Sunday, October 30, 2011

Third time's a...

...well.  I'm hoping it's going to be a sock.

The first time was going to be a sock.  Knitting a pair of fingerless mitts (I haven't told you much about those yet, but I will!) on double points made me remember how much I like the fiddly feeling of double points and so I settled on socks.  Out of my sock yarn stash leapt the skein of Opal I brought home from Scotland more than three years ago, because the colors reminded me of the stones and sea there.

I searched for a pattern that could also remind me of the sea, and picked Jaywalker (sorry - Ravelry link!) with its pointed chevron waves.  The pattern actually called for Opal yarn on the exact size needles I planned to use and so I skipped the gauge swatch (not that I would have been inclined to knit one anyway).  I had read on Ravelry that the pattern didn't have much give, but all yarn gives, right?

I cast on and found the pattern perfect for the yarn.  It was easy to memorize and before I knew it I had turned the heel and was well on my way through the gusset.  No matter that it seemed a little narrow.  All yarn gives, right?

Finally I had knit enough to try the sock on, and I pictured my toes sticking out from between the double points as I happily slid it on.

All yarn does not give.  Not when you knit it in patterns that don't give.

And yet I kept knitting, because surely all yarns give after you've washed and blocked a garment, right?  I kept knitting, because even if the socks didn't fit I could give them away to someone with smaller feet.  I kept knitting, because the thought of ripping out socks knit all the way to the gusset...

Which meant that when reason finally prevailed (or it may have been selfishness - I really wanted to keep the socks) there was all that much more sock to rip out.

So the second time was still going to be a sock, still using Jaywalker, still using the same yarn and needles - I just went up one size in the pattern.  I cast on again, and because the pattern was now so familiar, the sock went quickly.  I could tell it was larger, and was certain that this time it would fit just fine.

Just after knitting the gusset, I tried my sock on..., the third time I am really, really, really hoping this is going to be a sock.  No more Jaywalker, even though I love how the yarn looked knit up in that pattern.  Now I'm going with Twisted, which reminds me of the ridges of stones and sand and shallow ripples of water along the seashore in Scotland.  The yarn called for and needle size are comparable, so I skipped the gauge swatch (I learn slowly) and cast on.

They say the third time's a charm.  I just hope the third time gives.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Preach One: Proper 25A

Preached at Holy Trinity Episcopal Church in Crystal Springs, MS, and St. Matthew's Episcopal Church in Forest, MS.

Deuteronomy 34:1-12; Psalm 90:1-6, 13-17; 1 Thessalonians 2:1-8; Matthew 22:34-46

"Do not let the cabin door slam."  It was always a rule at the summer camp where I worked as a counselor.  One of our first-day-of-camp traditions, after everyone had made up their bunks and taken their swim tests, was to work together on a list of cabin rules.  "Do not leave food in the cabin," someone would add, perhaps remembering a mouse incident from the summer before.  "Do not talk after lights out," we had to put on our list, but everyone knew it really meant, "Do not talk loudly-enough-for-the-counselor-on-night-duty-to-hear-you after lights out."  Of course another rule was always, "Be kind and respect each other."

It was a pretty good list of eight or ten rules that would help us live together at camp.  Which of the rules do you think was most important?  I know the answer should be, "Be kind and respect each other," but I was partial to the rule I always contributed to the list, arachnophobe that I am: "Kill your own spiders."  I could start a fire in the rain, comfort a homesick camper, sing countless bedtime songs, and inspire my campers to win the most cabin inspections, but if someone found a spider in their bunk, they were going to have to take care of it themselves.

Our ancestors in faith had a few more than eight or ten rules to help them live together in community.  Hebrew scriptures list 613 laws in all, 613 commandments: 248 "thou shalts" and 365 "thou shalt nots," covering every imaginable courtesy, every imaginable quarrel, every imaginable way one might help or harm another.

It had all started, of course, with the commandments Moses copied down on stone tablets and carried across deserts and rivers and mountains to the very edge of the Promised Land.  We just wrote our cabin rules on poster board and hung them beside the not-to-be-slammed door.  Eventually, the commandments came to be kept by religious authorities who studied them rigorously and applied them vigorously so that, by Jesus' day, the commandments seemed to set people against one another rather than binding them together.

It was impossible to follow all the rules at camp.  Racing out of the cabin after rest period, swimsuits and towels in hand for free swim, someone always let the door slam.  There was always a secret stash of candy or homemade cookies.  Late night whispers would always give way to giggles and loud shushing.  Someone was always more afraid of spiders than I was.

If our eight or ten rules couldn't be faithfully kept, surely it was all the more impossible to follow all the commandments of God.  In the wilderness God's people broke the rules before the rules even made it down the mountain, worshiping a golden calf instead of God, and while God forgave them time and time again, the religious authorities were less lenient.  So it was that they took issue with Jesus, who seemed intent on breaking the rules left and right.  He touched people who were unclean.  He worked on the Sabbath.  He ate with sinners.  He called himself God.

When Jesus arrived in Jerusalem, the religious authorities grew even more alarmed.  The people loved him, showing him all glory, laud and honor as they waved their palm branches and shouted their hosannas.  But at every turn and with every word, Jesus seemed to disregard both the law that ordered Jewish life and the leaders who ordered Jewish law.  He had torn down tables in the temple courtyard, shouting something about unfair sacrifices people were forced to make there in order to make the faithful sacrifices commanded in the law.  In parable after parable he had claimed God's kingdom not for those who carefully guarded its gates but rather for those who slipped in through its cracks.  Furious, and frantic to preserve the order they worshiped, the authority they enjoyed, the commandments they kept, Jerusalem's religious leaders sought to reign in this rabbi.

Which of the rules do you think is the most important? a lawyer among the Pharisees asked Jesus, and there was no way for Jesus to answer correctly.  Rabbinic teachings interpreted the law in a variety of ways, counting and ordering and weighing the commandments differently, sot hat no matter how Jesus answered, no matter which commandment he chose, the lawyer could claim a different interpretation and prove Jesus wrong.

And so Jesus did not choose a single commandment.  He chose all of them.  And he named them all, Love.  'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.'  This is the greatest and first commandment.  And a second is like it: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'  On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

There wasn't a single commandment, Jesus answered, that wasn't about love - which is to say, about God - at the center of life in community, at the center of all our relationships, of all our encounters with one another, with our neighbors, and with our deepest and truest selves.  Love - which is to say, God - is at the center of it all.  Not the feeling kind of love, the warm fuzzy kind of love that makes us weep at weddings or at the sight of spectacular sunsets, but the kind of love with which God loves, the kind of love that God is, the kind of love by which God created us and called us into community in the first place.

Scriptural scholar Douglas Hare writes, "The primary component of biblical love is not affection but commitment...stubborn, unwavering commitment," no matter how many times the rules are broken.  I will be your God, and you will be my people, God promised, and God has kept that promise, loving us thoroughly and unconditionally and not at all warmly and fuzzily, although assurance of God's love deeply comforts our hearts and souls and minds.  God's love is fierce.  It is active.  It is forgiving.  It is redeeming.  It is reconciling.  It is welcoming, healing, nurturing, embracing, seeking, celebrating, weeping, aching, leading, longing love.  God loves with all of who God is.  God is all Love.

And God, with every rule God gives, commands us to love, to be committed to God and our neighbors and ourselves with all of who we are, with all our heart and with all our soul and with all our mind.  Not just with the part of ourselves that feels affection.  Not just with the part of us that is afraid.  Not just with the part of us that is tolerant.  The rules say to love with all of who we are.

But all of who we are knows all sorts of other rules, too, written and unwritten, more even than the 613 laws of Hebrew scripture.  Rules like, Nice guys finish last.  You get what you deserve.  We can't all be winners.  Winning is everything.  Skinny is beautiful.  Real men don't cry.  Time is money.  Money is everything.  There are rules for success, rules for fitting in, rules for standing out, rules for getting what we want.  There are rules for what families should look like, what jobs are acceptable, what assistance is sufficient, what differences are tolerable.  There are so many rules that make demands of our time, our energy, our resources, and our attention.  How can we possibily give all of who we are to love, sharing as Paul and his helpers did not only the good news of God in Christ but our own selves, heart and soul and mind?

There is hope.  God chose us, God called us, God saved us, God loved us long before there were commandments carved in stone, long before Moses ever climbed that mountain.  In the beginning, God created us.  In God's own image, God created us.  And as Thomas Merton writes, "To say that I am made in the image of God is to say that love is the reason for my existence, for God is love.  Love is my true identity.  Selflessness is my true self.  Love is my true character.  Love is my name."  God does not ask us to do or be what we are not - in commanding us to love, God commands us to be who we are.  We are people made to be in community.  We are people made to be forgiving.  We are people made to heal, to nurture, to embrace, to weep, to ached, to seek, to reconcile, to love.  Sometimes we break the rules.  Sometimes we are afraid to keep them.  Sometimes we are braver than we realized, defeating spiders, or braver still, letting them live.

What rules are we living by today, in our lives, our communities, our church?  What rules shape our relationships, our encounters, the way we regard ourselves?  How would it be if we lived by only one rule?  What if that rule was Love?  Amen.

Artwork: "Thoughts on Communion," by Barbara Desrosiers; "God's Love," by Lee Ribal.

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Preach One: Proper 23A

Preached at St. Matthew's Episcopal Church, Forest, MS.

Exodus 32:1-14; Psalm 106:1-6, 19-23; Philippians 4:1-9; Matthew 22:1-14

From time to time at St. Andrew's Lower School I get comments on my clothes.  Sometimes it is a compliment.  I like your skirt, a child says, tugging on it.  I like your bracelet.  I like your cross.  Most of the time, though, the comments are about my blouse, especially about the white collar at the top.  What is that? they ask.  Why do you wear that?  I got a new question about the collar a few days ago, from a kindergartener: How do you get that off?  I didn't tell him that every priest wonders exactly the same thing by about 1:30 pm on Sunday afternoons.

I usually tell children the collar is like a uniform, something I wear to work every day, something that helps people know what my job is.  Whey they see someone dressed like me, they can know that person is probably someone who leads prayers and talks about God.  People who do other jobs wear different kinds of uniforms, like nurses, firemen, soldiers, and chefs.  We can tell what people do by what they wear.

So it is also, it seems, for those who are called and chosen by God.  I don't mean clergy; I mean all of us, for we are all of us invited by grace to be part of God's best plans for the world.  In the parable we have just heard Jesus tell, the King gathers everyone who will come, until the great hall prepared for a wedding feast is filled.  The kingdom may be compared to this, Jesus says.

It is not a favorite parable among preachers, who would gladly exchange their uniforms for just about any other on the Sunday this story is read.  One more Jesus spoke to the people in parables, Matthew begins, but already we are anxious.  In the last parable we heard, an angry landowner took terrible revenge on the tenants who refused to give him his harvest, who killed his servants and even his son.  We much prefer parables about scattering seeds, working the fields, tending sheep, and finding lost things.

This parable, though, is uncomfortably like the last.  An angry king takes terrible revenge on the townspeople who refused to come to his table, who killed his servants and dishonored his son.  Still, we might make sense of both stories by supposing that all who choose their own gain simply cannot live in a vineyard or a kingdom ruled by grace.  It would utterly destroy them.

And yet there is a vineyard to lease, this time to tenants who will gladly give first fruits to the landowner.  There is a wedding feast to share, this time with guests who will gladly come to the table.  The King sends out another round of invitations, instructing his remaining servants to go out into the streets to tell everyone they can find, both good and bad, that the King is waiting to welcome them.

What do you wear to a royal wedding?  Dress blues?  Glittering gowns?  Extravagant hats?  Long white gloves?  A collar?  It is important to wear the right thing, for the King can tell what we do by what we wear.  And, apparently, by what we do not wear.

He noticed there a man who was not wearing a wedding robe... Neither Jesus nor Matthew describes the missing garment or tells just what it means, leaving us to stare into our own wardrobes and wonder whether we, too, will be thrown into outer darkness.  We have been invited to the wedding feast.  Are we properly attired?

From start to finish, our holy scriptures are concerned with what we wear.  Why do you wear that? God asks Adam and Eve in the garden, and soon they are clothed not just in fig leaves but animal skins and whatever else they can find to hide their shame.  One day, though, marvels the writer of Revelation, those who have risen above living for themselves alone will wear white robes washed clean as a lamb.

"We are naked, literally and metaphorically, before the living God," writes Garcia Grindal, scholar and poet.  "We need to be dressed, not with the sartorial choices of our own will, but with the grace of God."  And so we are urged in scripture to put on Christ (Romans 13:14), to robe ourselves in righteousness (Ephesians 4:24), to clothes ourselves, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.

Each of us, all of us, good and bad, are invited by grace to be part of God's best plans for the world.  We are entrusted with the care of the vineyard.  We are invited to the wedding feast - not just a one-night affair, but a lifetime, even an eternity, as guests at God's groaning board.  What will we wear?

Our closets are full of clothes we have chosen to make ourselves look good, to make ourselves look successful, to make ourselves look important, to make ourselves look worthy, or at least like we're worth more than others.  We put on whatever we can find to hide our shame, our doubt, our anger, our selfishness, our weakness, our sin, our vulnerability, our nakedness before God.

But the invitation to kingdom life asks of us a willingness to garb ourselves in kingdom qualities, to wear love and mercy and forgiveness and humility and forgiveness and vulnerability and welcome on our sleeve.  Without that garment, even grace cannot keep us in the door, although perhaps the glimmer of good news in this parable is that grace will search the streets for us again and again until we are dressed and ready.  For even the disgraced guest is called friend...

The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son.  He sent his servants, saying, "Tell those who have been invited, which is to say, everyone, the good and the bad: Look, I have prepared my dinner...and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet."  We are invited.  We are called.  What will we wear?

May God's grace precede and follow us to the table, urging us to put on Christ, to wrap ourselves up in a life like his, loving and serving with gladness and singleness of heart, gaining not ourselves but a kingdom.  Amen.

Artwork: "The Party," by Jim Janknegt; "Waiting," by Nancy Stoller; "Claiming Table," artist unknown.