One of the great things about preaching is the deep dive it requires into scripture. Every Friday at Community of Divine Love Monastery – which I co-founded with Brother Dennis and have been living in for 13 years – we practice Lectio Divina. This is an ancient contemplative practice of Divine Reading or reading scripture very intentionally. We sit together and read through the upcoming gospel slowly three times and reflect together on what we feel God is saying to us through The Word.
This week I have been sitting with this gospel passage of Jesus saying that the harvest is plentiful. Is the harvest the hungry souls seeking healing and wholeness? He says that he has compassion for the harassed and helpless crowd, they are like sheep without a shepherd. So, he sends his disciples out and gives them authority over unclean spirits and the power to heal the sick. Jesus needs help tending to the needs of the people and so he sent out laborers into his harvest.
In the lovely Romans passage we heard that God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us. Which is following up on the ACTS Pentecostal story – right?
So, I wonder, can we be both harassed and helpless and have the love of God in our hearts? Or has this crowd not had the love poured into them yet?
I think we can be both as I certainly can relate to feeling at times the presence of God’s love within my heart and at times, I feel harassed and helpless. It is a bit of a conundrum – we can both feel God’s love in our heart and sometimes feel harassed and helpless.
Paul seems to have understood this as he says in Romans 7, “Why do I do what I hate?”
Well, we are complicated beings – as people of faith we long to live in ways that are pleasing to God. But all too often we are short-tempered or angry or sad or caught up in a million other emotions. And why is this? Well, stuff happens and sometimes our buttons get pushed and before we know it, we are triggered into a big reaction. Sometimes this has more to do with things from our past. I mean, we have all been through a lot. Some of us might have been fortunate to live a fairly balanced life of consistent love and support but many of us had big issues to deal with in our life journey.
Many of us were raised facing challenges such as divorce or a problem drinker or even violence in the family. Recently there has been more attention paid to the impact our childhoods have had on our emotional and physical well-being as adults. There is now a questionnaire called the ACE’s which is an acronym for Adverse Childhood Experiences. It asks 10 questions. The more you answer yes, the more difficult your childhood was.
As many of you know I facilitate healing programs in the local prison. As you can imagine, most of the men there have very high scores on this test. In fact, they are mostly 9’s and 10’s. They have answered yes to the question: Did a household member go to prison? Did you often feel that you didn’t have enough to eat, had to wear dirty clothes, and had no one to protect you? Or were your parents too drunk or high to take care of you or take you to the doctor if you needed it?
And their pain or trauma from these adverse childhood experiences has led to them making terrible decisions.
You have probably heard these words - Hurt people Hurt people. Another way to say this is that pain that is not transformed will be transmitted.
Most of the men have caused serious harm. Many of them have been incarcerated for 20-30 years. These men have opted to come to this class because they are hungry to heal. They long to become better men. They know they need to do the inner work and recognize not only the trauma that contributed to their bad choices in life but also to take accountability for the pain they caused to not only the victims but rippling out creating trauma for many people. It is lifechanging work and it takes courage to face the impact of their crimes.
And what will heal them? According to neuroscientists our brains can change, and we can become better people. By sharing their stories with a supportive community where they feel safe and respected, the miracle of healing happens. By men becoming vulnerable and honest in an atmosphere of compassion the healing begins. When the men feel true empathy for the pain, they have caused they are both devastated and changed. Yesterday I heard many men say they never want to hurt anyone again in their life.
Jesus says in Matthew 9 that he has come not for the righteous but for the sinners. As it says in the Romans passage, we just heard, “Christ died for the ungodly.” He came so that we could live and live abundantly.
It is remarkable to me that casting out demons and curing illness is sometimes as simple as creating a safe and sacred space for someone to be heard. Maybe it is as simple as listening with the heart to the harassed and helpless without judgment and with respect. We can all probably do a better job of listening to each other. We can all probably think of someone who needs to be heard.
We can be laborers for Christ by simply remembering we are all part of God’s family.
The Reverend Sister Greta Ronningen