Sermon – February 2, 2014
The Rev. Rebecca S. Myers, CSW
St. John’s Episcopal Church, Corbin
‘Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace,
according to your word;
for my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
Please be seated.
When I was nine years old, my mother decided to join my father’s church and become a Lutheran. It’s odd the things you remember from your childhood. Something I remember is singing these words of Simeon every Sunday for 17 years until the new service book and hymnal came out in 1982. I don’t think I knew they were from Simeon for many years. They were sung after communion. I still hear the words and music in my head. Maybe I remember the words because they signaled the end of the service?
Fast forward another 40 years and it’s 2006. As I mentioned recently, I was living in Washington DC, having taken a job there. And all I wanted to do was be in church. I was delighted that my 50th birthday was on a Sunday! I sang with my choir at the 9am service, stayed for the 11am service, went to my favorite restaurant within walking distance from the Cathedral, and came back for the 4:00 Evensong service.
These words of Simeon – the Nunc Dimittis…now you dismiss – are a canticle that is often sung at Evensong after one of the lesson readings. That day, my 50th birthday, the words I’d learned so long ago and that were deep inside of me, washed over me. In that moment, I felt tremendous joy.
“I’d love to live a whole lot more years,” I said to myself. “But if I walked out of this place and was hit by a bus, I’d be at such peace. Because I’ve lived an AMAZING life. . . . A life beyond my wildest dreams.” I knew what Simeon meant: “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word…” (BCP, p. 66) Simeon was at peace with his life.
Are you at peace with your life? Can you, like Simeon, let go of your life in peace? Or does the very idea make you anxious?
Now, maybe it’s just aging that brings some acceptance of life or maybe it’s the glibness that of course I can let go of my life, because I know there is more left to it? Maybe I’m playing a game with myself. However, here for your consideration, are some of my observations about what leads to peace with life….
We need patience. In 2004, after 6 years at my job, I was beginning to feel it was time to leave…that I had given the organization all I had to give and it was time for someone new to lead. I usually stayed at a job for 3 years, so I had already doubled that record. And my experience had been that when I felt it was time to move on, something almost magically appeared and getting another job was easy. This time, that was not the case. It took two more years. At times I grew so impatient that something wasn’t happening. At other times, I could see the Wisdom of God at work. I needed to learn some things that could only happen if I stayed where I was. Learning to keep at a job, and bring my best to it even when I was tired or bored, for instance. Learning that the most important thing was doing God’s work and that work could be done anywhere and did not require a new location or a new job.
We need to trust the leading of the spirit. I don’t know about you, but I have had so many interesting “coincidences” in my life. I’m sure I’ve always had them, but only started identifying them in the last 15 years. In 2004, when I started the work of where and what I needed to do next, I had a number of interesting experiences like this. I knew I liked to work in nonprofit organizations and I was interested in being a consultant to them. People told me I was good at what I did. Then I heard from a number of different and unconnected people that I was a good organizer. So, I started exploring organizing on the internet. The first things that came up were organizing people’s stuff or closets. No, I wasn’t really interested in that.
Then a name started to emerge – Margaret Wheatley. First, I heard her name from a mentor who lived in Montana, who had just met with Ms. Wheatley. I heard about her book entitled, Leadership and the new Science. Then I went to a meeting for work in Washington, DC and Ms. Wheatley’s name and work were mentioned. Things were clicking. Eventually I discovered Ms. Wheatley was a leader in organization development and finally I discovered the Organization Development Network.
I was excited about this organization. It was an association for organization development professionals and I liked what I read about this profession. It seemed that’s the type of organization work I was looking for. Organization Development professionals work with corporations and groups to strengthen their functioning…to find ways that the working together works for diverse teams of people.
And the coincidence about the Organization Development Network was that in the next month, they were sponsoring a webinar with Margaret Wheatley as the presenter!
So, off I started on the path to becoming an Organization Development professional, which led me to obtain a Certificate in Organization Development, which led me to consider moving from Harrisburg to Baltimore or Washington, DC. You see, there weren’t many Organization Development positions in the Harrisburg area. I felt I needed to stay close to my parents as they were aging and had serious health issues. My son was married and I knew he and his wife wanted children, so I wanted to be close by. Baltimore/DC area was a hub of Organization Development positions, as well as consulting firms.
But here’s the other thing…In the end, things may not look or happen as you expect them to. You know how people sometimes ask, especially in job interviews, where you want to be in the next 5 years? I have grown to greatly dislike that question.
You see, I thought I was well on my way to becoming an Organization Development professional. I worked towards my Certificate from a highly reputable organization. I networked with people in the field, often driving the 90 miles from Harrisburg to the DC metro area for meetings. I applied for jobs. But it seemed like things weren’t happening as quickly as I would have liked. Eventually, I started to apply for positions in the DC/Baltimore area that weren’t necessarily Organization Development, but could utilize those skills and also the skills I already had on my resume’. From some things I’d read and what was occurring as I applied for positions, I thought it might be easier to get a job in DC working in Associations, which would allow me to move to the area and then I would be better positioned for Organization Development positions. I ended up at the National Association of Social Workers. In 2004, I would have told you I’d be an Organization Development Professional, but that’s not where I ended up. Yet, I had a terrific position in DC and truly loved my job. We need to be careful about locking ourselves into a box and not being open.
Faith Helps. I told you how I cried when I heard God’s call to priesthood. Yet, I agreed to walk in the direction God was leading me. I didn’t know if it would ultimately lead to priesthood. I only knew God was calling me in that direction. Maybe there were people I was supposed to meet, lessons I was supposed to learn, work I was supposed to do that only could be done walking down that path.
For instance, I’d always thought it would be nice to live in New York City, if you had the money. And I was given that gift through attending seminary. I lived in an amazing part of New York for rents that were unheard of, because I was in school. Often I could attend events or go to museums for the student price. Not only did I receive an excellent education and preparation for priesthood, I received the great experience of New York City and sharing that with my family was also a great joy.
Now, all of this sounds so easy and it’s not. The times and times I was on my knees or even on the floor prostrate, crying to God. Was I doing the right thing? Was I listening to God? Was I going in the right direction? Why do you want me to do this, Lord? I’m not sure I can do this, Lord.
Yet, remember I said it was 2006, when the words of Simeon washed over me as never before. What I didn’t know was that my life would contain more amazing things…things I never put on my bucket list…things I didn’t even know I wanted to put on my bucket list. My position in DC allowed me to travel the world, to attend meetings at the White House, even one in the West Wing.
Moving to Washington DC, gave me spiritual connections, mentors and guides. It led me to seminary in New York City, visits to England and the Holy Land and finally to be ordained to the priesthood and to come here to Kentucky to be with you.
God calls each of us to an amazing life. Our job is to listen…to be open…to be patient and to have faith.
However many years we have on this earth, may we be like Simeon…at peace with the lives we’ve lived in faithful service to God.