Tina’s Sermon

In Sermons Kyndall by Covenant Baptist

[podcast]http://wpc.473a.edgecastcdn.net/80473A/spcdn/sermon_sto2_fast/covenantbaptist/audio/1200126075_33823.mp3[/podcast]October 20, 2013 Sermon for Covenant Baptist Church, San Antonio, TX  by Tina Karagulian
Readings: Jeremiah 31:27–34; Psalm 119: 97–104; 2 Timothy 3:14–4:5; Luke 18:1–8

 (To listen to the audio, click “play” button above. To download audio, click here.) 

“. . . the covenant I will make . . . I will write upon their hearts.” Jeremiah 31:28,33

As we just read in Ruth Krauss’ book The Carrot Seed,* a boy has faith in something that no one else can see. He plants a seed, tends the ground, pulls the weeds, while everyone around him tells him what will not happen. They judge him, because they cannot see what he sees. Like the widow, he perseveres, showing up each day to nurture the soil. Then suddenly the rumbling of the ground yields not just one small carrot. No, it’s the biggest carrot anyone can fathom, and I am sure it knocked the socks off in the family when he brought the wheelbarrow back home. I wonder what conversations were going on that night around the dinner table that night. I imagine the entire family, in total amazement, eating that succulent carrot that the boy nurtured with his two hands. And even if just for one moment, I imagine the family’s perceptions softened in the presence of that blessing—the mysterious and tangible evidence of a boy’s persistent effort.

Our spiritual journey with God is one filled with mystery and surprise—what may seem like the sudden shift of a carrot leaping out of the soil is really just step from many, small steps, small moments of tender presence, of nurturing stories that we write from our hearts. As humans, though, we may get tired and momentarily lose heart. Along the way, we may recognize inner and outer judges that try to stop our forward movement. We may get frustrated by others’ lack of support or inability to see us clearly. We may be overwhelmed with a burden of unjust suffering that seems endless. We may not see where our journey is leading us. Yet through constant prayer, a prayer of showing up in the presence of God—not necessary asking for anything, but being present in our hearts to God’s presence, again and again, with one more inch of faith and tenderness—we begin to see what is most important. God walks with us, strengthens us, and transforms our hearts. Over the course of our lives, the tender presence of God pulls each weed from our field of vision.

In his book Still Here‡, a man named Ram Dass writes about a boy that he meets, a boy named Kelly, a quadriplegic sitting in a gurney, with his drooping head and drooling mouth, who came to see him, asking for help with his anger and frustration. Ram Dass agrees to help, yet later writes, “It took me six months of twice-a-week visits before I was able to quiet down enough inside to sit next to his grotesquely deformed body without an intense emotional reaction. Then I finally met Kelly the Soul, who existed in this body. . . Once this shift had occurred for me, it was smooth sailing between us.” The process took Ram Dass six months. As Ram Dass kept showing up to break through his own inner resistance, Kelly’s anger and frustration resolved. As a result, they both softened their hearts.

As a wide-eyed young Armenian girl, God touched my heart before I could remember. God has walked beside me when I tried to make sense of injustices, such as genocide in my family history, abuse against children, and discrimination against women. My hurt and anger at a world that perpetuates immense suffering became seeded prayers in my conversation with God. Hurt, anger, and prayer shaped me, became part of my spiritual formation. I wanted  justice. And there were parts of me that would judge the length of time for that justice to occur. I had judgment in me about how things were going to play out. And I would bring them to God and say, “Why? I don’t understand? Help me understand this.” I had to let go of what was heavy upon my heart, whether it was someone else’s story that I was witnessing, that I could do nothing but to just be there and sit with, or maybe wailing or crying out for someone else, because that person couldn’t make that step yet—something that was hidden in the recesses of the heart. Many times, I felt overwhelmed by emotions beyond my human capability. Yet just when I feel at my edge, time and time again, when I feel I cannot go on, God gives me what I need to take the next step. God opens my heart further, opens my sight to see more clearly, and is grateful for my coming in the presence of something Divine. When I sit with God, I stay there until I know when to act once more. I linger. I have nothing else that I can do. I wait upon God. And something, after a while, shifts. My vision shifts. I begin to see small movements. I see something open up, and God trains my eyes to see with the heart. Sometimes it is sitting with no answer, but trusting, in faith, that something is ignited beyond my vision. And I think that’s what the journey of the widow is all about—the persistence of sitting with God, until something shifts internally for us, so that we may see differently. And that journey is different for everybody. Hardened hearts that are weary from fear or frustration need blessing. Our own hardened hearts—the parts of us that judge, but that come from hurt, most of the time, at the source of it. We must bless those parts, each gnarly and painful emotion that wants to come through us, and the judging voice that wants to stop that expression. Like Ram Dass, continuing to sit with and bless whatever shapes us, is the key. Through constant blessing of rough places, the inner and outer judges, sweet justice comes. Maybe not as I envisioned it as a young girl. But surprising justice comes when hearts show up before God’s unending love.

Compassion comes unbidden into our prayers, and we know it is the Spirit of tenderness helping us to pray for those who cause unjust suffering, for these souls are often the most tormented. Blessing our own stuck places is an important first step. And it may take years to live that first step. But it is more real than anything we can see with our eyes. Prayers of blessing take us beyond duality, beyond black and white, and into the domain of the heart, where God resides. Showing up for that blessedness is all we are required to do. God does not want us to remain in suffering—ever. That is not the goal of our journey.

There is an Armenian saying that my mother taught me:

surdeh seerd jampah gah, which means,
“Between two hearts, there is a road.”

The more we open our hearts, that road shortens. Show up in our prayers. Bless everything that shapes us, because God does—God blesses everything that we bring to prayer. Do not lose heart, for God swift
love writes within us a covenant of blessings.

Let us pray.

Settle my bones
in the cushion of my heart,
where my only ambition
is to walk inside.

 Amen.

*Ruth Krauss, Crockett Johnson (Illustrator), The Carrot Seed, Harper & Row, 1945.
‡Ram Dass, Still Here: Embracing Aging, Changing, and Dying, New York: Riverhead Books, 2000. 72.
†Tina Karagulian, prayer from Under the Papaya Tree: A Book of Love Poems, Black Rose Press, 2013.