June 25, 2017

Proper 7 – Third Sunday after Pentecost

jeremiah 20:7-13; psalm 69: 8-11, (12-17), 18-20; Romans 6:1b-11; Matthew 10:24-39


The shackles of sin are released through love of God and prayer.

If I had a dollar for every pastoral engagement with a person who was breaking their own spirit by rehearsing their sins, I would be a rich woman.  If I had a twenty dollar bill for every time I myself have fallen on the sword of my imperfection only to wallow there wasting precious time, I would be closer to retirement.  Why is it so hard to free ourselves from the shackles of our mistakes in order to live in spiritual freedom with confidence?  Why is this harder still for Christians.

It is hard in part because along the road of history the church laid out a slip of tar.  The idea was for our sins to stick to the tar so that we ourselves could walk away, but the tar was too sticky.  At times the church has taught and emphasized sin in ways that resulted in the bodies and souls of the faithful got stuck thinking we were bad to the core.  This has come at such a cost that some churches and clergy are going so far as to eliminate the confession from Sunday worship to prevent unintended consequence of further spiritual harm to worshipers.

The medieval church had a particular way of catching people in the tar, and yet out of times of great shadow or pain the beauty of insight arises.  This happened in the middle ages of Christianity in any number of ways.  One example specifically was through the vocation of Brother Lawrence who was Carmelite monk in Paris, France.  He was born in 1614 and died in 1691.  He started his vocational life as a soldier.  After fighting in the Thirty Year’s War and following an injury, he left the army and served as a valet.  After some time, he chose monastic life and joined a Priory in Paris.  Lawrence dedicated himself to humble work in the priory – serving in the kitchen and mending sandals.  Yet his wisdom for praying our way through life and through our sin is legend.  “The Practice of the Presence of God” is a title you can find easily on Amazon.

Brother Lawrence answered the burden of sin with practical instruction.

1.       Do not bring into confession sins you have already confessed.  Don’t go over them again and again.

2.      Don’t call to mind other people who have been connected with your sins.  Judge yourself only.

3.      Acknowledge your sins in general.  Don’t rehearse the details.

4.      What you think is your sin is small and insignificant in comparison with your true sin which is most likely a failure to love God.

Brother Lawrence’s discipline for overcoming sin and living a faithful life is simply this. “Pray without ceasing.”

It is simple instruction that feels impossible to accomplish.  But there are ways that it can be done.  I will never forget the story of a woman who said she talks to Jesus all the time.  She relayed that one morning the rushed out of her apartment, down the stairs, opened the car door, seated herself and put the keys in the ignition only to do the whole thing in reverse, returning to her abode.  She entered her front door and exclaimed, “Come on Jesus!  Sorry I forgot you!”  Off she went with her day.

Brother Lawrence teaches that we can pray a simple mantra without ceasing.  His was, “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.”  Ours might be something else such as “Peace be with you. Peace be with you.  Peace be with you.”

Another way to pray without ceasing is to bless everything in your site – your food, your car, your children.  Bless them with silent intention or bless them aloud with words and gestures.  And if you have young people in your life, let your children bless you.  The power and sensation of such blessings are remarkable.

We can even offer a litany of thanksgivings for the rotten things in our life.  I once suffered lower back pain for months due to stress.  It plagued me, and I hated it.  At the time I happened to be reading Brother Lawrence, so I created the mantra, “Thank you God for my back pain.”  I recited it in my head over and over.  This did not cure my ailment of course.  The pain only left when I fixed my life.  But what the prayer did was fix my brain.  It changed my constant consciousness from heavy and dreary to positive and grateful.

Thankfully the Episcopal tradition is not particularly hung up on sin.  We care less about personal sin than corporate sin.  We confess as a community more than we seek personal reconciliation.  But even Episcopalians are born into the human condition.  We are as Paulo Freire explains born into an exercise always of trying to humanize ourselves.  It is so easy to see ourselves through a critical or self-conscious lens.  It is up to us through God to set ourselves free.

Pride celebrations like the parade downtown last night or the coaching of young black children such as in the movie, The Help, insisting, “You are good.  You are smart.  You are important.’…These are the ceremonies and certainties that we undertake in order to stand strong.  These are the ceremonies and certainties that we must come to rehearse as the words of God in our own hearts and minds.

May we seek reconciliation with those we have harmed or whom we have perceived to have harmed us in order that we might be able to pray without ceasing.