Saturday, August 08, 2009

Friday Vespers

I don't know how many folks besides my mom and a couple of friends visit here... In case you are a visitor, you should know that the last six blog entries and this one - seven in all, then (I can do a very, very little math!) - are all of a piece. I had the enormous joy and privilege of serving as chaplain for a Summer Guest Period at Kanuga Conference Center, where in addition to preaching and celebrating on Sunday morning, I was charged with conducting a service of vespers each evening. Except for Wednesday, when we had an early morning service of Holy Eucharist instead.

The lectionary I used invited us to explore a series of parables in which Jesus speaks of the kingdom of God, not a far stretch when you're in a place as lovely and kingdom-ly as Kanuga. I enjoyed the opportunity to knit threads together (sadly, the only needles-and-yarn knitting I got done was a wee turtle-y bit on my quilt) from one homily to the next.

So here is the last homily in the series, woven through with threads from each day we were there, along with pictures of the kingdom of heaven, which is to say, Kanuga...

Matthew 13:53-58

“There’s no use trying,” Alice said. “One can’t believe impossible things.”

“I daresay you haven’t had much practice,” said the Queen. “When I was your age I always did it for half-an-hour each day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”

The Queen in Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass was obviously not from Nazareth, where no one, it seems, practiced believing impossible things. Word of Jesus’ miracles and whispers of messiah had reached Nazareth before Jesus did. People were talking about him. Where did this man get this ‘wisdom’ (the kingdom of heaven is like...?!) and where did he get these ‘deeds of power’? Isn’t he Mary’s kid? And aren’t his brothers and sisters all here?

You know how small towns are. Everyone knew Jesus. Everyone remembered when he was a kid, how he and his friends used to chase each other through the marketplace, how he tugged at his mother’s dress when he wanted her to pick him up, how he was learning to be a carpenter, how he was always strangely sensitive to others. Nothing and no one else in Nazareth had changed since he left - why should it be any different with him?

For half-an-hour each day, in the various places we have gathered for vespers, we have been practicing believing impossible things about Jesus and the kingdom he proclaimed, the marvelous, transforming, persistent, stubborn, hidden, revealed, wide open, here and now kingdom of heaven. Wednesday morning we even did it before breakfast, and if you count the two parables we heard at that service, the eucharistic prayer with its claims that we are made in God’s image, that Jesus shared our human nature, and that he lived and died as one of us, the affirmation that the bread and wine become spiritual gifts of his body and blood, and the faithfulness of the small congregation in St. Francis chapel that remained through the whole service even though the heavens showered us with showers...well, that’s at least eight impossible things we believed before we even had our toast and coffee.

Now it’s time for us to go home. I suspect - I certainly pray - that we will all be warmly received in our hometowns in something of the same way we were warmly received when we arrived here one week ago. Where is home for you? Charleston? Tuscaloosa? Evanston? Spartanburg? Savannah?

Where is home for you? Our Presiding Bishop began her sermon with this question on the day of her consecration at the National Cathedral? Where is home for you? she asked. How would you define your home? What makes it home? Familiar landscape, a quality of life, or the presence of a particular people?

A familiar landscape...a quality of life...the presence of a particular people... Where is home for you? Many of you have been coming to Kanuga for so long that you have seen friends and family members grow up here. You knew them when they were children running to the Baker Building, when they tugged at their mother’s sleeves to be picked up, when they swam at the little beach, when they held their parents’ hands as they walked to dinner. Every time you return to this familiar landscape, this very special quality of life, the presence of these particular people, they have grown, and so have you, and some things are different, but whether you’ve been here one year or thirty or more, it’s not so impossible to believe that here you are home.

Here are six more impossible things. Yes, Jesus was Mary’s son...and he is the Son of God. Yes, he was the carpenter...and he builds us up day by day. Yes, his brothers and sisters lived in Nazareth...and they live in Charleston and Tuscaloosa and Spartanburg and Evanston and Savannah and anywhere and everywhere and right here. We are his sisters and brothers, but we are not only his family - we are his home. Will we welcome him? Do we believe he can work wonders here?

Wherever it is that we are from, wherever we have lived or journeyed along the way, our true home is in Jesus Christ, in his kingdom that is sown deep in this familiar place, that leavens our lives, that is hidden in plain sight, that gathers the whole world to itself. Jim Callahan writes, “When we really begin to believe that, when we seek God in the ordinary, daily wash of things and find God in nothing more complicated than each other and in God’s beautiful, dangerous, gorgeous creation, ‘mighty works’ begin to happen.” Mighty works. Impossible things. Things like mercy, compassion, healing, justice, forgiveness, reconciliation, joy, understanding, and laughter. Things like running up Wolf Mountain, painting your first watercolor, surviving a bee sting, seeing a rainbow, and making toast that crunches through and through.

There’s no place like home. Amen.


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