Today was my last day actively serving as the Pastor of Holy Spirit. At the other end of some unexpired vacation time is my next call. And initially I was not preaching at all today- after all typically the Sunday after Christmas is a nice day for all request hymns interspersed with the readings and communion. Still Christmas-ing. And last week was the farewell reception and of course post-Christmas Eve is usually a lightly attended Sunday. And yet, it somehow didn't seem right to simply not preach, not even a little. And then I looked out and saw that the retired visitation pastor was in worship- having come to hear me preach one more time. Well, then- I counted on the Holy Spirit. Which is to say that I did not write down what I would preach and this is just a fairly good recollection of what was proclaimed on a day when I also recognized outgoing council members, and installed new council members and officers- and that would end with the litany for godspeed and farewell as I walked from font to pulpit to altar and relinquished the symbols of the office.
"This is the end. It's the end of the calendar year, and it's the end of cultural Christmas- just looking around I have already seen a couple of trees cast off, stripped bare and forlorn. This is the end too of our time together as pastor and congregation. And yet our readings today would suggest that what seems like the end is not after all. As we hear in Isaiah of God doing new things, and we hear the tale of Simeon in the Gospel. His whole life, Simeon has been waiting to meet the one upon whom salvation will be borne. Waiting. Believing that promise that he would see. And now here in the temple he meets Jesus, and this time has come to an end. Now he could be dismissed- in peace.
And yet, its not the end as we know for Christ will go on to carry out the ministry for which he was sent. There is so much more to the story. And so too for us, as we heard in the epistle, that we who are empowered by the Spirit and bear Christ, for us there is more. Perhaps especially for a congregation that has the audacity to call itself the Church of the Holy Spirit- watch out! There is more, because our God is a change agent. God's story is always one of change, as the church of Christ moves ever forward.
And in each of us, each of you, there are gifts by that Spirit for the sake of the world and this city and this congregation. And we are given a holy job- to bear God's story of good news. We are given this gift- it is a gift. And although it may take us from here to many other places and into the paths of many other people- we are given the gift of this holy task. And so there will be more to the story.
But as I leave you I want to share two quotes I hope offer inspiration. I hope that's not too self- indulgent of me. The first is from Howard Thurman and it speaks to this very season of the year in which we find ourselves.
"When the song of the angels is stilled, when the star in the sky is gone,
when the kings and princes are home, when the shepherds are back with their flock,
the work of Christmas begins:
to find the lost, to heal the broken, to feed the hungry, to release the prisoner, to rebuild the nations,
to bring peace among others, to make music in the heart."
Sisters and brothers, this is our work- the work of Christmas, and of Christ lasts throughout the year-this is what we are created to do. Share this work, for the sake of a world desperate to know Christ.
Which leads me to the second quote- this one from Catherine of Siena, speaking to the work of the Spirit in each of us and our baptismal identity.
"Be who God meant you to be, and you will set the world on fire."
Be who God meant you to be. Set the world on fire- keep working for the gospel
And may God bless you in all you do- because it's not the end- the story goes on.
Tuesday, December 9, 2014
So you didn’t send a covered dish and other conundrums- tips for relating to caregivers
Dear community, none of us wants to confront the unexpected or stark reminder of mortality, but we all know people who are facing healing that takes time or disease that changes things. It’s one thing to deal with an immediate event or tragic thing, but what about the situations where there is no one event, but instead a process?
Recently my husband had very unexpected open heart surgery, no small thing. And healing from it and how life is changed are no simple matter. In our early 50’s with no symptoms to forewarn, we were gobsmacked by a sudden onset that ended with quintuple bypass surgery. We are both overwhelmed with joy for a future and overwhelmed with the challenge of recuperation. Including the knowledge that the veins harvested last about 7-8 years. So while the heart surgery is a one big time event, the effects of coronary artery disease and continued lesser levels of intervention are our new normal. And some days healing is great and progress is thrilling. And then as Patsy Cline once sang, “Momma said there’d be days like this.” And after we got past the trying to walk and get to the bathroom and stop oozing days, it is a journey and not a switch to be flipped. There is no doubt that in every way my husband has shouldered the physical struggle.
But as a wise person pointed out when I referenced Michael having the much harder work to do, “don’t underestimate the effect of this on you (the caregiver). What I share is from the perspective of a healing person as opposed to an individual whose well being is diminishing.
I want to first say that thanks be to God, we are in a good place that gets better every day! But, as I have come out of the fog of being, I have noticed what perhaps many other people have and have written about, but I share it just the same- what has been supportive and what has not.
1. Please do not tell me a war story intended to “one up” my experience. I can assure you that the journey we made from the ER to testing, to catheterization to being kept clinically stable, to quintuple bypass was enough. We do not want to hear unsolicited war stories and help you process them. Nor do we want to feel like our experience is somehow insufficient to warrant care in its own right. Please do not tell me to be grateful for what has gone well. I am. Recently I was looking forward to a break from caregiving and serving as a pastor which is a different form of caregiving.
I went to the community Christmas tree lighting and had someone tell me how glad I should be that my husband was not her friend. Who wasn’t feeling well and laid down and when her husband finished taking a shower, he came out and found her dead. My husband just laid down for a nap-thanks.
2. Please do not make me the gatekeeper of your conscience. We are all busy- trust me, as a caregiver, I know. If you didn’t get a chance to make a casserole or never meant to, if you forgot to send a card, or never do, whatever. Please do not come to me and tell me what you meant to do and tell me you hope it is OK you did not. This forces me to tell you it’s fine with me (which it may not be, but hey) or to tell you I really didn’t have 50 people banging down my door, and then I risk losing your acquaintance. If you didn’t get that chance, or really didn’t want to, OK. Tell me you are thinking about us or praying for us. That’s fine.
3. Please don’t tell me to call you if I have a need. Do you know how many phone calls there are in a day? The insurance. Work, his and mine, doctors, nurses, therapy, pharmacy. Family. What means the most have been- the person who just texted they made my favorite salad and were leaving it on the porch- Bonus points for a container I do not need to return. The person who stopped by to visit on her way, and didn’t care that we clearly had not showered. The person who asked what we needed from the store- they don’t cook but got what I needed to do so. The person who offered to be available when we came from the hospital because they knew I needed to go the pharmacy. The person who saw me and just gave me a hug-because.
4. Some days I am not chirpy. I may not have the grace I normally do or should. Please remember it’s a long term journey and give me a pass.
5. Please do not tell me how to feel. I am extraordinarily grateful for timing and technology. My spouse has come a long way- but there is a journey. Please do not try to tell me he is “fixed” or “all better” or “normal again.” He is better. And while we recognize that it is hard to imagine the in between from great and extinct, that is where we are- grateful but progressing. It takes a slower pace, but we are grateful for those who walk beside us.
6. Please know that I am so very grateful but I may not write that thank you right away. Because I am healing too- my healing is not physical, but emotional. Sometimes after all the caregiving and house-tending, I cannot envision one more thing. And sometimes we have not slept through the night- 2 am and 4 am are sometimes awake times.
7. But please also know that your prayers and cards and emails and texts are a life line. We are blessed to be moving beyond quickly and in a way others do not.
8. One last thing- when you see that slow moving driver ( one of the things I was least tolerant of) – remember- maybe they are the exhausted caregiver, the person who got bad news, the person who had to wait too long at the pharmacy, the person who is having that bad day or one too many errands, or the person who just cleaned up a mess with grace but needs to grieve it somewhere else. Don’t be grumpy- pray for them.
So there you have it- a view looking back at the last couple of weeks. We know that even at the end, many others have longer and unsung journeys because as a culture we respond to the acute and not the long term. Please remember that some of Jesus’ greatest ministry was with the chronic.
And for those of you willing to just listen- not diagnose or fix- there are those who are grateful for the simple grace of accompaniment.
Sunday, December 7, 2014
Back in the day, our reading from Isaiah in the King James read “Comfort ye, my people.” Which when I was little I thought as “come for tea, my people.” Like a tea party was commencing. When I was amusing myself with that this week, I thought of one of the episodes of the “Big Bang Theory” on TV. Leonard has had his heart broken and his roommate Sheldon is generally socially awkward, approaches Leonard with a cup of tea in his hands. Leonard asks- what are you doing? To which Sheldon replies that he understands from where he grew up that when someone is upset the culture dictates you offer them a hot beverage. And he hands Leonard the tea, and awkwardly hugs him, patting his back and saying, “there, there.” And then he steps away thankful that Leonard’s problem is not his own.
In todays lessons of wilderness, I wonder if that’s not part of what’s going on. We have the people in Isaiah in exile because of their unfaithfulness to God, at least the first generation, but perhaps the second generation wondered why this was their wilderness. And in the Gospel of Mark, we hear of John the Baptist in the wilderness and people are flocking to him. From Jerusalem and beyond, they are headed into this place which frankly matches their lived reality. They are already in the wilderness- excluded from the temple perhaps by poverty, illness, ethnicity, by the abject refusal of those with power to see them. Already not receiving what the temple was created to offer- community, forgiveness, God. The temple is where God ought to be found. But some lives don’t matter.
But as is so often the case, while God is present in places of worship, God is also quite likely to be found in the places where one does not expect- places of separation, where its messy, and not proper.
God meets people, seeks them out, in their wildernesses.
Wilderness places still exist today- perhaps each of us has had some moment of this, but on a larger scale, we know in our country alone, there are these places- of poverty, illness, loneliness, exclusion and bias. Still. The people coming to John are excluded and longing. These places exist still.
While it is a comfort for us to hear that God in Christ meets us wherever that wilderness has been or is, and that God helps us overcome obstacles and see the way prepared, it is not enough that it is for us.
In the Gospel of Mark we don’t get cute nativity sets and fluffy angels, we get- this is the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ and bam! The wilderness.
It’s the beginning of the good news- not the end.
We are called to continue the telling and the living of the good news- and of God’s desire that wilderness ends. The way for the good news to be experienced must still be prepared. And the Word must still be declared not only in these comfortable places here, but there- in the wildernesses of others.
We cannot sit here comforting ourselves that Ferguson or Staten Island or California are somehow just elsewhere. Or that the pain and suffering of others is too messy for us to solve, so why bother- be glad it’s not us. We cannot simply think it's not here- in a heartbeat it could be. God forbid it be so. It's not that simple.
In the days of the prophet Isaiah- there were good and right structures and people. Yet things had gone awry and people ended us separated and overcome. In Jesus’ day, there was a good and right structure that should provide for worship and community and support of the needy and forgiveness. But in some places it was fundamentally broken.
This is I think what we too are experiencing in this country. And especially what our sisters and brothers of color face in disproportionate numbers. We simply cannot deny this. We cannot tell another that their wilderness isn’t real, not can we act like someone else’s wilderness is someone else’s problem. We cannot just take comfort that their wilderness is not our experience.
Law enforcement officers put their lives on the line and face exrtremely complicated situations every day, where a split second matters, in a way most of us will never know. People of color face a world where just walking out the door is different, and where being a person of suspicion is true in a way most of us will never know. And we cannot tell them that their perception of life is invalid. We cannot diminish it. We don’t know.
We can honor law enforcement and the legal system while also acknowledging that sometimes and in certain places, it is broken. That’s what sin in our world creates. So we can honor those who serve and yet wonder what happened with Eric Garner and others. We can admit people made a tragic mistake. Because when someone says “I Can’t Breathe,” you should let them breathe.
Our Bishop, Elizabeth Eaton offers this, “We are church… in Ferguson, in Staten Island ( and more). As we anticipate the arrival of the Christ child, let’s recall our baptismal covenant- to live among God’s people and strive for peace and justice in all the earth.” For all peoples and all wildernesses.
It’s the season of Advent where we dare to say “stir up your power, Lord Christ and come!” Where we again this day will say- “Come Lord Jesus!”
While we live a world of crying and pain and injustice, a world ruled by sin and death. Preparing the way means that we as Christians cannot simply put out our nativity set and be content.
We must never be content with such a world. Wilderness is not OK. It must end.
Because we know that overshadowing that nativity set is the cross- not only good news for us but our mission. We too continue the good news by preparing the way.
Preparing the way means Christians cannot be content with a world where barriers and struggles exist. There are valleys that must be filled and barriers brought low.
Our worship here draws us close to remind us of Christ as “God with us” and our restoration. But then it propels us out, back out into a hurting world- not so we can say “thank God” things are someone else’s problem. But to share the love and grace of God, to keep preparing the way for Christ, to break down barriers and meet those who long for wilderness to end. To name what must change and believe in the power of Christ to respond.
To cry out what must be heard for the sake of Christ whose coming we await and to turn away from the forces that suggest otherwise because all lives matter to God. May it be so.