The scripture for today’s sermon comes from 1 Kings 17:8-16 supplemented by: Psalm 127:1-2 & Mark 12:38-44
Some of you may know, but I would bet many of you don’t: I was in a sorority in college. I know this information may be shocking to some of you, but it is true. For four years, I was a member of the Phi Mu Fraternity at Georgetown College. I often say the best thing the sorority taught me was how to walk in heels. Joking aside though, being in a sorority was certainly a learning experience. And making the decision to join a sorority was something that was certainly in the culture of my college life, of my friends, and of my world at the time.
Let’s be honest, it’s resume building, baby. Within my sorority alone, I served three different leadership positions during my time there. All of my friends served in a million different roles in their millions of different clubs and organizations. We all touted our “busyness” while trying to keep our grades up. Some Monday evenings in sorority meetings, we would have the conversation about how saying “no” to some things is a good thing. “It’s important to say no,” our president would say, and we all would lean in, nodding, “mhmmmm” while the next minute we were saying yes to leading another committee and trying to figure out how to balance the nine thousand other commitments we had made the next morning.
On the one hand, that’s one of the best things about college: trying on different hats, new roles, working with different groups of people to achieve goals. But on the other hand, I can say for me, a lot of those roles and positions I held weren’t out the deepest longings of my soul, but I committed to them out of a place of ought: of who I thought I ought to be, who I thought the world needed me to be, and about how I thought I ought to be spending my energy.
How do you make choices about what you say yes to? How do you make choices about how you spend your energy? What should you be saying no to?
Energy is something we all have. It’s part of the makeup of our world. Some of us immediately think about the earth’s energy: that raw energy that’s used to warm our homes and fuel our cars. The earth’s energy is something we’ve learned to harvest and use, and unfortunately, abuse in many cases. Energy is a force that moves objects and people to new heights. It’s not magic. It’s science. Energy is the force that makes rockets blast into the sky and makes my eyes flutter open each morning.
Just like we need that energy to run the world we’ve built of cars and airplanes, so too does a plant need the energy of the sun to grow to live a healthy, fruitful life. The sources for energy are many, but how we choose to harvest and use it, now that’s a question worth exploring.
As humans, we have choices to make about that energy; about how we will use it and about how we will gain it.
So let’s start with the second part of that equation: how you use energy:
Throughout our day we expend the energy within us: You all got up out of your beds this morning and made the drive here. You are expending the energy to think about what you’ve heard today, to sing, to stand up and sit down. Some of us exercise, others read, some garden. We go to our workplaces and we interact with social media, friends, and family. By the end of the day, you may feel like your energy is zapped and collapse in bed.
Now, there may be some things and ways we expend our energy that do not feel like we have much choice in them: We have a baby wailing for food or a diaper change, the plumber on their way for a busted pipe, a deadline breathing down our necks. And that doesn’t even really take into account that some of us have more privilege about the choices in our energy usage. You’ll have a lot less capacity to choose how to use your energy if you are a high school student watching younger siblings at night because your parent is working two or three jobs to make ends meet. While others have been afforded much greater choice in how their energy will be expended.
But in every regard, we have a choice for how we will engage our energy and use it. There is capacity here to choose. Do you choose to engage those areas in your life that life-giving or do you choose to engage things that are draining?
But when we follow this rabbit (the rabbit being the capacity to choose how to expend our energy) down its hole, we have to ask ourselves even more questions: What is life-giving for me? Or the flipside to that question: What is draining for me? What capacity for choice do I have in engaging those areas in my life? Should I get into this facebook argument with Joe Blow? Do I continue to engage in toxic relationships? Or, on the other hand, do I feel really energized by time with my family and loved ones? Should I go volunteer at God’s Family Dinner today? Do I feel alive when I make art? Or engage in this area of justice work fuels a fire in my soul?
It’s not to say that giving our energy should always feel easy and fuzzy all the time. Sometimes the work of justice, for instance, is muddled with obstacles and the way forward can seem unclear. Sometimes our rage boils inside of us about the status of our world and so, we must be wise about how to engage that energy about the work of justice so we aren’t just blowing hot air.
But when we take the time to ask the root questions– “What kind of world we want to see?”, “How do we make this issue of injustice cease to exist”– and if those root questions energize your soul, then you know the work of the muddied waters is worth it.
What do you say yes to? What is worth your time and energy?
So we’ve engaged the questions of how we use energy, so let’s get back to the first part of the equation: Where do you gain your energy? How do you ensure that your cup isn’t depleted? Is it wandering through the towering trees of a forest? Is it resting your soul in the worn pews of this great room? Is it the laughter of good friends over a shared meal? Is it finding a quiet place to feel your breath to make your chest rise and fall? Are you making time for yourself to replenish your soul?
Because energy– this life force within us– is our gift from God. We choose how we engage it and use it or not. We choose whether we will waste it away or if we will work to make new and beautiful things.
But even still, the first step to harnessing your energy is naming that it is there and it is yours to use.
Rumi said- “Let the beauty we love be what we do.”
And today as I hear all three of the passages we read today, I hear the question: “How will you use the energy you’ve been given?” “What will you do with your one life?”
The Psalm says unless your building, watching, rising, and eating are born out of the space of love in God’s heart, it will be done in vain.
The widow in Mark’s gospel famously gives her two coins. She uses the energy she has to come and make an offering to her God. Meanwhile, out in the streets, Jesus criticizes those who waste energy making a flamboyant show of what they’ve given.
And then, in 1 Kings the energy of a widow on the brink of death, who is asked to give in her own moment of need says “yes” and her engagement in the “yes” turns into a perpetual miracle for herself and those around her. Her one jar of flour and oil, her one last meal, continues to feed Elijah and the widow and her son for days. Each of these stories lean into the right yes. They lean into God’s “Yes.” Our faith story invites us to engage in how we will be good stewards of our own energy.
What do you say yes to? What should you say yes to? And what deserves your firm “no”? How do you find that balance so that your cup is never depleted?
And when we exist in a community, like say, in a church, we have collective yes’s and no’s. There are sometimes the energy of a group of people points obviously in one direction. And then other times, it is obvious when a collective “no” will rise up from the group. We as a church do not have infinite energy. So we must be wise to say yes to the right things. What ideas speak most fully about who we are? What collective engagements in our justice work feels most right for our community? And with that same token of energy– What ideas may very well be good ideas, but need a no from us at this time?
Because not one individual, but collectively we must assess what ideas are life-giving and which will be draining. And collectively, that means vulnerability, honesty, stepping up and stepping back, and diligent discernment about what is best for our community. How will we use our collective energy for this work of the Gospel? What good news can we share?
So, sisters and brothers, we must be wise with how we engage this gift from God- this gift of life we have been given. What is the beauty that you love? How do you make that what you do?
To close I want to share a poem with y’all that I think I’ve shared this poem before, but I hope you’ll forgive me for sharing it again. Mary Oliver writes this, The Summer Day:
Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
With your one wild and precious life?
How will you spend your one wild and precious life? You have a great responsibility for how you will use the energy you’ve been gifted. So go, live deeply into the NOW. Reach deep into your soul to know your “yes” and your “no” and know how your “yes” leans into the Gospel yes, the good news.