2017 Lenten Reflection – Bill C

Readings: Hebrews 11: 1-6,   1 Corinthians 13:1-13

So far, I have been given about 28.2 million minutes on this earth (give or take 100,000). Tonight, I’ve been given about 15 minutes to tell you about it. Fortunately for you all, my memory isn’t that good…

My thoughts may seem a bit random or scattered as I share them with you. But, I hope, when I’m done, you’ll see the connection.

I was born in Providence. I’ve always found special meaning in being able to say that. Even when the context of that statement refers to a locality or a zip code, which it almost always does, I say it with an understanding that I truly WAS… born in Providence – born into the loving and benevolent guidance of God – born into God’s loving grace, as were all of you.

I hesitate to speak this next revelation about myself because, probably, there will be some of you who don’t believe this could be true. But here it is:  I truly do not remember a moment in my life when I didn’t believe in the existence of God, AND in the presence of God in my life.  (Well, there may have been a twinge of doubt when I was informed that Santa Clause wasn’t real, but….)

“IS there a God?” has never been a question I struggled with. Of course, all the other questions which arise around that one – well they challenge me as profoundly as they challenge anyone… Questions like WHY, God?!…  questions like What does God WANT?… like Who is Jesus, really, in relation to God?… WHAT is Jesus?… What is my relationship with Jesus?… questions like Is there really a force called evil, or is it actually  just a profound separation from God? …questions like Does God really punish us if we fail to be faithful and loving – or are the bad things that happen just the natural, organic consequences of the free will that God gave us?  These questions, and so many more, I still struggle with every day, and I suppose I always will.

But, because I have questions – because I have doubts – does not mean that I don’t have Faith. I believe God is present in all places, in all souls, at all times. I believe God understands ALL, even though I – even though WE – understand so very very little.

I was offered the honor of sharing my… Faith… Journey… with you all here this evening. As I contemplated what to share, I was inspired to focus on the word Faith. (Remember the journey is, so far, more than 28 million minutes long… Be glad I chose Faith.)

In the reading this past Sunday, in John: chapter 11, we heard about Jesus being told that his dear friend Lazarus was ill, and being asked to come – and how Jesus waited two days to go to Lazarus. We heard how Martha challenged – perhaps even scolded Jesus. “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not be dead.”  AND we also heard about the Faith Martha had in Jesus (and in God), despite her grief and anger, saying “but even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you.”  That is Faith.

Through most of my life, a particular number keeps appearing. Quite often, it seems to me that God uses this number as a sort of tap on the shoulder – reminding me that he is present, challenging me to pay attention. There have been a few times when the coincidental appearance of this number was directly connected to a very powerful moment in my life. Now, scientists would say that this is not evidence that God speaks to us in such ways. I say – YES, it is. Faith is what keeps me alert when this number appears; faith is what makes me stop and listen for what God is trying to say. By the way, that number is 1732.

God was definitely present when I was 12 years old, and watched as cancer turned my father from a giant – a hero – my idol… into a frail, sickly, weeping person… and then took his life.

God was most certainly present at the births of my wonderful children and grandchildren, all healthy – all amazing.

God’s presence was never in doubt as I searched for a church – for a faith community – where I and my family could feel a true sense of belonging. And each time I realized that a particular church or community was “not the one” – because we were from the north, because I was divorced, because my partner and I had an infant child and weren’t married, because I refused to condemn people for their sexual orientation… the existence and presence of God was still known to me, even in all those moments when the term “Christian” became more and more difficult for me to align myself with.

God was surely present that day in 1989 when, very suddenly, the horrific reality of my oath of military enlistment was put to the test – and God has been present the thousands of times I’ve relived that moment; and I believe God will be present in all the memories and nightmares I have yet to live through.

In 2010, at a very dark and low point in my life, I asked God for two things. I did NOT ask for a quick and easy road back to financial security – after 18 months of unemployment had devastated me financially. And I did NOT ask for a fast and complete cure for the cancer I had just been told I was afflicted with. Somehow, I already felt that God had those issues under control; I just knew God had a plan.

The two things I did ask for were these:

Firstly, I asked God to grant me a relationship with a true partner, a best friend, and – as cliché as it may be – a soulmate. I asked for a partner who could engage in the relationship and give as much as she asked for – a partner who could share love and faith and sorrow and joy – a partner who – FINALLY, Finally – I could truly trust.

Secondly, I asked God to show me a path toward a community of people, gathered in Faith and Love, who would welcome and accept me for who I am. I asked for a faith community in which I would be appreciated for being an individual. I asked for a community that could find value in the fact that my faith – my relationship with God – is as unique as my DNA, and as unique as their faith and relationship with God. I asked to be – FINALLY, Finally – a real MEMBER of a church.

Now, in asking God for these things, I was very afraid. It wasn’t so much that I feared that God’s answer would be “No”, because that would mean that God had other plans for me. Rather, I was afraid that I would not see or hear the answer at all. I feared that I would be left to wonder, to struggle, to fear and to wait. I feared that I didn’t have the strength for there to be no answer at all.

But, God DID answer those prayers. The answer to the first prayer is named Sandi – and she IS my partner, my best friend, my soulmate. And, the answer to the second prayer is called Central Congregational Church.

I can’t know where I would be today had those answers not been given to me by God. But I have a deep, strong feeling that I would not be in a very good place. I think, in answering those prayers as beautifully and gracefully as God did, I was truly saved.

Of course, scientists would insist that these are not answers to prayers from a Deity. They would say that these happenstances in my life are – in no way – proof of the existence and presence of God. But, I say – YES, they most certainly are.

The specific things that I believe about God and about Jesus, and the things I don’t believe, and the things I struggle to understand – I suspect each of you would agree with me in some of these things and disagree with me in others. I suspect some of my beliefs and disbeliefs may even upset you. But what’s really important is that this is a faith community, a spiritual family, in which we value and respect each other – in which we try to meet people where they are. What’s important is that this wonderful group of souls is a powerful source of positive and loving energy for this very troubled world.

About Faith, in his novel Angels and Demons, Dan Brown wrote this: (I’ve made minor edits to make this non-gender-specific) “Whether or not you believe in God, you must believe this: when we as a species abandon our trust in a power greater than us, we abandon our sense of accountability. Faiths… all faiths… are admonitions that there is something we cannot understand, something to which we are accountable. With faith we are accountable to each other, to ourselves, and to a higher truth. Religion is flawed, but only because humans are flawed. The church consists of imperfect, simple souls wanting only to be a voice of compassion in a world spinning out of control.”

And author Madeleine L’Engle put it much more simply when she said “Some things have to be believed to be seen.”

I was born in Providence. I believe we all were. I don’t believe that means we expect to live in bliss. I think it means that, God brings us to some beautiful experiences, and brings us through them – just as God brings us to some painful experiences – and brings us through them.

I am proud and honored to be called a member of this family. I thank God for showing me the path that brought me here, and I thank you all so much for welcoming and accepting me – and for meeting me where I am. To quote a country song by Rascal Flatts (and any of you who know me are aware that quoting a COUNTRY song is way outside my comfort zone): “Bless the broken road that led me to you.”

Posted in 2017 Lenten Reflections, Lenten Reflections.