In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Just speaking for myself, I’d say this recent period of time has been full of challenges to adjust to the unforeseen and the unexpected. Barry’s skiing accident has changed some things for ever. Nothing seems to be working out as planned. Snafus are around every corner.
This is NOT what I’d expected for the middle of January in 2018. Random stuff is happening to make everything extremely disorienting.
It’s been a time of needing to draw on inner reserves AND a time to acknowledge my dismay and sadness at what cannot be.
And that’s a fairly good synopsis of what it’s like to deal with changes that are foisted upon a person…changes you do not want, and did not foresee.
In my own little dismaying time I see some good parallels to what the parish is going through just now: a leader with whom most folks are comfortable is leaving. There is a lot of uncertainty in the air. Some not-so-good memories of changes in the years gone by are surfacing and making us dread what we might be in for. And, above all, the way isn’t clear for the parish. It’s a little bit like walking in the dark.
One great thing to remember is that our diocese, the Episcopal Church in Connecticut, has a good, strong framework around transitions in parishes. There are prescribed ways of doing things / in good order. There is the Canon for Mission Leadership, the Rev. Lee Ann Tolzmann, who has an eagle eye on the process. And soon there will be appointed an advisor from the diocese who will work with our leadership here and make sure that things are going smoothly. These are all huge blessings.
They are firm structures around us. And as my former supervisor used to say, “the antidote to anxiety is structure.” So take heart. There is help out there. And to quote Julian of Norwich yet again, “All will be well, and all will be well, and all manner of things will be well.”
We’ve shared a good 12 years together. At the very least, they were 12 good years for me, personally. We’ve accomplished a lot of concrete tasks here—renovations inside and out, a beautiful pipe organ, a stronger steeple, a memorial garden, and new carpeting in our sanctuary. But more importantly, we’ve deepened our faith and grown spiritually. We’ve learned to love each other at a little deeper level and many of us have taken some risks to be mutually vulnerable. And these risks have actually helped us to grow closer.
Thank you so much for all these good things we’ve accomplished together.
And now you will move on, and I will move on, each of us trying to find our way into a future that isn’t clear yet. We’ll be striving to trust that it will be OK, because God is here with us. Our Gospel gives us a little hint about how to enter into the future, despite our worries, our misgivings, our anxiety.
In our selection from the Fourth Gospel, Philip is directly called by Jesus as the Lord says, “Follow me.” Then Philip takes the invitation out to a very skeptical Nathaniel and as an answer to his skepticism Philip says, “Come and see.” In other words, be open to what might be. Check it out for yourself. Investigate a bit, and be willing to try something new.
“Come and see” is about the only hopeful and positive answer one could give to someone who’s afraid of taking the next step—someone who’s afraid of walking in the dark. Let me quote Barbara Brown Taylor, an Episcopal priest who wrote a book about walking through and learning from darkness. It’s called Learning to Walk in the Dark, and I commend it highly. It’s an easy and engaging read. We actually did read it together in a book study here a few years ago.
Taylor writes that “Step 1 of learning to walk in the dark is to give up running the show. Next you sign the waiver that allows you to bump into some things that may frighten you at first. Finally you ask darkness to teach you what you need to know.” So let’s think about what her words imply:
· Step 1: Forget trying to control stuff. Things happen. Go with it.
· Step 2: Expect some bumps in the road, some challenges that might actually be setbacks. These will be your teachers.
· Step 3: Be open to learning and growing. In other words, be open to the great, big possibility that changes you don’t want NOW will help you be better LATER ON.
So…what does it mean to listen to the invitation Philip received, to follow Jesus? I’d say it means to allow God to deepen our trust that God always has our backs; to be willing to learn from mistakes and get stronger; to walk through darkness with trepidation but also with expectation, knowing that the darkness cannot kill us. It can only make us stronger in the long run.
Our parishioners Roy and Frances Fanning, who live in southern England for most of the year, sent me a very encouraging little story that I’d like to share now. It is very apropos to what we’re all passing through.
The year was 1939, and the British Empire had declared war on Germany in September. It was time for the Christmas Eve address to the people of Britain by King George VI (the one whose story was told in that great movie “The King’s Speech”). The King shared a poem that his daughter, the then Princess Elizabeth (now Queen Elizabeth II), gave him a few days before. The poem dates from the early 20th Century and was written by a woman named Minnie Haskins. It’s called “God Knows.” Listen and imagine hearing this read by your king as your world begins to crumble and the empire embarks upon the Second World War:
“I said to the man who stood at the Gate of the Year,
‘Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.’
And he replied, ‘Go out into the darkness, and put your hand into the hand of God.
That shall be to you better than light, and safer than a known way.’ [unquote]
And the king ended his speech by saying, “May that Almighty hand guide and uphold us all.”
And I hope that we can all pray, in our own ways, as we go through our various Transitions, “May that Almighty hand guide and uphold us all.”
Give up the illusion of perfect control, submit to walking in the dark, learn, and grow.
So to wrap it all up I’d like to close with a short excerpt from a prayer written by the 20th Century Trappist monk, Thomas Merton. It applies to this entire parish, to our Vestry, our wardens, and our people, and to me and Barry, too. Here it is:
“My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end . . .
I will trust you always, though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.”