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Sermons at First Parish Church

Rev. Elea Kemler
First Parish Church of Groton
December 2, 2018

Sermon: Blessing the Way

Here is one of my favorite church mistakes: when the Worship Leader is welcoming everyone at the beginning of our service, they tell us that large print orders of service and assisted listening devices are available from the ushers. On the best Sundays, which do not happen as often as I wish they would, the worship leader mistakenly says that assisted living devices are available from the ushers. I confess I am back there secretly rooting for this to happen because it always makes us laugh. And also because it would be so truly excellent if the ushers actually had assisted living devices to give out to us every Sunday. I would raise my hand for one every time. I suspect I am not alone. A lot of us feel like our lives should have come with an instruction book, or maybe they did come with one, but we lost the only copy a long time ago and now we are muddling through without any directions.

Sometimes life reminds me of myself trying to turn on the television when Alan isn’t home. I randomly point the various remotes at the various black boxes under the tv and hope something will happen. Every so often the tv does actually come on but I can never figure out how I did it, so I can’t do it again the next time. It’s embarrassing and sometimes feels shameful to not know how to do things other people seem to be able to do with ease, to struggle in ways that others don’t seem to struggle. But as I tell my daughter, more often than she wants to hear, try not to compare your insides to other people’s outsides. Just because someone’s life looks better or easier or far more pulled together than yours, it doesn’t always mean it is. How things look from the outside and how they actually are, those are not the same.

The writer Anne Lamott puts it this way:

You will go through your life thinking there was a day in second grade that you must have missed, when the grown-ups came in and explained everything important to the other kids. (That day when) They said, ‘Look, you’re human, you’re going to feel isolated and afraid a lot of the time… but here is the magic phrase that will take this feeling away. It will be like a feather that will lift you out of that fear and self-consciousness every single time, all through your life.’ And then they told the children who were there that day the magic phrase …which only you don’t know, because you were home sick the day the grown-ups told the children the way the whole world works.

But there was not such a day in school. No one got the instructions. That is the secret of life. Everyone is flailing around, winging it most of the time, trying to find the way out, or through, or up, without a map. This lack of instruction manual is how most people develop compassion, and how we figure out to show up, care, help and serve, as the only way of filling up and being free. Otherwise you grow up to be someone who needs to dominate and shame others so no one will know that you weren’t there the day the instructions were passed out. [from Some Assembly Required]

This is a complicated time of year. It can be lovely and festive and sweet and joyful and it can be really hard, one of those times when it is very easy to compare our insides to other people’s outsides and feel like we are failing or falling way short. All around us are messages telling us we are supposed to be happy, our families gathering peacefully in large numbers, without any conflicts or arguments about politics, and our houses beautifully decorated like the Pottery Barn catalog. So if we are grieving or sick, if we are struggling financially, if we are estranged from family members, if we dealing with addiction or depression, if our kids or our parents aren’t doing that well, it is particularly painful. For some of us there isn’t enough to do at this time of year and we are lonely and isolated. For others of us, there is too much, another long to do list added on to what was already more than enough.

Especially when my kids were younger, the pressure to make it special, to conjure up holiday magic for them during my busiest season at work was intense. I so wanted to be that kind of parent who made holiday magic but the truth is that at our house Santa’s performance was underwhelming. Santa did not even wrap the presents. Santa just put the presents out under the stockings after getting home from the Christmas Eve services, very, very tired.

And, of course, the world is so much with us this week and every week — an earthquake in Anchorage, swastikas being drawn on Jewish homes in Seattle and defacing the office of a holocaust scholar at Columbia University even as we light the menorah to celebrate religious freedom, and the survival of the Jewish people despite centuries of hatred. Thousands of Asylum seekers wait on the Mexican side of the border, fathers, mothers and children. Some of them have walked for thousands of miles, fleeing violence and poverty in their home countries to be met with closed borders and closed hearts. How could we not think of those refugees as we prepare to celebrate the story of another baby born far from home who, as it is told in the gospels, was seen as such a threat by the murderous King Herod that his parents fled with him into Egypt becoming refugees in order to try to keep him safe. This is why the stories we tell at this time of year are so powerful, because they are still true, still happening, still repeating themselves. They are human stories after all and so they are complicated and contradictory, messy and sweet and surprising, just as we are.

Jan Richardson, a visual artist and minister and poet, who is the author of stunning blessings we hear often in this room, wrote the Advent blessing I read to you earlier called Blessing the Way. It is about how blessings find us just as we are, exactly where we are, however we are. Blessings rise up to meet us. They wait for us as we travel the often difficult road of our lives, as we try to find our way forward, especially at those moments when we are stumbling in the dark, when the way forward is unclear, when we don’t know what we are supposed to do or when we believe have failed and don’t know how to repair it or start again.

With every step you take,
this blessing rises up to meet you.

It has been waiting long ages for you.

Look close and you can see
the layers of it,

how it has been fashioned by those who walked
this road before you,

how it has been created of nothing but
their determination and their dreaming,

how it has taken
its form from an ancient hope
that drew them forward
and made a way for them
when no way could be seen.

Look closer and you will see
this blessing is not finished,

That you are part
of the path it is preparing,

that you are how this blessing means
to be a voice within the wilderness

and a welcome for the way.

Jan Richardson writes:

I live constantly with the awareness that there are no maps for what I am doing; that I am making the path as I go, with all the wonders and challenges this brings. Yet Advent is a season that calls me to remember that even as I move across what seems like uncharted territory, there is a way that lies beneath the way that I am going. Others have traveled here ahead of me, each in their own fashion yet providing pieces that I can use: scraps of words, images, prayers, stories; fragments that help me to find my way and enable me to smooth the path a bit for others yet to come. … We are all creating the road as we go. Yet beneath this, undergirding this, is a path carved by those who have traveled here before us… [From Jan Richardson’s blog, The Advent Door]

What path are you traveling this Advent season? What light are you waiting for? What blessing do you need? In whose footsteps do you travel and who has helped you along the way? How might you pass along part of the blessing you have received? How can you make the way easier, gentler for yourself and for another who might be walking a similar road? None of us have the map and the only really helpful instructions are the ones we have learned along the way which are to show up, care, help and serve as best we can, which is how we heal ourselves, how we set ourselves free. But the truth is there are really assisted living devices — just look around. Here we are, assisted living devices all.

So today on this first Sunday of advent which is for hope, on this first day of Hanukkah when we kindle light to remember how even a people vastly outnumbered can overcome, I tell you that light and hope are already here. Light and hope are in you, in us, as we walk this road together.


3 Powderhouse Road … Groton, MA 01450-4700 … 978-448-6307 …   …  

Created 2018-12-07