Sunday, June 22, 2008
“ . . .nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known.” Matthew 10:24-39
VI Pentecost – June 22, 2008 – The Episcopal Church of St. Paul
(the Rev’d) Elizabeth Kaeton, rector and pastor
This is a real “mean and potatoes” gospel lesson this morning, our plates are filled to overflowing with lots of substantial gospel food. There are not a lot of frills or unnecessary “good news” calories for our consumption. This is not ‘gospel-like’ food. This is 100% natural stuff.
However, among this gospel banquet we have been served this morning, I want to focus in on the few morsel words of these sentences: “ . . . .for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops.”
As I listen to these words from St. Matthew’s gospel, I can hear a few other voices. First, I hear my grandmother saying, “Live your life as if everyone will know everything about you, because eventually, everyone will.”
Over the years and through many painful experiences, I’ve learned that she was right. The truth is a very pricey commodity – especially the truth we understand and the truth we tell about ourselves.
You know what I mean. The ‘private truth’ verses the ‘public truth’ – the story about ourselves that we keep to ourselves and, perhaps, a few dear friends, and the story we make public – the image of us we want others to know.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with this ‘public’ verses ‘private’ truth about ourselves, under two conditions: First, that there are others in our lives to whom we reveal our true selves and second, that we tell the truth about ourselves to ourselves.
I think the biggest falls I’ve seen people take are those who have come to believe their own press releases.
I remember being at a James Taylor concert a few years ago. We were out on the lawn at the open theater in Brunswick, NJ. People had brought their lawn chairs and blankets. Some had brought picnic baskets and had their supper out on the lawn. Some brought wine; others brought, well, LOTS of wine.
And some brought other . . . substances. You could smell its sweet, pungent odor wafting in the air. The only reason I recognized it was because I remember smelling it in dorm rooms at nursing shcool where I only inhaled. (You should have known me before I knew Jesus).
At the top of the second set, James was tuning up his guitar and someone yelled into the thick anticipation of his singing to us again, “I love you, James.” The voice was male; it was thick and slurred and came from a place where his consciousness had obviously been altered.
James Taylor is a man who has fought his own demons of addiction. You might remember him singing something about having seen “fire and rain,” and ‘lonely days that I thought would never end.”
Something in him instantly recognized the source of that professed love through the haze of addictive substances. James moved swiftly to the microphone, looked out over the crowd to find the source of the voice, leaned into the microphone and said, “That’s because you don’t know me.”
Jesus said, “There is nothing covered up that will not be uncovered; there is nothing secret that will not become known.”
Sitting in that audience, the pristine truth of that moment cut through the thick haze and fog of the sweet, pungent, mind-numbing odor of the lies we tell ourselves and found a place of deep resonance with me.
I had come to hear Sweet Baby James sing, but, in the words of a song by Phoebe Snow, he was “strumming my pain with his fingers, singing my life in his words, killing me softly with his song, killing me softly . . .” so that I could also learn to tell the truth about myself.
Some of you know that I have spent the past few weeks with Gail MacNeil as she moved from fighting ovarian cancer to fighting off the indignities of death. She had to make the difficult transition from searching for hope for a cure to holding onto hope in the resurrection.
In her typical fashion, she asked questions that nailed me to the truth. There is nothing – absolutely nothing – that will put your faith to the test than to stare into the face of death – your own, or that of a person who is dying.
Gail asked, “What happens when you die? Don’t give me the saccharine version. Tell me the truth, Elizabeth. Don’t pull any punches. I want 100%, gospel truth.”
Right. What to say? How to describe the indescribable? How to explain a mystery? So, I told her the truth about what I believe: I believe in the Holy Spirit, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins the resurrection of the body and life ever lasting.
She sighed wearily, “I’ve heard those words somewhere before. I’ve even said them myself.” Clearly, I was not going to get a way with simply reciting the words of the Creed. Not with the likes of Gail MacNeil.
“Now, tell me, Elizabeth,” she demanded, “what does that mean?” So, over the last three or four weeks, we’ve talked about each one of those things. We told secrets to each other about why we believe what we believe – secrets wrapped up in the truth of the stories of our lives.
And, somewhere in the midst of it, we came to know peace. Gail MacNeil died yesterday morning at around 8:35. She died the way she lived, with enormous grace and dignity. She died the way she lived, willing herself to wait until every person in her family had gotten to be with her by her bedside.
She was ready. She had brought out from the dark and into the light the complexities of the truth of her life, the public and the private, She stood in the presence of the mystery of her faith, let go, and lived into it. She now lives in another realm, in another reality, bathed in the eternal light of the One who is Truth.
Writer and Presbyterian minister, Frederick Buechner, in his book, Telling Secrets, writes of the family secret he kept of his father’s suicide. He had no idea how sick that secret was making him – and his entire family.
It took facing the truth of his daughter’s struggle with anorexia and bulimia to begin to finally face the truth of the shame of his family’s secret.
In the preface of that book, he writes, “Finally, I suspect that it is by entering that deep place inside us where our secrets are kept that we come perhaps closer than we do anywhere else to the One who, whether we realize it or not, is of all our secrets the most telling and the most precious we have to tell.”
It has long been said that we are only as sick as our sickest, deepest secrets. I believe we are only as healthy as the deepest truths we know about ourselves and our faith.
That, ultimately, is the important work we do here, in the community we call church – to learn to tell the truth about ourselves, our lives and what we say it is we believe about God and our relationship with Jesus before we take our leave of this place, ‘this planet Earth, our island home’.
The work we do together, as unique individuals who live in community is the work of deep liberation from the not-so original sin of the secrets and lies we tell about ourselves to ourselves and others.
By opening our hearts to the mysteries of The Truth, we begin to understand the words of Jesus in this morning’s gospel – the 100%, unadulterated, all-natural stuff:
“So have no fear of them; for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops. “