Sermons by Revs. John Gibbons & Megan Lynes
Delivered on Sunday, September 17, 2017
At The First Parish in Bedford, MA
A Thought to Ponder at the Beginning:
“My point is, life is about balance. The good and the bad.
The highs and the lows. The pina and the colada.”
– Ellen DeGeneres, Seriously… I’m Kidding
“The Little Duck” by Donald C. Babcock
Now we’re ready to look at something pretty special.
It is a duck,
riding the ocean a hundred feet beyond the surf.
No it isn’t a gull.
A gull always has a raucous touch about him.
This is some sort of duck,
and he cuddles in the swells.
He isn’t cold,
and he is thinking things over.
There is a big heaving in the Atlantic,
and he is a part of it.
He looks a bit like a mandarin,
or the Lord Buddha meditating under the Bo tree.
But he has hardly enough above the eyes
to be a philosopher.
He has poise, however,
which is what philosophers must have.
He can rest while the Atlantic heaves,
because he rests in the Atlantic.
Probably he doesn’t know how large the ocean is.
And neither do you.
But he realizes it.
And what does he do, I ask you?
He sits down in it!
He reposes in the immediate as if it were infinity
– which it is.
He has made himself a part of the boundless
by easing himself into just where it touches him.
I like the duck.
He doesn’t know much,
but he’s got religion.
“Pry Me Off Dead Center”
O persistent God,
Deliver me from assuming your mercy is gentle.
Pressure me that I may grow more human
not through the lessening of my struggles
but through an expansion of them
that will undamn me and unbury my gifts.
Deepen my hurt
until I learn to share it
and myself openly and my needs honestly
Sharpen my fears
until I name them and release the power I have locked in them
and they in me.
Accentuate my confusion
until I shed those grandiose expectations
that divert me from the small, glad gifts
of the now and the here and the me.
Expose my shame where it shivers,
crouched behind the curtains of propriety,
until I can laugh at last
through my common frailties and failures
laugh my way toward becoming whole.
from just going through the motions
and wasting everything I have
which is today,
O persistent God,
Let how much it all matters
Pry me off dead center
So if I am moved inside
they will be real and I will be in touch with who I am
and who you are
and who my sisters and brothers are.
–Ted Loder, Guerrillas of Grace. Philadelphia: Innisfree Press, Inc., 1984, pp. 96-97.
Rev. John Gibbons:
OK. So Megan and I say we’ll preachify for five minutes each. Start your stop-watches!
Our theme this morning is balance, thank you Morgan. At the beginning of a church year, Megan and I think about balancing noisy sermons and quiet sermons. Should there be quiet before the service: is one beach ball enough, is five too many? Do circus performers connect or distract? Are we being too political or insufficiently political? So many of us struggle with the balance between work and personal life.
There’s hard and challenging stuff we must address in the outside world but always there’s stuff in each and every one of our lives.
You come here wanting to make sense of your lives and we owe you some sort of answer …or at least a question for you to ponder.
We started the morning with the poem about the duck riding the waves, and that’s great: We all want to repose in the immediate as if it were infinity, which it is…We all want to roll with what happens.
And then there’s that second poem about “prying us off dead center.” “Deliver me from assuming your mercy is gentle,” “Pressure me that I may grow more human.” “Deepen my hurt, sharpen my fears, accentuate my confusion, expose shame, Deliver me from just going through the motions and wasting everything
I have which is today.
Pry me off dead center so if I am moved to tears or sighs or screams or smiles or dreams, they will be real and I will be in touch with who I am and who you are and who my sisters and brothers are.
That’s why we are here, my sisters and brothers: to be as real as we possibly can be with one another It doesn’t matter how weird, messed up, complicated, perverse, passionate…you get the idea. Whoever you are, you’re welcome here and let’s take it deeper still.
“Thomas Merton wrote, ‘there is always a temptation to diddle around in the contemplative life, making itsy-bitsy statues.’ There is always an enormous temptation in all of life to diddle around making itsy-bitsy friends and meals and journeys for itsy-bitsy years on end. It is so self-conscious, so apparently moral, simply to step aside from the gaps where the creeks and winds pour down, saying, I never merited this grace, quite rightly, and then to sulk along the rest of your days on the edge of rage. I won’t have it. The world is wilder than that in all directions, more dangerous and bitter, more extravagant and bright. We are making hay when we should be making whoopee; we are raising tomatoes when we should be raising Cain, or Lazarus. Go up into the gaps. If you can find them; they shift and vanish too. Stalk the gaps. Squeak into a gap in the soil, turn, and unlock-more than a maple – a universe. This is how you spend this afternoon, and tomorrow morning, and tomorrow afternoon. Spend the afternoon. You can’t take it with you.” —Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek
By Rev. Megan Lynes
This past week I brought the prayer “Pry Me Off Dead Center” to my small group of 10 women ministers. Our habit is to bring a set of readings and consider them together after a time of meditation. The line in it that struck out to most of us first was this one: “deepen my hurt until I learn to share it and myself openly, and my needs honestly.”
Well, speaking of being honest, I didn’t really like that sentence very much. Deepen my hurt? I balked. I don’t like pain. I’m not fond of the dentist, or headaches or menstrual cramps. I don’t like depression or loneliness, watching the news can be painful, knowing how bad our immigration system is, or what our politicians are up to. The list is so long, I feel like singing an R.E.M. song. “Everybody Hurts, Sometimes.” As Charlie Brown would say to his teacher, “my brain is full, can I be excused?”
But then I got to thinking how so often the most difficult aspect of feeling hurt, is not the hurt itself but rather the experience of feeling alone with it. In truth, any time I’ve ever reached out and brought someone into my experience with me, no matter how hard it was to do that, the act of trying to connect fundamentally changed my experience of the pain.
A while ago I officiated a memorial service for a woman who died of a drug overdose. I sat on the couch with one of her young adult children the day before the service, and at first he was stoic, talking lightly about the difficulties he had with his mother. But in time his extended family and I managed to show him that not only were tears completely fine but that his pain was our pain too. With the invitation to take up space, be a person in need, his defenses fell away. He hadn’t written to his mom in prison he said, and he wasn’t sure if he could forgive himself for that. She hadn’t called him right away when she got out, and he wondered if she was embarrassed about her life or inability to be there for her 19 year old son. Or maybe, he said, maybe she just wasn’t that fond of him. The terrible thought once spoken seemed to hang there like a glass falling off the counter. It smashed into a thousand pieces and we all stood there staring down at it. “Deepen my hurt,” the prayer says, “until I learn to share it and myself openly, and my needs honestly.” “No,” the room shook our heads at him. That’s not it. No one would choose addiction over you unless that was the only choice they could make. It wasn’t you. She loved you, even though the disease took her from you.
I see now, as you must as well, that we are not being asked to experience new pain in isolation. We are being asked to witness, companion, experience, let our hearts break beside someone who is bravely reaching out. One of the most important things I ever learned in a preaching class, was that no matter what you might think you’re preaching on, no matter what has just happened in the news or what the theme of the month might be, Job is always in the room. By this, it means that the suffering one, like the character from the Hebrew Scriptures whose faith is being tested by God, is always present among us, and we should never forget to make room for them. Job is the person looked down on by society or abandoned by family, experiencing a terminal illness, someone with a secret they are too ashamed to talk about, someone whose loved one has just died. They are sitting there aching, feeling totally off kilter, hoping that being in church will help somehow. I would go as far as to say that every pew in the house has someone who comes here in need. Our job as participants in this house of memory and hope, is to reach out, feel unbalanced or awkward sometimes – that’s ok, for the purpose of trying to connect or know someone more deeply. It’s a sacred act, to figure out how to remove a barrier of mind or heart, and give someone the gift of showing themselves openly. Of course, when the hurting one is you, (and this can be harder to remember) allowing someone to know you and help you find balance or solace, gives them a great gift as well. All our lives we are in need, and others are in need of us.
Rev. Bill Dols asks, “What does your hiddenness and silence do for you, for those around you, and for the ones who love you the most? What do you gain and what do you give up by holding onto and hoarding your deepest frustrations and fears? What would be required of you to be seen and heard, recognized in the crowd reaching out? To come out, come out whoever and whatever you are? To run the risk of being seen, known, free, and healed!”
Relatedly, the other lines of the poem that grabbed my small group were “sharpen my fears until I name them and release the power I have locked in them and they in me.” Sharpen my fears until I name them. How do you know when you’re afraid? Is it a physical feeling? Is it a gesture like turning away? Avoidance or staying quiet? I noticed these past few weeks that I have taken The Hartwell Ave., Road from my house to church to avoid driving along Concord Road by New England Nurseries. Three enormous trees were felled a couple weeks back, trees that have been there for longer than any surrounding building I’m sure. I realize the purpose was probably to build a sidewalk or widen the road, but I have taken to avoiding the place altogether. In the quiet meditative space of my small group, I finally realized that I am not only heartbroken about the trees themselves, defenseless giants against somebody’s latest and greatest plans, but also that I’m frankly just terrified about the state of our climate. The lopping down of beautiful old trees makes me think of deforestation and melting icebergs every time I drive by. So here I am, naming my fears with all of you. If the act of naming a fear can allow us the freedom to think anew and act with intention and power, let’s start now.
Someone said to me recently that we should treat our planet as though we are in a time of hospice care. It took my breath away. What would that mean for us? People in hospice care have limited time remaining. Every day counts. Every hour is borrowed time. The loved one may or may not be terrified of their end, but those who surround them in the process are called upon to act with awareness, intention and kindness. Stay close. Listen to what is being conveyed. Ease the pain. Say and do the essential things. My grandfather, age 96, having received the incredible attention and joy and respect of his hospice nurses, graduated from hospice – twice! The doctors couldn’t explain it, other than that his aliveness was rejuvenated.
I am reminded by this quote, often attributed to John Wesley. “Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.”
Even though I am afraid of the tidal wave of our climate issues, now is the time we have. I must attend, speak my truth, love the earth and all life upon it, with everything I have. The prayers says, ”Deliver me from just going through the motions and wasting everything I have which is today, by chance, a choice, my creativity, your call.”
The truth about living fully, or finding creativity, or simply finding balance in the storm, is that we don’t have to do it alone, and we were never meant to. We were born to be a part of greater whole, a giant operation made up of boundless infinitesimal connections, aligned so beautifully, that even if even one part is in pain, the whole system is out of whack.
If you are broken, like the addicted mother, like the lopped down tree, like my grandfather in his hospice bed, then all of us must gather around and see how the healing might begin. Each of us plays a part in the balance of life, just as each of us holds a unique tool that can help. That tool is our creativity, our call… and to leave it abandoned and rusting, is to unplug the oxygen machine.
William L. Dols, Just Because It Didn’t Happen (Charlotte, NC: Myers Park Baptist Church, 2001), p. 169.