Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Sermon for Year C Advent 3

The Advent Journey

It was cold,
and the wind made it bitterly cold.
It wasn’t so bad living on the streets,
especially if you could get away from the crowds,
especially if you could find a nice neighborhood,
like Haw Creek.

You could usually find a garage door left open
or even an unlocked tool shed.
You learned to sleep in spurts
and to wake up before dawn
so you could disappear.
She didn’t want to scare anyone
and she certainly didn’t want to deal with the police.

But it was so cold.
As she walked by the church—
St. John’s Episco—Epsico—something Church—
She wondered what that word meant—Episcopalian.
She didn’t know that word.
But she liked to stand out at the edge of the yard
and look at the stained glass window.
The blues and the yellows and the little bits of orange and red—
She loved the way it was lighted at night.

But it was so cold tonight.
She looked around and didn’t see anyone.
“I’ll just try the door,” she thought.
“ Maybe…maybe it might be unlocked.”
So she picked up her big black plastic bag
and slipped up through the shadows to the bright red double doors.

She looked around once more—no one in sight—
so gently, ever so gently she pulled on the door.

And it opened.
It opened!
She could feel warm air touching her face—
Ah! It felt sooo good!
she walked through the door
and quietly into the church with her black plastic sack.

The church was dark—except for the exit lights over the doorways,
and a little red candle up near the front of the church.
And that glowing stained glass window.
Oh! How she loved that window.

Was the door left unlocked on purpose, she wondered?
Or was it just an accident? Did someone forget to lock the door?
A lucky accident, for me she thought.

She moved into the church.
It was so peaceful.
Quiet. Safe.
“Holy. Holy. Holy”, she said in a soft voice.

She used to go to church.
But that was a long time ago.
Most people wouldn’t welcome her into a church these days—
not with the way she looked.

Besides, she was pretty sure they wouldn’t let her bring her bag inside--
and she didn’t go anywhere without that bag.

She sat her bag down and walked up to the front of the church.
She walked up to the altar and stood there.
Then she noticed the painting on the back wall of the church.

“What on earth…??” she wondered.
Didn’t look like any painting she had ever seen in a church before.
That painting.
“Looks like my life,” she said out loud.
“Looks like my thrown in the briar patch wilderness life.”

Everything was so clean and nice.
She didn’t have many encounters with clean and nice these days.
She peeked in the doors up near the altar
and found just what she was hoping
…ah! A bathroom!
What a luxury!
She made use of it immediately,
And then, after washing her hands,
she took a paper towel and carefully cleaned
and wiped dry the sink.

She walked down the dark little hallway
and saw all the pretty church dresses—
oh, they probably had another name--some fancy church word—
but they looked like little dresses to her.
She liked how the little dresses looked hanging there
so neatly in a row,
like they were all waiting in expectation
of what would come next.

She walked back into the church
and returned to where she had sat her sack down on the floor.
Friday night.
She wondered if church people came to work on Saturday morning.
She knew she would need to be up and out early—just in case.

She sat down in one of the rocking chairs.
How about that!
A church with comfortable chairs—she liked that.
and she liked the bright colors in the rug at her feet, too.
Her life didn’t have many bright colors these days.
Dirt and grime and darkness.
Those were her colors.

She opened her bag and peered inside.
All still there.
Good, she thought.
The bag was filled with shoes.
Yes, shoes.
She loved shoes.
You couldn’t have too many shoes.
The bag was heavy to carry around but she liked her bag full of shoes.

She never could figure out
why you would sometimes find a shoe
all by itself in the middle of the road,
or one shoe sitting all alone on a park bench.
But she never liked to see a shoe left behind.
So she adopted one shoe after another until she had a sack full.
All my lost little shoes.

She closed the bag and started to happily rock and rock and rock.

She had planned to go and stretch out on one of the pews,
but before she knew it she was asleep sitting in the rocking chair.
She had just rocked herself right to sleep.
Right there in that holy church.

+ + +

It was early Saturday morning when she pulled into the parking lot.
She was a brand new member of the altar guild
And this would be her first time setting up for the service
by herself.
She was a little nervous
So she wanted to get their early to give herself plenty of time.
Let’s see…it was 10 am and the service was at 5 pm
Yes, that should be PLENTY of time!

She grabbed her keys and went over to the church and unlocked the door.
When she pulled on the handle the door was locked.
Hmmm…she thought.
That’s strange.
She realized that when she had turned her key,
she had locked the door, not unlocked it.
The door must have already been unlocked she thought—
Oh well. It happens.
It wasn’t the first time someone had forgot to lock the door.
(Gee! I hope it wasn’t me she thought!)

She entered the narthex
and there in the middle of the floor was a big black plastic bag.
An empty bag.
What on earth?
Why would someone leave a plastic bag here in the middle of the floor?

She picked it up, folded it and laid it on the table.
She walked into the church---
and then she saw them.

Down the aisle, all around the altar.
Shoes of all colors and shapes and sizes.
How did this happen?
Where did all these shoes come from?

Stepping around and over the scattered shoes
She walked up to the altar.
There in the center of the altar was a paper towel
with something written on it.

It was difficult to read. What did it say?
She held it up to the light.

These were the words on the paper towel.
Thank you, Mr. St. John.
Thank you for being a place for all souls.
Even me.

She read the note again.
Did it say SOULS or SOLES?
She then burst out laughing.
All those shoes—must have made her read it S-o-l-e-s—like shoe soles!

She didn’t know who had left the shoes.
She didn’t even really know if the person who left the shoes
intended the pun on the word “souls,”
but she liked the image.

As she worked to set the altar for the Eucharist,
She kept thinking about shoes.

We’re rather like shoes, she thought.

God doesn’t care if we are open-toed or closed,
high-heeled or flat,
name-brand or bargain basement,
loafers or sneakers.

God doesn’t care about our shape or size or color.
It doesn’t even matter what roads
we have traveled to get to this place.
God just always seem glad we show up.

What matters is that we have found our way
and know that God has opened the door
and welcomed us in.
What matters is that we get re-souled/re-soled here at church,
to go out into the world again,
to continue our journey,
to keep walking—or running!
To give thanks and to keep asking God the question
the crowds asked John the Baptizer
“What then should we do?”

Where do you need us in the world, God?
What doors do you need us to unlock?
What souls do you need us to welcome into your church?

Where do you need us to cry aloud for those who are hungry and cold?
When do you need us to rejoice and sing your praises?

Stir up your power in our lives, O Lord,
so that we might proclaim the good news
not just by TELLING your story,
but by LIVING your story.

Thank you for welcoming all souls into your holy sanctuary.
Thank you for welcoming even me.
Even me.

This story was inspired by another story about a shoe maker and souls/soles by Doug Sloan, titled A CHRISTMAS PARABLE. You can read Doug’s story on the Network of Biblical Storytellers website.

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