Posted by: dacalu | 3 June 2018

Stepping Back

Today, I had the privilege of worshiping with the people of St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Seattle.  Here is the sermon I shared.


Prayer for the Day

O God, your never-failing providence sets in order all things both in heaven and earth: Put away from us, we entreat you, all hurtful things, and give us those things which are profitable for us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.



1 Samuel 3:1-20 (“Here I am”)

Psalm 139 (“Lord, you have searched me out and known me”)

2 Corinthians 4:5-12 (“We do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ”)

Mark 2:23-3:6 (““The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath”)



Welcome to the Season after Pentecost.
If the fifty days of Easter form a great Sunday every year,
	then we are now in the great Monday.
So, what do we do after we worship.

I’ve been talking a great deal about passion and love and about openness.
We must love God with all our hearts,
	and be drunk with love,
	and get carried away.
It sounds pretty good, right?
	A little scary, but doable.
It can be easy to get caught in the first stage of the love affair,
	but I told you there would be more to it.
We have been asked to love God
	with all our heart, and with all our mind, 
and with all our soul, and with all our strength.
On Monday, and throughout the week,
	we do the work of living into that.
We put our heart and head and hands
	to the task of love.
And it is a task, a joyful task, but work all the same.

Standing before God, we can be our fullest selves.
With one another,
	sometimes we need to be more careful.
Our job during the week
	often means stepping back so that someone else can step forward.
When we want others to shine,
	sometimes we need to get out of the way.
When we want God to talk,
	sometimes we need to be quiet and listen.

Some of you may be familiar with active listening,
	the ability to be quiet that empowers others to speak.
That’s what I’m taking about.
Today’s sermon is about stepping back.
This is not a retreat.
	It is not ground given grudgingly, ground lost, or appeasement.
	Rather, it is space that we voluntarily give up to let someone else grow.
We have quite a few parents here.
	Can you think of a time when you allowed your children
		to make a choice, even a wrong choice,
		so that they would know how choosing works?
Teachers have to do it as well.
	Do you remember a time when a teacher or a mentor
		Stepped back and said,
	here, it’s your turn.
Stepping back means giving someone space to be their fullest self
	before God and neighbor.

We have many names for this in Christianity:
	self-denial, selflessness, humility.
In God, theologians call it kenosis,
	the emptying of self.
It does not make God, or us, smaller;
	it just means scooting to the side a little.
	Sometimes we can be most expressive,
		most expansive,
		most truly ourselves
		by stepping back.
We express ourselves by the spaces we create.
Think of a mother opening her hands for a hug,
	or a friend providing a shoulder to lean on.
Think of cupping your hands for communion.
Getting out of the way can be the most profound 
	way of sharing our hearts and minds.
I want to give you examples,
	but I must be clear they are examples.
There is a time for exhortation – changing people’s minds –
	and a time for demonstration.
That’s the difference between witness and judgment.
	A witness speaks about herself.
	A judge speaks about someone else.
	A witness expands himself.
	A judge hems someone else in.
There is a time for both, but I think we must witness first.
On Friday and Saturday, we can have judgment and justice,
	but first we must listen and share.
	First, we must step back.
No one can tell you how to step back,
	they can only demonstrate.

I am a vegetarian.
	I think there are many reasons not to eat meat,
	but one of the biggest involve stepping back.
I take up less space in the food chain.
	I only eat one tenth as much soy,
	as it would take to feed a cow or pig for my supper.
That’s a terrible over-simplification.
	The ratio ranges from one sixth to one eightieth depending on the animal, 
	but you get the idea.
I don’t think eating meat is inherently wrong.
	Jesus ate fish.
I think we have a good agricultural system that can feed everyone.
And yet, choose to take less, so that others have more flexibility,
	and so that we, as a community, have the option to consume less,
	pollute less, and eat more wisely.
A popular bumper sticker says
	“live simply so that others might simply live.”

This is really important.
	I don’t do these things because they are moral imperatives.
	I do them because they create space for others.
	They recognize God’s desire for the world to flourish,
		not just me.
The world is radically interconnected,
	and, to some extent, I am my brother’s keeper.
I am not responsible for the choices he makes, 
	but I am responsible for seeing that he has choices,
	and that some of them are good.
I make things harder on myself so that they will be easier for others.

Mature love requires this stepping back,
	so that others can step forward.

I fear we have fallen into a trap in the United States.
	We are desperate for consensus about justice.
	We want to force others into our kind of justice,
		our kind of community.
	We want them to express themselves the way we express ourselves.
	But community doesn’t work that way.
A community can be more than the sum of its parts,
	because each of us shines differently.
We belong together because we do different things differently.
	We even show God’s grace differently.

And so, on Monday, we must step back
	and listen to one another,
	empty ourselves for one another,
	so that by Sunday we can be a community.
Even our concepts of justice and community.
	Perhaps especially our concepts of justice and community,
	may need to be relaxed 
so that others can bring their own concepts to the table.

Sometimes we even need to give up our own sensibilities and let God be God.
Mary said, ‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; 
let it be with me according to your word.’ (Luke 1:38)
On the Mount of Olives, Jesus asked God to take away the crucifixion, then said
	“Not my will but yours be done.” (Luke 22:42)
These were not easy acts.
	They required immense faith and trust.
	But they created something.
	They created a space for God’s will.
	They also created space for the will of fallible humans.
		In the short term, Jesus’ trust was not rewarded.
		In the long term it changed the world.
This is why we preach Christ, and him crucified.
Or, in the words of today’s epistle:
“But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear 
that this extraordinary power belongs to God 
and does not come from us.
We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; 
perplexed, but not driven to despair; 
persecuted, but not forsaken; 
struck down, but not destroyed; 
always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, 
so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies.
For while we live, we are always being given up to death for Jesus’ sake, 
so that the life of Jesus may be made visible in our mortal flesh. 
So death is at work in us, but life in you.”

Christians step back to demonstrate that love that was Jesus’
	in giving his whole self to us and for us,
	so that we might live more fully.
We have the Bible and theology and community norms.
	We must have these things.
	But we must also remember that they were made for us,
		and not we for them.
This is what it takes to love neighbor more than law,
	and God more than self.
In hope,
	and trusting in God’s grace
	we step back as individuals,
	so that we might step forward as a community.
Sunday will come again,
	but first there is this Monday, and this week,
	of looking for ways that we might create space for someone else,
	and encourage them to shine forth.




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