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Be Opened

Mark 7:24-37 and To the Mistakes by W.S. Merwin

Sunday September 5th, 2021

Happy Sunday! Thank you again for connecting however you are able, in whatever way, from wherever you are, and in whatever shape you are in for this beautiful day here in Boulder and a beautiful day to be alive and together like this.

In our tradition, today is the Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost.

As we come to this time in our service, I invite you to join me in a spirit of prayer and to let yourself arrive and take in some deep breathes, to notice your heartbeat and to open your heart to hear whatever it is Spirit has for you today. Gracious God, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts, be acceptable in your sight, O God our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen. (Psalm 19)

“If you can’t take it anymore there’s a reason.” That’s what Nadia Bolz-Weber wrote last month and it’s something that resonates with many of us. She spoke of her old apartment and how it been built at a time when there were no electric hair dryers, and the system shut down when modernity asked too much of it.” She said, “I think of that fuse box often these days, because friends, I just do not think our psyches were developed to hold, feel and respond to everything coming at them right now; every tragedy, injustice, sorrow and natural disaster happening to every human across the entire planet, in real time every minute of every day. The human heart and spirit were developed to be able to hold, feel and respond to any tragedy, injustice, sorrow or natural disaster that was happening IN OUR VILLAGE. So my emotional circuit breaker keeps overloading because the hardware was built for an older time.”

So, “If you can’t take it anymore there’s a reason.” If your body is hurting like mine and your heart is aching like mine and your spirit is weary and your mind feels stretched and you feel stressed and it’s hard to say yes to even the things you are passionate about, know that you are not alone. I am hearing that many of you, that a lot of us, are feeling as if our circuit breakers keep overloading and some days all of this, is just too much.

And I know for me, part of why this is happening is because I care, a whole lot and I know that many of you are in this situation too. And caring like this means we aren’t the kind of people who can give up on what we love and what is good. We aren’t the kind of people who can look ourselves in the mirror if we turned away entirely. And we aren’t the kind of people who can live with ourselves if we just tossed our hands in the air and said it’s all hopeless. And here’s the other thing I have been wondering: what if we aren’t the kind of people who let things we got wrong, stop us from trying to make them right? What if fixing mistakes is part of how we all keep having hope?

One of the things that is making my circuits sizzle is seeing some of the images coming out of Afghanistan. I had just started seminary in the fall of 2001 when my mom awoke me early morning with a phone call. I am guessing this is one of those things all of us who were old enough will remember. “Have you heard the news?” She said. I hadn’t. I raced to turn on my radio and from there followed tears and fear and lots of vigils and then the calls for revenge. And then I found myself joining a protest, like many of you and for me it was the first time in my life. I was worried my parents would see me on TV and be in despair. We held signs that said Barbara Lee speaks for me. And I have thought of her a lot these in these recent weeks and I have thought of all who served and all the lives and loves and treasure and time that we can never get back… But that doesn’t mean we should just carry on and not try to fix it.

It was twenty years ago that Rep. Barbara Lee stood before her House of Representatives colleagues and pleaded with them not to authorize the money for the war. She said to them after the September 11th attacks, “Let’s just pause, just for a minute, and think through the implications of our actions today, so that this does not spiral out of control.”

Recently she said she was sad and wished she had been wrong. But on September 14th, 2001 she voted no, even though 420 of her colleagues voted yes. And now here we are. Some are still arguing about the events of decades ago and why and who is to blame and some are saying we should keep on. You might have heard President Biden’s speech recently, “I will not repeat the mistakes we’ve made in the past — the mistake of staying and fighting indefinitely in a conflict that is not in the national interest of the United States, of doubling down on a civil war in a foreign country, of attempting to remake a country through the endless military deployments of U.S. forces. Those are the mistakes we cannot continue to repeat..”

What if fixing, trying, being open to thinking and living differently when we know differently, not giving up on doing better when we know better- isn’t that part of how we will all keep having hope?

Maya Angelou said, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” This is simple perhaps, but significant because it reminds me and us that it isn’t possible to get things right every time, so be cautious of our tendency to double down on what is wrong, even when we have more information. That is about ego and power and profit. We are gifted with an evolution of choices as new revelations come.

Maybe you have also been hearing some of the stories and reading some of the articles about the Colorado River Compact created in 1922. The Compact divided the river into two basins: The Upper Basin (Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming) and the Lower Basin (Arizona, California and Nevada), establishing the allotment for each basin and providing a framework for management of the river going forward. But a couple of weeks ago the federal government for the first time declared a shortage at Lake Mead, one of the river’s main reservoirs.

According to Henry Fountain, “The declaration triggers cuts in water supply that, for now, mostly will affect Arizona farmers. Beginning next year they will be cut off from much of the water they have relied on for decades. Much smaller reductions are mandated for Nevada and for Mexico across the southern border. But larger cuts, affecting far more of the 40 million people in the West who rely on the river for at least part of their water supply….”

This is obviously not sustainable. The Colorado River no longer meets the ocean. But this is something we can fix, at least partly.

But if agriculture is the largest use of the river we actually know what we can do to start to fix this. Voluntary irrigation efficiency, regulated irrigation, rotational fallowing, crop shifting and innovative irrigation technologies. And for those who are eager for market-based solutions, water banking has proven to be an effective approach that allows farmers (and others) to bank their unused water voluntarily.

What if we can’t fix everything, but there are some things we can fix? What if being open to thinking and living differently when we learn and not giving up on doing better when we know better will give us hope?

The two healing stories that you heard from the Gospel of Mark present for us both Jesus getting it wrong and then fixing it and also offering us the message that transformation that feeling whole and well comes from this framework, this blessing, “Ephphatha” which means be opened. In the first part, Jesus calls a woman a dog basically and when she points out as much as she is able that this is a bit rude and that even dogs receive scraps, he doesn’t really say sorry, but he in a First Century way he says, thanks for pointing that out, “Now go the demon has left you!” And in the second part, it feels more like a poem saying that the path to healing includes being opened. Open your ears. Open your heart and your body and your mind. The way to the other side is being open to possibilities that weren’t there before or didn’t see at the time. It is not our job to always get it right, but I believe it is our job to not give up on trying.

“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”

But I am learning that being willing to be among those who don’t give up, being among those who try to fix what is broken, to heal and open new ways, takes dedication and heart and courage and grit. And here’s the other hard thing that I am realizing about not giving up, it means sticking to what we know is right and true, in spite of what the status quo is saying.

As the poet Tisa wrote of this moment, “It takes a willingness to be true, whatever that requires of you. And this is where in the mental pursuit of feeling good, we err because being true and feeling good are sometimes at odds. We want to feel good, and paradoxically, we have to feel what’s true, before we can have hopes our heart will swing back onto the side…” where we need to be “in the mental pursuit of feeling good, we err because being true and feeling good are sometimes at odds.” Maybe that’s like 420 to 1.

Beloved of God, our circuits are overloaded, so we can’t do it all but we can choose to not give up trying, just pick your part, claim your piece, choose your little corner to love, fix, heal and save. Caring the way we do is hard, but it means we aren’t the kind of people who give up on what we love and what is good. Know that this will often mean doing the hard thing, being uncomfortable and uncertain, so we can be true to who we are. Because we now know that fixing what is wrong will sometimes be at odds with feeling good. So what if being among the fixers, continuing to try, being open to thinking and living differently when we know differently, not giving up on doing better when know better- what if that is part of how we will keep having hope and keep going, knowing it is right? And this also means that we each are invited to take responsibility for what will be, when some are still arguing about the events of decades ago and why and who is to blame, let us choose to be the possibility people, giving our hearts and our hands to the work of creating a new way, casting forth new ideas because we know we can do better than this. Even Jesus got it wrong, but he fixed it and it turns out that the path to healing and wholeness and hope includes this: be opened. May it be so. Amen.

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