Matthew 15:10–28 and
“Hope” is the thing with feathers by Emily Dickinson
Sunday August 20th, 2023
By Rev. Nicole Lamarche
Thank you again for being here on this beautiful day! I know you could be hiking or cycling or staying in bed in your pajamas, well maybe some of you watching the livestream are still in your PJ’s and good for you! One of my mentors would regularly remind me that most of the people almost didn’t come! So, thank you for being here!
I invite you now as you are moved, to take some deeper breaths, to let yourself arrive a little bit more fully to tune into whatever word God has for each of us today.
And I offer this prayer from Psalm 19.
God may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
“The Church is in throes of rebirth. An old order is passing away. The process of renewal is always denied by a few, resisted by many, unwelcomed by most, and chaotic to all.” “The wisest among us will move with the currents of the chaos, not resisting them, but rather letting ourselves be washed in time onto new shores.”
That’s what Episcopal Priest Carter Heyward said in her book A Priest Forever, written in 1976.
But these words could have been written for us now, for such as this. And I feel them resonate not just for those of us as a spiritual community, but these words also ring true for our broader community, our culture and our world. We are in the throes…
And you might remember what this world really means is basically, “an intense or violent pain and struggle, especially accompanying birth, death, or great change…” That sounds about right.
And while what we are experiencing started decades ago, as we have been discussing this summer, we are living in a time when of these some shifts are happening quickly, the pace of life in some places is just moving faster.
I have joked with some of you about it seemed like the pandemic aged me in dog years. Many of us have reflected on how it just did a number on our minds and bodies and our sense of time. I read recently that the pandemic sped up puberty in some adolescents. The scientists aren’t quite sure why.
This year has included a lot of processing for me and maybe for you too? And I wondered if collectively we are still processing and still grieving maybe as a human species? And because we are in the throes, there’s so much to take in, we are maybe too close, to close to see where are our hearts are. And we haven’t been good at grieving- at naming what makes our hearts ache.
We might have been able to get away with that before the pandemic, and I have heard people reflect on how there’s a less of a layer there now, more real, the veneer is gone. Maybe that’s a good thing? But definitely more vulnerable thing. I wonder if it’s causing spiritual crises for people if we continue to deny what we are carrying?
Today I am holding a bit of grief.
This weekend, thousands of acres in the place where I just left, the place where I grew up, where I preached about last Sunday burned this weekend. I mentioned how it was among my worst fears to be alive for the beautiful places burning. I was thinking of Greece and Maui and now we can add the little town of Elk to the list.
It just makes my heart ache. So much of what is happening right now does. And I don’t want to deny it all anymore. At least not in a way that tries to hide it.
There was a story on NPR this summer where a poet named Hanif Abdurraqib was interviewed and he had last his mom and a young age and he talked about how for him grief has made a home in his heart and, he doesn’t want to get rid of it, not just because he can’t, but also because with time he felt moved to be a generous steward of it, instead of trying to hide it, or deny it, or try to live in the time before it was there, he shifted to stewarding it.
So I have been pondering how in this throes in which we find ourselves, in the struggle of this time, what if we could tend to our grief, instead of denying it, where might it lead us? If we let our grief be a guest, a teacher?
And here is the other thing I wonder and part of what I am feeling:
What if grief is one essential way that we human beings confirm what matters most to us? Because I don’t know about you, but it wasn’t until this sanctuary was empty in the pandemic, that realized how much I loved being together with all of you. What if grief pushes us to actually do something about what we love? What if we human beings humans often need to lose to find? What if we don’t fully take what is precious in until it is no longer there? What if some possibilities that have always been waiting for us, are only seen and seized when we are compelled to, until we can’t not do it, and then we do something about it.
That’s part of why I love this hard and weird story in the Gospel. I love it in part because it is one of the only places I can find where Jesus is totally a jerk. And I am convinced that it probably actually happened. Because otherwise they would have taken it out right? We get it multiple times.
And from grief about being on the margins, being discounted, trying to be silenced, we get this woman with no name, which means unworthy to the men of the day, but from her grief comes something else, something new, a circle wider than what was before.
She is a descendent of those who were killed and removed from their homes when Joshua led the Jewish people into the Promised Land. She had no status; no place, no roots, and no male relative to protect her in a patriarchal world. And she goes to Jesus. And he ignores her.
And the disciples chant that she should be sent away because she is loud.
But, she carries on…this nameless, Canaanite woman, on the edge, but she never stops, shedoesn’t give up. And they get sassy.
Jesus says, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and feed it to the dogs.” (Pause)
And instead of her asking a question. The woman, says, “Yes Lord, yet even the dogs eat thecrumbs that fall from the master’s table.”
We don’t know how much time passes, but eventually Jesus sees her differently, somehow more fully as a person than in his time. But he acknowledges her and gives her the blessing she seeks. Let it be done for you, he says! And it’s clear to me that this woman, the one who is grieving the most and the one who is hurting, she leads the way to healing. Not just for her. But she draws the circle wider for those who come after her, from her grief. She shows even Jesus what is possible.
What if we can turn our grief into hope? And what if that hope fuels movement? Action? Change? For ourselves and for others?
Because grief shows us what we love?
Because grief shows us what we have lost and asks us to fully take in what is precious. Grief can show us the possibilities that have always been waiting, but we often don’t seize them until we are compelled to.
That’s true for us as a church too. We took our grief from gun violence and turned into a hope that never stops, and the movement still grows. And we took our grief from the pandemic and missing so much about being together that we started a festival for our neighborhood.
I believe we are in the throes, in what feels like an intense and sometimes violent struggle, and there is lot being lost but we still must let ourselves grieve and also what if that gives space for it to be turned into hope, into more love and more justice and more wholeness.
Whatever name we have for the Holy, I believe it has given us the gift of grief so we can see with clarity what it is we really love, what is worth our heart, our time, our hope,
As the poet offers us,
“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all
Beloved of God, even amid the currents of chaos, even as our hearts ache, may our eyes have been opened, may we have clarity about what we love, may this grief be a gift. And from it may we claim and hold the hope that never stops! May it be so. Amen.