Denying Denial

Denying rights. Denying truth. Denying evidence. Denying facts. Denying time. Denying friendship. Denying entry. Denying access. Denying knowledge. Denying space. Denying grace. Denying sunlight. Denying air. Denying growth. Denying opportunity. Denying sovereignty. Denying safety. Denying food. Denying life.

Denial is always in opposition to something else.

Nearly every single instance of denial I can think of, it is a power in the position of privilege denying something to a person or group with less privilege. The only thing I can think of that is reversing the power dynamic is when protestors physically put their bodies in the way of something that would otherwise destroy something.

The Dakota access pipeline comes to mind. But those protestors are putting their bodies in the way of construction that could well do away with the indigenous peoples’ access to clean water. Someone will not have something in the end.

For Lent, we are called to a time of penitence and self-denial. It is a time of looking at our own needs and desires in an effort to turn them towards the desires of God. It is a holy practice, but the holiness comes from our own self-denial, not a judge that is keeping watch over us forcing us to deny what is good for us. There are no Lent police. (Or if there are, they are not doing it for holy reasons.)

Honestly, I don’t remember the last time I gave something up for Lent. The three years I was in Div school, it seemed I always gave up my health. (Though, thinking about it deeper… I probably should have had an allergy test…) Now, with a toddler, I am constantly giving up my comfort, personal space, time, and even the food off of my plate when in her presence. I have been able to take up some things, some prayer and reading that have added to my observation of this holy season, but it has been minimal at best.

As a parent, sometimes I do have to tell my daughter “no” in order to keep her safe or healthy. There is information I have that she has not learned yet. There are things I know that she cannot yet understand. I am denying her the short happiness in order that she may have a more full life.

But on a large scale, we are not each other’s parents. (Thankfully) My parents are not constantly granting me limits, keeping me from what I want to be doing. (It’d be a little hard since we live two states from each other. And that I am an adult…) As a society we trust each other to live within the bounds that we have created for safe living, but still there are ways that we seek to deny others the lives that they are seeking to live.

When we deny things from others, we rob them of good things. We rob ourselves as we make the world a poorer place. Denial is the opposite of giving. It limits, when we are invited to expand.

As Christians, I think the question we need to ask as we come to the close of this Holy Lent is what practice of denying can we seek to end?

What can we take the lead on and open up, rather than limit?

Where do we need to give of ourselves so that others can flourish?

I’m not sure what the answer is. But I do know that we have plenty of work to do.

Choosing to Sit and Listen

This was the sermon I preached on Sunday. The scripture text is Luke 10.
I have the gift of hospitality. I can plan a meal or a party or a celebration, and I will have all the pieces together.

I like putting all the pieces together.
Sometimes I have dreams of Pintrest perfect Martha Stewart crafted scenes. It would be wonderful. It would be gorgeous.
The perfect ideal of southern hospitality:
The house cleaned from top to bottom, to a white glove finish.
Generous portions of sweet iced tea, and coffee for when it is cold.
Enough desserts that everyone can have their favorite, including one with fruit and one with chocolate.
Enough chairs out and ready, and places for everyone to rest their drinks.
Candles lit in every room where there will be guests, and some where guests may only wander.

And, if it is possible, all these things ready in enough time that the host and hostess are clean, fresh, and ready to relax with the guests, so that it seemed like no effort whatsoever.

Perfection.
Yeah right.

I mean, that’s the thing with an ideal. It is practically unachievable. And honestly, I don’t want it.

It is impossible.

I know I don’t have kids yet, and so I know I will lose control there, but already, with both my husband and I working full time, we just don’t have the time to keep our home perfect.
It is not in our priorities.

I invited some clergy friends over to celebrate my birthday recently, and I thought about having a perfect house and having all the sushi and soup and cake ready and such. But more than a perfect house, I wanted to be hospitable.

And as I had been preparing that week I found where someone had written about not being perfect.

The title: If I am Dust, No Wonder it is all over my floor.
Megan wrote about her home, and how she watches commercials where the floor gleams. Where everyone is bright and cheery and happy.

Have y’all seen the Cheer commercial where the kid’s clothes are so bright he always looses at Hide-and-seek?

Perfection is paraded around our world like it is the only thing we should work for.

Is that the best we can come up with?

Gleaming countertops?

I think we can do better than that.

And it’s not just in our main household chores: our work is the same.

First to arrive at the office and last to leave.

Extra nights and weekends so that everyone can be happy.

Precision and details are necessary, especially in
Grading the soil and maintaining the pipes for our water and such.
Those who work in Doctors offices and hospitals.
Watching the food we prepare making sure it is not contaminated.

But there is more to our call as Christians than getting as close to perfect in our worlds as possible.

We are called to something better.

Martha in our story usually gets a bad rap.

She invited Jesus in, she welcomed him into her home, and we see this part of her, and then we just hear her shrill voice from the kitchen cry out,
“Come help me! Make her come help me!”

Martha is not doing wrong by being hospitable or welcoming.

She is distracted and taken away from the purer work because of all her worrying, fretting, and being upset at the work she is doing.

In this story, when Martha stops being the host, she becomes the worrier.
And as the worrier, she forgets her hospitality and involves her guest in her distraction.

She misses that there is teaching going on.

The work she was doing was important. She was preparing food for a bunch of folks, for her guests, for her friends!

I know how she feels. In April I hosted a dozen friends around the table in my home. And I don’t have a huge home.

Preparing a meal for guests, whether it is sushi or a barbecue, is a big deal!

But Martha has forgotten that the person who is at her home is there not only to receive a day’s end meal, but to provide nourishment for their souls.

And so when she asks her guest to tell her sister to get up and help her, she forgets, even though she calls him Lord, that he is Jesus.

In the church we can have a tendency to forget why we are doing all our work.

Meetings can feel like meetings for the sake of meeting.
We can caught up in the sign-up sheets,
and the deliveries of gifts and extra produce
and when the next service opportunity is
and all the details of what is left to do,
and who can fill the shoes.

And we can forget why we are doing what we are doing.

We can burn out.

If the work we do as Christians is only for the sake of the task, the work will become onerous, and tiresome, tedious, irritating, dull, and boring.

That is not the ministry and service to which we are called.

Remember last week, we talked about the Samaritan who saw the man who needed help, and who took the time to go and do and care for the man who needed help? Remember that the Samaritan acted as a neighbor?

The other part of the commandment is to love God.

Part of Loving God is through serving and caring for our neighbors around us.

Service is not bad on its own. Jesus calls us to service. But service for service’s sake is not what we are called to.

The other part of loving God. It is about spending time in God’s Presence.

It’s about not getting distracted. Our distractions and worries draw us away from focus on God.

We instead are called and invited to listen to God and the Word of Jesus.

It is about sitting at God’s feet and receiving the sustenance that comes from the presence of God.
Sitting at the feet of Jesus.

When we sit at the feet of Jesus, we are open to receiving the love and compassion that comes from God.

Mary chose the better part.

She was in the place where disciples sat, learning from Jesus, receiving his message, and sharing in his Grace.

There are many ways that you can sit at the feet of Jesus.

I center in the mornings, I spend time in the morning to place myself in God’s presence and receive him. I have no agenda but to remain open to God.

John and I have a practice of Sabbath.

We take one day a week, Usually Fridays, and spend it in time together and in celebration of what God has given us.

I encourage you to consider a time of Sabbath.
It could be an extension of Sunday’s worship,
Or a few hours, set aside intentionally to be time when God is the priority.

There are other ways to sit at the feet of Jesus:

Reading scripture.
There are many daily reading plans that can take you through the entire bible in a year. Mine is on my Bible App, but there are published bibles that provide the same plan.

Developing a prayer journal, especially one where you keep track of prayer request and praises. It can be amazing how God answers prayers.

Sharing a meal together with others, especially those that you might not normally know. Maybe there is a family that lives across from you that you haven’t gotten to know as well as you like? It might not be as possible here, but I am ready to be surprised.

In Love, God is calling you to come and receive the sustenance that comes from a deep dwelling with Jesus.

What will you chose?