YOU ARE ENOUGH! DR. BRADLEY DAVIDSON, ST. AUGUSTINE OF CANTERBURY EPISCOPAL CHURCH, OKLAHOMA CITY, OK
A few weeks ago, I received a phone call from Father Joseph. I don't know how many of you have received such a call but it made me wonder, "What is Father Joseph up to now? I wonder what adventure he's planning now?" And I really wondered, "What is Father Joseph going to ask me to do?" Since I had played the piano for Stations of the Cross here a couple of times, I wondered if he wanted me to play the piano for something. And Father Joe knows that I also am a spiritual director so I wondered if he knew someone that was looking for a spiritual companion. However, I wasn't prepared for the question he ultimately asked me, "Will you be the guest preacher on Pride Sunday?" Father Joe, I can only say I'm glad I was sitting down when you asked.
Almost immediately, my first thought was to say "no". I thought, "What is Father Joe thinking? I can't preach! I'm not holy enough or pure enough or 'fill in the blank' enough." But there was something inside my heart that said, "you should do this." In that moment, God reminded me of a sermon I heard a few years ago that dramatically changed my view of God and my relationship with God. That sermon was delivered by a shy, quiet man who was not a particularly dynamic speaker who himself struggled with not feeling good enough all his life. That man was Father Henri Nouwen, a Dutch Catholic priest who, in my view, is one of the greatest theologians, teachers, and spiritual companions of our age.
I remembered the power of his sermon that night and I remembered how many times since then that I have yearned for others to hear that message. And I realized, now is my chance. I recognize that I'm no Henri Nouwen, but I must spread that message. So, here I am. So thank you, Father Joe, for asking me and a big thank you to each of you for your patience and grace on this, my first try.
Not good enough. Not enough.
Am I the only one who has heard that familiar tape playing in my head sometimes weekly or even daily?
It is an old message that has been told to ourselves and our ancestors since practically the beginning of time. We can hear "not enough" echo all the way back to the garden of Eden. Remember? Adam and Eve discovered they were naked. They were ashamed. God came looking for them. They felt they were not good enough to face God.
We hear it again from Moses who resisted God's call because he thought he couldn't speak eloquently enough.
Then there was Jeremiah whose call from God was met with the argument, "I'm not mature enough."
Then, there's the New Testament account of the Roman Centurion who called for Jesus to heal his servant. And he said to Jesus, "I'm not worthy for you to come under my roof. Just say the word so my servant can be healed."
And in today's gospel reading we heard the story of the woman who was afflicted by a bleeding disease. Such a disease made her 'unclean' under Jewish law. I'm wondering if that is why she didn't want to be seen? She just wanted to touch the hem of Jesus' garment…unnoticed. I’m wondering if she was thinking, "I'm not clean enough or healthy enough or holy enough."
Unfortunately, the "Not Enough" narrative has survived the test of time. It's not only a self-inflicted narrative. Sometimes, we have even heard others tell us we are not good enough.
Let me take you back to a summer day in 1969. Specifically, June 28, 1969 - 52 years ago this weekend - in Greenwich Village in New York City. For decades, tension between the gay and lesbian community and mainstream society had been building after years of police harassment and brutality against the community. Years of being treated as "not good enough." But on that summer day, the heat came to a boil. The community had had enough and they revolted. It began at the Stonewall Inn in New York City and those acts of resistance have since been called the Stonewall Uprising. But those uprisings didn't fix the problem immediately. In fact, they may have even intensified the harassment and mistreatment. But what DID happen as a result of the uprisings was a coming together of the LGBTQ community and the surfacing of allies. Before long, there were organized marches. And conversations began to happen. Laws began to be challenged. And today, thanks to our brothers and sisters who came before us, same gender couples can marry and share life openly, can worship together, and not fear they will be 'outed' and lose their jobs or their livelihood or be the target of violence. In short…we can be 'good enough'. It was quite a transformation from feeling the infliction of shame upon the community to a feeling of greater confidence and freedom and even pride.
Yes, I suspect we all have that message playing in our head from time to time; that inner voice saying we're not good enough. Or maybe we hear from others that we're not good enough. I don't know about you, but my personal journey of transformation from 'not good enough' to pride is ongoing. It continues. I’m not fully there yet. And it's a tough journey not because of barriers that Christ has put before us. No…
But I have good news for you this morning. Father Henri Nouwen's life-long message to us - that message that transformed me - can be summed up in one sentence: "You and I are the beloved sons and daughters of the God of the Universe!" You are the son, the daughter….you are the child of the Heavenly Father. A radically and unconditionally loving Father. A Father who has your picture in his wallet and who pulls it out to show proudly to anyone who will look! In first John, we hear the words, "See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!"
For those of you who are my LGBTQ brothers and sisters, you know that many of us have crossed a wider, deeper, dirtier ditch to get to the place of accepting and acknowledging the love of our Heavenly Father than anybody else. But we are here! And we must be confident that we are the beloved of God no matter what others say about us or do to us. Paul wrote to the Romans, "For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord." On the occasion of my confirmation a few weeks ago, my friend and confirmation sponsor Judy Moon gifted me with a beautiful plaque that hangs on my office wall. It says "Marked as Christ's own forever." Wow! We are the wildly beloved children of the God of all creation! Period.
Thank you, Heavenly Father, for that depth and breadth of love for us! Thank you Father Henri Nouwen for sharing this good news with me. Thank you, Father Joseph, for your commitment to building a faith community who lives out this love for each other, just as Christ has done. Now, each of us must share this wonderful news with everyone we meet. Especially those who feel they are not enough.
So, as I close, I have two challenges for you:
We are the beloved of God. And we must love like God. That is the gospel message, my friends. Thanks be to God. Amen!
Dr. Bradley Davidson, St. Augustine of Canterbury Episcopal Church, Oklahoma City, OK
Various Clergy and members of St. Augustine contribute to authoring the blog on a variety of topics.