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Saturday, May 30, 2015

The Miracle of 'Yes'

The Wedding (Photo credit: Maria Evans)
A Sermon preached at the Celebration and Blessing of the Marriage of
Judith Elizabeth Upham and Lauren Anne Gough
St. Peter's Episcopal Church, Lewes, DE 
May 30, 2015
Well, I’m not sure but I think I know a little of what Lauren and Judy are feeling right now. 

You may also be asking yourselves: What are these two women “of a certain age,” – both Episcopal priests, one from Texas and one from Oklahoma, now both living in Ft. Worth –  what in heavens name are these two doing smack dab in the middle of their own marriage ceremony in the first church in the first town in the first state of Delaware?  

I can tell you what I’m feeling: I’m wondering how in the heck did I end up here? In this pulpit? Preaching to this august collection of Episcopalians about why we’re all here? 

I must be out of my mind! Then, again, that’s probably why Lauren asked me to preach. 

If I were really smart, I’d read that amazing passage on marriage by Madeline L’Engle again, and say something simple and profound like . . .
“LOVE, love, love, love, love, love, love LOVE.” 
 . . . .and then, I’d shut my mouth, turn my back around and sit my sassy self down. 

But, you see, I’ve always been just a girl who can’t say no. Well, I could, of course. Say no. I've said it quite a lot, actually, and more often than not, I've regretted it. But I’ve always looked to Mary, the Theotokos, as my role model. She said ‘yes’ when she had every good reason to say ‘no’. And, look what happened to her and the rest of the world when she did. 

As my friend Ed Bacon once said “Aren’t we all so glad that Mary said ‘yes’ to God before waiting for the church to develop the Doctrine of the Incarnation?”

I’ve discovered that, when you say ‘yes’ even though there’s a good reason to say no, miracles happen. God works through you and you are filled with grace and spirit and give birth to something new. Something different. Something that challenges the status quo – especially your own. 

The Reception at Peckerwood, Lewes, DE
Scripture is filled with stories of people who said yes to God – especially when there were many good reasons to say no – and then, everything changes. 

The story of Ruth and Naomi is but one of those stories. It was crazy – out of her mind! – for Ruth to even think of staying with her mother-in-law, Naomi. Her future couldn’t have looked more dim. 

Her sister-in-law Orpah was very wise to turn her back around and go home, perhaps to find another man to marry. 

But, Ruth follows her heart – which sometimes happens when you are out of your mind – and says yes. And, she became part of the messianic line of David, thus weaving the strands of risk and redemption into the earthly heritage and legacy of Jesus.

Even the Gospel story is a wonderful illustration of the miracles that happen when you say yes – even in a half-hearted, grumpy kind of way. 

We all know the story. Jesus and his mother are at a wedding feast in Cana of Galilee and Mary discovers that they’ve run out of wine. She tells Jesus and Jesus gives her some real sass and attitude. 

It’s a good thing he’s the son of God because if I had spoken to my mother like that – called her ‘woman’?!?! - well, let’s just say it would not have been pretty. 

And Mary doesn’t exactly say yes, but she doesn’t exactly say no. She turns to the servants and says, “Do whatever he tells you.” And, neither does Jesus exactly say yes or no, but with that word from his mother, the pressure, apparently, is off and Jesus turns six jars of water into wine. 

Sometimes, it’s an enormous risk to hold your tongue and let the person you love do whatever it is they need to do. 

Sometimes, it’s an enormous risk to speak the truth from your heart and set something into motion, the outcome of which you cannot know and cannot control. 

So, let me give you an example of that from one of the sacred stories of my own married life with my beloved of almost 39 years. I’m going to have to go into the Way-Way-Back Machine for this sacred story – ten years into our covenanted relationship. 

It was a time of my very first call. Indeed, it was also the time when I first met Mark Harris, who was, at the time, Grand Poobah of All College Chaplains and I was Chaplain at the University of Lowell (MA). In the strange way God often works, I was called to be Chaplain in January – right in the midst of taking GOEs, in fact – then ordained Deacon in April and priest in October. 

For the six months until I was priested, I had to rely on the generosity of local clergy for reserved sacrament in order to provide weekly home Eucharist and spaghetti suppers for my students. No one at that time (1986) and in that Diocese was using bread - only wafers.

A friend had been ordained to the priesthood and her family had made the communion bread. There were three consecrated loaves left over and she asked me if I wanted to take them home, to which I, of course, said an enthusiastic and appreciative “YES”. 

My beloved Ms. Conroy, still in recovery from her Roman Catholic days, was troubled. "That's a lot of bread," she remarked. "How are you going to store it?"

"Oh," I said, "I'll just put it in the freezer." 

She was horrified. Completely stopped-dead-in-her-tracks horrified. "YOU CAN'T PUT JESUS IN THE FREEZER" she thundered. 

So, of course, that’s exactly when I realized that I had no other choice but to put Jesus in the freezer.

Here's one of the first rules of a successful committed relationship. Pay attention, Lauren and Judy: When your beloved lets you know what will disturb her, especially at the crossroads of the sacred and the profane, you have an absolute obligation to use it as an instrument of playful torment. 

Lauren and Judy at the reception
It’s the Irish way. Actually, the Portuguese do it, as well. Come to think of it, so do the Italians and people from Brooklyn and Denver and LA and . . . .

Actually, I’m not unconvinced that there was a bit of torment afoot between Jesus and his Mother back at that wedding feast. 

He says, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come,” 

And that’s exactly the moment when Mary knew he would do it. Which is why I think she said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you to do.”

Married couples are loathed to admit this but if you push at them, some will be brave enough to risk telling you the truth. Playful torment is part of the glue of a good relationship. It’s true. If you don’t playfully torment each other every once in a while, marriages get very, very stale.

So, I brought the consecrated bread home, wrapped it carefully (and in fact lovingly) in several layers of aluminum foil, and put it all in the freezer. 

And it was evening and it was morning, the first day. 

While she was sitting at the kitchen table, drinking her coffee, I opened the refrigerator, and in a high, squeaky voices said, "Barbara. It's me. Jesus. I'm right here behind the chicken and in between the packages of frozen broccoli and peas. Help me. I'm so cold."

Ms. Conroy, thoroughly disgusted, got up, took her coffee and snarled at me as she left the room. 

And it was evening and it was morning, the second day. 

I did the same thing, much to her disgust. When she left the room she called over her shoulder, "You're going to rot in hell for that." Just think of it as the modern, more caustic equivalent of Mary saying to the servants: “Do whatever he tells you.”

On the third morning, I did it again, but this time I bumped the torment up a notch. I did my impersonation of a very cold Jesus, ending with, "Barbara, help me. Save me." I opened the freezer door wide and yelled into it, "If you are really the savior, save yourself!"

At which point, Ms. Conroy slapped her hand on the table, got up and took two loaves of consecrated bread out of the freezer and tucked them under each of her arms. 

"Where are you going with that?" I asked.

"To feed the birds!" she replied, adding over her shoulder as she walked out of the room, "I'd rather birds ate of the Real Presence than to have Our Lord go through this!" 

And, with that, she stormed out of the room.

When I opened the freezer door, I noticed that there was still one loaf of bread in the freezer. I had three. She took two. That was more than enough to get me through. 

Playful torment is a two way street. And, it’s important to ease the tension of the enormous responsibility of vocation.

Now, that was 29 years ago. And, here we are. Still. About to celebrate 39 years together in October. 

Why? Well, besides the importance of playfully tormenting each other every now and again, I think it’s because we’ve always said yes, even when there are lots of good reasons to say no. 

Thirty-nine years ago we were daft to think we could be together. And, in many ways, we were. Daft. Indeed, we really are still crazy after all these years.

At left Nancy and Bob Ihloff and Mark Harris
How did we make it? The same way you two have these past 40 years you’ve been together. The same way you two will. 

Because marriage - in its heart, at its very core - is not about the government and it’s not about the church. 

It’s about God. 

It’s about the fact that God has called you to be together in a relationship that requires an enormous risk – at all times and in most places, but specially in the place you have chosen to call home, where you will challenge the status quo – for yourselves and your community. 

Even on a good day, marriage requires mutual sacrifice and presence and witness.

We have a word for that in the church. We call it vocation. 

This covenant you have come to have blessed in the church is a vocation. You have been called together by God to do something together neither one of you could do by yourselves – to bring forth new life in a barren land.

We have a word for that in the church and the state. We call that marriage. 

Marriage - at its very core, in its heart - is a vocation. 

It is the calling together of two people who take the risk of love, of saying yes when there are good reasons to say no, and create new life, a new way of being.

You have been called together by God on this day to gather up this amazing assortment of people from various times in your life who have witnessed the vocation of your relationship deepen and grow over the years. 

And they will be blessed in the doing and be a blessing and a witness of the miracle of 'yes'.

You have been called by God to be blessed so that you might continue to be a blessing to each other and your family and friends and the world and be a witness to the Truth of Incarnate Love.

You have been called together by God to take this risk of saying yes to marriage here in Delaware so that you might go back to Ft. Worth, Texas and be a witness to the miracle of saying ‘yes’ to each other when there are many, many reasons to say ‘no’. 

To quote Madeline L’Engle:  
But ultimately there comes a moment when a decision must be made. Ultimately two people who love each other must ask themselves how much they hope for as their love grows and deepens, and how much risk they are willing to take.…It is indeed a fearful gamble.…Because it is the nature of love to create, a marriage itself is something which has to be created, so that, together we become a new creature.”
So, off we go, then. To take a risk together and say yes to God. 

Not to worry. You’re not alone. All of the people in this church are here to support you. 

All of the people who have gone on before, who have been witnesses of God’s peace and justice and sing God’s praises in the heavenly chorus are here to support you in what you are about to do.

So, what in heaven’s name to we think we’re doing here? What is this all about? 

Well, I don’t know about you, but for me: 
This is about friendship. 

This is about community. 

This is about vocation. 

This is about the truth that love is, as Madeline L’Engle says “not possession but participation”. 

The Chocolate Avocado Wedding Cake
This is about commitment.  This is about vows that make a sacred covenant which we bless. 

This is about being blessed so that you may be a blessing. 

This is about risk. It is, as Madeline L'Engle says, "a fearful gamble".

This is about going back home and being a witness to the miracle of new life that happens whenever you say yes even when there are many reasons to say no.
Now, I said all of these things to you so that I could say this one simple, profound thing, and you would know, and you would understand: 

LOVE, love, love, love, love, love, love LOVE.

Can someone in the church give me an Amen? 

Amen. (And now I’ll shut up, turn my back around and go sit my sassy self down).


Wife,seminarian,socialworker said...

Wonderful homily for two dear friends. Do wish I could have been there! What a wonderful day!

JCF said...

Amen...and Mazel Tov! :-D

[Sending special thoughts to you all in Delaware. I'm sure the passing of Beau Biden will hit very hard there. RIP.]

Doris said...

What a delight to discover this post on Trinity Sunday! Best wishes to you both Judy and Lauren. And what fun Elizabeth that it would be you who preached.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

It was a wonderful, joy-filled, love-drenched service. Someone said, "Oh, in my diocese we know how to do church, we don't know how to do joy." Well, first, how sad. Second, you can't "do" joy. You feel it. You live it. Or, you don't. And, this was the joy such as the disciples knew. It was, as Louie (Crew) Clay says, "Joy, Anyway." Thank you, Lauren and Judy, for inviting us all to share in the joy.

Lay Anglicana said...

So now I really do feel I was there with you all. Such a wonderful day for all of us!

Anonymous said...

Well said Ms. Kaeton. Wish I could have been there. Sounds like it indeed was a joy filled union of two people who love each other and are loved in return by many. We will all welcome them back to Fort Worth.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

All of you were there with us. That's why we call it "holy communion".

Anonymous - next time, please leave a name. Ordinarily, I don't publish anonymous comments but this time I made an exception. Thank you.

Fran said...

Beautiful! I had the good fortune to meet Lauren a few years back. What a truly wonderful person and priest! I wish them both all the best.