A sermon preached on August 26, 2018 at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Kingston, NY. You can click here to read today’s scripture.
Dwelling places – that’s what we’re talking about today.
Take some time to consider the places where you dwell, where you spend your time – work, home… places you hang out, where you “feel at home.”
Consider the places where you spent your time growing up, other cities/towns in which you’ve lived and worked.
How do they feel to you? Are there places that bring negative feelings, bad memories? Are there places that bring a sense of peace and happy memories?
The places in which we dwell are more than just places where we spend time. They become homes for us. We know them, develop attachments to them, forge memories in them. Our sense of self is influenced by this because we know ourselves in relation to the places in which we spend time. They become a part of us. Where we dwell is an important part of who we understand ourselves to be.
The last of the “bread” readings from John Ch. 6 this month features Jesus’ capstone teaching about the living bread. What does he mean when he talks about feasting on him, on the living bread? He tells us that it’s not about the physical act of eating bread, it’s about what we choose to feast on. He’s talking about where we dwell.
Jesus says, “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.”
Jesus tells us by partaking of the feast of Love that we are called to, we become more and more aware of its presence in our lives. That we live in God and God lives in us.
The spiritual practice of the Eucharist, in other words, is to finally come to understand that we are never separated from God, except in our troubled thoughts, in our worst beliefs about other people and about ourselves… which are always connected in some way.
Jesus teaches us that we become God’s dwelling place in the world, when we dwell in Love, when we feast on Love.
Jesus’ teaching here is not an easy one. As a matter of fact, it’s so radical that Jesus lost many of his disciples because of it. John tells us that they complained about Jesus’ teaching, that they said, “This teaching is so difficult; who can accept it?”… that many of them turned back and no longer went about with him.
So, why is it so difficult? You would think that accepting Love is easy, right? That’s what we all want, really. You would think that dwelling is Love is effortless. So, why isn’t it?
Because, in some way, the wisdom that we are created in Love… that wisdom is knocked out of every single one of us… by being mistreated by other individuals who have forgotten it – sometimes even those who love us. It’s clobbered out of some of us by systemic oppression and institutional sin. It’s chased away by truly tragic things that happen to us.
And for some, it’s incredibly difficult to find our way back to the wisdom of Love.
We are given glimpses sometimes, but it feels impossible to live in a place of Love, when love and hope and freedom seem to be so far away from us, so remote from our experience. Even though we are built to have Love dwelling within each of us, sometimes it stays hidden until we are strong enough to remember it again.
Perhaps you’ve read the book or seen the movie called The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd. It’s a story about a group of people who have learned how to access the place in themselves that has not forgotten about Love.
This is a group of African-Americans in the American South in the mid-20th century who, for decades during slavery and after the end of slavery when Jim Crow laws were still enacted, they found an icon of Love in a wooden statue, who they came to know as Mother Mary.
As she dwelled with them, this statue of Mary… as they told stories about her boundless heart and as those stories became their own… Mary became a way for them to access their own fearless Love – the Love that heals our own broken hearts and allows us to become stronger… to become who we have been created to be.
This strength comes, not because we’ve never been hurt. But because we learn how to stop dwelling in the hurt. And we remember how to dwell in Love instead. We learn how to feast on Love. Jesus tells us this is where life is.
Mary’s heart is known in the Christian tradition as a place in which we learn to heal our broken hearts so that we may love again. Because Mary holds our love for us when we are so hurt, when we experience such shame that we are not able to hold Love for ourselves.
And when we’re finally ready to know Love again, we come to realize just what it is that we’ve been longing for, that all of creation is longing for – a reconciliation, a reunion with God… who actually never left us.
We long for a return to the Love that was always dwelling within us waiting for our homecoming.
The Psalmist today gives us the words for this longing:
How dear to me is your dwelling, O God of hosts!
My soul has a desire and a longing for the courts of God;
My heart and my flesh rejoice in the living God…
Happy are they who dwell in your house!
They will always be praising you…
Those who go through the desolate valley will find it a place of springs…
For one day in your courts is better than a thousand in my own room,
And to stand at the threshold of the house of God
Than to dwell in the tents of the wicked.
So, where do we dwell? Where do we spend our time? In Love? In thoughts of Love?
Or… in thoughts that take us away from Love?
What do we spend our time thinking about? Where do we dwell?
Do we spend our time being suspicious? Or skeptical? Do we allow ourselves to think a lot about what we don’t have or what we didn’t get? Do we believe we need to solve the world’s problems? Or do we worry so much that we lose hope? Do spend our time trying up to live up to other people’s expectations of us? Or extreme expectations of our self? Living with some kind of shame because someone else made us feel small or helpless?
Because those places… those thoughts we have, those imaginings and stories we pursue and revisit time and time and time again… can take us down some extremely dark paths – some where we come to hate others and some where we come to hate ourselves.
And, yet, these thoughts can seem like home to us because we have spent so much time with them, breathing them in, dwelling inside their poisoned and wicked tents. They have taken up so much space in our lives that we are literally haunted by them. They feel comfortable… like the devil we know is better than the devil we don’t know. They feel more real than Love.
So, of course it’s hard to leave those thoughts, to believe that Love is what we are, to believe that Love is what we are called to embody for others, for ourselves. It’s such a difficult teaching, that we don’t always get there… just like the disciples who left. It’s just easier to believe that we have to earn love in some way.
But we don’t. We don’t have to earn Love because the truth is that we ARE Love. Love is our birthright. Love is our purpose for being. Coming to remember this is what Paul means when he says to put on the whole armor of God. It’s an unfortunate military metaphor but somewhat useful because it does feel like a battle. Not an earthly one, as Paul articulates, but a heavenly one, one in our own hearts and minds, where we do struggle against the spiritual forces of evil… those lies that tell us that we are not capable of the Love that already dwells within us.
It takes some discipline to practice dwelling in Love. Discipline, that has the same root as the word disciple. Disciples are people who are disciplined in practicing Love.
This armor of God… it is the longing we have for living bread, the longing to experience and to dwell in God’s Love for us. It is the part of us that has never forgotten…
Never forgotten that God’s desire for us is joy.
Never forgotten that God’s hope for us is freedom.
Never forgotten that God’s dream for us is Love.
Jesus says, “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.”
Yes. When we feast on Love, we abide in Love and Love abides in us. Yes.
As St. Augustine tells us, the Eucharist is our very own mystery because we see what we are on the Table every time we come: The Body of Christ broken open for the world God has made. When we receive it by saying Amen, we are learning to return, to come home to God’s indwelling Love.
So let us Behold Love. Let us Become Love.
So that we may dwell in Love as Love dwells in us.