Sunday, September 27, 2015

Sermon: Things That Matter Most

 Image result for goodbye
Sermon for September 27, 2015
Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost
(proper 21B)
The Rev. Vicki K. Hesse
St. Philip’s In The Hills, Tucson, AZ
Lord, open our lips, that our mouth shall proclaim your praise.  Amen
Listen here

Over the last four weeks,
I have said goodbye
to many people, places and things
around St. Philips and the wider Tucson region.  
What has been difficult is
the finality that comes with saying that word. 
The finality that comes
in closing one season of life.
The finality that comes
from redefining treasured relationships. 
Goodbyes are tough. 
It’s been hard and emotional
and liberating and complicated.

So this week,
I turned to one of my favorite podcasts for solace:
Krista Tippett’s “OnBeing.” 
In 2013, she interviewed[1] Dr. Ira Byock,
a leading figure in palliative care and hospice.
He shared lessons from his clinical practice,
working with families
in the very personal and human event
called “dying.” 
In the interview, we hear his wisdom
for dealing with transitions
and how his approach applies
to any transformative experience,
whether in celebrating or in saying goodbye.  
And so he coined a phrase,
“the four things that matter most.”
The four things that matter most,
according to Dr. Byock:
Please forgive me.  I forgive you.  
Thank you.  I love you.

Byock said,
“…the times are that you easily can say
[the things that matter most]
include when you've just slammed on the brakes
and just narrowly missed getting killed
and you're shaking like a leaf
and you're in a cold sweat,
and everything just almost ended.
You pick up your cellphone
and it becomes really easy to call your partner
or your mother or father or your child
and just say those [four] things.”
And in saying these things, it just shakes us free.

When we say the four things that matter most –
when we have just slammed on the brakes
or when we say goodbye, in whatever form –
there's going to be real work involved.

because these eleven words – they are not words.
They are entry points for sacred connections. 
They are admissions of our humanity.
They are words made flesh in our incarnate God.

So, in this vein,
I offer “four things that matter most”
to you, today,
as we find ourselves slamming on the brakes
and shaking like a leaf, saying goodbye.

First, Please forgive me. 
In today’s gospel,
Jesus turned the focus on the disciples themselves. 
They had complained about a rival exorcist
and they had tried to stop that person. 

Jesus said, cut it out you guys,
because “whoever is not against us is for us.” 
The disciples wanted to show how great they were
by bringing judgment on outsiders.
Jesus wanted them to look instead
to their own behavior.

Jesus warned the disciples:
they are the ones in danger of doing harm. 
“Dudes,” he said,
“the problem is not folks outside of our group! 
Don’t worry about others; look at yourselves.
How are you getting in the way of the gospel? 
How are you, (with your hand, or foot, or eye)
a stumbling block?”

A stumbling block. 
All week I’ve been thinking about
stumbling blocks,
because from this gospel text,
I felt convicted for the various ways
that I might have created stumbling blocks;
how I might have gotten in the way of the gospel.
I may have spoken in haste. 
I may have not met your expectations. 
I may have fostered a misunderstanding
that still has not been resolved. 
I may have used insider language.  
I may have chosen wrongly.  
There are things that I have done
and things that I have left undone. 
And this is why we say the confession
every week. 
For God forgives me, this I know.

The great philosopher Lily Tomlin once said,
“Forgiveness means giving up all hope
for a different past.”[2] 
This means accepting that
the past cannot be changed
and at the same time
the past need not control our future. 

And so, second, I forgive you. 
I forgive you for any times that
you might have created a stumbling block.
I forgive you for things you have done
and things you have left undone.
I forgive you for putting me in the dunk tank. 
I forgive you for serious and for simple mistakes.
I forgive you for your outrageous hopes,
expansive dreams, and brazen humanness.
I forgive you for challenging me
to imagine greater, to love quicker,
to grasp lighter.
For God forgives you, this I know.

That being said,
I do not have to forgive you for being you.
The authentic you. 
The colorful, quirky you. 
The very human you.
You have been, and are, a gift,
individually and as a community.

Sufi poet Rumi once said,
This being human is a guest house
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!

Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still treat each guest honorably.

He may be clearing you out for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
– Rumi

Rumi’s sense of gratitude leads us to
The third “thing that matters most:” Thank you

When I came here three years ago,
you welcomed me and my partner Leah
with expansive hospitality. 
You taught me about The Church,
witnessed my ordination,
endured my first sung mass,
participated in weekly communion,
risked showing up at Ashes to Go
and prayed with and for me.
You even told me your name
at least three times before I got it. 
You shared your gifts
beauty and art and music, and
your grace to catch each other when you fall.

You have continually proclaimed the gospel in your lives. Thank you. 

Thank you for not creating stumbling blocks
to me in ministry here;
By the grace of God,
you have made a launching pad.

And so we especially thank God
for calling us to serve together in this place,
with this congregation,
And we thank God for the intimacy of Jesus
and the inspiration of Spirit.

In closing, I offer the fourth
“thing that matters most:” I love you.

I love you for being the hands and feet and eyes
of Jesus in the world.
I love you for being Love,
for offering yourselves to this place
with generosity and care. 
I love you because Jesus loves you. 
And that love knows no bounds. 
That love arises
from the One who loved
at the dawn of creation. 
That love moves in our tears
and catches in our throat
and spills out through our smiles.

I love you.  God loves you.
Even when we stumble on our own blocks
and even when we say goodbye
and even when we don’t have the words.

My sisters and brothers in Christ,
You are signs toward God’s grace
and beacons of the Spirit
and entry points for sacred connections.
And through you,
God’s unbounded, expansive and steadfast love
will continue to cascade into your lives.

Please forgive me. I forgive you.
Thank you. I love you.

May you know, that nothing,
not even stumbling blocks,
not even goodbyes,
can separate us from God’s love.

So be at peace with each other,
be forgiving of each other and
be extravagant with God’s love.