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  • The Rev. Arianne Rice

Seeing What Matters

Jesus said – I give you a new commandment – love one another as I have loved you.

But this isn’t new is it? The prophets have told us this – Love God, love your neighbor – love the Lord with all your heart mind soul and strength – love as a commandment is not new. What is new – is Jesus – Love – he says – as I have loved you – love in the way that you have seen in this time we have had together.

They have just seen him wash their feet. He washed the feet of Judas – before he left the room. He washed the feet of Peter. Both of whom will deny their connection to Jesus – Jesus will always be connected to them – that’s how Jesus loves – I am the Good Shepherd who will always be connected. Jesus is the vine, we are the branches. Jesus is the bread of life. Jesus is the light of the world. All of these metaphors point to connection – an always present even if we choose to or can’t see it – we abide in the love Jesus asks us to share.

We are wired for connection. We are wired to want to be seen by others – to connect with others. That is how God made us. Still face experiment. “Still face experiment” and it was first conducted about 50 years ago when there was debate about a baby’s ability to connect with their environment. You know, most of what we think about children and childhood is very recent.

So in this experiment a baby sits in car seat with the mom across from her. In the first part the mom is engaging with the baby the way any of us do – both are beaming and smiling and babbling with delight – connecting. And then, the mom turns her head away.

And when she turns back her expression is flat – no affect. At first the baby tries to reengage the mom – doing what they had been doing in that coy flirty way babies can have. The mom’s face stays motionless. Then the baby starts to get upset – starts trying to use that technique to get the mom to see the struggle for connection the baby needs. And of course, that gives way to the dreaded – baby arch – with an accompanying tantrum wail as the baby exhausts all its resources on connecting with the mom.

And then, you see what I find to be the hardest part of watching the experiment – the baby gives up. The baby disengages – looking lost, helpless and disinterested. Which is when the mom’s expression swoops back into play and she reassures her baby that everything is ok – lots of hugs and kisses and coos.

That disengagement – that belief that we are not seen – don’t belong – are ot wanted or worthy of connection, love, belonging – that is what we are called to shed light on – in our own hearts – in others – in broken communities. Jesus’ commandment is to see that we are connected – all of us.

Peter doesn’t get that at the last supper – but he sure does after he’s seen the resurrected Christ – and had this vision. Don’t get caught up with the strange picnic sheet coming from the sky filled with animals. Listen to what Peter says - – the Spirit told me to join them and not make a distinction between them and us. Like Paul – Peter’s eyes are opened to see the connected beloved community.

We have to ask God to help us see in this new way – throughout our lives. As we examine the parts of ourselves that we’re caught off from – the parts of ourselves that aren’t healthy. We have to ask God to help us see in this new way – as we look at who we are and aren’t connected to – and as we look at the communities – the neighbors – whose connection we deny – or who need to be seen. Who need shepherds to share the love of God.

(In the audio version I share stories of my experience at Trinity Wall Street a few months before the attacks of 9/11)

There are moments/experiences/periods of our lives – when the veil is parted – when we see things as they truly are – when we see our finite life, our precious world – the way God sees it – in all of its glory. “The world is charged with the grandeur of God” (Gerard Manley Hopkins)

Today is our Annual Meeting. When we look at what we've done, but more importantly try and see where God is calling us to enrich our connections within our community and with our world. What I see - When I dream – as I often do – of all the ways in which we could strengthen and discover new ways of being the Church of the Good Shepherd – everything is about connection. The ways in which doing the good work of ministry – is what strengthens our connection to God – through each other – and through learning about ourselves. Our blind spots – the places where its hard for us to see clearly – because we see – them and us.

In April at our vestry retreat – I asked the vestry to imagine with me. Imagine – I said – Good Shepherd partnered with a Children’s Theater Group. The theater group was an afterschool program for our day school – a volunteer opportunity for parishioners – an avenue for newcomers to find their way to our church (because you really have to find your way into our little glen!) – an enrichment opportunity for kids who do not have those kinds of enrichment opportunities in their churches, schools and neighborhoods. Can you imagine that vision becoming a reality? I can.

Imagine – I asked them – to picture our church kitchen having gotten a complete upgrade – because we’ve partnered with a workforce training program – and we have a Good Shepherd Culinary Arts school – where people from Outreach organizations we partner with – are getting job-training. Training that incidentally provides meals – for those same and other outreach organizations where fresh, healthy food is scarce. Imagine the connections that would come from that – can you see that possibility down the hall? I can.

When we see – when we pray and open ourselves to leaning into God and faith directing our actions – partnering with one another – through committees – and over dinner and coffee hour – and prayer groups – when we partner together in this way – inviting the Spirit to help us see – we don’t burn ourselves out trying to fix everything. We are led to sharing our gifts – to transforming the world by allowing God to transform us! To change the way we see – the way we live and move and have our being.

Glory to god whose power working in us can do infinitely more than we could ask or imagine. Glory to God from generation to generation in the church – and through Christ Jesus – Amen.

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