On being where you are…


When I walked into my office this morning I glanced over at the calendar I keep next to my desk. And it’s still on May. I’m one of those people who keeps up with the months of the calendar. I turn other people’s calendars. It’s a thing for me.

And I haven’t turned mine since May.

I used to be super diligent about email. I hated having any unread messages in my inbox. But that broke early in the pandemic. My gmail now has well over a thousand unread messages. I tell myself their all spam, but they’re not. That’s why I’m so adamant that if you need me to read an email, send it to the St. Paul’s email because there’s no promise I will see it otherwise.

It feels like over the course of the last few years, but definitely the last few months, I’m being stripped down to the essence of who I am. What’s left is a burning ember in the middle. The refiners fire having stripped away all of the extra.

With that in mind, I admit that I stand very humbly before you all today, without a “sermon.”

I had high hopes of preaching on there’s a Balm in Gilead this week. 

Sometimes I feel discouraged,
And think my work’s in vain,
But then the holy spirit
Revives my soul again.

If you cannot sing like the angels,
If you cannot preach like Paul,
You can tell the love of Jesus,
And say He died for all. 

There is a balm in Gilead
to make the wounded whole;
There is a balm in Gilead
to heal the sin-sick soul.

When I saw the reading from Jeremiah I knew we’d be singing there’s a Balm in Gilead. And I thought this sermon would write itself.

Instead, as I listened to Nina Simone sing There’s a Balm in Gilead, I sat next to my Mom’s hospital bed, once again. Rather than finding one cohesive thought thread, I had only fragments come to mind.

I wrote down those fragments, hoping I could weave them together. And weave them into our creation care theme of the week, which is Act. Act, as you might have guessed, is my favorite theme of basically any theme.

I preach a bit of Act in just about every sermon I preach.

But this week, through the exhaustion and roller coaster of emotions that come from accompanying a dearly loved one through a long-term illness that requires fighting, hospitals, and uncertainty, I couldn’t find a thread.

So. Thinking about this week and my threads, I remembered an interaction with someone.

A few years and 2 shoulders ago a parishioner at St. Andrew’s Marblehead, where I served before joining you all, looked at me a week before I was going on leave for surgery and said that he had no idea I was in pain by looking at me.

That really stuck with me. And I realized that by allowing myself to go forward like nothing is wrong did a disservice to me and to everyone I encounter. I was modeling not great behavior. By not sharing my truth I lead others to believe that life isn’t so hard for me. That pain was manageable. That mental health comes easily. That life is an easy float.

That day when the parishioner told me he had no idea I was in pain by looking at me, I could not lift my arm without a stabbing pain that made me want to cry.

Before this last surgery, I was in so much pain that it was a struggle not to vomit for most of the 10 days leading up to surgery.

And today, I stand before you absolutely lost as a human. I can’t lead you forward in faith this week. So instead, I’m stand here attempting to lead everyone with permission to be where you are.

I came across a poem, that was read by Rev. Margaret Billet Jones, who will be leading a Creation Care retreat for Massachusetts on October 1st, which everyone should sign up for. Margaret read this at a retreat for the Diocese of Rhode Island. I imagine it will be part of what she does for DioMass on the 1st.

It’s called Heart Prayer, by Elizabeth Cunningham, from her book Small Bird.

You can only pray what’s in your heart

so if your heart is being ripped from your chest
pray the tearing

if your heart is full of bitterness
pray it to the last dreg

if your heart is a river gone wild
pray the torrent

or a lava flow scorching the mountain
pray the fire

pray the scream in your heart
the fanning bellows

pray the rage, the murder
and the mourning

pray your heart into the great quiet hands
that can hold it
like the small bird it is.

This week, I invite everyone to take a look at where your heart is. What’s on your heart?

On this welcome back Sunday, rather than giving each other a platitude in response to how are you, what if we answer honestly?

I’ll start. Today, I’m tired. I’m scared, and in the process of anticipatory grief. And I feel impotent as I’m watching my Mom fight for her life. I want to fight this for her but I can’t. Though, if she has what they think she might have, it’s genetic, so I might have the chance. And that concern lingers as well.

But I’m also here. Because you all are also a priority. And while I don’t have a beautifully knit together sermon to bring to you today, I’m here.

Each of us is carrying a heavy burden. The thing about community, about a good, strong community of faith, is that your burdens are welcome here. Even the leader’s.

From wherever you have come, with whatever you bring, you are welcome here.

That’s the balm offered in Gilead. At least the iteration we can offer in our little green church.

Let’s offer it to one another.


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