Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Thanksgiving for the Life of Lib Tatum

Psalm 27

One thing have I desired of the Lord, we read in the psalm just a moment ago. One thing have I desired of the Lord, which I will require, even that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the fair beauty of the Lord, and to visit his temple.

It is difficult to imagine a house more beautiful than this one, this house of the Lord that is St. Paul’s Episcopal Church. The stained glass windows in which light and color dance to tell the story of Jesus Christ. The rich hangings, today in white and purple and yellow and green, that adorn the sacred places where the word of God and the body of Christ are broken open for us. The carefully and lovingly stitched needlepoint on the kneelers at the altar. The brass, curled and shaped and intricately etched as embellishment, as support, and as the cross that leads us into worship in this beautiful house of the Lord.

One thing have I desired….to live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life. Lib very nearly did, I’m told. For more than 80 years, she worshipped in this house. She worshipped, and she cooked, and she carried out the many ministries of the women of the church. And as a member of the altar guild, Lib tended to this house, preparing it for worship; she cared for the hangings and the brass and the needlepoint, making everything beautiful.

Yes, Lib lived, she came alive, in this house.

But throughout all those 80 years and more – indeed all the days of her life – God was also at work in her. God is at work in all of us, tending to us and making us beautiful. And through Lib, through all of us, God is at work in the world. In fact, God lived, God came alive in Jesus Christ so that we might learn from him how to care for one another, how to tend to one another, how to love one another, how to see what is beautiful in all people, in all of creation.

And just when we thought that in Jesus’ death we had seen the extent to which that care, that love, that desire to make us beautiful would go, Jesus lived. As light and color dance in the window that tells this story, so did heaven and earth dance on the day of Resurrection, because on that day Jesus lived so that we might live, so that we might truly come alive. So that we might, although we die, live forever in the house of the Lord.

Sometimes, if you look closely – sometimes if you just look – there are fingerprints on the brass. The hangings aren’t quite even. A prayerbook is out of place. Sometimes in our kitchen soup burns on the stove, and sometimes we run out of doughnuts. Sometimes our thoughts wander in worship, and sometimes we sing off key. Sometimes we are afraid, or forget, or choose not to care, to tend, to love. We can and often do hold such imperfections against ourselves and against one another. But God does not. Indeed, if we look closely – sometimes if we just look – our fingerprints and fears are the very places we can see God at work in and through us, carefully and lovingly tending to the beauty deep within.

Because of God’s work in and through Jesus Christ, we are able in this beautiful if imperfect house to catch glimpses of the house of the Lord in which Lib and all the faithful who have gone before us now live. In each other’s beautiful if imperfect lives we are able to glimpse something of the beauty of the Lord, which they now see face to face. In the places where God is at work in and through us, we are able to glimpse something of the perfection to which God has brought Lib and will bring us when we, too, are standing in God’s presence.

With the psalmist, then, let us also desire thing of the Lord, one thing which we will require: to dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of our life, to behold the fair beauty of the Lord, and to visit his temple. Amen.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Proper 7 B

Job 38:1-11,16-18; Psalm 107:1-3,23-32; 2 Corinthians 5:14-21; Mark 4:35-41 [5:1-20]

When I was in elementary school, my family spent a few summers living with my grandparents in South Carolina. These were wonderful summers, full of ice cream sandwiches, jars of fireflies, Big Wheel races, and being barefoot outside all day. The only part of the day I didn’t like was Quiet Time, right after lunch, when we all went to our own rooms, and mom set a timer for a bazillion hours and put it in the hallway. It wasn’t so much that I didn’t want to rest, or read my mom’s old Nancy Drew books, or play quietly – it was that I knew as soon as that timer went ‘ding’ we would pull on our bathing suits, still damp from the day before, and go down to the lake for an afternoon of swimming.

One of those summers, though – a summer very unlike this one! – the ‘ding’ of the timer that brought us racing out of our rooms also brought on dark storm clouds, and more often than not, there we were, my brother and I, in our bathing suits, sitting on our towels by the sliding glass doors, watching the rain go down to the lake, counting the seconds between lightening flashes and thunderclaps, and singing a song we had learned at school, “It’s gonna rain, rain, rain, rain, rain, rain…100% chance of rain!” It became that summer’s theme song.

Most days the storm would pass, and we’d get to swim, but sometimes it just rained the rest of the day, and then we had to play inside. By dinner time, we’d have worked ourselves up into our own storm, with toys and coloring books strewn everywhere as though a great wind had blown right through the house. And chances were, cooped up inside, our little disappointed tempers would flare up into a squall or two of their own….On those days, the chaos inside reflected the chaos through those sliding glass doors.

The fishermen among the disciples would not have thought it strange that a storm would come suddenly upon them as they crossed the Sea of Galilee that night. Such storms were common. Mark doesn’t tell us how long they wrestled with the boat before they realized it was filling with water faster than they could empty it out. I suspect they were actually angry with Jesus when they shook him awake, not expecting any miracle, just expecting him to pull his weight – he was sleeping while they were sinking?!?! They needed all the hands they could get. Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing? Come on, get up, here’s a bucket, now quick….

We are hearing this story safe on dry land – I imagine most of us have, thankfully, not been on a small boat in the middle of a raging sea. But we do know about storms, about wind and water and thunder and lightening, how storms can literally change our landscape, crush our endeavors, wash away our livelihoods, even our lives.

And we all know it doesn’t have to rain, and the wind doesn’t have to blow, for us to feel like we’re caught in a terrible storm. Violence, poverty, hunger, hatred, and suspicion are like mighty swells in our great sea of humanity, and pride and greed and power can be like a blinding rain.

Our own church – the Episcopal church, the whole Anglican Communion – is caught in a whirlwind, in which so many are convinced that the Holy Spirit is blowing their way. The compass spins, and many hands on deck are trying to keep the boat from breaking into pieces as it plows through uncharted waters.

And then, there are the storms in our own lives, our personal storms, those times and circumstances that keep us from smooth sailing. Sometimes they come upon us suddenly, unexpectedly, and we are caught unprepared for the force of their fury. Sometimes we hear the thunder rumbling far off in the distance, we feel the pressure begin to change, and we brace ourselves for the worst. Sometimes the storms pass quickly, and sometimes our little boats fill with water faster than we can empty them out, and we feel ourselves sinking.

We try everything we know to stay sea-worthy, and when all that fails, we cling to whatever piece of stability, of control we can find. We are afraid of having our landscape changed, our endeavors crushed, our livelihoods or even our lives washed away. We angrily turn to God, and very often we do expect a miracle. Lord, don’t you care that we are perishing? Come on, get up, grab a bucket, do something….

On that stormy night on the Sea of Galilee, Jesus did wake up, and sounding for all the world like a mother during after-lunch Quiet Time or at the height of a storm-induced sibling squall, he said Peace, be still. We hear those words as comfort, and they certainly can be, but in the original text they actually have considerable force behind them, as if Jesus were to say, “Be quiet, now get a hold of yourselves!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm.

The wind ceased and the waves subsided, but only, I think, as a courtesy. You see, I think Jesus wasn’t speaking as much to the storm outside as he was speaking to the disciples, to the storm inside them – to the fear, the panic, the doubt, the need for control, the lack of faith. A little wind and rain was nothing compared to the storms that were to come in his life and in theirs, the howling, raging storms that would lead to the cross. Jesus knew that the landscape would indeed be forever wonderfully changed if they could just hang on a while longer. The wind and water obeyed Jesus, but it was the disciples’ faithful response – and ours – that Jesus wanted.

It’s gonna rain, rain, rain….100% chance. The wind is going to blow. Sometimes the storms are out there, sometimes they are in here. Sometimes they descend upon us, sometimes we stir them up ourselves. However they happen, they throw our lives into chaos.

Peace, be still. Jesus’ words are an echo of the command God gave the infant sea in the story of creation, at least as God tells it in the Book of Job. Sounding for all the world like a mother or father speaking about and speaking to a child, God said to Job, Who shut in the sea with doors when it burst out from the womb? I made the clouds its garment, and thick darkness its swaddling band, and prescribed bounds for it, and set bars and doors, and said, ‘Thus far shall you come, and no farther, and here shall your proud waves be stopped’….Peace, be still. Job had been sitting, miserable and wet, on the wrong side of the sliding glass door, in the middle of the worst storm of his life, his landscape, his endeavors, his livelihood all washed away. All he had left was his faith that God loved him, but when even that began to waver, Job worked himself up into a storm and demanded that God wake up. Do you not care that I am perishing?

Peace, be still, Job, God seems to say. Stop your proud waves. I am here, and I do care, and I hold all things, and you cannot control this storm. But you can cling to me.

Perhaps because of that night on the Sea of Galilee, a storm-tossed boat with a cross for a mast has long been an image for the church. With generations of sailors we cry out to God, "The sea is so wide and our boat is so small…." But Dame Julian of Norwich, a 14th century English mystic, gives us an image of the care that God does indeed have for us, because we are so easily lost, so easily overwhelmed, so very small. Julian wrote, "I saw that [Jesus] is to us everything which is good and comforting for our help. He is our clothing, who wraps and enfolds us for love, embraces us and shelters us, surrounds us for his love, which is so tender that he may never desert us….

"And in this he showed me something small, no bigger than a hazelnut, lying in the palm of my hand, as it seemed to me, and it was as round as a ball. I looked at it with the eye of my understanding and thought: What can this be? I was amazed that it could last, for I thought that because of its littleness it would suddenly have fallen into nothing. And I was answered in my understanding: It lasts and always will, because God loves it; and thus everything has being through the love of God.

"In this little thing I saw three properties. The first is that God made it, the second is that God loves it, the third is that God keeps and preserves it."

Why are we still afraid? Have we still no faith?

It’s gonna rain. 100% chance. But Jesus himself calls us to the other side of the sliding glass door, calls us into the boat, as he has called all his disciples, knowing full well that there are storms ahead. In the midst of the whirlwind and in the waves of our own making, he says, Peace, be still – not to the wind and the water, but to us. In the midst of the storm, he wants us to see him, that he is there, he does care, and our little boat, storm-tossed as it may be, is indeed pointed toward the harbor he has prepared, if we would just stop trying to wrestle with it.

"And thus," Dame Julian writes, "Our good Lord answered to all the questions and doubts that I might make, saying full comfortably, ‘I may make all things well; I can make all things well, and I will make all things well, and I shall make all things well. And you yourself shall see that all manner of thing shall be well.’" Amen.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Day of Pentecost

Acts 2:1-11; Psalm 104:25-32; 1 Corinthians 12:4-13; John 20:19-23

What a joyful noise we just made! A marvelous jumble of sounds and words and voices! All those languages at once speaking the same gospel, the same good news, the same story of the night when Jesus breathed the Holy Spirit – the breath, the life of God – on the disciples, filling them with power to do God’s work in the world.

The Holy Spirit – the breath, the life of God – has always been moving in and around and through God’s work in the world. It was the Spirit who brooded over the waters at the beginning of creation. The same Spirit breathed life into those created in God’s image. Throughout the Hebrew scriptures, the same Spirit filled judges and prophets and dreams with the voice of God speaking in fiery passion or a still, small voice. The Spirit of God overshadowed Mary, and she conceived and bore a son. The same Spirit came down like a dove as Jesus came up from the Jordan River waters. Taking a deep breath, he went out to do God’s work in the world. The same Spirit.

But on the Day of Pentecost, the Spirit did something new. The breath, the life of God, moved, no, rushed in and around and through the disciples; and then, it rested on them. It rested in them. And although the disciples knew that Jesus had ascended, had left them and returned to God, they suddenly felt closer to him than ever before, as close as their own breath. On the Day of Pentecost, the disciples began a new life as Christ’s Body in the world, guided, protected, strengthened and empowered by that same Spirit.

It was a intimate moment….that sounded like a zoo at feeding time! One Spirit, one Body….but all those languages, all those voices! We heard only a few languages this morning, but the Book of Acts tells us that people from every nation under heaven were there that day, and that each one heard the disciples speaking in the native language of each. Visitors from Rome, residents of Mesopotamia, and Arabs heard them speaking about God’s deeds of power. Egyptians heard fluent Egyptian, Pamphylians heard perfect Pamphylian!

Do you hear what I hear? Bishop Gray heard, and has been repeating it to us over and over again. Filled with the Holy Spirit, living as the Body of Christ, our first and most essential act is to proclaim the good news to the whole world, and not just to people who speak the same language that we do. That may mean learning Spanish or Swedish or Pamphylian, but language isn’t just about ethnicity, nationality, or geography. The Woods know that – Nicholas and Henley and Ashby speak to them all the time. They don’t use words, but their parents and siblings still understand, mostly….

The truth is, we all speak many languages, whether we know French or German or just English. Our words and actions and voices and memories and emotions, our hands and faces and posture, our experiences and our silences, all of who we are speaks. Recognizing this, our baptismal covenant calls us to proclaim by word and example the good news of God in Christ.

Each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. This morning, an Episcopal parish in Pennsylvania is reading the gospel in many languages….all of which are English. Some of the voices are reading right from the bible. Some are telling the story in their own words. There are male and female voices, very young and very old voices, soft and loud voices. There are tired voices, excited voices, angry voices, anxious voices, hesitant voices, fearful voices, grieving voices. One Spirit, one Body….all those languages, all those voices at once speaking the same gospel, the same good news. Is one of them your native language? Perhaps several of them you understand, mostly….

The same Spirit rests in each one of us, and as Christ’s Body we are sent into a cacophonous world. Taking a deep breath or two or more, we are inspired, empowered to plunge deep into life, to proclaim by word and example the good news of God in Christ first and especially in the lives of those no one else wants to speak to or listen to, those who are lost in their own languages, and those who have retreated into wordlessness. To learn to speak these languages we will have to listen very carefully – they are sometimes only audible in a rattling cough, only visible in an outstretched hand, only understood in a shared experience.

And sometimes, we find ourselves not in the midst of cacophony but, rather, a profound silence. Grief and loss in waves overwhelm us, take our breath away, and we cannot find in any language a single word to speak. Paul gently reminds us that in these difficult times, the same Spirit, on the breath of God, intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words.

Receive the Holy Spirit. We have good news for the world – a message of forgiveness and reconciliation and salvation, a story about God coming among us as close as our own breath. And we tell it best by listening, by engaging in the lives of our sisters and brothers, by hearing their voices and how they make meaning. Through the Holy Spirit, God is so intimately present in our lives – through the same Spirit we are present in one another’s lives, and that intimacy speaks volumes, silently or aloud, and even if we only understand one another mostly. One Spirit. One Body. Many members. Many languages. One Word, Jesus Christ. Amen.