Sunday, August 07, 2016
My Grandmother's Rag Rug
Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Luke 12:32-40)
A Sermon preached for the congregation of St. Philip's, Laurel, DE
August 7, 2016
When I think of this particular passage from Luke’s Gospel, I think of my Portuguese grandmother. When I think of my grandmother, a memory immediately comes flooding back. She is standing in her kitchen. In front of her stove. There is a pot or a pan on every burner and a few pans of something, baking in the oven.
Above the oven and all around the kitchen are shelves. On every shelf are jars of preserves, filled with treasures from her garden. Pickled cucumbers and beets and string beans. She's even pickled eggs from her beloved chicken and put them up there on the shelf. Jars of tomatoes, tomato sauce and even tomato jam (I have her recipe which I’m happy to share with you.) stand at the ready.
There are also jars of peaches, apples, and pears as well as peach, apple and pear jam, right along side the grape jelly and jam. In the pantry there is a special section for the grapes that have become wine – red and white – which she used for cooking and drinking, sometimes drinking while cooking which, she said, made everything taste better.
That was just her kitchen. In the basement (called the ‘cellar’ where I grew up), there were even more jars of preserves and pickles, barrels of homemade wine and beer, and huge crocks of cured meat and sausage, all nestled beneath mounds of animal fat.
My grandmother seemed to know when someone in the neighborhood was “down on their luck.” Or, when a family member was sick and couldn’t work. Or, the factory was on strike or someone had lost their job. She would call me to get out my bike and fill up my front and rear baskets with some bread and soup along with some of her preserves for delivery to that neighbor's home.
“The children shouldn’t go to bed hungry,” she’d say. “And their parents need to stay strong.”
My grandmother knew about ‘storing up treasures’.
Of all my grandmother’s “treasures” not all of them involved food, however. In another part of the cellar there were large bins of what she called “rags”. They were actually the remnants of old clothing, thread bear in spots from having been passed down from her children – oldest to youngest – to her grandchildren (“AKA “The Cousins”) and/or neighborhood children whose parents knew to return them after they, too, had outgrown them.
First, she would snip off the buttons and carefully remove zippers, storing them in large jars, sorted by color and type. Then, she would cut the shirts and pants and skirts and dresses into long strips of material, putting them into large tomato crates which once held the tomatoes from her garden. You could always find those tomato crates next to her rocking chair in the living room.
Late in the afternoon before starting to prepare supper or in the early evening, after the chores were done for the day and everything put away in its place, she would reach in and pull out a few strips of cloth and begin to braid them together.
In the eyes in my childhood mind, this was my first experience of magic. Out of those strips of thread-bear cloth came long braided ropes, now stronger together.
These braided ropes were eventually stitched together into an amazing, beautiful braided rug.
“The Cousin’s Rags” had become a rug!
It might be a beautiful multicolored braided rag rug which might be small enough to put by the side of your bed to keep your feet warm when you got out of bed in the morning.
Or, it might be large enough to fill up a living room and be the place where babies learned to crawl or took their first steps, or on which their older cousins would draw pictures or play card games while their parents and grandparents and aunts and uncles laughed and talked and told stories!
My grandmother knew about “storing up treasures”.
This gospel passage (from Luke 12:32-40) is often used as one-part admonishment to be ready for the End Time which will come without warning. It also serves as another part dire warning about the foolishness of some of our attachments to earthly things. We are warned to be ready – to stay awake and alert – for the time when the world as we know it will end and Jesus will return.
And, it is used a reminder to be generous - especially with "the poor".
The hard truth is that some of us do not have our priorities in order. Some of us are pretty wasteful with the abundance of God’s creation, even as we complain about not having enough. Some of God’s children have too much. Others don’t have enough.
When it all comes to an end, if anyone is found wanting it will not be for want of enough of everything that we need. It will be because we did not treasure and share what we have.
We did not “hand-me-down” so that others would have a “leg up”. It will be that we did not appreciate the treasure of God’s bounty so that we might store it up to be widely shared.
Generosity is the purse that will not wear out.
Sharing our earthly treasure is the unfailing treasure of heaven which I believe makes the angels sing for joy.
When it became clear that my grandmother was nearing the end of her life, she moved in with my parents who took care of her. Her home was eventually sold, along with the land that had been her garden and grape orchard and the arbor for her fruit trees.
The preserves, of course, had long been gone by then. Some of her possessions – furniture, dishes and collection of teapots – were all scattered among her family members, but most of it went to a Thrift Shop.
I don’t know what happened to all of those braided rugs. I suspect they, too, went to the Thrift Shop, hopefully to be used by other families who needed them.
I wonder, sometimes, if the people who had them had any idea about the treasures they had in their homes. I wonder if they could feel the human treasures that went into making them: the sweat and laughter, the love and sorrow, the developmental milestones and stories that were woven into the braids of fabric that were once someone’s shirt or skirt, pants or dress.
I suspect those rugs were thrown away long ago. Or, moths have properly consumed them. Nothing lasts forever. It isn’t meant to. Which is part of the reason we treasure them when we have them. Or, at least, perhaps why we should.
My grandmother has been with Jesus for a long time now. If memory serves – and it does less and less these days – she died 35 years ago in February. We named our youngest daughter after her.
My grandmother rests safely in the arms of Jesus, in that place where we say we believe there is no more suffering, no pain or weeping or sorrow and where no thief comes and no moth destroys.
Yet, her memory lives on. The legacy of her love and generosity is rich and full. The image of that for me is held within the memory of my grandmother’s rag rug.
Nothing can destroy that.
Jesus taught, “Where your treasures are, there your heart will be also.”
My grandmother’s rag rug also taught me that, where your heart is, there are treasures that will live on long after you die.
Especially when we treasure – and practice – the generosity of God.