Thanksgiving Message by Rev. Jenny Carter
October 8, 2017
(Based on Ephesians 1:1-2, 15-16, &Luke 12: 24-32)
Have you ever noticed how sometimes “reality” is a real let down? It’s just not what we expected it would be, or should be, or want it to be. Petite Fours – you know those little teeny tiny, bite sized cakes that look so beautiful, with their fancy icing and marzipan decorations? They are a perfect example of reality letting you down. I’ve never eaten a good one. They look beautiful, but taste suspect. Dry old cake and flavourless icing.
New Year’s Eve parties are the same – at least for me. Everybody makes a herculean effort to make this the absolute best party of the season – you dress up, you have the best food and wine, and somewhere at about ten o’clock you’re sneaking a peak at your watch wondering how on earth you’re going to make it to midnight.
Sometimes our experiences of people can fall in to this category of “reality letting us down” too. When I was a young woman of nineteen I had a great group of friends. Young men and women who would go hiking, or skiing, or go to the clubs, have parties, and simply do what young people of nineteen spend their time doing. Among our group was a young man named Kevin. He was captivating. We young women would gather around Kevin like moths to a flame. He was handsome, and tall, and physically fit, and muscle bound. He looked good in those disco shirts. At parties he would bring his guitar and play and sing. Before the evening ended, he would most likely have recited poetry, much to the amazement of us young women, and much to the chagrin of the other young men now gathered in the corner looking bored.
Imagine the envy of my friends when Kevin asked me out. We went on a couple of dates, but really after the first date, I knew that Kevin and I were not going to be an item. You see, he had this habit of searching out reflective surfaces – mirrors, windows, surface of lakes, puddles, anything reflective actually – and admiring himself. Not just a quick glimpse mind you (which we all do) – but long, long, long looks. I just couldn’t get past that. For many years I viewed Kevin as a bit of a petite four – pretty on the outside, but not a lot on the inside.
What I now know, is that I was the one who was being the petite four on those two, very long, and awkward dates. Now, to be clear, I don’t know if Kevin was vain or not. You see I didn’t give him the chance to show me any other aspects of himself. Maybe he was just nervous – anxious about making a good impression – so he kept making sure he didn’t look goofy in front of me. I don’t know.
You see, we young women had placed him on some kind of pedestal, and anything less than this place of perfection was counted as a fault, a strike against him. In my profound disappointment that he was not this ideal, perfect, poetry spouting, guitar playing, hunk of humanity, I left that budding relationship. The lack was in me. I was the one who couldn’t make the switch from the notion of an “ideal” or perfect person – and get to know the real person sitting right in front of me.
We all hold these notions of how things should be. We so often carry around with us this idea of perfection – and while we might not be conscious of doing it – we compare our lived reality with our notion of perfection. And when we do that – reality will always come out on the short end, and will always disappoint. We sometimes expect perfection from our children – or more accurately, we expect it with other people’s children – and we expect perfection in our relationships, with government at times, and we certainly expect perfection in our communities of faith.
When we have an idealized notion of what relationships are, or what church is, or what we, as individuals, “should be” we are setting ourselves up for disappointment. We can never be perfect. We are not called to be perfect. We are called to be human. We are called to be kind and compassionate and for those times mistakes are made, forgiving. This holds true on an individual level, but it is especially true on a collective level.
One of the most transformative things our faith has gifted us with is community. Jesus called people in to community – real community. It is in community that we can deepen our relationship with God, with ourselves and with one another – and because of these deeper relationships, we can experience life made new. This is what transformation is, and it is what our faith is all about – and it can only be found in community. Community is important. From the book of Genesis right through to the book of Revelation – the call in to community leaps off every page. Yet we can never truly be community if we hold the idea that community – especially Christian community – is anything close to perfection.
Real community is bumpy and messy, but it is also life giving and transformative. We need to see the reality of it, because the power for transformation lies in the reality, not the perfect ideal we might hold of it.
I love the reading from Ephesians that we heard read this morning. While it seems like just the polite opening to a letter written by Paul, and on one level it is, on a whole other level it is a statement about the community in Ephesus. It is a statement about the power and beauty of a community of faith. In it we hear Paul give thanks for the faith of this community, applaud them for their ability to love one another, and he prays for the spirit of wisdom and understanding so that their hearts might come to understand what truly matters in his world.
Now, we all know Paul didn’t write his letters to churches that had achieved perfection. He wrote to churches that were filled with humans doing the best they could, often under difficult circumstances, where sometimes, people being people, mistakes were made, feelings were hurt, and lines were drawn. But for Paul, this isn’t a sign that those churches were bad or broken or flawed – on the contrary – the bumps and difficulties were actual signs of their faith, of their love, and of their willingness to continue to be in community with one another. You see, the power of community is only unleashed when we are real with one another – and live from this heart place.
We, here at First United, are a people who seek to live from this “heart place.” When I stand up here Sunday after Sunday, I only ever see the beauty of this community. I never fail to marvel at how people have risen above personal circumstances, disappointments, and even heart break, and manage to come together in faith.
During the course of my week, I see how you reach out to one another, care for one another, visit one another in the tough times, and celebrate together the good times. How you are willing to offer your time to a new program, or challenge yourself to risk a new experience or a new way of doing things, or give your money so that someone else, perhaps someone you have never and will never meet, might experience some form of love and care offered on your behalf. You are a beautiful people.
I know you know this about yourself. But I wanted to remind you that when we come together we are something precious and life giving. We are agents of grace – and from where I’m standing, we get it right far, far more often than we don’t. There is real beauty here. There is grace here. And when we let the idealized notion of church go, we can actually see it, and feel it, and experience the power of it.
Called to be real, and succeeding every time – that’s who we are. My hope is that you are seeing this community in the same light. That when you come together in this place that you see the beauty of “real”, where the words of Jesus’ calls to us once again, reminding us not to be so anxious and so worried about every little thing, but to revel in who we are, and in whose name we gather. We are humans, no more and no less, and when we gather grace abounds.
My thanksgiving prayer is a simple one. I give thanks for this community. I have been blessed by all of you – by your kindness, your faith, and your love for one another. I have been blessed by your concern for justice – as it in turn has fed my own faith and justice seeking work. I have been blessed by your questions – as they have helped me see my own blind spots. I have been blessed by the different understandings of God and Christ that is in this place – as these differences have allowed me to expand my own understanding of God in my life. I have been blessed by your stories, your triumphs and even your tragedies, since they have shown me how the power of community can encourage, empower and heal. .
I hope when you look at this community in real ways, that you see it as a blessing too.