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Be a Loser
A sermon preached by the Rev. Kit Lonergan on June 22, 2014

Christ Church Andover
YearA, Proper 7
June 22, 2014

Click for the Readings for the Second Sunday after Pentecost

I’m not a runner, or really an exercise-type of person. I leave that to Chris. But I do like to walk. Since we adopted our dog Dosie, I have started walking her in the local town forest in Reading, down the street from our house. She gallops around happily, and I get to walk the paths and trails that I have come to know well, both in the summer and in the snow, giving me space to think and breathe and pray. As I was walking her a few days ago, I realized that she had stopped a few yards behind me to sniff something. So I stopped as well. And as I stood there, I looked up into a gorgeous brilliant blue sky, free of clouds, anchored by fir trees. And at that moment I wondered how I had gotten so far into this walk that I hadn’t noticed this brilliance at all. In fact, I had been looking down at the path the entire time, as I usually do, ensuring I didn’t step in any untoward ditches, stumble over tree stumps or stub any of my toes, as I was wearing completely inappropriate footwear for the walk - flip flops. All that beauty—even with the distant roar of 93 in the background, and the buzzing of the mosquitoes—all that beauty, that freely given gift of air and light and creation—had lain ignored as I kept a close watch instead over my own feet, my own path, locked inside my own bubble.

I think today’s readings are about that. Not my feet, but the danger of staring only at our feet, ourselves, our path, never looking up or noticing what is around us.

There are particularly hard stories all around us this morning—Abraham casting Hagar and Ishmael out into the wilderness, with Sarah behaving particularly badly. Paul reminding us that we too have been crucified with Christ. Jesus telling his disciples that not only has he come to set family member against family member, to bring a sword instead of peace, finally telling his disciples that in order to find their lives, they must first lose them. They are stories about fear. They are stories about the ‘worst case scenario’. Hagar is left out in the wilderness, leaving her child by Abraham under a bush so that she would not have to see him die of thirst. Jesus tells his disciples that they are mistaken if they think that a life of discipleship would be easy—that if they heard and followed Jesus’ gospel, it would cause conflict and upheaval, and ultimately ask more of them that they thought they could offer. And they are ultimately hard stories because we imagine what they might mean about our own lives—what we might be called to give up, what we might have to endure.

But perhaps when we are threatened by scripture like this, it helps to stop for a moment, and take our gaze off of our feet, and look around us for a moment.

So often the questions and challenges we face are those aimed at our own lives, ones that would dictate to a certain extent how happy or joyful or challenged we might be. We make decisions, one after another, according to our best guesses about how the outcome will positively affect our lives, how we will thrive, or just survive, in the aftermath. We imagine, and not entirely incorrectly, that we are the stars of our own show, that we, to a certain extent, are the stars of God’s own life. We can get locked inside the well of acting according to fear, instead of life, responding to avoid pain, letting our imagination as to ‘what might be’ cater to our fears, our worries, rather than the dreams we are given. Fear can lock us into ourselves, render us unable to move, or breathe or see sustenance when it is barely an arm’s length away and all we have to do is find the courage to reach for it.

I once had a conversation with a man, a father of three, and no, not a member of this parish. He came to chat because he was feeling lost. He wasn’t sure where God was in his life, he hated the job he kept to pay the bills, he worried about how he would be able to continue to do it all for his family when all he felt was fear and worry and stress. He had had dreams, he said. There were things that he loved to do, he continued, things he had wanted to be, and while he obviously adored his family and life, he had started to forget what it was like to live without worry. Everything in his life was depending on him to succeed.

“Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it."

Jesus’ injunction to the disciples is also meant for our ears as well. We imagine that losing our lives might be the worst thing that could happen, but I invite you to think, what is it that we imagine that life to lose to be? What would it look like to take the ‘stuff’ of our day to day existence, all that we focus on and let dictate our fears, and let it go? What would it mean to your Spirit to stop walking to avoid tree roots and gopher holes in the ground and start looking up to the sky once in a while as you walked along in your lives? What would it look like to let go of wondering how God fits into your life, and wonder instead how you fit into the life of God?

The Taoist philosopher, Lao Tze, once wrote, “When I let go of who I am, I become what I might be.” In order to let go, we must understand what we think we are letting go of. What have we created ourselves to be, what does the life we are worried about losing consist of? In letting go of those things, in letting go of them having control over all we do, acting only to preserve ourselves and our lives out of fear, rather than love or hope or resurrection, we are freed. In letting go, in losing the small lives we have created, searching aimlessly to find space in an already overcrowded, filled-up space for God, we realize that there is another way. There is another way which doesn’t ask the question ‘How do I save my life?’, but rather ‘What kind of life do I care to live?’

If we step outside ourselves and our ‘paths’ that we set out for ourselves, if we can step outside the fear that stepping off that path might mean if we look up into the larger vision of God’s work, where WE are in God’s world, God’s plan, God’s kingdom, where we fit in with our talents and gifts, rather than always asking where God is in our life, what will we find? Will we lose the life we think ‘we’ have? Will we imagine greatly and broadly and prophetically for a moment, whereas now we don’t imagine, we plan?

Thomas Merton wrote in his ‘Confessions of a Guilty Bystander’, “Perhaps I am stronger than I think. Perhaps I am even afraid of my strength, and turn it against myself, thus making myself weak. Making myself secure. Making myself guilty. Perhaps I am most afraid of the strength of God in me. Perhaps I would rather be guilty and weak in myself than strong in God whom I cannot know.” It is terrifying to lose our lives, because in that loss, we let go of our sense of control, and anchor our life not in our own efforts, but in the wild and glorious grace of God. And it is a challenge to trust a God we have to search to make room for in our lives.

My home church in New York City took on the phrase ‘Be a Loser’ for a while in their advertising efforts a decade or so ago. That’s not the money-making, feel-good advice that people, especially New Yorkers, are used to hearing, is it? But it’s what our savior Jesus Christ has told us we must do. Lose the small lives we think are so crucial. Lose the bubble world of survival, and imagine a world of color. Lose the false gods of fear and worry and scarcity, and imagine that God has intended a life more rich and deep for you. Even in her darkest moments in the wilderness, Hagar only had to ask God, and her eyes were opened to the well of water that had been within her arm’s reach the entire time.

I wish you many long walks, and may you be willing to have a few stubbed toes in exchange for a brilliant and azure sky.

AMEN, and amen.

Last Published: July 8, 2014 9:52 AM