Sermon preached at St. Bart’s, Yarmouth Maundy Thursday – March 29, 2018
The Rev. Dr. Nina Ranadive Pooley
Love Never Fails
I hope you noticed my outfit at dinner – not words I ever thought I would say in a sermon, but I do. I was wearing the sweatshirt Channing ordered for me within days of the shooting in Parkland. It was created as a fundraiser for Parkland in memorial of those who were killed, and in support of their families. On the front, a reference to First Corinthians 13: Love never fails
When Channing called to ask me if I wanted it, she really called to talk. Already it seemed as if this tragedy were somehow different – she and her friends were shattered, broken, overwhelmed by grief. Something about this particular mass shooting had her generation responding differently – right from the moment it happened. And obviously in the weeks since.
A clergy friend of mine in Chicago traveled with 100 members of her diocese to the march in DC, last Saturday; she said it was life changing. At one point the students from Parkland processed through the crowd holding the student IDs of their friends who had been killed. She couldn’t actually finish the sentence – but I understood what she meant; it was powerful beyond words. It’s the loss felt every day that weighs so heavily… that makes it all real. Because life is made in the living of it. It’s the day to day moments, the small stuff that holds it all together. Life in community is created out of the small acts that bind us together.
That’s what strikes me as so extraordinary about the acts we remember this night – how everyday they are. That Jesus takes time in the midst of all that was about to happen, to spend this kind of ordinary time with his friends. To care for them, to eat with them, to reassure them, to show them how to live together well. How to live in his name.
Coming together to remember these acts, to go through the motions of this night seems important now, vitally important. A way of remembering deeply, like retraining deep muscle memory after an injury, retraining pathways that have somehow gotten disconnected, and need to find each other again, so the body can remember how to be how it’s been before; we need to remember how to be community, how to live together well.
Because we’ve forgotten how, if we ever really knew it. I think that’s part of what’s been exposed in the outcry in the wake of Parkland. Our current culture is so fractured that coming together to mourn, to speak of our losses and to hope for change became immediately contentious. That’s part of the weight of it all. We and our children are grieving the loss of safety in our communities, not just the safety from gun violence, but the safety in community to speak to one another. The sense of knowing that we truly wish safety and well-being for one another; that we are held in communities large enough to provide generosity of space and room to work this out together.
We are certainly not the first culture to be in this place, and we can learn from others who have found the way forward. Pádraig Ó Tuama is the current community leader of Corrymeela, Northern Ireland’s oldest peace and reconciliation organization. He was interviewed by Krista Tippett for On Being in March last year. [On Being with Pádraig Ó Tuama, “Belonging creates and undoes us both,”March 2, 2017, transcript at Onbeing.org]
The portion of the interview that resonated with me began with him referencing the definition of sectarianism from a book by Cecelia Clegg and Joe Liechty, as, “Sectarianism is belonging gone bad.”
And then Ó Tuama cites the scale of sectarianism that is frighteningly familiar to us. It’s a scale with 15 points, the first of which says: “You’re different. I’m different.” Fine. And the 15th point is, “You’re demonic.”
The farther down that scale you go, the more violent it gets, the more dangerous. As he says, “The more you justify it, because if somebody is the devil, well, then you get rid of them, generally.” One of the points on the scale is the chronic current mindset in our country: “In order for me to be right, it is important that I believe that you are wrong.”
But there’s hope, for Ó Tuama continues,
“…fragile and limited as our process has been here, Northern Ireland has transformed itself and involved in that has been — politicians, and peacemakers, and victims, and perpetrators, and all these limited words like that. People who have said, “I was caught up in something,” and have now given extraordinary contributions. So many people of goodwill, and courage, and protest saying, “We can find a way to live well together.” And this can be the hope.
… And [they are] giving committed guarantees to the other’s safety. And finding ways in which we can say, “This can be a place where our disagreements will happen in a tone that is wiser, and in a tone that is safer.”
“I think that’s a really helpful place to be. I mean, because the implication that to agree with each other is what guarantees safety is immediately undermined by every experience of family — we just know that. And friendships — that’s what we know. Agreement has rarely been the mandate for people who love each other. Maybe on some things, but actually, when you look at some people who are lovers and friends, … actually they might disagree really deeply on things, but they’re somehow — I like the phrase [part of] “the argument of being alive.”
Ó Tuama also talks about creating room through trust:
“In Irish, when you talk about trust, there’s a beautiful phrase from West Kerry where you say, “You are the place where I stand on the day when my feet are sore.” And that is soft and kind language, but it is so robust. That is what we can have with each other.
And it’s so physical, that beautiful understanding. And you can find that with each other, even when you think different things … You can find ‘you’re the place where I stand on the day when my feet are sore’ with each other. … it is part of the firmament that upholds what it means to be human. That is what we can have with each other.
We are failed by headlines that just demonize the other and are lazy. … [Just as] we are upheld by something that has a quality of deep virtues of kindness, of goodness, of curiosity, and the jostle and enjoyment of saying, “Yeah, we disagree.” But that curates something, and in a psychological context, contains something that actually is a vessel of deep safety and community.”
Which is wisdom we need to hear, take in, and find ways to implement in our particular piece of the world. As members of this community, one that understands how to share the reconciling love of God with each other, and to extend it to the world.
The community Ó Tuama leads outside of Belfast is named Corrymeela; founded in 1965 and named by someone whose Irish wasn’t very good – and thought the word meant Hill of Harmony. Come to find out much later that the word means “Lumpy Crossing Place.” Ó Tuama says he’s glad because places of need are always full of stones, and they spend a lot of time stumbling over them there, while they practice the art of living well together.
“That is the vision we have, to live well together. That doesn’t mean to agree. That doesn’t mean that everything will be perfect. It means to say that in the context of imperfection and difficulty, we can find the capacity and the skill, as well as the generosity and courtesy, to live well together.” [Knowing that] “the principle and foundation of the human project, of the human story, of the human encounter, is to move toward each other in love.”
That’s our principle and foundation – always. To move toward each other and those in need of us – in love. Love God, Love our neighbors. Loving one another well is the thread that we as a culture have nearly lost… and finding it again is what we can offer to our children. We know that how we live together matters. This the work which we, at St. Bart’s, as a community, can reclaim on behalf of the whole, in the name of Jesus. God’s own Beloved, love for us embodied, who showed us exactly how to live in community; how to belong to God and one another. Amen.