Rev. Anna Woofenden
The Garden Church, San Pedro, CA
Scripture: Jeremiah 31:27-34 and Luke 18:1-8
I’m tired. And not just because Bree and I just got back this morning from meetings in Seattle, after canceled flights and epically early morning trips to the airport. I was tired before we left early Friday morning.
I am tired of my newsfeed being filled with triggering posts and conflicting rhetoric. Tired of the tension that rises in me as I read people’s comments on political candidates. Tired of living in a country and world where misogyny and isms of all kinds are alive and well. Tired of my own wounds and traumas being triggered. Tired of entering into conversations on tiptoes or avoiding interacting with some relative or friend altogether because we don’t want to talk about politics. Tired of incessantly looking to God and wondering what on earth is going on while repeating over and over, “all shall be well, all shall be well, all manner of things shall be well.”
“All shall be well, all shall be well, all manner of things, shall be well.” These words from Julian of Norwich have been running through my head like a mantra. Some moments, I actually feel and believe them, but mostly I find myself repeating them over and over, willing them to be true.
I have been hearing from many of you this week that I am not alone in being tired this week and you have shared with me your own anxiety and feelings of fear and conflict and tension, whether from the upcoming election, struggles in our world and community, things going on in your own personal lives, or a concoction of all of the above.
And as I hear your stories, so much of me just wants to just calm and soothe us and just say, what I do believe to be true: that in the big picture, in the eternal view, God has got all of this, and it’s going to be okay. And I do hope that we can hear that and find that comfort in God and each other today. I hope that as we come together around God’s table and we feed and are fed together, that church can be a little respite of rest, a place of nurture, and a place where we can be reminded of God’s assurance and presence and care, and that we are not alone.
And yet, we hold this tension together and know that we can’t with integrity say “all will be well” and then just put our heads in the sand and pretend that if we just hide long enough everything will magically change. Because we know there are so many things in our world that are not well. There are things in each of our lives that are not well. And as long as all is not well in us and around us, how can we turn a blind eye to the pain and suffering and the things that need to change? We know we need to keep showing up and being part of the work in our world, and yet, dear ones, we come together and we admit and confess in this sanctuary together, we are worn, we lose heart at times, and we are so very tired.
Our gospel story today starts out with Jesus saying, “This is a parable about the need to pray and not lose heart.” I think this may be a parable we need to hear today.
In a certain city there was a judge, Jesus says. A judge—a cop, a corporation, a system, a conglomerate, a legislator—who neither feared God, nor had respect for people. And in that city, there was a widow who kept coming to him. A widow likely being in a vulnerable and marginalized position not having authority or respect within the patriarchal culture of the day. And this widow, she kept (over and over and over) coming to him and saying, “grant me justice against my opponent.” For a while, the judge refused. But later he thought to himself, “though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so she may not wear me out by continually coming.”
Not because the judge had some change of heart, not because he was good or just, but because of the persistence of this widow, because of her insistence, because she kept bothering him, her request was granted.
I have this picture in my head of this widow, a scrappy woman with worn and determined lines on her face, showing up at the door of this judge, day after day after day, and knocking on his door. “I’m still here.” “I want justice.” “Don’t forget about me.” “I’m not giving up.”
It seems a little bit like my insistent humming of this mantra, “all will be well, all will be well, all manner of things, will be well.” Looking to God, hoping She’s paying attention and that somehow this will be true, showing up in the world, making being part of change, believing that this needs to be true. And then keeping showing up in the world, showing up to each other and encouraging each other to look again, showing up here and insisting on being community together with all kinds of people, showing up to the hard conversations and continuing to insist that God is in it.
Throughout the Hebrew scriptures, and certainly within rabbinic tradition, reminding God of God’s covenants is a normal practice. “God you promised us….don’t forget.” “God you said you’d take care of us, but it sure doesn’t seem like it right now.” “God, are you paying attention?” “God, I don’t understand it, I’m tired, I’m scared, I don’t know any more. Help.” “Will all really be well?”
Our friends in the book of Jeremiah were having a pretty rough time; they had much to worry about and cry out about and remind God of. And then the Lord reminds them, “I am making a new covenant with you, and I will put my law within you and write it on your hearts and I will be your God and you will be my people.”
This covenant is one that God offers and promises and is with us here today. I will make a new covenant with you, ______, _______, _______, and I will put my law within you ______, ______, _______, I will write it on your hearts, and I will be your God, and you will be my people. I will be your God, and you will be my people. And God shall be with you. And in this, all will be well.
In a passage from Emanuel Swedenborg, we learn that on a deeper level the words “And God shall be with you” are telling us about the Lord’s Divine Providence—the way God leads and guides us and governs the universe. And that Divine Providence is the assurance that the Lord is with everyone, leading us and providing that all things that happen—whether sad or joyful—befall each person for good. That all things that happen, whether sad or joyful, befall us for good. (Emanuel Swedenborg, Secrets of Heaven #6303)
God has made a new covenant with us and written it on our hearts and put God’s law inside us, and God’s laws supersede all of human laws. Not that we’re above or don’t need to abide by laws of the land and nature, but our ultimate identity, our ultimate place within the universe is gently held within the loving laws of God’s providence. Yes, because of our individual and collective freedom, hard and sad and painful things do happen. As we interact with other people and systems and the natural world, we encounter injustice and pain and loss. The presence of suffering is real. The need to be part of alleviating it for all of humanity is essential. And deep within us, far extending beyond us, this ultimate covenant is promised. And it’s that ultimate covenant that we can rest in.
That no matter no matter how hard it gets, no matter how tired we are, God is with us in it. No matter how many things need to change in the world around us, no matter how dark it looks, God is with us. This expansive force of Love is always drawing us individually and collectively towards the good. God is always making good on Her promise that, right here in this very moment and in the expanse of the eternal view “all (really will) be well.”
Julian of Norwich knew that “all will be well” was not an isolated comment to keep her apart from the suffering of the world. This vision, or “seeing” as she called it, came in the midst of the depth of illness about which she says this:
“In my folly, before this time I often wondered why, by the great foreseeing wisdom of God, the onset of sin was not prevented: for then, I thought, all should have been well. This impulse [of thought] was much to be avoided, but nevertheless I mourned and sorrowed because of it, without reason and discretion.
But Jesus, who in this vision informed me of all that is needed by me, answered with these words and said: ‘It was necessary that there should be sin (suffering and separation); but all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.
These words were said most tenderly, showing no manner of blame to me nor to any who shall be saved (or made whole).”
All shall be well. Dear ones, this promise is as true for us today, in this moment in time and in our world as it was for Julian of Norwich in her confined cell, in the 14th century. God does not promise us a life or a world devoid of pain and suffering and conflict. But God does promise that She will be with us and that everything, whether joyful or sad is held within the loving eternal embrace of God, and that in every moment we will have the opportunity to respond to the good God is drawing us to.
Because ultimately, we will find our identity and our security—our rest in God our creator—not in our political affiliation or physical security, not in being right or winning the argument, not in knowing what’s going to happen next or being able to fix all the ills we see all at once. God has written Her law on our hearts, He will be our God and we shall be God’s people. And in this, we can rest.
And then, even when we’re tired, we can keep showing up and knocking on the door of the world. We can continue to persistently believe that justice and change not only need to happen, but can happen as we wear the systems and powers of the world down, as we keep showing up and bothering them until they change. Because the kingdom of God, the way of heaven is always persistently breaking through. And all things, however difficult, can be used by our transformative God, for good.
And while we keep praying and staying awake to the needs of the world, we must also lean back and surrender into God’s loving embrace, resting in that covenant: we belong to God and we are always within God’s eternal holding and in God’s immediate loving presence. This covenant is for each of us, dear ones, each one of you, and us here together as we call out to God and believe together that: “all will be well, all will be well, all manner of things, will be well.”