Sermons

Friday, April 30, 2010

Now the Green Blade Riseth

"When our hearts are wintry, grieving, or in pain, thy touch can call us back to life again, fields of our hearts that dead and bare have been: Love is come again like wheat that springeth green." (Hymnal 1982: #204)

Having been touched, something that was dead and bare springs to life again. Resurrection.

Wintry hearts - cold hearts, hardened hearts - are touched and quickened again. Resurrection.

We need resurrection in the world today. It's there, happening all the time, God making things new again. The lifeless coming back to life; hardened hearts softening, opening up to others. Resurrection is for now, not just for the end. But this is hard to see; our grieving is real and appropriate.

We grieve the things that are becoming bare. Today we grieve the loss of human life and the imminent loss of all kinds of wildlife, flora and fauna, in and around the waters and on the coast of Mississippi as the oil spill advances and washes ashore. We grieve the loss of vocation and income to those whose livelihoods depend on the fish and crustaceans there. And these things will not suddenly spring back to life again. It will take time, and effort, and money, and still more time. Things will not be the same on that part of this fragile earth, our island home. Our grieving is appropriate.

And yet we believe in resurrection. We know that the bare will spring green again, someday. We know that life rises out of death. We know that hearts will be softened somehow. We know that in the end, love will win. We know that all of us will go down to the dust, yet even at the grave we make our song: Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Love will win.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Tea Parties

This is my mother's tea set
from her childhood (late 1920's, early '30's).
It looks a lot like the tea set I had when I was little, too.

I wish when we were talking about tea parties these days,
it was this kind of tea party.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Going Somewhere

We're always supposed to be going somewhere (the Talking Heads song "Road to Nowhere" notwithstanding). Progress and growth mean being on the road to somewhere, although some of us wish to take the road less travelled while others are happy to adopt the goals others set for them, set their sights accordingly, and head out. Just "being" is usually not accepted as being on the road to somewhere. We worry that our kids need to be on the road to college and future success by being (only?) involved in resume-building activities. In our careers, we're supposed to be on the road that goes up the corporate ladder - who wants to admit they're happy to stay right where they are in assistant positions or middle management or in the file room?

(Speaking of the file room, in the mid- 70's, I knew some folks who truly did drop out of the rat race - a two- PhD couple who gave up the competitive academic world to work in a state agency's file room and "live simply" in a one-room cottage in the country with dogs, a garden, and a motorcycle. People said various things about them, some critical, some admiring, but in the end their experiment, like the communes that sprang up during the 60's, was a failure. One of them found living simply to include abandoning all societal expectations, like monogamy, and the other decided that this was not ok after all.)

Making our way through life is a great adventure. Not all of it turns out as planned. Much of that is actually fortuitous - our personal growth springs from dealing with adversity, changes of plan, being able to take advantage of opportunities, and living with and through uncertainty. But I think that "just being" ought to be an accepted part of everyone's journey, starting with childhood and going through adolescence and on into adulthood's stages as well. We need to stop and take stock every now and then, to reassess our location and decide whether or not we wish to proceed. We need to stop and just admire the view, in age-appropriate "just looking at the clouds" behavior. It needs to be ok to turn around or take a fork in the road or just to sit for a while not going anywhere. We need to get better at being present to where we are, to the people around us, to ourselves.

I think we do better at contemplative spirituality - lots of people value the idea of being present to God in silence and contemplation, to rest in the arms of God as Thomas Keating says. And while I don't at all advocate separation of the spiritual life from other parts of one's life, there is still something about just being that isn't the same as being present to God in silence. Being present to others is often not in silence. Being present to ourselves is necessary too.

Life is a journey, there is a path that we all follow, we are fellow pilgrims in this life. I value all that. I use that metaphor all the time and have written about it frequently here. But there are times, as the beautiful hymn "It came upon a midnight clear" says, that we should rest beside the weary road and hear the angels sing. To just be and be ok with that.

Morning Prayer - A Litany of Thanksgiving


Let us give thanks to God our Father for all his gifts so freely bestowed upon us.

For the beauty and wonder of your creation, in earth and sky and sea,
We thank you, Lord.
For all that is gracious in the lives of men and women, revealing the image of Christ,
We thank you, Lord.
For our daily food and drink, our homes and families, and our friends,
We thank you, Lord.
For minds to think, and hearts to love, and hands to serve,
We thank you, Lord.
For health and strength to work, and leisure to rest and play,
We thank you, Lord.
For the brave and courageous, who are patient in suffering and faithful in adversity,
We thank you, Lord.
For all valiant seekers after truth, liberty, and justice,
We thank you, Lord.
For the communion of saints, in all times and places,
We thank you, Lord.
Above all, we give you thanks for the great mercies and promises given to us in Christ Jesus our Lord;
To him be praise and glory, with you, O Father, and the Holy Spirit, now and for ever. Amen.

(BCP 837)

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Juggling

Many of us feel that we spend a fair amount of our lives juggling. And not the fun kind of juggling, either, but juggling the stuff on our schedules, juggling the various parts of our lives - family, friends, work, exercise, chores, hobbies. I know some people who are mostly only able to juggle the stuff in only one or two areas - just juggling work stuff or family stuff. And I think most of us feel that we are not very good at juggling and that we are always dropping one of the balls (or penguins, in the case of juggling penguins). There's a sort of frantic quality to juggling. Maybe more serene folks are the ones who are simply "striving for balance" while the rest of us feel as if we are always scrambling and lurching and most definitely always off balance, with more balls in the air than we can possibly deal with.

It's funny to watch clowns juggling, pretending to always be on the verge of catching themselves on fire while juggling those things that look like flaming bowling pins. Or someone like Tim Conway trying to catch or stop all those dimes he was trying to carry in big paper bags from rolling away in the old Chase Manhattan Bank commercials, which was not juggling but captures the sense of out-of-controlness I'm thinking of.

But it's not funny to watch a friend or family member all strung out on the stress of juggling all the time. There have been many times when I have answered a friend's "how are you?" inquiry by simply listing all the things I'm jugging, which of course gave the friend the definite impression that "I am too busy to take on anything else so please don't ask me to do anything, including make time for you!"

There is a great little story in Exodus when Moses was functioning as God's general in the battle with the Amalekites. Joshua commanded the Israelites on the field, and Moses stood on the hill overlooking the skirmish, his famous Red Sea Rod in hand. If Moses held his arms up, then the Israelites would be winning the battle, and if he put his arms down, the Amalekites would surge ahead. So Moses held his arms up. But eventually, Moses' arms got tired. So first, Aaron and Hur brought him a big rock to sit on, and then they stood beside him and Aaron held up one arm and Hur held up the other, and Israel won the battle. (Exodus 17:8-13)

Our lives are busy, and there is a certain amount of juggling that is, I suppose, inevitable. It's highly entertaining when it's the Zucchini Brothers doing the juggling at the Renaissance Festival. And if juggling energizes us and gives us life and a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction, then all well and good. But if it's because we secretly believe that we have to keep juggling in order to keep the whole world from falling apart, if we keep frantically catching each new ball thrown to us and add it to the circle of flying balls (or penguins), then we are not living the life abundant that God wants for us. We're just running ourselves ragged.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Sunday Reading

Today is Good Shepherd Sunday, falling on the heels of Earth Day. So here is some appropriate Earthy reading.

First, a short post on one of The New Yorker blogs about the global impact of the Icelandic volcano, Eyjafjallajokull called "Laughing at the Volcano," which begins "Icelanders apparently think that this whole volcano business is funny -- which is a bit rich coming from people who came up with the name Eyjafjallajokull."

And this fascinating essay in the New York Times by Simon Winchester, the man who brought us The Professor and the Madman, "a tale of murder, insanity, and the making of the Oxford English Dictionary" called "A Tale of Two Volcanoes." Winchester compares and contrasts the activity of the current Icelandic volcano with the blast created by a similar tiny vent opening up on the island of Krakatoa in Indonesia in 1883. You won't want to miss the part about the Edvard Munch painting "The Scream" and its relationship to Krakatoa.

And from the Daily Mail (UK), some cool photos here.

Happy Reading!



Saturday, April 24, 2010

Lenses

Everything we see or think about, we see or think about or approach through some sort of lens. Much of the time we are not particularly aware of our lenses, but we can make ourselves become aware of the lens through which we are seeing things. Our lenses naturally change all the time ("when I was a child, I thought like a child....") . They change just by virtue of our own selves changing, but also we can deliberately choose a lens through which to view the world, or at least a particular situation. This is like walking a mile in someone else's shoes - we can choose to see through the eyes of another. We can choose another point of view.

It would be nice to go through life with our lenses all arranged like a kaleidoscope where we could make a slight turn and easily look at things through a variety of lenses. Where some of the same images or experiences or "facts" are arranged differently. We could always be ready to view a situation or a person or an idea through multiple lenses. To not only view them but appreciate the view(s) as well.

It is discouraging when we cling to our own point of view so tightly that we cannot see that there may be other points of view. Others may have other lenses that are quite valid and valuable. But often we feel that there can only be one way to see something and those who see it our way are right and those who do not see it our way are wrong. And inferior - "when you get older, you'll see it my way and then you'll understand" - as if "you" don't actually have any understanding now. Mea culpa, I am so guilty of this.

Lord, give me eyes to see.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Brokenness

I love the beach. The sun, the sand, the waves, the breeze and the wind the critters, the shells, in any season or kind of weather. I love walking along the water's edge (the land's edge) for hours, swimming and floating and wading, sitting on the edge of the water just looking, and of course searching for shells. I don't remember the first time I went to the beach - I grew up within three hours of the Outer Banks and we just always went to the beach every summer. There are all kinds of vacations and all kinds of trips, but beach time is something more than these for me.

I am an expert seashell seeker and finder. I can walk along the shoreline and spot good shells and reject broken ones without doing much stopping or even slowing down. After a couple of walks at a new beach, or in a new season, I figure out what the common shells are and which ones are the real finds, and adjust my search requirements and habits accordingly. I learned on a visit to Hatteras that the Scotch Bonnet, the official state shell of North Carolina, is best found in the very early morning before the professional shellers are out collecting. I know there are some places where the best shells must be found in the shallow water itself, and I have a pretty good eye for finding them, too.

And because I secretly believe that God lives at the beach, I use my beach walks as particular and extended opportunities for prayer, for conversation with, and listening for, God. For several years, on more than one occasion, as I would be walking along wrestling with something in the silence among the roar or the gentle lapping of the waves, depending on the tide, a beautiful, glistening shell would just wash up right in front of me, often when there were no other shells in sight. I saw that as confirmation that God was listening to me and sending me a gift. Often the shell would be a perfect specimen of what I had been looking for, or a particularly large version, or just something that said to me, "I hear you, beloved." A few of these are in my car now, where I can see them and instantly remember those shining occasions.

I've been through many phases of shell seeking. Like most little kids, I was happy at first with whatever I came across. So long as it was a big shell, no matter how common or whether or not it was broken or very worn down, it was a keeper. Then I grew into looking for the uncommon shells - the special ones that I could look up on the restaurant placemat or wall chart at the fishing pier or eventually in a field guide. That phase lasted a long time. And they had to be perfect, or very nearly so, to merit my attention and desire.

For a while I was into miniatures. Certain places (I particularly remember my first trip to St Croix) featured very tiny versions of whelks and periwinkles and augers. At other times, it was color or pattern that attracted me. I became enamored of the olive shell variety called the "lettered olive," so-named because it looks as if it has been polished and decorated with hieroglyphics. (The lettered olive is the state shell of South Carolina.) And of course there is the shell that represents a particular place. I have a pile of shells that all look exactly alike that came from this trip or that vacation. When I went to Cape Cod the first time, I actually came back with a bunch of rocks. If you've been to Cape Cod, you know what I am talking about.

At some point in the last couple of years, though, I have cared less about perfection. Maybe this is because I've collected so many shells for so many years. Maybe I have finally become able to appreciate something that isn't perfect or particularly unusual.

A few years ago, on a trip to Pawley's Island to rest and reflect after spending the summer as a hospital chaplain, I collected broken pieces of several types of shells (particularly whelks - broken whelks are pretty easy to find along the East coast) with an idea that I might make a collage out of them. All the pieces of a whole shell would be in a frame, but they wouldn't all be the same size or color and the breaks or seams would be clearly evident. So one could easily see and identify the shell for what it was supposed to be or had been or might be under other circumstances but wasn't actually that now. I never actually made one - I got busy and the pieces ended up in the garden or a pile somewhere - but I still like the idea of that project very much.

One can spend a lot of time looking for "special" things or people and seeking perfection. This has merit - it brings one pleasure to seek and find something special and beautiful. But I am learning to find the beauty in brokenness, too, to see that pieces and seams and things that don't quite fit have their own beauty and meaning. Probably God sent me many of the broken shell gifts too on my walks all my life, but I wasn't able to recognize them at the time.

Holy Saturday Morning Prayer



O God, Creator of heaven and earth:
Grant that, as the crucified body of your dear Son
was laid in the tomb and rested on this holy Sabbath,
so we may await with him the coming of the third day,
and rise with him to newness of life;
who now lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

(BCP 221)

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Earth Day Photo Collage - 10





Earth Day Photo Collage - 9



Earth Day Photo Collage - 8


Earth Day Photo Collage - 7


Earth Day Photo Collage - 6


Earth Day Photo Collage - 5


Earth Day Photo Collage - 4


Earth Day Photo Collage - 3


Earth Day Photo Collage - 2


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