Keep Warm

Sunday, May 21, 2017

A sermon preached by Rev. Ginger E. Gaines-Cirelli at Foundry UMC, May 21, 2017, the fifth Sunday after Easter.

Text: Ecclesiastes 4:7-11


What is the most important thing in your life?  Without taking a poll, my guess is that, for many if not most of us, a person or group of people come to mind immediately.  Today we’re going to think together about relationships—the primary relationships in our lives with partners, family members, and close friends.  Each one of us in this room today has so much going on in our relationships—some is painful, some wonderful, and a lot under the surface.  There is always a lot.  As I prepared this “Soul Food” sermon series, I had in mind things I was hearing about how folks are trying to cope with living their already full lives with the added stress, outrage, fear, and uncertainty that has gotten stirred by the presidential campaign, election, and subsequent events.  One of the things that emerged was the toll these things were taking on relationships.  I heard this loudest with regard to family members with opposing political views. But I also have heard, spoken almost in a whisper, that marriages were feeling the effects, that the stresses were finding their way into folks’ closest relationships.  And of course this would be the case.  Anthony and I just moved into a new home in Brookland here in DC.  Moving is stressful.  Add that to all the other stress already exists in our lives?  Well… All our stuff shows up in our primary relationships in one way or another…and for better or for worse.  What I also know—particularly on the heels of this week’s events in my own life—is that it is good to have a friend, to have a partner, to have someone who will not only put up with you, but who will help you recalibrate and find your balance again.


The rather dark and cranky wisdom of Qoheleth in the book of Ecclesiastes puts it this way: “Two are better than one…for if they fall, one will lift up the other; but woe to one who is alone and falls and does not have another to help.  Again, if two lie together, they keep warm; but how can one keep warm alone?”  In other words, we need one another.  Trying to “go it alone” is a pretty daunting task and, even if we can persevere for a while, there will come a time when we just can’t do what we need to do without the help of another person.  (I have to admit, I considered breaking here for a singalong of all the songs on this subject:  “Lean on me,” “With a Little Help From My Friends,” “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” “Rise Up,” not to mention all the love songs!…) We are created to be in relationship and, regardless of the shape, size, or make-up of our family and circle of friends, the primary relationships in our lives are a profound source of “soul food.”  Sometimes we let other things in our lives—work, bad habits, or emotional baggage—keep us from fully receiving the nourishment available.


Over the years, I have known many folks who found their marriage in a shambles from years of failure to communicate; I have witnessed children alienated from their parents due to lack of time spent together; I have watched friendships sour through failure to show up for one another.  But today our focus is not on broken relationships—or on those tragic instances of abuse, betrayal, and the like.  Rather, it is a simple reminder that there is nothing more important than the primary relationships that we have in our lives right now, that these relationships deserve our care and attention, and that they are a source of deep nourishment.


Have you ever noticed how, in the movies and fairy tales and TV, the focus of the story is often on all the activity leading up to the beginning of a real relationship?  I mean, with Snow White, you’ve got all those little dwarves and songs of longing for the handsome prince, but just when they finally meet—for the first time, mind you!!—we hear the words:  “and they lived happily ever after.” …They JUST MET!  (talk about setting up unhealthy expectations!)  In the movies you see the hot pursuit of one person for another and, most times, the credits begin to roll just about the time that they’ve finally decided to be together.  In fantasy land, the hard part of romantic relationships is all in the meeting.  And, of course, meeting the right person is certainly not always easy and is often pretty darn hard.  But I would suggest that the even harder part of relationships is what happens after you’ve ridden off into the sunset, after you’ve made a commitment.  “For better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health…”  Even if your call is to singleness or even if you never use those traditional words with a partner, that stuff is the stuff of real relationship and when you are in a real relationship with another person things get real pretty quickly.


Unfortunately, idealized pictures of relationships get into our heads.  Because we tend to want things to be easier than they are, we appropriate these images and, as a result, can end up feeling put upon or like failures, when commitment and relationship aren’t as easy as “and they lived happily ever after.”  It wasn’t supposed to be this way… // Any meaningful relationship will require care, cultivation, patience, work.  Like a garden, our relationships need to be lovingly tended or they can become dry, unmanageable, even unrecognizable.  Healthy relationships require an investment of time.  Today at Foundry, we prayed blessing upon small group leaders who have or will convene groups across the DMV.  Connecting with a small group—making that commitment of time to be in relationship with other folks in a way that is thoughtful, accountable, and honest—is a great way to practice the care and cultivation of meaningful relationships. 


In my own life, I do OK with some relationships, less OK with others.  And always, I can do better.  More than one clergy colleague has posted recently on FaceBook about struggling to be a good friend—about how ministry in the church always seems to override making time for friendships.  I can totally relate!  Our work responsibilities—no matter what they are—can become so all-consuming that we have little time or energy for friends or anyone else.  My further challenge is that even when I have held aside time to spend with Anthony (my spouse), he often gets the worst of me since I have been so intent on trying to give my best to everyone else.  Perhaps you understand what I’m talking about.  We can be patient, open, creative, engaged with others, but when it comes to our partner, parent, or child?  //


There is so much to consider and so many important things to practice in order to sustain healthy, nourishing relationships.  We have to communicate well, we have to—as my Arkansas grandma taught me—“give a little and take a little,” that is we need to learn to compromise; it is important to have compassion—to think about things from the other’s point of view and then be patient and gentle, forgiving and open.  Learning how to have healthy relationships is a lifelong process.  When it’s going well, what a joy and delight!  You feel heard, understood, and connected.  You experience tenderness and intimacy.  You know yourself to be cared for.  You can laugh together and accomplish difficult things together.  Now that is some nourishing soul food!


Today I want to invite you to put not only care but also celebration of relationships on your plate.  Celebrate the gift that you are to each other!  Take every opportunity to celebrate!  I have a friend who does this so well—she sends me cards, messages, funny gifts, all sorts of things for any possible occasion!  And it doesn’t have to be concrete gifts we share, but simply speaking the words of gratitude, naming what you love and appreciate about your partner or friend—sometimes for no apparent reason.  Celebrate the victories of life, whether large or small.  Find opportunities to play and to laugh and to cheer each other on!  Parents can do this for their children and children for their parents, friends for friends, and spouses for one another.  Celebrate the gift of having relationships that matter and that nourish our lives.  Don’t take these precious people for granted. 


Without them, who would lift us up when we fall?  How would we ever keep warm?