(October 12, 2014) Like a great banquet, we are invited into God’s presence, and we can choose to attend or not as we wish. We are also invited into one another’s lives, too. However, we know from personal experience that both inviting and being invited require tremendous vulnerability, and our personal holiness (our relationship with God) cannot be separated from our social holiness (our relationships with others). How do we invite and respond to invitation? (Luke 14:1-6, 12-24)
(October 5, 2014) We easily recognize the injustice in George Orwell’s satire Animal Farm, when the ruling class re-writes the rules to make themselves “more equal” than the other animals. But do we harbor such biases ourselves? Do we think we, or others, are more equal spiritually?
(September 28, 2014) Joseph and his siblings play out a drama of harm and forgiveness, teaching us much about what it means to be reconciled: that reconciliation is initiated by those who have done the harm and need to come with humbleness and changed hearts; that all siblings are locked together in the story, even if they themselves did not cause the harm; that reconciliation requires of the one harmed tremendous vulnerability and courage (and, understandably, not all people will choose to be vulnerable like that again), and that being able to embrace and talk is just the beginning. As Lebanon UMC celebrates seven years as a Reconciling Congregation– one that welcomes and embraces all people regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity– we recognize that our journey of reconciliation is just the beginning. (Genesis 45:1-15)
(September 21, 2014) Joseph’s brothers are enraged by their younger sibling’s dreams, which upset the social order. Not that much unlike us, they react with revulsion to those who call us to better versions of ourselves. Why do we do this? And can we, who are called to dream and vision, still speak those dreams in the face of the rejection and violence that sometimes conjures in others? (Genesis 37:3-8, 12-14, 18-28)
The wire on my microphone was shorting out, and this recording is broken in many places. Where those gaps in the audio make understanding the content difficult, I have recorded the word or phrase again. This is almost as distracting as the gap itself (and so in some places I’ve left the gap in place and trust the message comes through). Trust me, you don’t want to hear me re-read the whole sermon– I come across awful and canned when not actually preaching! We are replacing the wire, and apologize for this poor quality this week.
(September 14, 2014) Older, wiser, and perhaps more cynical, Jacob’s dreams of glory have not gone according to plan. He wrestles with God and with his understanding of God, and the encounter leaves him changed. How often to we wrestle with our faith or our circumstances in our lives? Do we receive a blessing? Do we leave changed? (Genesis 28:10-19 and Genesis 32:22-31)
The sermon ends with a poem, the text of which can be found here.
Unfortunately the mic cut out temporarily. The missing section is half a sentence, but you can hear a change in the sound as I start speaking at a new microphone.
If you are using firefox as a browser, it sometimes doesn’t like to play the audio file and will tell you it is “corrupt.” I assure you the preacher is not! Please try another browser. I don’t know why it does this.
A poem or monologue, based on Genesis 32:22-31 and Jacob wrestling until he finds blessing. Permission is granted for use in worship etc, but please credit me (Rev. Becca Girrell).
Another night, while I slept, I dreamt of heaven, of angels and light and ladders, of nearness and connection and the places where doorways open.
Young and hopeful, I knew the comfort of that Presence and Promise, that my Companion would go with me, protect me, sustain me.
I’m not so hopeful now.
For years I’ve labored, loved, and lied, struggled with my family, my pride. I’ve watched siblings fracture and relationships die, watched labor bear miracles and wounds alike.
And so sleep eluded me that night. Presence isn’t so simple, isn’t so easy, isn’t always a promise. My Companion hasn’t always been a comfort, but often a challenge and a burden as well. Love has not always been a gift, but sometimes a contest. Life has not always been a miracle but sometimes a way of hurting one another.
I was not surprised that my Companion came. Not surprised when arms encircled me. I couldn’t tell when the embrace became a struggle, which one of us moved first into aggression. Maybe too used to love being a weapon, I didn’t know how to embrace. Maybe (okay, certainly) I was angry, and anger has a way of surfacing. Maybe my Companion wanted to challenge me further, to see how much I could bend before I broke.
Once I grappled, there was no way I was letting go.
Habits die hard, and I’ve been wrestling for a long time, from before I was born. Wrestling with my brother for birth into this life, grappling with him for a mother’s love, a father’s blessing. I’ve been wrestling with my father in law and his herds, grappling with my wives as they grappled with each other, our tangled lives and loves pulling at one another.
I’ve been wrestling with my Companion for a long time too. One who promised to guide and preserve me, to help me to prosper. What have I to show for that?
And so I wasn’t letting go.
All night we grappled, struggled, pushed and pulled, rolled and wrestled. All my life we have been, we will be. But this time, I was determined. This time, I was going to find the blessing in this curse, the joy in this tangled mess of limbs and lives.
My Companion named me, touched me, blessed me. My Companion told me I’d won, let me prevail.
But my Companion did more than that. In tangling with my Companion, I also tangled up my understanding yet again. Tangled love and loss, pain and joy, blessing and struggle. Sometimes to love is to wrestle and to wrestle is to love, to challenge and grapple and struggle are to uncover faith, joy, promise. Sometimes to trust is to question and to believe is to wrestle. To love and be loved is to wound and be wounded. To bless and break. To embrace and to grapple.
Sometimes we can’t tell embraces from wrestling. Sometimes we can’t tell blessing from brokenness.
And that is Holy.
I’ve been limping ever since.
(September 7, 2014) “Gathering” is a word that is both a verb and a noun– it is something we can do (to ourselves or to other things) and something we can be (a gathering of people). Likewise, “church” is something we can be and something we can do. As we think about new and different ways to come together as church, let us not be content to simply be the church, but let us be actively engaged in doing church! (Exodus 23:14-17, Psalm 65)