So I preached a sermon at Vespers. I’ve never preached at Marsh before, and I really enjoyed the opportunity to preach in this context.
One of the most challenging pieces of my internship here at Marsh is coming up with a weekly, or at least in theory weekly, theological reflection. It can be a musing about a big theological question or more often for me a rambling about some profound worship experience I had in the past week. Often it is helpful in doing these reflections to single out a moment or an interaction within my week, where another person’s kindness or generosity or wisdom touched my heart and made me think about how my own actions are perceived in the world. These “preachable moments” provide a jumping off point for thinking about bigger questions in the world.
So as you might of guessed by that introduction, I want to tell you about one of these moments. So for those of you who don’t know, I recently joined the Student Elections Commission at BU. The SEC is a group of students who monitor the student government elections, and make sure all the candidates follow the extensive campaign guidelines that are laid out in the Election Code. As part of the SEC, I helped work at the election kickoff that happened last Monday. The election kickoff was an event that allowed the two slates of candidates a chance to get their face and their platform out to students walking through the GSU. Besides giving out the hundreds of free cupcakes that we had gotten for the event, the candidates got their first chance to talk to students.
Now both slates were very much on top of their game for this event. They were dressed up, and covered in their own campaign buttons. In conversations with students they efficiently transitioned between selling their platform and undermining their opponents. Each slate was competing fiercely and making sure to talk to as many students as possible.
Now after an hour or so of campaigning, one of my friends, a freshman who lives on the floor above me walked by eyeing the cupcakes. She didn’t know much about student government but wanted to find out a little more. I introduced her to one of the candidates, fully expecting him to rush through his schpeal and move on to one of the other people walking through the GSU. I knew that he had limited time to meet students and that it was important for his campaign to meet as many people as possible. I expected him to try and secure her vote, hand her a cupcake and walk away. But instead of saying his piece and excusing himself to make a new connection, he sat down with her, answering all her questions and thoroughly explaining his platform. He learned her name and actually listened to see if she had any suggestions for his campaign. Most importantly he listened to her, staying present in their conversation, placing more value on this one deep interaction than on the ten insignificant interactions he could have had in that time.
Now you could argue that his move was merely political; that making a real connection with this one student could get him votes from her and all her friends. And even if that was part of the motivation, I think his actions can teach us about the importance of listening deeply and making a real connection.
I think about this in regards to ministry. I know a lot of us here are involved in ministry in some way. And, I think remembering to be present in our conversations with others is such a hugely important part of this work. I think about the time other people have taken to be present and listen to me. The times when someone asks me how my day was, and actually cares about the answer. These moments make a difference in the lives of the people we interact with.
In this week’s gospel text from Matthew, Jesus teaches ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ This verse points to the truth that, to love your neighbor as yourself is to see the spark of divinity, the piece of God that lives within them and to love it. I think about this interaction I saw at the Student Government kickoff, and other similar incidents where someone takes the time and the effort to really listen and be present with someone else. This is one of the best ways we love our neighbors.
In this weeks verses from Ephesians we learn, “For once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light- for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true.” We are all children of light, holding within us the fruit of light that is good and right and true. When we love our neighbor as ourselves, by listening deeply, sharing authentically, and being present we can harvest that fruit of light.
This verse, particularly the image of the fruit of light reminded me of a poem by Unitarian Universalist minister Karen Herring:
Hidden in the heart
of late autumn’s barren
fields is the ripening
of seasons yet to come.
Roots clinging to frozen ground
for their next long drink.
Seeds fallen from last summer’s blooms
sleep beneath blankets of quilted leaves
and feathered snow.
Fruits of the future,
words unripened into speech,
truth present but unseen,
evidence yet to be awakened
by the faithful
of time and love.
This poem teaches us that hidden in the heart of each of us, children of light, is the fruit of goodness and truth. This fruit is of the future. It waits patiently to be awakened by the faithful unfolding of time and love. We awaken it when we love our neighbor as ourself. When we make time in our lives to listen to other people; putting their needs above our own. We love our neighbors when we are present and engaged, and when we share authentically from ourselves.
Loving our neighbor is how we love god. When we take time to listen to and love another person, we affirm the divinity, the spark of God that lives within them. As children of light, this is what we are called to do. We are called to journey with our neighbors. To listen to them, to share with them, to hold sacred space with them. We are called to harvest the fruit of light, present but unseen within each one of us. Like roots clinging to frozen ground, we wait patiently for the spring, the warmth of another person who will listen to us and see the divine that lives within us.
As we journey on this evening, let us remember to be present to the people around us. To gently hold space with them and to allow their inner light to shine. Let us remember to love god with all our heart and soul and mind by loving all god’s children of light. And let us be reminded that these high aspirations are not easy. In the crazy hustle of our daily lives, it’s hard to make space to be still and listen to others. It’s hard to ignore the voices that tell us to go fast and to spread ourselves thin. We have to be gentle with ourselves for the times when we fall short of thoroughly loving our neighbor, knowing that in those times our neighbors will reach out to us. But then we must celebrate when we choose to be like the candidate I mentioned earlier, who took time to listen to my friends questions and suggestions, who made an effort to be present with her ignoring the rest of his campaign; for in these times we can harvest the fruit of the light and come closer to the light of god within each of us.