Guest Speaker Diane Butler
July 29, 2018
LINK TO PDF VERSION (Good for saving or printing out)
In the name of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen
I bring you greetings from the Cathedral of St. John in Albuquerque. What an honor to be here after a number of years. The Rev. Tim Sexton and I were here several years ago to guide you through your transition process. That process led you to call your exceptional priest, the Rev. Paul Moore. It is exciting to be with you again as you have become a more vibrant congregation, growing and reaching out to the world beyond yourselves. Thank you, Father Paul, for this invitation.
As a part of my daily meditation, I have adopted an abbreviated form of the Lectio Divina. I read the scripture, listen for the words that speak to me most loudly, and consider what those words are calling me to do. Today’s scripture includes the miracle of feeding the 5000 from a meager 5 loaves and 5 fishes. Quite a feat, wouldn’t you say?. But that miracle is not what stands out for me. For me, it is Jesus’ words…do not be afraid. We are living in crazy, difficult times. I need to hear “do not be afraid” because I give into the emotion of fear all too often. I fear for the loss of values that make us a people of generosity and compassion, for what we leaving our children and grandchildren in terms of our ecology, for the marginalized in our society…and on and on and on. So, yes, I need to hear “Do not be afraid.” My understanding of this Gospel, is that Jesus was assuring his disciples that he was the true Bread of Life, that he was Savior, and that they need not be afraid, in spite of their misunderstanding of what was actually happening . I am not a theologian, and may have missed the finer points of this scripture; however, I do know what it means to me.
There is only one antidote to fear, and that is love. Love in its deepest sense. I have been thinking a lot lately about how we use the word love. We use “love” so freely. We (I) love photos of sweet babies, cute puppies and kittens, dew on the leaves in the morning, the sound of thunder and when the clouds open to gift our parched land with rain. And, I love my favorite foods when placed in front of me – I once thought that shrimp was created by God for my pleasure alone I’m really serious!. All of those things are easy to love. But, when we are called to love The Other, those that don’t fit into our conception or our perception of normality, it can be fearful.
What does this deeper, more profound sense of love look like…that which is beyond sweet sentiments: It has taken me a lifetime spanning just over 70 years to listen more deeply to those who give us a glimpse into a Christian understanding of love.
From John O’Donahue, poet, priest, philosopher, and one of my favorites:
Now is the time for one of you to be gracious.
To allow a kindness beyond thought and hurt,
Reach out with sure hand,
To take the chalice of your love.
And carry it carefully through this echoless waste
Until this winter pilgrimage leads you
Towards the gateway to Spring.
In her opening remarks to the 79th General Convention, the Rev. Gay Clark Jennings, President of the House of Deputies, said we were called upon to be willing to be uncomfortable with the fact that our privileges allow us to move easily about our immediate environs, a privilege not shared by many of our brothers and sisters, some of whom share membership in the Episcopal Church. She reminded us that …”we are all commanded to love the stranger, for we were all strangers in the land of Egypt.”
And, now a confession. When, while serving on the Joint Nominating Committee, I first encountered our Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, I was a bit wary…no, make that a lot wary. Why? His, shall we say, rather exuberant preaching style reminded me of the preachers I encountered as a child. When visiting my paternal grandparents I was frequently taken to their Primitive Baptist Church where I heard very scary fire and damnation sermons. While not the message I heard in my family home, I realize on reflection that hearing these words of our unworthiness created an underlying voice within me saying “you are not good enough, and unless you follow our rules – some of which to this day make absolutely no sense to me, salvation is beyond your reach.” That’s pretty frightening stuff for a child. So, how have I moved beyond that first impression of our Presiding Bishop, a man I now dearly admire and, yes, love? I learned to listen to his words and the message he was imparting. And, here is what we hear from Michael Curry…love is the way. If you have listened to any of his sermons, you know that he frequently exhorts, “If it is not about love, it is not about God.
At our recent General Convention, we were called upon to participate in a prayer service for the women housed in the Hutto Detention Center outside of Austin in Taylor, TX. My first response was well, of course I will be there. Upon arriving in TX, my conviction wavered. Why in the world do I want to stand on a hot and humid field in an effort to affect some change, when really I doubt how effective our presence will be to effect such change? Well, that small still voice within, said, “you need to do this,”- perhaps the Holy Spirit in action?. Wow! This was one of the most powerful experiences I had at General Convention. There were many other powerful moments, and we will engage in conversation about those later today. With listening ears, here is what I heard our Presiding Bishop say: “…we do not come in hatred. We do not come in bigotry. We do not come to put anybody down. We come to lift everybody up. We come in love. We come in love because we follow Jesus. And Jesus taught us love. Love the Lord your God. And love your neighbor. Love your liberal neighbor. Love your conservative neighbor and he continued onto basically calling on us to love all of those who differ from us in spite of our differences. What does love have to do with the experience? Following the service a woman called from within the facility and said the women were glued to the windows until the last bus left the area and saying that the women inside were crying and saying they knew they weren’t alone after seeing more than 1000 people there offering prayers. That for me was a moment of understanding the deeper sense of love, for those I have never seen and most likely will never meet. I am a veteran of marches and demonstrations…for racial and LGBTQ+ equality, for women, for voter rights, and all manner of other things; however, this experience more than any of the others brought home the importance of being present with deep love for another – those whose lives and cultures are similar to ours and those who differ so dramatically.
Most days I ask myself, what fear do you need to overcome today and how will you let love overcome that sense of fearfulness. How will you trust in the life liberating, life giving love of Jesus to free you of your fears?
May your lives be blessed with love and the love you share with others. And, may you take to heart, “Do not be afraid.”