Be Still, and Know that I am God

A Sermon for Fifth Lent

Come Holy Spirit, come. Open our hearts, our minds and our ears
to hear your words. Amen

This fall I interned at Saint Barnabas, a small parish in Sykesville, MD. The internship was a part of my discernment process this past year. The twelve-week emersion into the St. Barnabas community was intended to give me an idea about parish ministry from the perspective of a priest.

I knew nothing about Saint Barnabas – but grew to love this tiny parish and its people. The church – which can fit inside this Great Hall - has a vibrant and loving community. They quickly embraced me as one of their own. When I left in December, I told them I arrived as a stranger to be in their midst, but left as a part of their Body of Christ.

My expectations for my internship experience were simple. I thought that I would learn to “do” things – such as setting the table, preaching, telling the Gospel story, teaching a class and visiting parishioners. And I was correct – but that wasn’t the real lesson that I learned. The real “ah-ha” was learning the importance of “being” with this faithful community of followers, not the actual “doing” of ministry with them. And that is what I am reminded of when I sat with today’s scripture readings.

In our Old Testament reading the prophet Jeremiah tells the people of Israel that they are getting a new covenant from God. These are a people who are in despair; they are in exile and still in captivity. God is frustrated with them and their lack of focus on Him. But as a loving parent, he forgives them and tells them He has a new covenant for them. One that won’t be etched on tablets but instilled in our hearts.

I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” (Jeremiah 31: 33)

What a different covenant, what a change from being told how to act, to being told that the covenant is within each of them, not something that they can “do”, but it is about “being”. It doesn’t mean it is easier, in fact, it isn’t. But it is more intimate. It encompasses so much more than following a few laws, it means being in relationship – being in relationship with God and to do that we must be in relationship with each other. To get to our hearts or rather, to have our hearts receive God’s love, we must be open – we must be willing to receive, to live into the “being” not merely the “doing”.

And then in today’s Gospel lesson, John takes it a bit further. Jesus knows his hour is near and he shares with us:

“Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” (John12: 24)

It does no good if a seed is not thrown to the ground to die and be reborn. When I think of this I envision a bulb – and in this early arrival of spring we are seeing a lot of bulbs bloom forth. When we plant bulbs in the fall, they are hard large seeds –void of color and fragrance. And through the winter it is nurtured under the ground only to be drawn upward by gentle spring rains and warm days. It is reborn, just as Jesus promises us, if we follow him.

As I sat with these scripture readings that are rich with multiple lessons, I was reminded about my internship experience. I confess I am a doer; I get things done. I often juggle several things at one time. In fact, I can get in the “zone” as it is referred to in the sports world and I move through projects and assignments with great concentration and focus paying little attention to what is around me except for my task at hand. And isn’t that how most of our lives are? Our secular world has programmed us to believe that more is better – more money, more control, more friends, more activities, more food…more, more, more.

But how can one find Jesus in all the “more”. How can one be in the moment when we are programmed to be looking ahead to the next step? So in my internship experience, I brought my leadership and organizational skills with me – and while these can be very helpful in ministry, I discovered that my very strengths can block the presence of the Holy Spirit. The busy-ness can prevent me from “being.” My wise spiritual director – who knows me very well, gave me a verse to keep in the back of my mind throughout my day and it goes like this:

“Be still, and know that I am God.”(Psalm 46:10)

In other words STOP, slow down and give up control – turn it over to God because she is the one that is in charge.

So often in the busy world in which we live, and we all live in this busy world, we want to control things, keep things within our understanding and to have a firm grip on it. Envision holding onto a seed, tightly and firmly. Not letting it out of your sight, because if you do, you may lose control. But what happens to the seed….nothing. Instead if we release it into the ground, trusting Mother Nature to help it along, it does grow and bring forth new life. The same can be said for our relationship with Jesus. If we keep a firm hold on our life and refuse to open our heart to others – which is how we open our hearts to Jesus – we will not grow. If we refuse to listen to new ideas, to trust in the possibility of change, we remain stagnant and something dies within us – or at least never grows.

One of the ministries that taught me this was the Healing Ministry at Saint Barnabas. For several weeks I watched as an observer the power that words and touch can have on individuals who come forward for healing prayers. One specific time I watched a parishioner come forward and before she took communion, Fr. Earl instinctively laid his hands upon her head and prayed over her. I couldn’t hear what he said– but that didn’t matter. What I witnessed was so powerful. I knew I was witnessing the Holy – I could literally see a transformation occur on her face by receiving a blessing. Eyes were closed, her tense face relaxing, trembling as she felt his hands upon her and his whispering prayer that pulled her beyond where she stood. She was moved to a place where she could feel the warmth of the hands of God upon her. That is what we are being told in today’s readings. That by opening our heart, to lose our tight grip on our lives, allows for us to begin feeling the depth of God’s love and mercy.

And so it was from this experience that we decided to expand the Healing Ministry to the Sunday services here at All Saints’. With the help of a few faithful members we have been offering Healing Prayers during this season of Lent. And we have been so moved by our experiences. One of the first lessons we learn when we perform the Healing Prayers is that it isn’t about us. In fact, we have nothing to do with the transformation that can take place. It is between God and the person who is open to receiving His love and healing power. It goes back to the verse my spiritual director gave me to mediate on “Be still, and know that I am God.” I don’t know who gets more from this ministry of healing – those who offer the prayers or those who receive them. But as one who has been on both sides of the experience, I can assure you that regardless on which side you stand, you have the opportunity to begin to understand the today’s messages.

During this season of Lent we have been given the opportunity to shed old sins or old skins, we have been given the opportunity to open ourselves up to new ways in order to gain a deeper relationship with God through Jesus. If you haven’t slowed down enough to do this – and most of us haven’t – it is never too late. Take the first step and ask for healing prayers or reach out to someone whom you know may be hurting. Share yourself – your heart - with others so that you can begin to feel the love of Jesus within you. Start “being” and stop “doing” I can assure you the ride will be an adventure you never thought imaginable.

Amen.

—Nancy Hennessey
March 25, 2012