|Sunday, June 10th, 2012||
Second Sunday After Pentacost - A sermon for J2A
The Reverend Nina R. Pooley
A sermon for J2A
Members of our J2A Youth Group, It’s no big surprise that when left to my own devices, I reworked the entire service… that’s kind of what I do. But I wanted it to be for you, like the R13 ceremony was for you, but without your having to do all that work.
You’ve done a different kind of work getting ready for this day – you’ve sold flowers, you’ve worked the Clam Festival Parking lot, you’ve bagged and dragged bottles to be redeemed. So today it’s my turn to do the work and to do my part to get you ready to go. Because there’s ready financially, ready in terms of packing and itineraries, and all the Qs for which you’re hoping to get A’s, and there’s ready for pilgrimage.
Pilgrimage is about a different kind of journey – in the early Middle Ages when Christian pilgrimages really began, people used to leave everything they had, and with only what they could carry, they would venture out to holy places. You aren’t just taking a trip, you’re going on pilgrimage.
So, what will you need? Like all pilgrims you need a sure foundation. Remember the conversation we had a few weeks ago. At the core of our faith are two ideas – or one really that has a back and forth motion. First, nothing, nothing can separate you from the love of God. Nothing. And our response to that love is to love God with all our heart and mind and soul, and to love our neighbors as ourselves.
We talked a lot about these two ideas, and I won’t go on and on, but to catch everybody else up: Nothing can separate you from the love of God – and we really fleshed out ‘Nothing.’ As in nothing you could possibly do. And we included parents in this equation – so parents, in case you didn’t read the follow up email, I made promises on your behalf (and mine, as a parent for a member of this group, too). We were created and loved by God before we were born, and we were entrusted into our parents’ care. As parents we are agents of God’s love for our children, we don’t love you because of anything you do, we love you because you are.
So there’s nothing you can do to change that love. We brainstormed some pretty tough things. Nothing can change that love: Not wrecking the car, not failing a class, or even failing out all together, not getting pregnant, or getting someone pregnant, not coming out as gay, not even committing a crime – NOTHING you can do will change our love for you, or God’s love for you.
You can always go home, and together we will work out what comes next. There will always be responsibility and accountability, but there will also always be love enough to walk through that together.
And our response is to love God and to love our neighbors (and our parents and siblings) as ourselves. Which means we have to have a pretty healthy relationship with ourselves, doesn’t it? And then we extend that kind of love to others. Not just people we like, or people like us, and not the idea of neighbors – you know the nice folks across town who seem so perfect, but our actual neighbors – the folks who live next door and whose lives impinge on ours. And who are very clearly not perfect. Nothing can separate us from the love of God, and we respond by loving God and loving our neighbor as ourselves – a sure foundation.
You’ll also need a good idea of where you’re going and why. Those early pilgrims didn’t have many maps, but they had a sense for where they were going, which road to follow. Remember our conversation about the baptismal covenant: which talks about what we believe in our attempt to understand and express how we are monotheists and Trinitarian. And is followed by the baptismal promises, which ask us to promise to live that faith out in the world. The ‘how to’ part of our faith.
The first three promises are ‘how to love God’: Follow in the apostles’ teaching, be in fellowship with other faithful people, break the bread, say the prayers. Resist evil and WHEN we sin, repent and return to God, (sin being those ways in which we miss the mark in our relationships with others and with ourselves). And proclaim the Good News: don’t keep the love of God a secret just for you and people like you, share it with your words, and better, with your actions.
And the last two promises are how to love our neighbors as ourselves in real ways. Seek and serve Christ in all persons, which means seeing them as beloved of God, and treating them that way. And striving for justice and peace among all people – which as we talked about last week is an active verb – to strive. To make it happen, not just to hope it happens or not do anything to prevent it’s happening, but to make it happen. To actively work to make justice and peace happen in the world. Remembering the hunger exercise helped us recall just how unjust our world is, and that we, as first world people, are the ones in position to wage justice and peace in the world. And we do it carefully, by respecting the dignity of those we are working to help. (Our prayers of the people this morning are based on the Millennium Development goals, which are grounded in the ways in which the developing world has asked the G8 to help.) The Baptismal Covenant and the promises are a good map for a pilgrimage.
And today’s texts I picked texts for you, as supplemental guides. (Please forgive me lectionary types). In the psalm a reminder that you are marvelously made, feel good about who you are and who you are becoming. In the first lesson we hear that Jesus is the YES to all of God’s promises, and that YES extends to us. Believe and have faith in the promises of God. And in the Gospel, the story of the paralytic whose friends bring him to Jesus, carrying him on a mat. But when they get to the house where Jesus is, the crowds are so thick that they can’t get near, so they dig through the roof (which was probably thatch, or tile) and they lower him in. They are serious about getting their friend in front of Jesus, because they believe Jesus would heal him. That’s what Jesus had been doing: preaching, teaching, healing, feeding. So why not their friend? And Jesus sees them do all this. Do you see what the text says next?
When Jesus sees THEIR faith, he heals their friend. Their faith in the promises of God as lived out in Jesus’ ministry is enough to heal their friend. So go forth knowing that there is incredible strength in faith, faith has the power to change things, and not only for the faithful, but for others whom they serve.
In the Middle Ages pilgrims would go to visit holy relics in the hopes that they themselves would be changed. They believed that saints were people who connected heaven and earth. That saints were more of God than other people, but they had lived and walked on the earth, and performed miracles when they were alive, so their bones must be holy too. Holy meaning set apart for God. So saints’ remains and the items they touched were considered powerful, and the places they were found were holy places where the veil between heaven and earth was thin. Pilgrims would leave their homes and villages and go to these holy places in the hopes that they might touch a relic, and be in that holy place, and be changed. Most people went for healing of some kind, though some people went as an end of life goal. ‘Before I die, I want to touch the relic and stand in the holy place. Perhaps that will insure my path to heaven.’ So they were willing to walk long distances through dangerous places, without hotels or restaurants along the way, they would have to depend on the hospitality of people living on the route, and they would hope to avoid the thieves and bandits who were also along the route. They did it because they truly believed that touching the holy would change their lives. And those who returned having done that were different. They were valued and honored in their villages, they were pilgrims.
Thankfully today’s travel is easier than that – but there are still hardships. Not the least of which are the times of your flights! And you are traveling in a group – which is both wonderful and challenging. Loving those neighbors as yourself when they are in your face for 6 days is no small task. But you’re on pilgrimage so hardship is part of the deal. You are traveling to a thin place, the sacred place of meeting another person on their own terms. Where you will meet and prove that we are all valued children of God, that’s a holy place. But it’s a funny place, you can go on this trip and never get to that sacred place. In order to be a pilgrim you will have to allow yourself to be vulnerable and open to the wisdom of the people you meet, hear the value of their stories, see how beautiful they are as people – both because of how different they are to you, and how much they are the same. And you will have to be willing to teach one another about what it is to be a valued child of God. If you allow yourself to be in that place, then you will be changed. And you will come home having touched the holy, and you will be a pilgrim yourself.
Safe travels, but not too safe.