When I was a new mom I read every book and magazine article I could find on parenting. I felt a need to be the perfect parent raising perfectly healthy children. I’ve shared enough stories about my childhood that you can probably understand why I was worried about my ability to be a good parent.
Likewise when I became a priest and a Rector I had a similar drive to be the perfect priest. I have read countless books on church leadership, church growth, stewardship, conflict, vision and mission, pastoral care, you name it, if it applies to church leadership I have read it, gone to a conference on it, and applied it in my ministry. Not to mention that I am a licensed social worker trained in family systems, group facilitation and group dynamics, and individual and couple therapy. And, I am a trained Spiritual Director, educated in the ways of listening for God and helping others listen for God.
But the one thing I have learned through thirty years of parenting and twenty years of church leadership and despite my driven type A personality, it is that I will never be perfect.
On any given day I will let down as many people as I have helped. On any given day I will fail perhaps more than I succeed. For every thoughtful sermon I preach there will be someone who is bored, someone who criticizes what I say or don’t say or how I say it. For every pastoral care concern I meet there will be one I fail to meet. For every word of inspiration I offer there will be a time when I fail to be inspiring. For every learned opportunity I present there will be times when I fail to know what to do. There is no way that I can ever be all things to all people, not even to myself.
I remember studying psychotherapy theories when I was working on my masters in social work. One theorist named Winnicott developed a theory that has become known as the “Good Enough Mother.” It applies the principle that no parenting, no care-taking, will ever be perfect. Caretakers will always at some point in time fail to respond to those they care for. That’s as it should be, because those failures actually produce in the other the opportunity to develop a sense of self and the ability to self-soothe, to learn how to care for one’s self. Children develop the capacity to care for themselves in those in-between moments when parents fail to provide an immediate response.
Here’s the thing. Knowing this hasn’t take away my impulse to be perfect. It has however helped me learn how to be kinder to myself when I fail, and therefore also kinder to others. And its helped me accept that no matter how much I know, there is always more to learn, and that having an open spirit, willing to ask questions, wonder, and learn, is crucial to growing in my faith, into the kind of mature faith that Jesus asks of us and which Paul is forever writing about.
So here’s another thing. Every Sunday I show up. Standing here is about as vulnerable as a person can be. I stand here and share stories of my life and my struggles with faith, and the ways I am trying to listen to God and follow God. I do the best I can knowing that in many ways I will fail. And I’m okay with that. I’m only human, after all. The best I can do is be authentic, respectful, and true to the values I believe in, to love God, love self, and love others, as best as I am able.
I show up every Sunday with probably a similar expectation that you have. That God will show up in our worship service and there will be a holy moment of awe, of inspiration, of hope, of transformation. But most Sundays feel bumpy and imperfect: we start late, we can’t sing the hymn, the sermon was boring or someone hates the way it was communicated, the bread and wine are distributed in a clumsy way, we forget to pray for someone or the announcements are too long, the kids are restless, the service is too long, there are typos in the bulletin, and all the many ways that worship has mistakes or fails to be inspirational.
I have to remind myself what the purpose of worship is. The purpose of worship is to teach us, form us, and equip us to go out into the world and be witnesses to God’s presence by serving others. Jesus sends the disciples out to feed, heal, and tend to others. We know this because the very end of the service sends us out into the world with a dismissal - instructions for going out as the body of Christ, to love and serve the Lord.
In all the bumpy imperfection of being together in a worshipping community we learn how to be people of faith. Over and over our scripture readings bring us stories of people just like us, imperfect people who are wrestling with other imperfect people, striving to figure out what it means to love and forgive as God does.
So some of the work we’ve been about this year is exploring what Spirituality is. We’ve found that it’s very difficult to define and even more difficult to describe. But simply put, spirituality is an experience of God, the divine. And no doubt, hoping to experience God in worship is a reasonable hope, even though that is not the purpose of worship. It’s reasonable because worship is our primary opportunity for formation. Experiencing God in worship can be a completely spontaneous event. But its also possible to develop opportunities in worship to help increase our capacity to listen and our awareness of what we are hearing, so that we can recognize God when God speaks.
In your worship bulletin is a Spiritual Style Sorter. It has 12 questions with multiple choice responses. Each of the four choices correlate to a type of spirituality: thinking, feeling, doing, being. Some spirituality is experienced intellectually in study, reading, thinking. Some spirituality is experienced in feelings - an interior movement. Some in doing something and some in just being, like prayer and meditation. There is no right answer, no judgement.
Please fill it out, choosing the best response you can, the one that comes closest to what you think. I will collate these and share the responses with you to give us a sense of where we are as a congregation. If you want to know where you stand individually put your name on the paper and I’ll get back to you. Take a few minutes now to answer the questions and leave your responses in this basket or put them in the collection plate.
a reflection on the Matthew 18 for Proper 19A