Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Sermon for Year B Lent 5

…the swift and varied changes of the world…

The swift and varied changes of the world.
That is what we hear in the collect today.

I don’t know about you
but for me the last few weeks have indeed been swift and varied.
My days and weeks have been intense and busy.

I laughed when I noticed that I had written at the bottom of March
on my calendar:
“Keep this month free of commitments.”
The reality is
my March calendar has overflowed with appointments and meetings
and due dates.
You can hardly see the white of the calendar page beneath the ink!

Keep this month free of commitments.
Well, it was a worthy goal when I wrote it there a few months earlier
when I dreamed of a peaceful, quiet Lent.

The swift and varied changes of the world
often change our plans, fill our calendars,
shift us in other directions.

It seems evident in today’s gospel—
and as we near Holy Week—
that Jesus knows that his own life is shifting
and death is approaching.

Yet he does not speak of his death with gloom and doom.
He says, Hang around. It’s all going to turn out okay.
You’re going to see.
There is beauty even in the brokenness.
Often it is in brokenness
that we recognize the face of God most clearly.

This week I got a glimpse of beauty in brokenness.
I was invited to come and do a monthly Eucharist
at an area rehab facility and nursing home.

I was happy to say yes to this some weeks ago
but when it rolled around on my calendar this week
it felt like one more thing
on my long and always growing “to do” list.

Yet--yet I know that one day it may be me
waiting for a priest to come and bring the bread and wine
of the Eucharist.
That likely reality does not escape me.
This was not an event on my calendar
that I even considered canceling.

Nine of us gathered in a small sun room.
The altar was a wooden bridge table.
There were no candles, no artwork, no fair linen, no vestments.
Just a very plain but lovely sitting room.
There was a certain peace amongst the circle of wheelchairs round the table.

I spread the corporal I had brought on the table
and set up the paten with wafers
and the chalice with wine.
I had brought all these things with me.
I kissed the cross on my purple stole and placed it around my neck.

I looked around the room.
People in wheelchairs.
Caretakers sitting or standing beside them holding their hands
or gently patting their arms.
Someone said to me,
Thank you so much for coming.
Thank you so much for coming.

I already knew then—at the very beginning of our worship together—
that it was I who needed to give thanks
for the gift of sharing communion
with this group of God’s gathered people.

We began the service.
Now there is one thing about being an Episcopalian:
there are certain words that are indeed written on our hearts.

When someone says, “The Lord be with you.”
We immediately respond, “And also with you.”

I have said that phrase—what? A thousand times?
Ten thousand times?

Yet on this day,
when this little gathered group of God’s people
And also with you,
I realized there was absolutely nothing rote about that response.

I realized that just as I had brought God to God’s people that morning,
God’s people had also brought God to me.
The Lord be with you.
And also with you.

We may forget many things as we age
but the Lord’s prayer usually
stays with us.
The prayer that we are bold to say,
is not forgotten.
More words that are written on our hearts
and offer comfort beyond our rational understanding.

When we reached that point in the service,
even those who had said not one word,
prayed loudly,
prayed with all their heart and all their soul
and all their strength.

A small band of God’s people,
gathered together to pray and share the bread and the wine,
the body and blood of Christ,
the symbol of ultimate brokenness, fraction.
And ultimately healing and wholeness.

As we prayed the post communion prayer,
a woman in a wheelchair rolled to the wooden card table—
our altar-- and laid a crumpled white envelope on the corner.
She said, “My gift.”

She was not really speaking to me.
She was speaking to God.
“My gift.”

One of the attendants, told me after the service,
that when the woman with the envelope heard a few weeks ago
that a priest was coming to offer communion,
she began saving her money.

“ She did not want to come to church without having a gift to offer.
She wanted to have something to give you
because you were giving to her by coming here today.”

Later I would open the envelope
and find a one dollar bill and 12 quarters.

This is what Jesus means when he says he will be glorified.
No theology, no creed, no liturgy could possibly glorify God more
than what we give from our hearts.
It is not about money.
It can be--
but giving from our heart comes in many shapes and sizes.
We give when we bring in cans of food for Manna Food Bank.
We give when we listen to someone who is lonely.
We give when we send a card to remember someone’s birthday.
We give when we show up for a work day
and trim trees or spread mulch or wash windows.
We give when we shatter darkness by making someone laugh.
We give when we help build a house for someone who has no home.
The ways we can give are without limit.

We must ponder in our own hearts
what we have to offer to God.

Our gifts today may be very different than what we offered yesterday
and again may change in what we have to offer tomorrow.
We all face the swift and varied changes of the world,
Reflected in our own changing lives.

Jesus says, Now my soul is troubled.
And what should I say—
“Father, save me from this hour?
No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour.”

We work hard in life to protect ourselves from illness and hardship.
And there is nothing wrong with that.
But we must work equally hard to continually open our hearts to God— regardless--
in glad times and sad times
to love God and love one another,
to trust that God is with us in every hour—
hours that are breezily easy
and hours that are terribly hard--
to willingly offer what we have to give.

The woman with the envelope
did not offer her gift in thanksgiving to me--
her thanksgiving was to God.

We might look at her life
and only see a wheelchair, blindness, helplessness—
her life has no doubt been through some changes
that she, like you and me, would never willingly choose.

But sometimes it is through our hurt and brokenness,
our total helplessness--
when we find ourselves at the foot of the cross--
that we recognize the presence of God in our lives.

That presence is offered to each of us every week in the bread and the wine.
Come and receive this gift.

In a world too often broken by unshared bread
there is always bread and wine enough for everyone
at God’s table.
Come and receive.
I invite each and every one of you: come and receive.

Come and remember what God has written on our hearts--
that we are loved no matter what,
that we are always and forever God’s beloved children.

A crumpled envelope
placed on the edge of a wooden card table speaks volumes
about what it means to love God
and to truly believe that you are loved.
Our gifts are both given and received to the glory of God.

Jesus says,
And I,
when lifted up from the earth
will draw all people to myself.

All people.
God longs to draw us close and closer and closer.

We never travel alone.
Never are we alone on our journey.

Through any and all
the swift and varied changes of the world.
God is with us.

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