Come in! Come in!

"If you are a dreamer, come in. If you are a dreamer, a wisher, a liar, a Hope-er, a Pray-er, a Magic Bean buyer; if you're a pretender, come sit by my fire. For we have some flax-golden tales to spin. Come in! Come in!" -- Shel Silverstein

Sunday, February 11, 2018

The Glory People

A Sermon Preached at 
St. Martin in the Field, Selbyville, DE
Epiphany VI - February 11, 2018

You can almost see the movie version: Elijah and Elisha parting the waters of the Jordan and crossing on dry land. Elijah being taken up to heaven in a whirlwind with chariots of fire and Elisha crying out and tearing his garments on the riverbank.

In Mark’s gospel, there is an equally dramatic scene with Jesus and his inner circle of Peter and James and John on a high mountain. Suddenly, Jesus is transfigured before them and they were blinded by the light. 

When their eyes adjusted, they saw Elijah and Moses talking to Jesus and, just when they were trying to figure out what they should do, a cloud overshadowed them and they heard a voice say,

"This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him.” 

And then, every thing cleared and everyone was gone and all they saw was Jesus. 

Whew! You know, you just can’t make that stuff up!

Not that I think it’s made up, you understand. Something earth-shattering and amazing and transforming happened in both stories. 

Although I love the excitement and the drama of these two stories, I worry that people will come to think that the only way you’ll know that God’s hand is in something is when there are earthquakes or whirlwinds or dazzling, blinding light. 

It can lead us to believe that something earth-shattering and dynamic has to happen for us to know that we are in the presence of the Divine. 

My dear friend Ed Bacon is a passionate lover of Jesus and has worked many years in the vineyards of the Lord. One of the things I learned from Ed is: 

"Sometimes, in order to be faithful to Jesus, you've got to take a big risk for something small." 

I've never forgotten that. It encourages me to celebrate being a fool for Christ from time to time.

But the thing I really love about Ed is that, when he gets excited about something, when a ministry plan is coming together or when he sees an old friend he hasn’t seen in a very long time, or when he’s heard a beautiful piece of music, or even when you set a plate of food in front of him that makes his mouth water, you can count on Ed to say this: 

“Lord, lord, lord, I’m about to have a glory attack.”

And, you know, in that moment I’d swear he actually glows.

Ed Bacon is one of The Glory People. 

But, you know, that’s not always how the glory of God is made manifest.  Sometimes, it happens in surprisingly small and insignificant ways.

There are other moments of glory that are more subtle – people providing transportation for those who can’t drive themselves to the doctor’s office or chemotherapy treatments or church. 

Others are devoted to making sure that lost pets have food at their local animal shelters. Still others write cards or letters or send special packages to our women and men in the Armed Forces.   

These things are not going to make headlines or be featured on the cover of Newsweek or Time magazine.

In these moments of small acts of kindness, the glory of God is made manifest and little shafts of light pierce the darkness of despair. 

They are The Glory People. They are small but not insignificant manifestations of the glory of God.

Some of us stumble into moments of generosity and light completely unawares. When I was newly ordained, I was Assistant to the Rector at Memorial Episcopal Church in Baltimore, MD. One of the tasks in my portfolio was to preside at a weekly Eucharist and pastoral visitation at Memorial House, a newly developed eight-story high-rise senior residence just down the street from the Church.

One of those I visited was a woman named Mrs. Parks. She was an African American woman and part of the Parks family who owned the Parks Sausages business based in Baltimore. (Do you remember that commercial jingle? "More Parks Sausages, Mom. Pleeeease?) Her husband was one of the owners of the business with his brother who was also a Baptist minister and founder and senior pastor of a very large, successful church in Baltimore.

Rev Parks had died suddenly of a heart attack and, shortly after his death, his children tried to convince their mother that she ought not live alone. She resisted. They persisted. Eventually, they sold her beautiful 5-story brownstone home on Bolton Hill and moved her into Memorial House. 

Which made her very, very sad. 

And, very, very angry. 

Ms. Parks rarely came out of her room at Memorial House. She took all of her meals in her room, did not participate in any of the community activities and most certainly did not attend the weekly Eucharist or any other prayer service in the Chapel. 

Her children and the staff of the facility were begining to be concerned. I was asked to visit with Ms. Parks in her apartment after I celebrated Eucharist in the chapel. Of course, said I.

Ms. Parks was very polite but very stiff and formal. I remember that, at the end of my visit, she would ask me for a prayer before I left. And, like a good, newly ordained Episcopalian, I would turn to the BCP and find a suitable prayer. 

And she, being a good wife of a Baptist pastor, would scoff.

“Child, don't you know how to PRAY?,” she’d ask, “Like a regular Christian? Do you have to use THAT book?”

I was enormously embarrassed and appropriately humiliated. The answer was, no, actually. I didn't know how to pray. Not without the BCP. Not publicly. I mean, privately, I would talk my little heart out to God. But, publicly? In front of others? isn't that exactly what the BCP is for? 

And yet, something in me knew she was right. Why couldn't I pray from my heart? Why did I need THAT book?

Finally, at the end of one of my visits, I asked if she would like me to pray. She nodded and I decided, right then and there to take a risk. Indeed, I decided to be very foolish and take a big risk for something small. 

I decided to risk my sense of pride for the small favor of praying for this woman in the way that was most meaningful for her. 

I closed my eyes – tight – and began to pray. Extemporaneously. Without one of the magnificent words of the Prayer Book in front of me. If I remember correctly, I even clenched my fists as I prayed. At the end of which, I opened my eyes and looked at Ms. Parks. 

To my horror and great distress, I found that she was weeping.

“Oh, Ms. Parks,” I said, “I am so very sorry. Did I say something to make you cry?”

Ms. Parks took a deep breath and wiped her eyes, looked at me and said, “Oh no, dear child. You didn’t say anything wrong. It’s just that, when we get to this point in our visit, I realize just how lonely I really am.”

Now, I will tell you that no bright, blinding lights filled the room. There was no whirlwind, no earthquake, no chariots of fire. But, I do declare that there was an undeniable presence of God which humbled and confounded us both.   

And, we were both changed and transformed and never again were we the same.

I'll tell you this: It was shortly after that that Ms. Parks started taking her meals in the dining room. A few months later, she started participating in the community activities. By the fall, she was one of the first ones in line to get on the bus for one of their trips. 

As for me, well, I began to pray privately and pastorally and publicly in a whole new way. I began to take risks and just pray from my heart. That lead me to begin to take some risks with preaching and try to move farther away from a manuscript and preach from my heart as I'm doing right now. 

That may not seem like a lot to you and it has taken me quite a long time - and, in fact, the process is still on-going - but I continue to hear Ed Bacon cheer me on by saying, "Sometimes, in order to be faithful to Jesus, you've got to take a big risk for something small."

Ms. Parks and I became one of The Glory People

There are other moments of glory that are known only by God. These are moments of quiet generosity or kindness. A kind word or a gesture. I don’t know if you know just how much a smile can mean to a lonely person. Or, a touch. Or a kind word or just looking someone in the eye and saying, “Hello”.

Here’s the thing I want you to hear:  

It is the Love of God in Christ Jesus that is transformative. 

It is the Love of God in Christ Jesus that is transfiguring. 

It is the Love of God in Christ Jesus that is dramatic and powerful and shines a light on the dullness of our humanity. 

It is the Love of God in Christ Jesus that is a beacon of hope amidst the occasional dark moments of our lives.

In a few days, we will be observing Ash Wednesday, and The Season of Lent will begin. In the midst of the darkness of the wilderness of the Journey of Lent don’t miss the possibility of your own transfiguration.

Look for it. Look for the possibility of your own transformation.

Look for opportunities to engage in it, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant it may seem. 

Celebrate it when you see it. 

Be ready to take a big risk for something small: 

A smile when you don't want to. 

Reach out and touch someone when you'd rather be all alone by yourself. 

Do something kind when you'd rather do just about anything else.

It will change and transform your life and you will never be the same.

You will become one of The Glory People. You might even have yourself a good old fashioned Ed Bacon glory attack every now and again and find new appreciation for things you took for granted.

Here's another possibility: You just might hear a voice from a cloud of doubt which lurks over the deep recesses of your innermost soul: 

"You - and YOU - and YOU and YOU and YOU - are my beloved child. With YOU I am well pleased." 

No promises, but I know for a natural fact that it has been known to happen. 

If it can happen for Ms. Parks and me, it can happen for you, too. 


No comments: