Rev. Jamie L. Hamilton's Sermon, September 3, 2023
Graft in our hearts the Love of your Name. Let the hearts of those who seek you, rejoice.
I am rejoicing, wonderfully overwhelmed by memories of being your priest-in-charge for 16 summers as together we grafted into our hearts the Love of God. My priesthood was shaped by being at this pulpit and in your midst, as well as my life as mother, friend, colleague, and citizen. I carry you in my heart, and you will always be with me.
In my experience in the pulpit, not only here but at All Saints in Peterborough, I learned to trust that scripture could speak to our lives, giving us wisdom, insights, difficult questions to ponder, and paths to follow. It wasn’t outdated or limited to moral guides, but rather expansive in its capacity to invite us to discover the deeper realms of our lives, and to make a difference in ways we name our pain, seek forgiveness and reconciliation, heal, and believe in hope.
Imagine a world in which everyone:
Loves what is genuine; hates what is evil, holds fast to what is good; loves one another with mutual affection; outdoes one another in showing honor.
If everyone could “rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.”
Thank you, St. Paul, for reaching across the centuries to speak to our day, and though we may feel, especially as a nation, polarized, discouraged, marginalized, some of us angry and feeling hopeless, your struggles were not really all that different and you gave us a roadmap:
“Beloved,” Paul says, “never avenge yourselves… if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; … do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
How do we take this sage advice and extend it to our common lives, into the public square? How can we who are “religious,” who pray for God to increase in us “true religion” have an impact on our world? Make a difference; bring us together, not tear us apart?
I believe we can, but not maybe in the way we assumed was the best way (surrounded by like-minded people). I am going to suggest an idea that may appear radical, but I am among friends who will bear with me.
To quote Lawyer Barbie, “I have no difficulty holding both logic and feeling at the same time; and it does not diminish my powers; it expands them.” We can read scripture with logic and feeling, as well, which will expand our understanding.
I made a vow as a priest, to “solemnly declare that I do believe the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be the Word of God, and to contain all things necessary to salvation” (BCP, pg. 526). This is my vow; I’ve committed my life to this vow.
At the same time, through my experience, my feelings, my intuition, my searching, as a teacher of world religions, I’ve discovered that Holy Scripture does not exclusively belong to the Bible. It comes in many forms, through texts (nature) of indigenous religions, Greek philosophy, Hindu sutras, Buddhist dharma, the Qur’an, even poetry and literature, and this extension of Holy Scripture as holy does not diminish my power in my vow, but expands it.
Here’s the paradox: By accepting other faiths and their scripture as holy, I can enter more deeply into my belief that the Bible is the Word of God and contains all things necessary to salvation. Embracing the “other” allows me to deepen my own faith and my commitments.
I was on a bus, putting on my earphones to listen to a podcast. I hadn’t put the “thing-a-ma-jig” into my cell phone tight enough so the person sitting next to me nudge me to say that I was broadcasting my listening. I was embarrassed, shoved the thing in further and then the person asked, “Are you listening to Harry Potter as Sacred Text?”
I was on the aisle, and the person across from me said, “that’s one of my favorite podcasts. "Both folks were in their 30’s; we were strangers and began one of the most fascinating conversations about religion I have ever had.
“Tell me how it’s sacred for you?” I asked. Like my own daughters, they both had grown up reading Harry Potter (going to their local bookstore at midnight and reading all night to finish the book to avoid any spoilers). They loved the way the text made them think about good and evil, the need to be faithful, to trust in finding one’s integrity, to stand up for your friends, to risk your life for what matters and that in the end to believe that Love wins.
“In other words, ‘Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good,’” I responded.
“For me,” said my seat mate, “I began to believe in God, not as a being, but rather as dimension that makes my existence, and everyone’s existence, possible. Once I took away the Big Guy in the Sky, I could embrace the idea that there is something beyond my own ego, my own needs, my own body, and that just maybe there was a Source of Goodness that is Absolute.”
Can you imagine the religion teacher in me, my heart, just singing away.
“So faith then,” I suggested, “is about remembering this Dimension. We often forget, we don’t listen, we get caught up in our own egos, our accomplishments, failures, successes, and lose the real grounding of our precious lives.”
“Exactly! I know when I am caught up in my own ego, my life is susceptible to chaos. I lose the fragrance of my own being, and others as well.”
This younger generation is committed to embracing “the fragrance” of inclusivity – through their recognition of positionality, intersectionality, use of pronouns, gender fluidity, sensitivity to triggering over trauma, making people feel safe, and challenging institutions that discriminate against race, gender, age, class, and mobility. And then there’s the planet!
“You know Caspar (one of the hosts of the podcasts) says that the Ego has little attention of its own; instead, its attention is captured and compelled by what it likes and dislikes. That egoism is the illegitimate child of an affair between intellect and selfish desires. That makes sense to me; I want to commit myself to being aware of this pull and not get caught up in the ego’s snare.”
“That’s very cool,” I said. “You know when Jesus said to his disciples, ‘For those who want to save their life will lose it. And those who lose their life for my sake will find it.” Peter told him that he couldn’t risk dying, and then Jesus said,
‘Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.’ Maybe Jesus was afraid of the pull to take care of his ego and not to pay attention to the things that matter… matters of the spirit.”
Can you imagine what my bus mates and I would have lost if we hadn’t entered into the holy listening of our lives as we shared with each other the holy grounding of our lives. Indeed, our sandals were off as we recognized that we had transcended our differences and were touching the Great I Am of our existence.
I believe all of us, as children of God, brother, sister, siblings, have been bestowed deep within the sinews of our DNA the desire to seek God’s Word. Moses is the perfect example of this when he says, “I must turn aside and look at this great sight.”
I think he knew he needed to turn aside, to not look – not look at the burning bush, but he had a deeper desire to know, even though it’s beyond his capacity to understand; so he looks straight at the Burning Bush that is not being consumed. Moses learns that in spite of his feeble claim, “Well, who am I?” he hears as a bookend, God’s great I Am Who I Am, I Am Who I Am Becoming, I am the Great Source of All Life…. Yahweh.
My good friend and colleague, Rabbi Arthur Waskow will forever have the last word on this word. He says Yahweh is not really a word, but rather represents Breath. We breath in Yah, and then breathe out Weh. What does Breath represent? … Our very dependence on the Source of Life; we will get close because God is as close to us as our jugular vein, yet always out of reach. God as Dimension beyond our grasp, yet the miracle here is that even in our incapacity to hold onto God, we are empowered us as we enter into the mystery of the present moment, to be held and loved within our grace, our hope and our humility.
We have an inner compass, the Great I Am, Yahweh, breath, integrity, attention, authenticity, and the world needs to hear from us, who are religious, and have been given insights, so that all us can act from the Holy Ground of our Being. We take off our shoes as we recognize the power of seeking God’s Word in our lives, through a holy text, ours and others. Amen.