“Counting” 5/13/18 by Rev. Stacy Swain (click on title for audio)

MAY 13, 2018
Scripture: Luke 12:6-7 and Isaiah 58: 6-12

Let’s pray together. May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts, be acceptable to you, O God, our rock and our redeemer. Amen.

For me, as beautiful as this time of year is, spring always feels rather challenging. Just at the time when the world is waking up and proclaiming its extravagant beauty, a time when the natural world seems so sure of itself, and all seems so right in the world, more often than not, the landscapes of our lives this time of year, are not so self- assured. More often than not, spring is the season that brings transition, flux, and a fair amount of uncertainty.
Spring is the season of graduations, and this year, also retirements and moves. On Friday many of us participated in a ceremony marking the close of the Andover Newton Campus as the school fully transitions down to Yale. Spring is the season here at the church review and prepare to close out the past program year. Spring also brings this Day, Mother’s Day, a day that holds its own kind of instability in that it is a day both is joy and sorrow. Celebration and longing. A day that can be for some, rather unsettling.

So it is not surprising, I suppose that it is in spring when I often find those big questions of meaning presenting themselves. As we face transition and change those questions of “Why am I here?” “What is all of this about?” “What are we doing here?” kind of sneak in through the cracks and shifting plates of our days.
But these questions of meaning are not one that we need fear or avoid. In fact the whole purpose of the spiritual life, I am convinced is to make room for the exploration of these questions. The gift and purpose of the spiritual life to help us find the courage to not shy from these questions. The gift and purpose of the spiritual life is that it gives us time out of the chatter and rush of our days to enter into the big questions that rise in our hearts.
These question of what’s it all about? Why are we here? and “what makes for a meaningful life?” Are of course not our questions alone. They are questions that have echoed down across the ages and we find them asked in a passage just a few chapters beyond our teaching for today.
In the 10th chapter of the Gospel of Luke, an expert in the law stands up to Jesus and asks him “What must I do to inherit eternal life” which is kind of biblical parlance to say what must I do to really life a meaningful, well lived life? Jesus answers him you know what is written in the law?
And then the man recites the great commandment “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.” (Luke 10: 25-28).

And what comes next I think is truly formative and that is that the man asks a key question that begins to unpack this great commandment. “Who is my neighbor?” And Jesus then goes on to unfold this amazingly beautiful teaching of the good Samaritan.

But, if you notice. Only one question was asked. Who is my neighbor? Now that is a really good and powerful question and one we need to continue to ask over and over again, but it is not the only question the great commandment raises is it?
There are two other key questions as well that remain unasked. Two other questions that are key to discipleship, key to answering the question of what makes for a meaningful and well lived life.

Two other questions that are often left unasked much, I think to our detriment and impoverishment of the full grace of the spiritual life. And they are:
Who is God? and Who am I?

For how can I love God with all my heart and with all my soul and with all my strength, and love my neighbor as myself if I do not know who is God and who I am?
“Who is God” and “Who am I?”

Our youth, with Amy’s guidance and care along with supportive adults as mentors have been exploring these questions this year. I am glad that we as a church, set aside the time and resource to dive deep with our youth into these questions. And I am glad that we will be taught by them next Sunday as they share with us what they have discovered and are continuing to explore along their faith journey.
But let us not think that exploring the faith is theirs alone to be answered at one time and in one stage of life. This is work for all of us, always.
“Who then is this God that we are to love?”

Who is God? For many of us, that question immediately conjures up that image from the Sistine chapel of a rather fierce, white bearded patriarch enthroned somewhere in a heavenly court. But Jesus, in our passage today gives us a very different picture of who God could be. Instead of distant and rather angry, God is one who with tenderness and care is counting every hair on our head.
Can you imagine that!
Turns out I can.
I can because when my beloved daughter was three years old she came down with what was, the mother of all infestations of head lice. My daughter was a fireball as a three year old and that is to say that she had a lot to say, had a lot of opinions and was almost always on the move. She also had a long, thick, blond head of hair.

When I realized that she had head lice it was way too late. It was way beyond the egg stage. Her head was a veritable zoo of lively and thriving little creatures. When I realized what we were dealing with, I did what you do, right? I took a deep breath and then set about washing everything, including her, multiple times. And then I took that little blue comb and attempted to comb through her hair.
Only it turned out that that little comb was completely useless in the thick mane of three year old daughter’s hair, and she was not about to sit still through it anyway.

And so what I did is once she fell asleep at night, I crawled into her bed. I pulled her sleeping self onto my lap and with my head lamp, I set out with magnifying glass in hand going through strand after strand of her hair. For hours I made my way until I had counted every hair on her head. I did this night after night until I finally came to the night when Praise God, I encountered no more wild life on that beloved head. But I have to say, as tedious as that was, it was also precious. For at the end of each night, as I turned off my head lamp and rested her head on a fresh pillow case I loved her even more if that was humanly possible than I did when I began.

Somehow I think this is the kind of tenderness Jesus is trying to find words to teach us. Who is God? Not an angry monarch in the sky but instead a loving parent who as we sleep combs through every hair on our head. A God that cannot sleep while knowing we are hurting. A God that cannot rest and will give all of God’s self to try to rid us of that which is eating away at us.
Imagine that!
But, it’s hard to do so right? It is hard for us to conceive of ourselves as that beloved child asleep on the lap of God.
If we shy away from asking the question “Who is God?” we veritably flee from the question “Who am I?”
Why, I think because to ask that question means risking bit of vulnerability. It is easier to stay behind the stories we have been told or tell ourselves than to really take the time to get know and give expression to our truest, most authentic selves.

But my greatest hope for us as a church is that we can be such a place and a people for each other where we can take the time to begin to explore and reveal our truest selves. My greatest hope is that we can learn together what it is to count on each other and count on God for the support and encouragement to really step out from behind any hiding and know what it truly is to live within and out of the great commandment to love.

People of God, we know that it is not just our inner landscapes of our lives that may be in flux this season. The landscape of national life together is also in flux. There is much uncertainty. Things are unsettled.

It was also such a time, when the Prophet Isaiah wrote the passage Jim read for us today. Things were also unsettled. Things were also in flux. The people who had been in exile in Babylon have been permitted to return to their homeland in Judah only to discover upon their return that much was broken in their beloved Jerusalem. There was hunger and hurt and much of their life together had been breached. But the Prophet Isaiah had a vision,
He has a vision of what will be when the people love their God with all their heart and souls and might and when the people love their neighbors as themselves. He sees the bonds of injustice loosened and the thongs of the yoke undone. He sees the oppressed free and every yoke broken.
He sees the hungry fed and the homeless housed. He sees the naked covered and no one in hiding anymore. And he sees a light breaking forth like the dawn and healing spring up quickly

He sees light rising in the darkness and parched places watered, and bones strong. He sees that when we love God with all our strength and heart and soul and love our neighbor as our selves we become repairers of the breech and restorers of the streets to live in.

Isaiah sees this vision of restoration and justice and too does another prophet in our time. That is the Rev. William Barber. Barber and thousands of others all across the country who are picking up the work of Dr. Martin Luther King in the Poor Peoples campaign. They are standing in the great commandment of love and casting a vision of what justice and healing can look like in this country.

So when all seems uncertain, whether that be in our personal life or in our life as a nation, let us remember that God is even now counting every hair on our head and is loving us completely. Let that love give us the courage to step out of hiding and into the fullness of who we are as children of God. And let us join one with another in Loving our Neighbor becoming repairs of the breaches of our time.
Thanks be to God! Amen