A Sermon for Covenant
“The Lord is Your Keeper”
Covenant Baptist Church, San Antonio
March 16, 2014
Kyndall Rae Rothaus
(To listen to the audio, click “play” button above. To download audio, click here.)
In my experience, when you are going through something hard, it is difficult to believe the Lord is your keeper. There are seasons where all you feel is most unkept, unshaded, and unprotected.
But I will share with you a profound experience I had just a few weeks ago in my contemplative dialogue group. This is super personal, so I am honestly a little reluctant to share. What happened is that we were supposed to be silently reading Thomas Merton, but instead I was having a sudden, unexpected and vivid recollection of one of my life’s more horrific memories. Out of nowhere, I found myself reliving this terrible thing. If you asked me where God was during that particular event in my history, I would say, “God was absent.” But as I recalled that memory in the safety of my contemplative group, I watched myself like a third party, as if I were peeking in the window into someone else’s story. And I swear that for a split second it seemed as if I heard a voice beside me in the window frame, looking in at my hurt too, and the voice said, “We loved you.”
I don’t believe it had ever even occurred to me that in that precise moment of my memory, I was loved. If I had to describe it, I would have said in that moment I was more like abandoned. But suddenly I saw it with a different set of eyes. In retrospect, some five years later, I can see Compassion staring in on me with longing, the way a mother would weep to see her child in pain.
I have noticed in my life that it is generally easier when you are sitting on the window ledge of someone else’s pain to see that they are loved than it is to see that you are loved. When you are looking in on the pain of a friend or a family member, you often want to scoop them up and somehow make them see, “You are loved. You are known. You are valued. You are not forgotten.” When it is your own pain, you get to thinking it is only you and all the ugly in the room alone.
One of the ways to grow your own compassion is to practice it on yourself. Take a memory of yourself you do not like, then take that person into your arms like you would a child, and say to yourself, “There, there. I’ve got you. You are loved.” Until we detach enough from our self-loathing to sit on the windowsill and see ourselves from a third-party’s eyes, it can be nigh impossible to know that God’s love is present. But if you step back and see yourself the way your best friends see you, as someone of worth, as someone they love, as someone worth protecting, when you can begin to be a good friend to yourself, your compassion expands.
Friendship is key to the compassionate life. We do not really learn that we are loved any other way, and we do not love others well until we have learned to love ourselves, to love ourselves the way a good friend would. Though solitude is an important spiritual discipline, it is a practice, not a way of living. Just think if we misinterpreted fasting as never eating again. Solitude is a practice after which we then reengage the community in meaningful ways. It is by sharing life together that we begin to hear the echoes of God’s voice, telling us of love. It is not lost on me that while the story I just shared about myself was a personal and private encounter on the one hand, on the other hand, I heard Love speak to me when I was sitting in a group of praying women. Without even knowing they were doing it, they provided a space in which I could encounter God.
As I read Psalm 121 over and over and over again, the words seemed to me quite true, and yet it also seemed impossible for us to know its truth unless we handled the words interactively and communally. I found I simply was not able to read the Psalm as if it were just for me. I said the words with your names in there. “The Lord is your keeper, Carolyn. The Lord is your keeper, Larry. The Lord is your keeper, Beloved of God.”
I am reminded of the friends who carried their paralyzed friend on a mat to Jesus, and went so far as to tear up the roof to get him where he needed to be. A friend sent me an article about Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead, and after Jesus raises Lazarus, he tells the folks standing nearby to unbind him, to walk over to the newly alive man and take off his grave clothes. In both these instances, Miracle is a community event. We’ve all got a hand in it. God does the power part but we’ve each got a bandage to gently remove from your crusted skin so you can live again. It is as if loving and healing one another is a group project.
So if all you’ve got of Love in your trembling hands is a measly five loaves and two fish worth, then start distributing what little you’ve got to your friends and neighbors, and immediately it will begin to multiply. The Miracle of your deliverance, the Miracle of your resurrection, the Miracle of your abundance is bound to be a communal event. The breaking in of God’s light into your darkness is bound to sound like a host of off-key angels, that is, your friends, singing to you in the night. God may seem absent now and again, but if you can think of one person who is holding on to you, then that just might mean God is your keeper, that God is giving you shade, that God will keep your life.
I want to do something very much out-of-the-ordinary with you today. Generally during Holy Week, on Maundy Thursday, Christians around the world reenact the scene from the Gospel where Jesus washes his disciples feet. We don’t often observe Maundy Thursday here at Covenant, but I’d like us to observe the foot-washing all the same. Please know that if this makes you uncomfortable in any way, you are most welcome to stay seated as an observer. But if you are willing to take the risk with me, then we are going to wash one another’s feet.
The way this will work is that you will come forward, and I have a blessing I would like to say over you first as we stand here. Then you will sit down in the chair. If you are the first person, then I will take off your shoes and wash your feet. After that, you will get down to wash the next person’s feet who comes after you, and one-by-one we will wash each other’s feet, then return to our seats. My recommendation is that you wash their feet in silence, but when you dry their feet, look them in the eye and tell them, “The Lord is your keeper.”