Monday, May 18, 2015

When love comes to town

Sermon for Year B Easter 7
May 17, 2015
Cathedral Church of St. Paul
Burlington, Vermont
The Very Rev. Jeanne Finan

When  love comes to town

He started out his life as Riley B. King.
Born into a family of sharecroppers
in a little town outside of Itta Bena, Mississippi.
His first work as a young boy was driving a tractor in the cotton fields.
But what he really loved was music.

He loved playing music.
He loved singing.

Soon he was known—not as Riley—but  as Blues Boy King.
Later—just B.B. King.

B.B. King died on Thursday. He was 89 years old.
Death, even a good death, leaves an empty space inside of us.

When we lived in Memphis
Tom and I got to hear B.B. King play
at a club down on Beale Street.
We were sitting at a table so close to the stage
I could have reached out and touched
his Gibson guitar, the one he called Lucille.
He used to say,
“Oh, Lucille, you are the best woman I have ever known.”

B.B. King would probably be the first to have admitted
that he was no saint.
You can listen to some of his songs and easily imagine that.
Let the good times roll…

But as he aged,
he had one of those faces and demeanors
that, to me, remind me of people
who have known the bottom
but never gave up hope that there was a top.

People who have known suffering,
people who have made mistakes,
people who have known what it is
to be persecuted and judged so wrongly.

People like this—
they either become harsh and bitter—
or they completely surrender to God’s love.

B.B. King was a man
who knew the bottom,
but found the way beyond.
Through music.

When love comes to town I’m going to jump that train
When love comes to town I’m going to catch that flame
Maybe I was wrong to ever let you down
But I did what I did before love came to town.

Jesus is the love that came to town.
Jesus knows this.
At least he knows it and claims it in John’s gospel.

In the gospel we hear this morning,
Jesus is praying.

Jesus seems to always take time to pray.
I laugh at myself sometimes when I miss
my prayer time and make the excuse (to myself),
“It was just such a busy day ahead.”
What? Do I think that Jesus was not busy?
Yet Jesus seems to always find the time to pray.

Jesus is praying,
he is having a conversation with God
and he is saying,

Look! I love these people that are here,
alive and in the world.
You gave them to me to love and I did and I do.
And if I am no longer going to be in this world,
I need you, God,
to protect them,
to take care of them,
to guard them.
To make sure,
to make sure,
 they know they are loved.

Jesus knows that God’s love is enormous.
He also knows that we humans can be so blind,
so deaf, so clueless
about this great and unconditional love.

Jesus also knows that love will not prevent us
from being hurt
or suffering pain or experiencing disappointment
or making mistakes.

Love is not a magic pill.
But God’s love is real
and present
and available
for all of us.

In the Collect today we pray, do not leave us comfortless.

Do not leave us comfortless but send us your Holy Spirit
to strengthen us and exalt us—
to lift us up from the bottom
and remind us that your arms are wrapped around us,

Remind us
that you are right here, God,
with us.

Loving us through.
Loving us through
whatever difficulties, horrors, hurts, illnesses, messiness——-
that we must get through.

Loving us even through the time of our death.

When love comes to town I’m going to jump that train
When love comes to town I’m going to catch that flame
Maybe I was wrong to ever let you down
But I did what I did before love came to town.

There is another stanza in that blues song,
one that some people don’t expect to be there,
but it is:

I was there when they crucified my Lord
I held the scabbard when the soldier drew his sword
I threw the dice when they pierced his side
But I’ve seen love conquer the great divide.

I like the blues because the blues are honest.
The blues tell the truth that life is tough.
I think Jesus and his disciples would have made an awesome blues band.

When love comes to town…

I like this B.B. King blues song because it is not in the past tense—
when love COMES to town.
Comes to town
not CAME to town.

Because love keeps coming.

C.S. Lewis writes,
Prayer is taking the time to notice that the world is
“crowded with God.”

The world is crowded with God.
Love keeps coming.

If we only take time to look around
we discover the face of love
coming to us from so many directions—
in the people that touch our lives every day.
A family member,
the barista at Starbucks,
the fellow in the parking garage booth.

God’s love comes to us
in the beauty of creation
and fills our spirit.
Lake Champlain still takes my breath away
every single day.

Love comes to town in the word or good deed of a stranger.
Love comes to town in the likely places,
and the unlikely places.

Love comes to town and keeps on coming.
You know that energizer bunny?
The one who keeps going and going and going?

Well, God’s love is like that —
love that just keeps coming and coming and coming.
No batteries needed.

When love comes to town
I’m going to jump that train
When love comes to town
I’m going to catch that flame…..
because I’ve seen love conquer
the great divide.

We are never—-NEVER— left comfortless.

+    +    +

When I wrote this sermon and preached it this past Sunday, I thought WHEN LOVE COMES TO TOWN was written by B.B. King. Later that afternoon I got an email from a parishioner who sent me a YOUTUBE video of B.B. King and his band playing this song with U2. As it turns out, Bono wrote this song for B.B. King. This made me even more delighted to know the story behind this song.  --JF

God's Suitcase

Sermon Year B Easter 5
May 3, 2015
Cathedral Church of St. Paul, Burlington, VT
The Very Rev. Jeanne Finan

God’s Suitcase

Our daughter and her family 
were packing for a weekend trip,
when she overhears in the next room,
her little daughter Penelope, who just turned five,
saying to her brother Silas,
who is two years old,
“Silas, we don’t have much room in the suitcase.
We’ll have to leave your pants behind.”

I am the vine and you are the branches.

Or in the case of an older sibling to a younger one,
sometimes it is a bit more like—
I am the vine and you are a branch
and we don’t have room for your pants.

The truth is, we sometimes think that we are the vine
and everyone else is a mere branch, too.
It is easy to think the world spins around us.

Our gospel today reminds us of the truth:
none of us is the vine;
all of us are the branches. 

This is what Jesus says to his disciples in the gospel this morning.

God is the vine grower.
I, Jesus, am the vine.
You are the branches.
We are in this together.

Vines and branches, vineyards, 
bearing fruit, pruning.

These images were all instantly understandable 
to the people 
in the time and place,
the when and where,
that Jesus is talking and teaching.

The people knew about agriculture.
They knew about growing things.
They knew that pruning was necessary
in order to get the best fruit, the sweetest grapes, 
the most abundant crops.

The message here is this:
If we don’t take care of the garden,
of the vineyard,
we are likely to perish.

God’s desire for us is that we will bear fruit.
This isn’t about having children.
This is about living a life of abundance.
God’s call is to come alive!
To be alive in all we do, in whom we are.
We are called to recognize and to celebrate how connected 
we all are,
how connected and how dependent we are 
upon one another,
upon all Creation.

Look around you this morning 
at the artwork created by the children and young people
in our Church School classes. 
If you want to know what it is to really be alive,
look at the artwork of children.

Art—by children AND adults—gives us a vision
that is often deeper than what words can express.
Art helps us feel our aliveness.

This year many of our Church School classes,
including our high school youth, 
studied Creation.
From reading books like Big Momma Makes the World
to intense curriculums 
the theme of Creation,
of our connectedness, was explored.

From the beginning and beyond,
we are connected.

We are connected to other human beings.
We have families and friends.
We know about human connectedness
and we know about our deep longing for that connection.

When our connectedness, our relationships,
with one another
is fractured, 
it is painful, 
deeply and darkly painful.

We are also connected to the earth—
this fragile earth, our island home.
We are connected
to Creation,
to all that God has made,
to the world that God has dreamed.

In the Episcopal Church—
this was actually developed by the wider Anglican Communion—

we have a framework—
These Five Marks
are used to describe and to encourage 
our common commitments
as the Anglican Church and as Episcopalians:

Here are the five:

# 1—To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom
This isn’t just preaching, this is what our entire worship strives to do;
this is actually what we want our lives to do. Shout out to the world
the good news.

# 2—To teach, baptize and nurture new believers
Indeed! Three cheers for Church School, our Adult Forum, EFM,                           meditation groups, CIP, and the list goes on and on.
We believe that baptism, communion, and confirmation matter.
We care about our continuing spiritual formation.

# 3—To respond to human need by loving service.
How we do this as the Episcopal Church is very diverse.
Even in this congregation it is diverse.
We certainly are enormously committed to JUMP,
but many of you also serve at Salvation Army Dinners
(there’s one coming up—sign up!), 
some of you will walk in the COTS walk today,
others travel to Haiti 
or support Episcopal Relief and Development
through your generous giving,
of time and money.
Offering pastoral care, praying for someone who needs our prayers,
that, too, is loving service.

#4—To seek to transform unjust structures of society, 
to challenge violence of every kind and to pursue peace and reconciliation.

This is what VIA is all about. Changing unjust systems.
Kids4Peace—-its about pursuing peace 
        and making a difference in the whole world.
Hatred and holding grudges and maintaining a hard heart
are all forms of violence.
Asking forgiveness and forgiving are ways we pursue peace.

And finally—
and this one is really what inspired me 
to talk about these 5 Marks of Mission
in this sermon today—
The fifth mark of mission is this:

# 5—To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation
and sustain and renew the life of the earth.

Yes, we recycle and compost because it’s the thing to do these days,
but we also do it because it is a basic part of our faith.

We are connected.
Connected to God.
Connected to others.
Connected to Creation.

I am the vine, you are the branches.

In the movie The Empire Strikes Back,
Yoda is training Luke Skywalker to be a Jedi.

If you don’t know the Star Wars movies,
you need to know that Yoda is small.
I googled, “How tall is Yoda?” and got this answer:
Yoda is 66 centimeters tall
so Yoda is about two feet tall.

Yoda says to Luke:

"Look at me. Judge me by my size, do you? Hmm? 
Hmm. And well you should not. 
For my ally is the Force, and a powerful ally it is. 
Life creates it, makes it grow. 
Its energy surrounds us and binds us. 
Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter. 
You must feel the Force around you; 
between you, me, the tree, the rock, everywhere.”

My ally is the Force, and a powerful ally it is.

This is what Jesus wants us to remember.
We are not the vine, we are the branches.
But we are connected, 
deeply, deeply connected to the vine,
to a powerful ally.

We are connected.
We are loved.
We are invited to love.
We are invited to care.

In God’s suitcase,
there is room for all our pants.