sermon, St. Luke’s

I had the pleasure of preaching at St. Luke’s Church in East Greenwich this past Sunday.  Every time I type in St. Luke’s I accidentally write “St. Like’s” and that makes me smile and seems appropriate – because I like St. Luke’s!  It was wonderful serving with their new rector, The Rev. Tim Rich, and I’m honored that he allowed me to come and spend the morning with his welcoming congregation!

Here’s the link to the video:

https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=4190816401695

blessing bags

This post was written by Sara Clarke,  our part-time development and marketing person for ECC and my friend.  Her message seems particularly poignant to me as we brace for Hurricane Sandy and I realize how many in our midst might soon be in need of blessings and help. I hope you are moved by her words as I was!

 

Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’  Matthew 25:40-45

The other day, I was driving home from my job at Providence Children’s Museum.  While I love my job, many personalities, strong opinions and my need to fix everything had made for a particularly contentious day.  My asthma was acting up,  I was tired and aggravated.  All I wanted to do was go home, change into my sweats, and forget about my day.

To give you some perspective, the Museum is in the Jewelry district, near the Point Street bridge.  The area is being revitalized with new restaurants, shops and cafes, and is considered to be a haven for artists and musicians alike.  To go home, I need to cross a bridge to go over interstate 95, near Crossroads Rhode Island, the leading homeless service organization in our state.

As I was approaching the bridge, I noticed a man on the corner holding up a sign: “I’m homeless, please help.”  He looked to be middle aged, although it was obvious that years of hard living had taken its toll.  He wore a tan jacket, and had a sad, distant, scruffy face.

Now, I have conflicted feelings about just giving cash to people on the street.  On one hand, I can hear Fr. John Hall in the barn at the Episcopal Conference Center, quoting the gospel passage above…I’ll get back to that in a minute.  On the other hand, I know giving money isn’t always the best solution.  However, I have been known on numerous occasions to buy a coffee or a sandwich for a homeless person, especially when I worked in downtown Providence.

On this particular day, I had worked long and hard.  My asthma was making my day much more difficult, and I still had to attend to my other job when I got home.  I actually found myself becoming annoyed with this homeless man asking me for money, thinking to myself,  “Why doesn’t he go to Crossroads?  Maybe if he spent the time he has been standing here, looking for work…If I can work two jobs then certainly he can find one.”

You get the idea.

So I kept my window up, didn’t make eye contact, and kept driving.  I went home, changed into my sweats, answered some emails, and went to sleep.  And, I’m ashamed to say, I really didn’t think much about my action, or inaction, until last night.

Last night at the St. David’s youth group meeting, we talked about our outreach projects and how we could help people in our community.  One of the mom’s came up to me after the meeting, and asked me if I had ever heard of blessing bags.  It turns out that a  blessing bag is a gallon sized Ziploc bag to keep in your car or your work bag, to give to the homeless.  Each bag contains items like chapped stick, granola bars, toothbrushes- all the things we take for granted, but that could make someone’s day easier.  She suggested we ask the congregation to donate these products, the youth group could organize the items and fill the bags, and then give one bag to each parish family.

Of course, I  loved the idea!  We can help, I can fix something!  Then I started thinking of ways we could help even more people.  We could give the blessing bags to the George Hunt H.E.L.P. Center and to the Cranston Interfaith Food Pantry, and…and…and then I remembered the homeless man in the tan jacket, with the sad, distant scruffy face on the corner.

Why didn’t I help him?  Certainly, it would have been much easier to give that man a dollar or two than to organize a parish project.  Then it hit me.

I’m human.  For the thirty seconds I sat at that light, I chose to judge, and not to help.

Back to Fr. Hall’s sermon at ECC.  Honestly, I am not really sure if Fr. Hall ever gave a specific sermon on this topic, or if he ever read this particular gospel passage.  But I do know that is how we were encouraged to think, and certainly how we were taught, and shown by example, how to live.

Because of my experience at ECC, so much of what I do everyday involves giving of myself.  My human self.  Whether it is my precious time, my talent, as it were, or my limited treasure, I give.  And I give a lot, without expecting much in return.  It’s how I am wired, and I don’t know how to function any other way.

Except when I can’t.  When I just don’t have any more to give.  We live in a world that demands our attention be split in a hundred different ways.  Resources are tight and money is scarce.  But part of our job as Episcopalians, and certainly as Christians, is to love our neighbors as ourselves and respect the dignity of every person, in spite of the obstacles.

Even if we feel like we just can’t give anymore.

So, today, I am starting Operation Blessing Bag!   How awesome would it be if we can give each family in the parish a blessing bag to keep in their car or in their work bag?   Even better, how awesome would it be if we could then tell our friends what we are doing, and they wanted to help, too?   How amazing would it be, when we just don’t think we can give anymore, to be able to reach into the back seat of our car, and give, just one more time?

That’s what it’s all about, my friends.  Choosing to help, not to judge.  Choosing to be part of the solution, not the problem.

And most importantly, choosing to live a life in Christ.

 

Sara Clarke is a graduate of the University of Rhode Island.  She is currently the Events Manager at Providence Children’s Museum, owner of Emma’s Edibles, a funky innovative chocolate company, and she works for the Episcopal Conference Center in the areas of fundraising and development.  A long-time Sunday School teacher, Sara is also a member of the vestry at St. David’s on the Hill Episcopal Church in Cranston, Rhode Island.  If she had any free time, she would enjoy traveling to sporting events with her wicked funny sister, and writing a book on her career experiences.

 

 

tears are prayers too

I can’t remember where I was when I first saw that saying – tears are prayers too – but I loved it immediately.  I love being Episcopalian for many reasons, and one is because we have such a beautiful Book of Common Prayer just full of prayers that we can offer to God with the knowledge that people everywhere are offering the same prayers.  The only problem is that we have such beautiful prayers in written form that sometimes we think the prayers we offer independently aren’t good enough.  I have been at countless meals where I have been asked to say grace, and people actually believe me when I joke that they gave us a class on it in seminary (they didn’t!).  I’m often told by someone that their grace won’t be “good enough”.   I understand that praying publicly makes people nervous, but I always want to insist that any prayer offered to God is good enough!

Anyway, that’s why I like this saying so much.  Because it frees us from thinking that our prayers to God have to be well-crafted, thought-out, and cohesive statements or requests.  Remembering that tears are prayers too helps me to realize that in our moments of great despair and heartache our tears themselves are an offering to God, and we are loved and cared for completely in those moments – whether we have words to offer or not.

This past weekend I was blessed to be one of the spiritual directors on the Happening weekend here in Rhode Island.  For those of you unfamiliar with Happening, it’s a spiritual retreat lead by young people and it provides teenagers an opportunity to explore their faith and relationship with God in the context of a loving community.  Happening was an important part of my own spiritual journey growing up, and I am grateful to be part of the experience again as an adult.

One component of the weekend is a healing service, and we invite the teenagers to come forward for the laying on of hands and the anointing of oil.  They can ask for healing for something specific if they would like, or they can simply be anointed.  This tends to be a significant part of the weekend for the participants, and many of the young people prayed for healing.

At one point in the service a young woman came forward and knelt down before me to pray.  I was sitting in a chair, so her head was bent over my lap while I laid my hands on top of her forehead.  As I prayed for her healing, her tears fell and landed on my knees.  Long after she had returned to her seat I watched the round wet spots on my jeans, almost wishing that they wouldn’t dry because it was if somehow, when I could still see her tears, I was able to physically hold her prayers and her heartache.  And what I really wished I could do was take her pain away.  I wanted to free her from her burdens.  I wanted her to know how fully she is loved.

I offered those prayers as I anointed her, of course.  And I can only hope that she did experience healing in those moments of offering her pain to God.  But the memory of her tears on my knees has stayed with me.

I can’t seem to get over how much pain we carry.  I was reminded of it this weekend when the young people of this Diocese were so beautifully honest about their lives and their burdens, but I have seen that pain over and over in the children, teenagers, and adults that I have been blessed to work with.  You need only offer the space for someone to speak about their journey and you will hear about their heartache.

I think that is why camp is so important.  It’s why Happening is so important.  It’s why church is so important.  Because we have to provide space for people to share their lives with one another and with God.  We have to allow for open and honest conversation so that we might be healed.  We have to crack open the armor that we protect ourselves with every day so that God’s grace can stream through those cracks and make our hearts whole.  We’ve gotten so good at swallowing our tears and pretending we’re fine, and we are NOT fine.  We are all just a little bit broken.  And we’re all in a little bit or a lot of pain.  But healing is possible.  And our burdens can get lighter if we share them with one another and ask for God’s help and blessing.  It might mean we cry a little bit when we start getting honest with one another.  But I think a little bit of crying is okay.

After all, tears are prayers too.

comfort

It was one of those mornings where I have to admit that getting out of bed to leave for church was extremely challenging.  It was rainy and gray, and there was a chill in the air that made you just want to pull the covers back up over your head.

I got up and left anyway – of course – and I had a wonderful morning at St. Columba’s Church in Middletown.  The rain continued, which didn’t damper my excitement about being with the fine people of that parish, but it did leave me looking forward to heading home after the service to pull on my ECC sweats.

I’ve probably been wearing my camp sweats a little too often lately.  It’s the benefit of doing some of my work from home, and being in the North again during a crisp fall.  For at least a small period of time every day I curl up on the couch clad in Episcopal Conference Center gear – my gray sweatpants and my old green Counselor sweatshirt.  My husband probably wishes I would at least alternate to a different pair of sweatpants on some days, but I just can’t get enough of my this particular pair.  They are THE best sweatpants ever – not even remotely flattering but totally comfortable.  When I have them on it feels like all is right with the world.

While I was thinking about my change of clothes during the tail end of the church service this morning, I couldn’t help but smile at the fact that it is in my ECC apparel that I am most comfortable.  Because growing up I was almost always my most comfortable at ECC.  Not clothing-wise, obviously, but at camp I found a way to be comfortable in my own skin.

During the time between services today I had a great conversation with several of the members of the parish over coffee, and we briefly talked about the chaplain position open at St. George’s High School here in Middletown.  I commented that I hope they get someone great for the job because I really think our teenagers need pastoral care and the presence of someone who can really walk with them through this time in their lives.  There were some questions from the group about that, and I shared honestly what I have heard lately from some of the teenagers that I work and serve with.  I hear them saying that it is difficult to keep up with their peers, and that they feel pressure to wear the right clothes and look the right way.  They don’t tell me this part, but it’s my opinion that Facebook doesn’t always help with those struggles, because it provides us the opportunity to present an “edited” version of ourselves.  Which leads to, as my mother says, the bad habit of comparing your insides to someone else’s outsides.  And while most of us wrestle with that impossible comparison, I think it’s particularly hard for young people.

That’s what makes our ministry at ECC so important.  Because I also hear from the teens I work with – over and over again – that they find the very best version of themselves at camp.  They tell me that they find a second home there, and that it’s a place where they always feel loved by God and their peers.  They tell me that at camp they discover that they are people of value, with gifts and talents that are worth sharing.  They are comfortable in their own skin at ECC, just as I was as a young person (and still am today!).

I did come home and pull on my sweats, and I will continue to do that on a regular basis, if not daily.  When I do, I’ll remember what a gift that community is and has been to me and to so many people that I know.  My comfortable clothing will remind me that I learned to be comfortable with who I am, which helped me to realize who I could become.

In the meantime my continued prayer for the young people that I work with – and for all of us – is that we will stop comparing ourselves to others and start being comfortable in our own skin, just as God created us to be.