the mine alive.

Their persistence,
their ability to work together,
their understanding of the need
to allow their foreman to organize them into groups.
and structure their day—
and then to follow that structure obediently and faithfully—
all these things were part of what helped them survive.

Their day began with prayer.
That fact is often hurried over or ignored by the media
but it is true.
Every day under the earth--
not knowing if they would ever see their families again,
not knowing if they would ever
feel the sun and the wind upon their faces again,
not knowing
if they would ever sleep in a comfortable bed,
not knowing if they would live or die,
every day began with prayer.

As many of the miners were brought up to freedom and safety,
they immediately,
immediately knelt in prayer,
they showed and spoke expressions of gratitude to God.

I kept thinking of these Chilean miners
as I pondered and prayed with Luke’s gospel this week:
Pray always and do not lose heart.

It is easy to lose heart.
It is easy to become discouraged.
Much of life happens to us without much regard
to what we have done or earned.

We can work really hard
and still it may be a struggle to earn a living, to pay our bills.
We can try our best
and still people will complain about us,
criticize even our most heart felt efforts—
usually behind our backs.
We can eat right and exercise
and still we are sometimes struck by disease or accident.

Losing heart is almost what we should expect to happen.

Yet Jesus explicitly says DO NOT lose heart.

But he only says that after
he says PRAY ALWAYS.
This is the advice he gives his beloved disciples.
Pray always and do not lose heart.

I spent three days this week at our fall Clergy Conference.
Almost 70 of us gathered to learn from our speaker Mary MacGregor
more about spiritual gifts,
especially the gift of leadership.

We also had two lengthy conversations with our bishop
about what we think is going well in the diocese
and what we feel needs to change,
what we feel we can do better.
So we listened and learned and talked
and shared breakfast, lunch and dinner.

And we also prayed together. We sang together. We worshipped together.
We shared Holy Eucharist together.

We are a diverse group of clergy.
As diverse as the congregations in our diocese.

We don’t always agree, we don’t always see issues the same,
We have different visions and different needs—
both personal and in our parishes.

But there is one thing we know:
as different as we may be,
we are always be willing to pray together.
We are always willing to try to talk to one another.
At worship, we will sing out loudly--
even if someone has chosen our least favorite hymn—
or worse yet,
a hymn we have never heard!

There is nothing about ordination
that makes clergy the sharpest crayons in the box--
but we do know that praying together is important.

All of us, clergy and laypeople alike,
teeter on the edge of losing heart at times.
Some of us, on occasion, have fallen off that edge.

But there is a way back,
There is a way home.

Pray always.

Jesus would not have told this parable
if he did not understand how difficult it is to not lose heart.
Jesus would not have told this parable
if he thought it was always easy to pray.

But the truth is
Jesus DID tell his disciples this parable.
And Jesus tells us the same.

Even when things are horrid, no good, disappointing, heartbreaking—
even when the world and those in it
seem as unfair and grouchy and mean-spirited and hateful
as the judge in Luke’s gospel today,
do not give up.
Especially do not give up on prayer.

There is a story told about Mother Teresa.
She went to visit Edward Bennett Williams,
a rather legendary trial attorney—
who also at one time had owned both the Baltimore Orioles
and the Washington Redskins.
Needless to say Williams was a powerful man and a wealthy man.
Mother Teresa made an appointment to speak with Williams
to ask him for money for her hospice for AIDS victims.
Williams had a small charitable foundation.

Williams had already decided—saintly Mother Teresa or not—
he was not making a donation.
AIDS was not one of his causes.
He told his partner they would meet her, be polite but then say no.

Mother Teresa arrived.
She had the appearance of a tiny little bird of a woman.
She sat down on the other side of this enormous mahogany desk
And made her appeal.
Williams said, ‘We are very moved by your work and by your appeal,
But our answer is no.

Mother Teresa said, “Let us pray.”
Williams looked at his partner—
Then they all bowed their heads and Mother Teresa prayed.
After the prayer,
Mother Teresa repeated—word for word—her appeal for the AIDS hospice.

Williams politely—very politely—said no.
Mother Teresa then said, “Let us pray.”
Williams said, “All right! All right! “
And pulled his checkbook out of his desk drawer.

Maybe that is what Jesus is telling us.
Pray like Mother Teresa.
When nothing else seems to be working,
Do not give up. Do not despair. Do not lose heart.

One of my favorite programs on NPR is THE WRITER’S ALMANAC
with Garrison Keillor.
As a lover of poetry
and a fan of Garrison Keillor,
what’s there not to like?!!

One of the poems I heard recently is this one, titled “The Thing Is”, by Ellen Bass. Here is part of her poem:

to love life, to love it even

when you have no stomach for it

and everything you've held dear

crumbles like burnt paper in your hands…
you think, How can a body withstand this?

Then you hold life like a face

between your palms, a plain face,

no charming smile, no violet eyes,

and you say, yes, I will take you

I will love you, again.

That is what I believe prayer does for us.
It allows us to take this blessing of life,
this blessing of all that God has created,
and hold it between our palms,

And no matter how disheartened or hurting or discouraged we may feel,
prayer can bring us back to the Center.
Prayer gives us the strength to again say yes, yes,
to God.

I will take you, God.
I will love you, again, God.

You see, God never stops loving us.
Prayer helps us remember that.
Prayer helps us to learn to love as God loves.

Do not lose heart.
Pray always.

Jesus said to his disciples, “Pray always and do not lose heart.”

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