Sermon – February 23, 2014
The Rev. Rebecca S. Myers, CSW
St. John’s Episcopal Church, Corbin
Seventh Sunday After Epiphany
“You have heard that it was said, `You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. . . .” Matthew 5:43-44
Please be seated….
You know I am a social worker, but you may not know I was trained as a clinical social worker. Now, clinical social workers often are private practitioners or therapists and I was always more interested in larger changes …the things that required political change or mass community efforts. Nonetheless, in getting my MSW, I wanted to see where clinical work mostly with individuals and groups intersected with larger change movements – systems changes — and I took the clinical track to receive my MSW.
But clinical work is definitely not my strength. I am not patient enough for it. I’m much more suited to short term clinical work. However, for a time, I was a therapist. I worked in an outpatient clinic for people with traumatic brain injuries. It was the classic 50 minute hour of individual therapy. I prayed mightily to God that God would guide me in being with the people who came to me… that God would give me the words to say and that I would be a conduit for God’s guidance and spirit.
There were many gifts in this experience. One of them was coming to the awareness that in working with others, I was offered the possibility to work deeply on myself. That as people came to me and spoke to me, they could trigger my own issues that needed healed. One Friday, my last client started to talk about rejection and how he was being rejected by others. The session went well. I was in that place of being open, listening intently, and being that conduit for the Spirit of God. I left work feeling good about the day.
After work, I started on a 3-hour trip to visit my Aunt. On the drive, (this was before cell phones, you know, or I would have been on the phone) I was thinking about this session and about rejection. I started making my list of people who had rejected me. I was getting angrier and angrier as I made a longer and longer list in my head. Getting angrier meant I was crying and crying. Now this is not a good thing to do when you’re driving on an interstate highway about 70 miles per hour! Oh, I had my list of enemies and persecuters and it was getting to be quite long.
All of a sudden, I had this flash of insight and realized that my #1 enemy…my #1 persecuter… the one who had rejected me most, was ME! All of the times I had said I’d do something I should have said “no” to. The times I had stuffed down my feelings, too embarrassed by them, not wanting to acknowledge that part of me. All of the times I’d stuffed down my feelings, because I wanted to avoid conflict with another person.
On that trip to see my Aunt, I saw more clearly how I had rejected me. I saw how when I rejected myself, there was no hope, really. Who else was there, if even I couldn’t support me?
Loving our enemies seems preposterous, doesn’t it? Yet for many of us, learning to love ourselves is even more preposterous…seems one of the hardest things to do. Sometimes “we” are the enemy we must love. Sometimes “we” are the ones who persecute ourselves. Some of us talk to ourselves in ways we would never talk to another person. .
Social worker and researcher, Dr. Brene’ Brown was interested in understanding more about the topic of belonging and connection, such a deep human need …to belong, to be connected. In six years of research, and story after story, she found that the people who had a strong sense of belonging and connection to others, also believed they were worthy of love.
When she looked at the interviews with people who lived from a deep sense of worthiness, she found they possessed “wholeheartedness.” Wholeheartedness consisted of three Cs: courage, compassion and connection.
Courage was the courage to be imperfect. Compassion was about being kind to themselves first, which ultimately led them to have compassion for others. Connection occurred as a result of authenticity. Wholehearted people let go of who they thought they SHOULD be to be who they were.
Brene’ Brown discovered that wholehearted people embraced vulnerability. They took risks with no guarantee of return. They did things not knowing what the outcome would be. They understood that it was their vulnerability that made them beautiful.
We know some of this. Think of the times you have been loved with no expectation in return. I asked, and some of you told me, how being loved has changed your life…given you hope…made you see the world in a different way. How understanding that we all need love and giving that love generously and in ways the person can receive it, creates deep connection and joy.
In short…love has the power to transform. Love your enemies…love those who persecute you. Love is unexpected in those situations. Shouldn’t we chastise ourselves? Aren’t we to strive to be better people?
Well, yes, we always hope to be the best Christians we can be AND it’s how we get there that is also important. Remember I’ve told you we improve more by knowing what we do well. It is a paradox that we improve most when we more clearly see our faults and more clearly accept them…when we can love ourselves just the way we are.
Our lessons today are full of appeals and recommendations for how to love each other. In Leviticus, we hear what we’d call commandments. These rules of how to care for each other – don’t steal, don’t lie – are clear and helpful. And not always easy to keep. Sometimes we get so hung up on the letter of the law, that we forget about each other… we lose the human side.
Our Psalm pleads for God to teach us how to go – teach me your statues, we cry. And we all know how hard it can be to keep those. We fall short and we have the desire to keep asking.
Then Paul reminds us that we are God’s temple – that God dwells in us. You mean we are worthy enough to be God’s dwelling place? Only the priests could go into the inner room of the temple – the holy of holies, where God’s footstool was. But Paul says God dwells in us! Incredible!
For the past two weeks, I have heard this fairly new song over and over again. It is by John Legend and while he wrote it for his wife, I often hear it as a song God is singing to us, God’s creation. Listen to part of the refrain and hear God saying this to you, God’s beloved:
All of me loves all of you
All of your curves and all your edges
All of your perfect imperfections
Those curves and edges we think are enemies….all of those imperfections we persecute ourselves about. Love your enemies. Love you. You will be transformed and in the process, you will transform others. You are God’s Temple….You are the holy place where God resides. Be courageous. Be compassionate. Be authentic. In doing so, you will find connection to the Spirit of God that dwells in you.