Open Hands, Open Heart
Pentecost XII – Proper 14 – August 7, 2016
A sermon preached by The Rev. Dianne Andrews at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Port Townsend, WA.
It is good to be back. It was a lovely vacation. I hope that you, too, have enjoyed the blessings of the summer.
Needless to say, the tranquility of the summer has been disturbed by the tensions of this s tormy election season. We have been offered an abundance of opportunities to return to the still place where our God is forever saying to us “Fear not.” We know, deep down, that fear and agitation and worry will not accomplish anything. Yet it takes work and persistence to deal with those nagging feelings.
I remember once visiting a wise woman who was living off the land in upstate NewYork. Isis was the aunt of a friend of mine. Aunt Isis had been raised with great privilege on a plantation in Ocho Rios, Jamaica, in a family whose fortune was made in Pennsylvania steel. In mid-life Isis gave up the trappings of wealth live a simple life. The sun weathered, gray haired woman looked diminutive when standing next to her two humungous oxen who were several heads, again, taller than she was. Isis would rise before dawn to milk the cows. Her days were filled with a routine of chores in a rhythm that was absolutely necessary
for living off the land in a marginal existence. Clearly Isis made an impression me. I was impressed by her serenity, compassionate presence and, most of all, the advice she left me about dealing with stress and worry. As I was sharing some of my concerns with her, Isis said, “Dianne, if you are going to worry, do it really well”… and then she struck a pose like sculpture “The Thinker” by Auguste Rodin. She said, “When I have a lot on my mind I set aside 5 or 10 minutes in the morning to have a really good worry. During that time, I focus, and worry fiercely… and then I get on with my day. “Worrying” has been checked-off of the ‘to do’ list.” To this day the image of Aunt Isis worrying makes me chuckle, and I have found that the technique works. It is a reminder not to carry worries, fears and burdens around with me all day. It doesn’t mean that the worries magically disappear and that problems are taken care of. It is possible, however, to acknowledge and name one’s fears and worries… to focus with great intensity, and then lay them down and let go, at least for a time. To carry them around all day accomplishes nothing.
Jesus said to his disciples, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” Fear not, dear ones. The riches of heaven are available to you now… if you do not weigh yourself down with things that have no true value, with things that are a distraction. Stop carrying them around! They are a hindrance. If you are focused on counting your gold and jewels, and protecting all the rest of your “precious” possessions in fear that they may be taken from you, your heart will be anchored there with them. Grasping and holding and clinging squeeze the very life out of us, in the very place where joy and abundance seek to enter. If you can let go of your attachments to things and make the turn to an even richer way of being… if you give, and serve and live a life of compassion, your heart will know life and you will know ever greater freedom.
Do you any of you know how to catch a monkey? In India hunters have a tried and true method. If you want to catch a monkey, find a coconut, hollow it out, and make a hole that is just large enough for a monkey’s hand to pass through it. Then pin the coconut to the ground and place some tempting food inside like nuts or berries. Can you imagine what happens? A monkey will approach the coconut, attracted by the tasty morsels inside. It then reaches its hand into the coconut grabs onto the treat. Then, as the monkey tries to get its hand back out of the coconut it finds that it’s clenched fist is too large for the hole.
Its hand is stuck inside. Rather than let go of the food, the monkey continues gripping the treat, imprisoned because of its own inability to let go and release its tight grip. The hunter’s job, then, is extremely easy.
There are loud voices in our midst spewing messages of scarcity, saying that there isn’t enough to go around… that there are not enough places at the table, not enough food for everyone even though some reports say that, in this country, we waste up to 30-40% of our usable food, and more than that is wasted in other parts of the world. Voices are saying that healthcare is too costly to care well for everyone. Voices of scarcity say,simply, that there is not enough to go around. The Gospel says otherwise… Fear not faithful servants… there is a party, a banquet going on and soon the master will return from the banquet. The master will return not to judge. The master will be returning at an unexpected time, with a spring in his step… full of compassion, not only to share the joy, but to serve the faithful servants upon return. Expect the unexpected for our God promises.. always… to break us open, to free us with joy, to provide a place for each and every one of the beloved at the banquet table. The message in today’s gospel lesson is: do not be distracted, do not cling to fear, or you might miss the party that is promised in the love of Christ. Have your lamps lit. The moment is coming. Let go of your expectations! Fear not! Have faith…
The retired chief rabbi of the United Kingdom, Lord Jonathan Sacks says of our God:
When Moses is standing before the burning bush and he asks “Who are you?” God says to hi three words: “hayah asher hayah.” Those words are mistranslated in English as “I am that which I am.” But in Hebrew, it means “I will be who or how or where I will be,” meaning, Don’t think you can predict me. I am a God who is going to surprise you.
Blessed are God’s people when we are ready to receive the gifts of heaven, gifts of true wealth that are more than we can ask for or imagine. Together let us prepare and be ready to receive the wealth of God’s light and love that is forever and always seeking to break in and break us open in newness of life.
Fear not dear ones. Lay down your burdens, unclench your fists, for it is God’s good pleasure to surprise us with abundance and joy. Let us light our lamps and make ready for the feast of life.
I would like to end with a prayer by Henri Nouwen:
Dear God, I am so afraid to open my clenched fists!
Who will I be when I have nothing left to hold on to?
Who will I be when I stand before you with empty hands?
Please help me to gradually open my hands
And discover that I am not what I own,
But what you want to give me.
Isaiah 1:1, 10-20
Psalm 50:1-8, 23-24
Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16