“Keep Your Eyes on God”
A sermon by Dinushka De Silva, Diaconal Intern at Christ Church Trumbull
Today’s Gospel of Luke is hard to swallow for me. It reminds me of how HARD it is to truly be Christian, how hard it is to follow Jesus Christ.
“Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you,” Jesus says.
“…pray for those who abuse you,” Jesus says.
“‘If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them,” Jesus says.
“…lend, expecting nothing in return,” Jesus says.
“Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned.”
I cannot tell you the number of times I have hated, or the number of times I have not given to those in need. I cannot tell you the number of times I have judged and condemned.
I stand before you as a sinner, as a Christian, and a future ordained clergy member who has struggled in living out the life my God has asked me to live. I have fallen many times and yet I keep getting back up and keeping my eyes on God.
For we have all struggled. We have all fallen. But God reminds us God will help us get back up. God will give us the lessons we need to learn from our mistakes. God will remind us that by unconditionally loving us, we too can love others.
We can learn to evolve past our jealousies, our judgments, our ego, our hatred. With God we can love our enemies, we can forgive, we can give to those in need, we can be a non-judgmental presence for others. In time, as we walk with God, we can draw closer to what God asks of us. When we are ready to forgive our abuser, see our enemy as a fellow creation of God, we tighten our bond with God.
I can recall one very difficult week in my life as a chaplain where I had all psychiatric and addiction patients. By the end of the week I was weary. I began to judge them for their decisions…of not taking their medications, of falling back onto drugs, of abusing all the people who loved them. In fact it triggered my own child abuse memories. I felt like I was sitting with them is a never-ending swarm of darkness that was enshrouding them and me.
Usually at the end of the week, on a Friday morning, I light candles, say the rosary, and meditate. I life up the names of those who I have worked with, asking God to help them. I pray for their healing. But by the end of this weary week I felt my heart harden.
God felt it too and decided to teach me a lesson. The next work week, God would help soften my heart and remind me of my role as a Christian in this world.
So on the following Monday, I was assigned a reoccurring patient to the hospital who was an addict. I had heard of Tammy before. Tammy had spent time in jail because of her addiction struggles.
She was often neglected by the social worker and case manager because they were tired of her same old story, her same old “sins.”
Tammy had her own harsh opinions about them, but Tammy had exhausted them, once bringing illegal substances to the hospital room. She said it was an accident and that her friend had accidentally left it during a visit.
Once she had recovered in the hospital she would go back to the streets and sleep in parks or in cars. Once in a while her mother would forgive her and let her stay in her house.
Now I was the next team member assigned to Tammy. I would be Tammy’s chaplain. I had thought about my previous work week and already moaned out loud in judgment with what I would have to face in our conversation together. That day though God would reveal my sins, not Tammy’s.
As I walked into the room, I saw Tammy looking at the rays of sun coming through her window. She smiled when she saw me. On her arms were scars, on her chest was a large scar too. She was missing a whole row of teeth. Tammy told me her struggles to get clean. She began to share her life story.
Tammy confirmed what I already heard about her. She slept in her car, which she maintained on her own by doing odd jobs. She would find some random work such as tree trimming to make some money. Some days she would have enough to rent a motel room and other days she used to sleep in benches on the park. Tammy decided to tell me why she stopped sleeping on those benches.
One night, she decided she would use a park bench space to sleep off her “high.” She felt she couldn’t go anywhere else in her condition. While she was sleeping, she was aroused by screaming and crying. She saw a woman being attacked by a large man. His fists had clearly marked the woman’s face in bruises and blood. His hands were now wrapped around the woman’s neck, trying to choke her. In his pocket pants was a weapon.
Instead of running away at the scary scene in front of her, Tammy lunged at him and fought him. She lost all of her front teeth, and eventually consciousness, but saved the woman’s life. Because of her, the woman was able to run and get the police. Tammy shared she thought she was going to die and asked God to take her if need be. Tammy blacked out briefly, only to wake up to see the police arresting the man. Even the police, who knew her well, as Tammy has a reputation in the community, were in awe of her bravery.
There was much more to Tammy than the stereotype I had boxed her into. I would come to discover that Tammy prays all the time. Tammy loves the Gospel stories. Tammy can quote verses from the Bible and loved her Bible study group at York Correctional Facility.
What I also learned is when Tammy sees someone else hungry on the street she gives them her half of her sandwich despite the fact that it might be her only meal for the day.
And on cold nights, she sometimes shares her car with someone who needs some shelter.
“I try, chaplain, to serve God. I try to do what’s right, even when I am doing wrong.” She says.
Tammy shared all her regrets, mistakes, successes, and her faithfulness. Tammy is a sinner. Tammy is righteous. Tammy is kind. Tammy is honest. Tammy has lied. Tammy is AWARE of who she is, and what she struggles with. And Tammy knows she will continue to love God and be loved by God even when the rest of mankind struggles with her. Even when she struggles with herself.
She will continue to seek Jesus Christ’s salvation, His mercy, His support, His strength, and His forgiveness.
And so must I. I must recognize the continued lessons of God’s love, of God’s love for me, and of God’s love for others. I must continue to walk the path of non-judgment, of forgiveness, of giving to others, of loving my enemy. And I must continue to ask God to show me how.
Lord God help ALL of us. Continue to soften our hearts and awaken our minds. Help us to see ourselves and others through your Loving Eyes. Show us the lessons we are meant to learn to be better examples of our faith. And when we fall, pick us up again. Help us to rise again and keep our eyes upon you, our God, our Creator, our Savior, Maker of life and love. Savior who saves through love.