By: Rev. Dr. Rebecca Voelkel
Scripture: Psalm 23
[sung] I will trust in the Lord, I will trust in the Lord, I will trust in the Lord, till I die. I will trust in the Lord, I will trust in the Lord, I will trust in the Lord, I will trust in the Lord till I die. (NCH #416)
It was one of those times in my life when I was pondering and struggling. What should I do? Who was I? What was God calling me to be?
In the midst of this, I got a call from my sister-friend, Amy. I know I’ve told you a lot about her. You held me through many years of her living and dying with MS. You prayed with me at each step in her twenty year journey—for that, I will always be grateful.
As I was struggling with all of these questions about my life, Amy knew it was time to call. She had that kind of sixth sense. On this particular day, she seemed to sense my struggles and called to share a story about trust and vulnerability that continues to challenge me.
It was at a time when Amy’s MS was progressing rapidly and she was struggling with the reality that she was having to increasingly rely on others for help. This was difficult for her as she had lived her life as an activist and a giver of help, not a receiver. (I don’t know if that resonates with anyone here?)
On this particular day, Amy was in her electric wheelchair and was heading home and she miscalculated the edge of the sidewalk, tipped her chair and fell out. A man about the age of her father was driving and saw her. He stopped his car and ran over to help her get back into her chair. After Amy profusely thanked him, he stopped her. He said, “you know, I have not been very good to my own daughter who is about your age, and she won’t speak to me. Somehow, your letting me help, heals that a little. It is I who am grateful to you.”
When she called me to tell me this, she said, “You know, Reb, I’m trying to remember that there is power in my vulnerability. There are connections and healing I never would have made without it.”
The Lord is my Shepherd, I have all I need, She makes me lie down in green meadows, Beside the still waters, she will lead.
This summer, we are, again, taking time to consider Sabbath practice. In many ways, our whole tradition is rooted in Sabbath. The Ten Commandments begin: Love God, keep the Sabbath. It is this God-loving and Sabbath-keeping that allow us to have even a prayer of not killing each other; and helps us in the struggle to honor our parents and elders and it’s God-loving and Sabbath practice that help us not covet our neighbors’ asses. Sabbath practice is revolutionary stuff, really, even in its straightforward simplicity. But how do we do it? And why do we so often avoid it—particularly as progressive Christians?
As I have been reflecting upon my own journey and on who I know Lyndale to be, I think part of how we’re able to practice Sabbath lies in vulnerability and trusting God.
Lyndale is a community filled with an amazing assortment of human beings. I can’t believe it, sometimes, when I learn something else about one of us here at Lyndale…. Languages spoken, poetry written, artwork created…. Judges and attorneys, scholars and a ridiculous number of clergy. We’ve built and brought bikes to Rwanda to help coffee farmers get their product to market. We’ve witnessed in the desert against unjust immigration policy. We’ve helped occupy the Fourth Precinct and the Governor’s Mansion. We’ve lived in communes. We’ve worked with survivors of sexual violence. We write letters and go to meetings and cook and clean and garden and bake and visit. There is a faithfulness and an earnestness and a desire to do the right thing that makes me love this community more and more every day.
But, I think there may also be a fear somewhere in the heart of us… and perhaps, in some of our individual hearts, too… that somehow, it really is up to us and only us. The justice that must be done in the world, the healing that has to happen, the goodness that needs to be shared—all of it is our responsibility and without us, it won’t happen.
And, there is level of anxiety in our world right now. We only need to turn on the news on any given day to get a sense of it. Paris, Istanbul, Munich, St. Anthony, Baton Rouge, Dallas, the convention center in Cleveland. The cycle of violence and hatred and the systems of oppression which support it are stoking the flames of anxiety and fear.
There is so much injustice….. there is too much hatred…. We don’t know exactly how to fix it, but it’s got to be fixed and it’s up to us and only us.
Now, I’m not suggesting that we don’t engage in all the important justice work that has been given us to do, nor ignore acting in ways that are neighborly. But the psalmist’s words challenge me about the how and why of our vocation as a community.
Surely, surely goodness and kindness will follow me, all the days of my life, and I will live in her house forever…. Forever and ever.
We can trust in God’s goodness and mercy. It’s not all up to us. We can pause and rest. Indeed, we must sleep and laugh and play. We are called to claim that, even when we stop, God’s universe bends towards justice and God’s love is being born throughout all of creation. Even in the presence of foes and the midst of the darkest valleys, God’s penchant for resurrection and healing and right relationship is already transforming things. And who knows what ministry our vulnerability or trust might empower?
Lie back daughter, let your head
be tipped back in the cup of my hand.
Gently, and I will hold you. Spread
your arms wide, lie out on the stream
and look high at the gulls. A dead-
man’s float is face down. You will dive
and swim soon enough where this tidewater
ebbs to the sea. Daughter, believe
me, when you tire on the long thrash
to your island, lie up, and survive.
As you float now, where I held you
and let go, remember when fear
cramps your heart what I told you:
lie gently and wide to the light-year
stars, lie back, and the sea will hold you.
In 2000, my dad had his second heart attack and, after a series of tests, was told he needed triple bypass surgery and valve repair. At seventy and a life-long diabetic, he knew that the risk that he would die on the operating table was significant. His doctors told us he had a slightly higher than fifty percent chance of making it.
One day, as he and I were sitting in his hospital room prior to the surgery, I asked him if he were alright or frightened or if there was anything I could do for him.
As I think about trust and practicing vulnerability, I think about what he said next. He said, “you know I’d really like to keep living, I feel like there is a lot more for me to experience and do. But I know that I am held in God’s hands. Whatever happens, it is going to be OK. And I trust that completely.”
My friends, there is a lot more for us to experience and do, of that I am sure. This is true for us as individuals and as the Lyndale community. But if we are to be able to do the ministry we’ve been given, I believe we must claim that each of us and all of us, are held in the palm of God’s hand. God anoints our heads with oil, leads us, upholds us.
Even amidst this world of strife, we can rest. Especially in the swirl of fear-mongering and hatred, we can lie back. We can take some time to practice Sabbath…. assured of God’s power, and work, and love. Indeed, this is the first lesson: to let go, to practice vulnerability, to relinquish, to trust in God.