September 30, 2012
Happy birthday, St. Michael and All Angels! Today you are 62. I have been thinking about what 62 looks like. It is an age of beauty and wisdom. At 62, we know something of who we are and what our growing edges are. We also know something about who we are not. It is the perfect age to acknowledge the ways God is at work in our midst. A birthday is a good time to pause and see God all around us. Where do you see God at St. Michael’s? I started a list, but it’s just a start because I could never name all the ways God is moving among us.
• The stories from J2A and Navajoland mission teams in recent weeks.
• The Eucharistic visitors who take communion to those who can’t be here on Sundays.
• Emma and Sasha who are baptized into our community this morning.
• In the stories we hear as we share our lives over coffee, in adult formation, or other gatherings.
• In the music and liturgical art that stir us each week.
• In a new building for youth to grow as a community.
• In a lively seniors ministry.
• In each of you.
So on this birthday, I invite you to join with me in reflecting on where God is in this place. In the first reading today, Jacob says, “Surely the Lord is in this place—and I did not know it!” (Genesis 28:16) It is good for us to see where God is moving among us and give thanks. Do this, not in secret, but tell someone else over coffee after worship today where you experience God at St. Michael’s. It is our birthday, after all. Do not waste an opportunity to name your gratitude out loud.
It is especially powerful that Jacob has the encounter with the angel. He is not the model of good behavior. Jacob has stolen his brother Esau’s blessing and conned him out of his birthright. He is fleeing for his life when he meets God in the wilderness. He discovers that there is nowhere he can go to escape God.
Our feast day scriptures today give us battles and angels. While it is tempting to avoid this great battle in heaven, it has given me pause to reflect on the battles going on in and around us. We are battling life-threatening illnesses, relationships that are hurtful, old wounds that continue to suck the life out of us, financial stress, uncertainty about our future, destruction to our planet, systems that oppress the most vulnerable in our society…the list is never ending.
We make our way through this battleground of life and witness the road rage from someone who has no patience for those who drive too slowly, the bored cashier in the store who has no interest in customers, the ones who spout off a long litany of complaints to anyone who will listen…it seems easy to find people who are unhappy and negative. Who wants to be surrounded by such negative energy? I find myself worked up by a negative encounter and holding tightly to my own negative reactions when I remember the words of Philo of Alexandria “Be kind for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle.”
These words call us to see people differently. We can look more honestly at our own battles and remember to show compassion to others. Last weekend, we had a gathering for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered friends of St. Michael’s. Twenty-eight of us sat in a circle and introduced ourselves by naming what brought us to this gathering. In that circle were many stories of the pain of trying to reconcile our sexuality with our faith. It is never a given that all the parts of our lives will flow easily together. It is hard work to reconcile all of who we are and it is tempting to separate parts of ourselves into boxes rather than acknowledge the fullness of who we are. Many of my days include conversations with people who are seeking to be whole, but we have too long discarded parts of ourselves or ignored them. It takes courage and compassion to embrace all of who we are and to heal the broken parts.
Jacob is a scoundrel. He is no hero. He has done terrible things and betrayed his family. He is selfish and greedy and now he is running because he is terrified to face the consequences of his actions. He flees into the wilderness, but you and I know that the wilderness isn’t where we go for refuge. It is where the wild things live. It is where we lose our way. We may find ourselves face to face with the reality that we could die here.
It is curious to me that Jacob’s encounter in the wilderness wasn’t with a wild beast, but with an angel. My friend Jan Richardson asks, “How will we see the angels if we don’t go into the wilderness? How will we recognize the help that God sends if we don’t seek out the places beyond what is comfortable to us, if we don’t press into terrain that challenges our habitual perspective? How will we find the delights that God provides even—and especially—in the desert places?”
When I am talking with people, I am stunned at the courage they summon to face the angels in the wilderness. I am humbled by their commitment to wholeness and the vulnerability that is required for us to fully enter the struggle. This struggle will lead to embracing the parts of us that we’d rather ignore. No one said it would be easy, but does it have to be this hard?
Yet in spite of the difficulty there is grace and hope. Here is what God said to Jacob, “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring…all the families of the earth shall be blessed in you and in your offspring. Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I promised you.” (Genesis 28: 13-15)
Jacob who has betrayed and cheated is given a promise that he and his offspring will be a blessing to all people! It takes my breath away to encounter a God so full of grace who will not leave us and who always keeps promises. Jacob wakes from sleep and recognizes that God is right there in the wilderness. It is astonishing that God shows up in our struggles and vulnerability and promises to be with us.
On our birthday as a congregation, the angels show up to speak the truth, to show us our task in the world and to remind us that God will not leave us. Like Jacob, may we wake from sleep and recognize the presence of God here. May we understand that we are to bless all of God’s people. May we see the beautiful buildings we inhabit at St. Michael’s as places where God dwells. May we understand that we who have received so much from God, are to be carriers of God’s grace and compassion to all.