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June 28, 2015

What a week weve had! Marriage equality! Health care! Community spirit! We may not
have reached the Promised Land yet, but love and hope are in the air. The presidents
eulogy! Walter, Id love to hear your thoughts on how it stacks up against Lincolns 2nd
Inaugural or Kings I Have a Dream. Right up there, I thought.
Inspired perhaps by hope, even though we have a long way to go, Im feeling more
compelled than usual to try to tailor a message of some lasting value for you . . .
something you might hang on to and ponder and find useful, not just in the moment but
on down the road. The urge comes both from the grandiosity thats an occupational
hazard - we clergy types tend to wrestle with savior complexes - but also out of a
genuine desire to demonstrate my gratitude for allowing me to serve here, in what is far
and away the closest Ive ever come to what I imagine the church was always meant to
be. The spirit thats visible to the whole nation as it looks with admiration at the
lowcountry today is something I believe everyone who comes to this church knows
something about. What a gift!
So let me invite you to stop and consider how fortunate we all are, how blessed if you
prefer more churchy language, to have this mission church . . . to have each other. In
fact, as best I can tell, thats the most important and useful message any of us can carry
out of here today.
We come here not just to worship God, not just to reach out to those in need, but, lets
be truthful here, to serve ourselves too. Thats as it should be. The great
commandments speak of loving God and loving our neighbors . . . and loving
ourselves. Ive always believed that those 3 great objects of love - God, our neighbors
and ourselves - those 3 objects that were called to love . . . are so inseparable as to be
virtually indistinguishable; and anyone can see this lived out in palpable ways in the
Episcopal Church on Edisto every day. In all the ways we reach out, we serve ourselves
as I believe God intends. We join together to uphold what our faith shows us to be right:
we dont judge . . . instead we care; we dont covet . . . instead we serve . . . we
continuously find our risen Lord in the least of our sisters and brothers. As we swore to
do in the baptismal covenant, we endeavor to respect the dignity of every human being.
Or we dont. Lets not get too impressed with ourselves. As purified as our humble
beginnings and hardships have made us, its not as if we dont still have feet of clay. Just

like our enemies, just like everyone we disagree with, we too are sinners - individually
and corporately falling far short of all God created us to be. And that, after all, is why we
come here - not to congratulate ourselves but to seek the forgiveness God freely offers
in his Son Jesus Christ. To seek, that is, and to serve . . . to re-present the connection
God has made with his people in Jesus Christ.
Were constantly reminded its a harsh world out there - one its all too easy to get lost in,
often with tragic consequences. Recently, Sue and I watched a rented film called,
tellingly, DETACHED. A tough movie to watch, its still a little gem, following an inner city
high school teacher trying to work through his own early traumas of abandonment by
connecting both with his students and with a teenage prostitute he takes pity on. Of
course, as with so many good deeds in our fallen world, his kindness doesnt go
unpunished. The more he tries to help - and he does so with his eyes open, not in some
naive way - the more pain and suffering he uncovers. We live in a world that often
doesnt know what to do with love and kindness. We dont have to look far to see Christ
crucified every day, do we?
One scene in the film particularly struck me. Theres a nebbishy teacher played by Tim
Blake Nelson standing by himself hanging onto a fence outside the school. Wed seen
him do this briefly in an earlier scene. This time the protagonist, played by Adrian Brody,
walks over to him and asks him if hes OK. He seems almost astonished and asks
Brody, you can see me? When Brody says he does, he thanks him and walks away,
almost as if hes been set free. The world had closed in on him so much that hed lost
any sense that he could even be seen, much less known . . . much less cared for.
Theres a visual metaphor in that scene that may have meaning for us all.
From the 18th verse of Genesis 2: Then the Lord God said, It is not good that the man
should be alone: I will make him a partner as his helper. In thinking long and hard about
what I want to say today, this primitive thought from early Hebrew scripture keeps
popping into my mind. It is not good for [us] to be alone.
Since I was ordained in 1978, Ive had two quite distinct careers - as a parish priest and
as a psychoanalyst. I suppose its only natural that Ive been interested in the ways
those two disciplines intersect . . . the ways they complement each other. There are any
number of people whod be quick to say that they dont, that in fact they negate each
other. Classic Freudians have, at least until the past few decades, been notoriously

contemptuous of religion and spirituality, and many religionists see psychoanalysis

exploring the hidden depths of libidinal conflicts and working through unresolved early
traumas in order to strengthen self-reliance as blasphemous, heretical and hedonistic the antithesis of what Christian tradition holds out as reliance on the grace of God alone
for all thats good in this life and the next.
That dispute reminds me of an old joke about the man who was warned to evacuate his
home because of an approaching hurricane. As his neighbors were boarding up their
windows and packing their car, they saw him sitting calmly on the porch, so they came
over and begged him to come with them. No need, be said, Ive prayed for God to
protect me. But the wind came, and then the tidal surge, lapping at the porch. Someone
else spotted him and, at no little risk, brought his jon boat over and yelled, Quick, get
in, but again, he declined, saying that hed prayed and knew God would save him.
Finally, the water grew so high, he had to go sit on the roof, where, amazingly enough, a
Coast Guard helicopter came and hovered over him. The rescue basket came down, but
he waved it away, convinced still that God alone would save him.
Well, he drowned . . . and when he went up to the pearly gates, he was angry. He saw
God and said, I was always taught that my prayers to you would be answered. Didnt
you hear me when I asked you to save me? And God said, Sure I did. I tried 3 times,
but you just wouldnt listen.
The inescapable point of that old story is that, as the Pope recently said, God doesnt go
around waving a magic wand. God created the real world we live in - one that includes
the laws of physics and the vagaries of nature - and God is most frequently found in acts
of love and kindness between people. Again and again, Jesus reminds us that his
resurrected presence lives on in our relationships with the least of our sisters and
And that underscores an axiom: it isnt good for [us] to be alone. Left to our own
devices, we not only tend to get it all wrong, but also, in a profound spiritual sense that
even psychoanalysis is coming to recognize, we die.
In my work as a therapist, while I havent seen everything there is of human depravity
and abuse, Ive seen and heard enough to have formed some thoughts on the depths of
human suffering. Ive had occasion to work with people whove suffered just about every
kind of abuse you can think of - physical, sexual, verbal . . . war trauma . . . even a

holocaust survivor . . . . Ive not just heard the chronicles of so many terrible things but
sat with individuals as they relived their painful memories and emotions and in many
instances saw themselves reenacting the very things that had left the biggest scars on
their psyches. And inevitably the biggest scar of all isnt the physical pain; it isnt even
the shame. Its abject isolation - the negation of any sense of self that comes from
experiences of invisibility . . . of simply not mattering.
This is the experience of the cross, and in my mind its the arena where religion and
therapy coincide. One of the terrible ironies of aloneness is how it can lead some people
whose yearning for connection is so compelling they literally cant stand it, so that,
instead of daring to reach out - which risks exposing their need, even to themselves they cut themselves off further. Perhaps its something like that that fuels the kind of
hatred that can end up slaughtering 9 martyrs gathered in church to connect with each
other and God. Perhaps not, but when you encounter someone carrying on about not
needing anyone . . . well you can be sure, theres more to the story than what he or she
is letting on.
St. Paul writes famously in Philippians of how Jesus emptied himself of all divine glory,
taking the form of a slave or servant, that is, taking on the experience we have in the
absolutely worst moments of our lives . . . exactly so that in those moments when we
experience ourselves alone and unknown we can turn to the one who does indeed know
. . . and live.
But, friends, were not talking about magic here, were not referring to formulas or creeds
. . . were talking about the connections of the human heart . . . were speaking of the
mystery and power of love.
It isnt good for us to be alone . . . and so God hasnt abandoned us. We remain forever
in Gods sights . . . in Gods loving embrace, if only we open ourselves to it.
Our vocation isnt to be Christians, although our faith, at least as Christ gives it to us, will
help us to our true vocation; and that vocation is both to love and to be loved. All of us
can find ourselves like that teacher hanging onto a fence as if no one can see us . . . no
one can know our hearts. But God knows. And you and I not only need to remember
that, we need to tell the world . . . especially anyone we see lost and distressed . . .
anyone we see desperately in need of a hug.

A final word. Today Im handing back the leadership of our church to Pat and Bob and
the rest of the Mission Committee and reclaiming the retirement I never really wanted to
give up, although Im only grateful for the trust youve placed in me. Tomorrow Sue and I
are packing up the car and heading north, as we do every summer. But despite what
some of you may have heard, we plan to be back in the fall, still the enthusiastic
members of this church weve been all along. By then I hope and believe well all have
another Priest in Charge, but no matter whos running the show, I have very confidence
it will continue to be Gods church . . . the place where everyone will always be not only
welcomed but loved. Thanks and God bless you.