Archive | March 2017

Gleaning the impulses to care

This Lent my congregation is reading and praying on a collection of meditations called “With faith the size of a mustard seed.” We got the collection from a place in Virginia, the Society of St. Andrew, which is an ecumenical nonprofit charitable organization that gleans America’s fields in order to feed people in need. “People from all denominations and organizations participate actively in our ministry by making financial contributions, by gleaning with us, and through their prayers. Persons of many faiths and perspectives partner with us in the desire to give of themselves to feed the hungry.”

When I heard about the Society of St. Andrew and read a bit of this Lenten devotional it seemed to me that this reading would be a good all-church focus for our village congregation. Our weekly community meal and our community clothes closet (gleaning used clothes!) are two places that Trinity Church lives into God’s calling on us to share our abundance. What better spiritual reading could there be as we consider what we have been given, sometimes as small as a mustard seed, and how do we nurture those seeds in our community?

So it was with delight that with this little devotional running about in my head I attended this past Friday West County Community meal at the church. The meal was full to overflowing because the menu was an annual favorite of many – corned beef and cabbage, made from scratch by one of the Community Meal partners. Raised in an Irish family myself I had way too much corned beef and cabbage and to this day pass up on that food offering. But I wanted to attend the meal to greet the guests and offer thanksgiving. Talk about “the mustard seeds!” We are a community that loves to feed each other.

Someone from our church called me over for a chat. She told me that someone else had told her that they had received an unexpected gift of a little bounty of cash. The beneficiary of this gift had prayed about what to use the money for.  She frequently participates in the Community Meal preparation and she noticed that our table clothes, so lovingly made years ago by volunteers, were showing signs of wear and tear. If she used the gift money to buy material would anyone be able to sew the new cloth into tablecloths? We thought about people we know who sew and decided rather than call in some local seamstresses, how about asking the diners? Maybe one or two or three would step forward.

We gave thanks for the meal and all our blessings and I announced that the Community Meal had received a gift of cloth to make new table coverings. Would anyone like to join in on the giving and volunteer to sew them up? In less than a minute a hand raised and we got a volunteer. A few days later I heard of another friend in the community who had come forth to join in the sewing. Should we call it the sowing?

It is a small thing. A little bit of money. A little bit of cloth. A couple of people needed to put cloth to sewing machine. The well-worn and well-loved table clothes put to rest and new ones soon to grace the tables. A good word like this one. “Be hospitable to one another without complaining. Like good stewards of the manifold grace of God, serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received.” (1 Peter 4: 9-10) A seamstress and a seed is sometimes all that is needed to turn a corned beef and cabbage dinner into an even greater celebration.

What are we gleaning in our communities if not the small impulses to care?

Advertisements

Jesus, the people, the cathedral and me

(reflections on John 4:5-42)

Sometimes when I think about Jesus he seems so far away – someone in a distant time and place – more spiritual than physical – more transcendent than incarnate. I get tired and I wonder if Jesus is really calling me or if I am just hearing my own desire echoing back across the hills. And then, three Sundays into the Lenten journey, he shows up “at about noon” in the Gospel and I am right there with him, thirsty and needing a drink of water to refresh my spirit.

This past Sunday I went again to the Cathedral in the Light, the outdoor worship service in Greenfield. I went because our church had accepted a request to help with making the meal for the worshipers. So right after our 10am worship a group of us gathered around the table downstairs and we made sandwiches to go. Ham and cheese. Peanut butter and jelly. It was fun slapping those sandwiches together. We laughed and we said a prayer that everyone would be blessed by this activity. I said that I would bring the food to the Cathedral. I wanted to be there and I also wanted to be home. It was a long day.

I got to the common with my box of sandwiches. It was about 2pm. Cold and windy. There was a storm on the horizon but it held off.  People volunteered to take different parts in the worship service. The musician played “Sanctuary” on his guitar and we got ready to be a living sanctuary. We sang and prayed. There was a very drunk person reaching out to everyone he saw and asking “Is this church?” Yes, this is church.

Then Jesus showed up – tired, thirsty, and hungry – in us, around us, between us, among us. Knowing us and connecting us; showing us what we needed to see about ourselves and God and what it means to be a sanctuary where everyone is invited not in spite of who we are but because of who we are. Like Jesus and the woman found their place at the well in today’s Gospel story, we found our place on the common.

After communion I helped serve food. One man asked repeatedly for the potato chips bag. Not for the chips, although they would be fine too, but for the bag. Twice he asked me before another man had to tell me “The potato chip bag is sturdy and will keep food fresher in all kinds of weather. Give the man what he needs. Not what you think he needs.”

Jesus and the woman at the well were called to give each other what was needed – respect, water, words of encouragement, testimony to the power of being seen and loved and saved from the seemingly endless loop of discouragement and invisibility. Sanctuary.

Jesus says “the hour is coming and is now.” Now, with all of us giving and receiving what we need and being known for everything that we have done and not done. Yes we are thirsty and hungry. That is how we know we are alive. Like Jesus and the woman at the well and every other searching person, our food is to do the will of the one who sent us. No more, no less. That is plenty for today.

Trans- figuration

(A version of this blog post was printed in the Shelburne Falls West County Independent newspaper.)

By the time that you read this blog, the moment will be over, but the effect will be ongoing; the moment in my church and in many Christian churches when we are dropped into a world like and unlike ours, a place where worldly events blind us with light and with suffering. I am talking about the Transfiguration of Jesus and the transformation of his followers, including me.

Transfiguration Sunday is the last Sunday before the church season of Lent (which, by the way, comes from the word for “lengthening,” as in the lengthening of daylight in spring.) On this Sunday we heared a story of Jesus and his disciples climbing a high mountain. When I hear this story told in my hill town I think of them climbing the steep hill to the fire tower. Maybe because when I climb this hill I always mutter, “This is no fun. Why did I decide to do this?” That is, until I get to the top.

Which is exactly what happened to the disciples. Jesus had been teaching them for days that following him would be hard. “If anyone wants to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their crosses and follow me. For those who want to save their lives will lose it and those who lose their lives for my sake will find it.” Up they climbed, huffing and puffing and maybe muttering under their breath, “Really, Jesus?”

They reached the top and, in a split second, Jesus was transfigured before them and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzlingly white, and suddenly Moses and Elijah, teachers long since dead, where standing there, chatting it up with Jesus. Boom! Climbing, sweating, muttering, complaining, worrying, and suddenly everything changed.

What I am thinking about is how shocking it is when a dear friend changes and, for a long while, we do not recognize them in their new form. We might even resist their “new  you” because it does not fit our experience of them. Think about what happens when an individual transitions from one gender to another. What do we see? What do we call them? Who are we if they seem to be someone else?

Or what about when an alcoholic turns a corner in recovery. Do we trust in that person, that recovery, or do we keep looking over their shoulder?  Or how about when you think that someone is nothing at all like you and after a deep conversation you find out that you are more like each other than you could have dreamed. How shocking and how, well, trans-formative.

Then comes the long walk down the hill and into your life. Same suffering and same complaining. Same struggling to follow your teacher. Same human foibles and same hopes pulling you back and forward. And yet. Having experienced that people can change and our perceptions can change so drastically, we have an opening to a new way of living. A way that says, “Don’t be so certain. Don’t be so sure. Don’t be so quick to assume. Don’t be so comfortable with how life is at this moment.”

I love the way this out-of-this-world story is so much an in-this-world way of living. It tells me that following my teacher is a powerful mix of sorrow and joy and surprise. As I struggle to get up and get going every day in the political and cultural climate that I am living in, this story increases my faith that trans-figuration of individuals and groups, and me, too, is not only possible but is happening. Hard going. Surprising. Strengthening. Shockingly beautiful, and nothing that we could have expected. Could it be that in the middle of all this suffering, we are being transfigured? Look around. Who do you see?