Sunday, May 9, 2010

We who are wearied by the changes and chances of this life

I am preaching today only at the 8 am service. Please join us at 10 am and 5:30 pm to celebrate the ministry of The Rev. Neal Halvorson-Taylor and hear him preach.

My sermon at 8 am is based on John 14:23-29:
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you… Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”

I don’t know how many of you are familiar with Compline. It is one of the treasures of our prayer book, and you will find it beginning on page 127 [Online by clicking HERE].
The reason you many not know of it is Compline is a short service of prayers for late in the evening, and because we don’t usually have church services here late in the evening, we don’t usually conduct Compline.
The reason I bring this up is there is a particular prayer in Compline that has really tugged at me the last few days. And although it is now morning, I want to read it to you. You will find it on page 133:

“Be present, O merciful God, and protect us through the hours of this night, so that we who are wearied by the changes and chances of this life may rest in your eternal changelessness; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”

Lately this parish and this community have been buffeted by all sorts of changes and chances of this life. Some of these changes are relatively small. But even the small changes can feel like a tipping point – the proverbial “last straw” – when all the changes come all at once.
Other changes are quite large: A number of our parishioners are facing serious illnesses including some of you; we’ve had a wave of funerals and memorial services including three in the last two days.

As you are certainly aware by now, a University student – Yeardley Love – age 22 – was murdered this past week allegedly at hands of her ex-boyfriend, another student.
Her death is truly shocking on many levels, and raises serious questions about student life at Uva, including alcohol abuse and violence against women students. University officials will surely confront these questions in the days ahead.
On another level, Yeardley Love’s death strikes very close to home in this parish.

Her sorority, Kappa Alpha Theta, meets here in our parish hall on Monday evenings, and I cannot quite get out of my mind that I probably walked right past her on many occasions as she and her sisters were going in or out of our building.
So I am also particularly proud and thankful that our Associate Rector, Ann, reached out to Yeardley’s sorority sisters this week, and she has been a rock of strength for them the last few days.
We opened our doors to these young university women so they could have a simple and private prayer service for Yeardley Friday evening.
That is what church should be about, exactly what this church should be about. That is exactly why we were founded.
Amidst all this, I don’t have any great words of wisdom about why someone so young, with so much life ahead of her, would be taken from us. I have no great words of wisdom about why her ex-boyfriend, someone with so much life ahead of him, would be filled with such rage that he would do something such as this.
To say that we live in a broken world is true, but not quite satisfying. To say that God cries with us is also true, but sometimes it is hard to feel.
And as much as we would like to ask God to please stop all the changes and chances of this life, we can’t, and God won’t. We may as well stop breathing.
Into this comes this spectacular promise from Jesus to stay with us as Holy Spirit, to fill each of us with love and grace, peace and rest, and to be faithful to us especially in our moments of darkness and pain. We hear of it in today’s gospel lesson from John:
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you,” he tells us. “Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”
Each of us can experience this gift of the Holy Spirit, and this gift comes to us in a way that will find us where we dwell, will speak to us in our own language, and will make sense to us in ways that only we understand as an individual who is beloved of God, who knows each of us by name.
Maybe we will understand this Holy Spirit in a traditional way right out of the prayer book, or maybe the Holy Spirit will be someone, or something else entirely who makes sense only to you.
Yet sometimes we don’t feel it. Sometimes we need to stop, close our eyes, and sit in silence to feel this sacred Spirit.
Other times, we can feel this sacred presence when we gather together to support each other, to hold each other up, to pray together, or to laugh or cry together. I am certain the Holy Spirit was with Yeardley’s sorority sisters and her family and her friends this week even if they might not have felt it.
I am certain the Holy Spirit is with those in our congregation who are sick or hurting, or bewildered or grieving right now. By worshipping together, we can feel the Holy Spirit more strongly. And when I don’t feel it, maybe you will feel it for me.
My hope for each of us today is that we will take the time to see and listen for the holy, to watch and wait for the sacred, and bring all who we are, and all we long to be, into the prayer of our daily life; and that we will set aside our fear and worry, and will place our trust in the life-giving Holy Spirit who is right here with us.

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you… Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”

Art by Chiura Obata (1885-1975)

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