“Thanksgiving Sermon ” by Lucy Slater

Advent 1

November 28, 2021

Luke tells us in the scripture today that “ On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. People will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world” and it is true – all around us we see fear denial, anger, destruction.  It is very scary. I worry about my children and their lives. I live with a constant knot of tension in my stomach.

 I feel caught in the trap that Luke warns of us – weighed down by the anxieties of life, worrying about whether I am keeping up with my work and whether I am doing well enough; worrying about  trying to be a “good” friend and family member,  and sometimes, lifting my head above all of that, I worry that I am not doing all I should and could be doing to save the world: to fight racism, to combat climate change, to save the environment.

In the scripture from Jeremiah we hear that we are being called, as Christians, to do what is just and right. But, unfortunately, Jeremiah is not being particularly specific – what, EXACTLY, is that I am being called to do? And so, being one who thrives under direction, for my entire life, I have worried that I have not listened well enough to that call – that I should be doing more to do what is just and right: going on protest marches, chaining myself to fences surrounding missile silos, vowing a life of poverty to serve the homeless on the streets of Calcutta with Mother Teresa. Whatever it is, it feels both too much and not nearly enough. I know I am not alone – in our Seekers’ classes and meditations I hear over and over again from different people “it is so overwhelming. I don’t know where to start, it is too much to take on, I am not doing enough”.

But here is what I am beginning to discern. We are not being called to do what is just and right out of guilt and fear. Christ’s primary call is not to DO anything specific – we do not see in the scriptures “devote your life to climate activism” or “thou must join the priesthood”. What we see is Christ calling us to love one another.  What we see is Paul praying in his letter to the Thessalonians “for the Lord to make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else”

Merely loving others- surely that is not enough? Maybe that is just too easy –maybe that sidesteps the hard work and self-sacrifice required to fight injustice? After all, Christ also calls us to sell all we own and give to the poor.  But in our current School for Christian Growth class on Revolutionary Love, I am gradually beginning to learn that it is the hard work of loving each other that impels us toward what is just and right – that we cannot in fact do what is good and right without beginning with love.   This kind of love is not emotional, or spontaneous. It is not all sweetness and light and unicorns and roses. We are learning that Revolutionary Love is a choice, not a feeling, and it is a choice to labor. To labor for others, for our opponents, and for ourselves in order to transform the world around us. Revolutionary Love is hard work. It is practice. It requires of us that we make ourselves vulnerable – that we reach out to people who are not like us and learn to see them as “parts of us we do not yet know”. It asks us to willingly and repeatedly share in the intensity of the griefs of those who have experienced injustice; it asks us to dig deep into ourselves to allow ourselves to feel and process and channel our own fears and our rage at those injustices – and if we don’t feel the rage, to ask ourselves why not, and dig deeper; it calls us to give ourselves space and capacity to seek out, sit down, and listen to those we most fear, that we most misunderstand. And only then, finally armed with understanding and perhaps compassion, are we called upon to reimagine and remake our world.

What is that we will actually DO after we have labored so hard to love? I think we trust that the next right thing will emerge. I think that by the time we have come to truly love each other – to feel the injustices experienced by the stranger as we would if they were our own children or parents – then our love for neighbor, not our guilt or worry, will impel us to do what is needed to right the injustices and harms that they experience.

Still feeling overwhelmed? Here is the important thing that I realized when writing this  – because we are working on loving each other, we cannot help but create community. And community is miraculous. With a community of love, we don’t have to face injustice alone. A community of love empowers us – it gives us partners that can share in our life-long labor of love and who encourage and support us and hold us accountable. Community holds us with unconditional love when we are exhausted or overwhelmed and frees us from that trap of anxiety and despair to allow us to do what is just and right.

I want to end by sharing a story. It’s about my sister. She didn’t know exactly what she wanted to do around climate change, but she started with love, and what seemed like the next right thing – and this tells what happened next.

Editor’s Note: Lucy then played an excerpt of a radio interview with her sister, who had joined members of Camino to Cop 26 on a 55-day pilgrimage, walking the 500 miles from Bristol to Glasgow. A video of a theater piece about their experiences is at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tvf1Wb6hawg and on their website.

An article in the Guardian at https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2021/oct/31/they-would-walk-500-miles-meet-the-cop26-pilgrims-who-got-to-glasgow-on-foot-aoe tells more of that story.

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