About a month before my 24th birthday, I was starting my second year of service as a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Dominican Republic. I got sent to the next town over from mine to spend the night with a family there, to see whether I thought they would be a good host family for the new volunteer who was coming. They turned out to be really sweet, lovely people who welcomed me with open arms. Esmeralda, the mom, made a delicious meal for us, while her husband Manyango told me all about their community, Jánico. They were curious to get to know me as well – and when they found out that my birthday was less than a month away, they insisted that I come back and celebrate with them.
When I was in college, I struggled a lot with depression. It impacted my studies; I just felt really overwhelmed sometimes, and then I felt guilty because I wasn’t getting all the things done that I was supposed to be doing, including my coursework. I would know things had gotten really bad when I started actively avoiding my advisor. She was a lovely woman whom I admired very much – but when I was falling behind, I just couldn’t bear to bring myself to go talk to her, especially because I was usually doing particularly badly in her classes. I knew I should be doing better and I knew that she expected more from me – and I was just so afraid that she would think less of me.
But then something would happen: I would run into her unexpectedly or I would be required to schedule a meeting with my advisor for some reason, so I would see her. She’d call me into her office and every time, I braced myself, expecting to get a well-deserved chewing out or, worse, that she would just look at me with profound disappointment. But instead, each time, she was unfailingly kind and understanding. She listened to me and heard my feelings of anxiety and worthlessness and guilt and she helped me make a workable plan to get through the rest of the semester. She reminded me that I was more than the work I did or didn’t get done. I always left those meetings with her feeling better and freer, feeling like I’d gotten another chance to try again.
Psalm 23 is an old favorite psalm for many of us. Of all the psalms it’s by far the most popular choice for funerals – and for good reason. The image of God as a shepherd leading us is very comforting. And the poetic reassurance that God is with us – even in the valley of the shadow of death – makes days like this one easier to bear.
But I think that Psalm 23 is a particularly fitting psalm for us to read today as we remember our dear sister Elaine – because, in many ways, Elaine perfectly embodied this psalm.
I don’t know about you all, but our texts for today leave me feeling a whole mess of different feelings. On the one hand, we have these lovely images of God as the compassionate shepherd looking after the flock, and caring for the “least of these.” But then we run into all this harsh language about judgment and destruction. It’s like being handed a bouquet of roses, only to have our fingers pricked by the thorns. Our gospel text today is particularly strong. This passage from Matthew is the only detailed account of the last judgment to be found anywhere in the New Testament – but even so, it’s definitely left an impression on the popular Christian imagination. Continue reading “Sermon: Paging Dr. Jesus”