This sermon was offered on June 10, 2018 at Saint Luke’s, Birmingham, AL
I love to run. I even ran a marathon once. That was fifteen years ago. One day, these ankles that have been talking to me, and this back that gets tweaked now and then, will going to require me to stop running—something I love to do.
Paul was spot on when he said that our “outer nature is wasting away.” We can do our best to slow down the process, but we are designed with physical impermanence in mind.
And yet, there is an inner nature that is eternal that can shine brighter day by day, even as our bodies change.
For me, this week has offered many experiences of reflecting on this “inner nature.” On Sunday, I returned home from a one-week writing retreat. The cabin was quiet, the rain restorative, and the time to connect with God and creativity without distraction renewed my love of life, my love for my vocation, my love for you.
Time for renewal reminds us of our connection to that which is unseen. Renewal comes in a variety of ways— prayer, working in the garden, painting, laughing with grandchildren. Sacred, intentional time nurtures our inner nature.
On Tuesday, we celebrated the life of Dr. Albert Tully. Many of you knew him much better than I. From the start, he crawled into my heart and took up residence. It wasn’t just those sparkling blue eyes, or his at times, bawdy, sense of humor, it was something unseen in the essence of the man.
I’m grateful to his family for agreeing to my sharing some of what he taught me in the brief time I knew him. Dr. Tully’s health had been failing. The last time we were together was on Memorial Day. He held my hand the whole time we spoke.
I have been here before, by the bedside of someone who knows what is true for all of us, but acute for them, our bodies don’t last forever. Yet that wasn’t what he wanted to talk about. He reminisced about family and fishing and ball games. He told jokes.
At one point he paused and said, “I believe being a Christian made me a better doctor.”
“In what way?” I asked.
“I hope I was kinder, more patient, more compassionate.” He answered.
Laying in that hospital bed, looking up at me, he told me his life had been a great journey and could not have been any better.
“You’re a grateful man,” I said.
“You have to be,” he said. I thought oh no, gratitude is a choice. For Dr. Tulley it was a way of being.
I have seen this before with those who are dying—Outer nature declining; inner nature ascending.
There is a reason today’s passage from Second Corinthians is suggested for our burial office. It is at funerals we remember the impact of a life—how the inner nature shone through.
Wednesday, I spent time with our children at the 12 tribes Vacation Bible School. Some of you may have heard me say, “I would rather preach to 2,000 adults for an hour, than try to occupy 130 children for 20 minutes.”
My apprehension was unfounded. Your children are amazing and we had fun, and let me give a shout out to Linda, and Kimballee, and all of the staff, and volunteers. This was a creative, joy-filled environment for our children to learn about Jesus. The pavilion and the grove were Christened by children’s laughter. That experience was made possible because of your generosity of financial resources and time.
When Dr. Tully told me, “I think being a Christian made me a better doctor.” It jolted me. This may seem odd to you that I needed reminding of this, but I did. Dr. Tully reminded me WHY we do what we are doing here at St. Luke’s.
Those bandana-covered children will become doctors and lawyers and teachers and politicians. We owe it to God and to them, and to the world, to give them a chance to know Christ. We are all ordained by God in our baptism. We need more priestly doctors, priestly lawyers, priestly teachers, and priestly politicians.
Another important part of our work is for those precious ones to know they belong to us and they belong to God. Those bandana-covered children, all children, need to know they are loved and connected to something bigger than themselves.
This need for connection is laid bare as our country’s heartbreaking mental health crisis has been brought to the fore. We mourn the suicides of two famous, “successful,” well-loved people—Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain. We lament the publication of the tragic statistic that our national suicide rate has increased by 30% since 1999.
There is no demographic that is spared the disturbing upward trend in incidence of anxiety and depression. Many, if not all of us are touched by this gut-wrenching issue.
I personally have experienced clinical depression. Malcolm and I are the primary caregivers for a family member with serious mental illness. Sometimes we aren’t so great at that. There are no “quick fixes” or easy answers, but there is always hope.
St. Luke’s has an important role to play in this crisis. The Guidebook “The Role of Faith Communities in Suicide Prevention” points out that “faith communities are a source of hopefulness for many people, a place to experience sadness and joy, and a place to find and offer forgiveness.” As Christians we believe all life is to be valued and regarded with respect and dignity.
Since we know that feeling isolated negatively impacts one’s sense of well-being, St. Luke’s can make a difference by creating a place where all people are welcome. When we are honest about our vulnerabilities, we break down the walls of isolation. We alleviate suffering.
A few weeks ago the EYC held a special dinner with two brave speakers who spoke about their experiences with depression and addiction. Good for you. We need more of these courageous conversations.
We need to bring the unwarranted shame out of the shadows.
We can make a difference here when our worship and outreach and social gatherings give us a connection to something bigger than ourselves. Participation in these activities can give us a sense purpose. Having a purpose is particularly important when we are struggling with despair.
Social media has blown up with young people pleading with anyone who is struggling and considering endangering their lives to reach out for help. Your clergy echoes their plea. If you are struggling, call us. Call suicide hotlines. If you are concerned about a friend or a family member, reach out, listen, love, and encourage him or her to get help.
Speaking of social media, be mindful—are my posts, my words, the images I project building up, or tearing down? We all have a responsibility here.
Factors involved with mental health are complex and varied. This is a medical, emotional, and spiritual issue. Research tells us that “People who regularly attend…religious services are less likely to suffer from depression and other psychiatric illnesses than those who don’t.”
I want to be clear about two important things.
First, Not all people who are depressed or anxious are suicidal.
Second, I am NOT saying that people who experience mental health disease and/or have suicidal ideation can just “pray” it away.
Being depressed does not mean you are a failure at faith.
What I am saying, is that being a part of a faith community can be a source of strength when we are struggling. Being reminded of our connection to God and one another can create hope. There is much more to say on this topic, I hope we will continue the conversation.
Thursday, I facilitated a planning meeting for the Diocesan Commission on Spirituality. We pondered the definition of “spirituality” and landed on this: Spirituality is the relationship we have with God, ourselves, others, and the created order.
At it’s core, spirituality is relationship. Spirituality speaks to our inner nature—the one that does not waste away, that which is renewed through faith. There are spiritual practices that enhance our ability to strengthen our relationships. They can be a ballast in troubled times, and renew our inner nature.
There are three daily practices I’d like to suggest are:
- Gratitude—In the spirit of Dr. Tully, list 10 things a day
- Kindness—Our St. Luke’s moniker, “Be Kind” Imagine the difference we would make with one intentional act of kindness per day
- Prayer—Turn off technology and be with God for at least 10 minutes each day. Prayer can give us a flicker of hope in times of despair.
Finally, I want to share with you some inner-nature wisdom from the wise sage, Mr. Rogers, the children’s television star. Fred Rogers went into television because he despised what he saw on tv, and wanted children to know they were loved. He knew the transformative power of feeling loved.
“When I say it’s you I like, I’m talking about that part of you that knows that life is far more than anything you can ever see or hear or touch. That deep part of you that allows you to stand for those things without which humankind cannot survive. Love that conquers hate, peace that rises triumphant over war, and justice that proves more powerful than greed.”
Even though I cannot run as fast or as far as I used to; I can, we can, always be deepening our relationship with God, and renewing that inner spirit which is necessary for humankind to survive. Amen.