Monday, September 28, 2015

Sermonizing...


This morning, during my quiet time, my time of reading and
reflecting, of thinking and writing, I found myself suddenly
thinking about how a congregation- my congregation or yours-
views the sermon...and about how I, as the one preaching, view
what it is I am doing- and why. Perhaps I am unique in the fact
that this is not something to which I have given a great deal of
thought and consideration. I don't mean that I don't give thought
to what I'm preaching or to how it will be received. But I'm not
sure if I have ever put into words what a sermon really is for me-
and what I hope it is for the congregation. But this morning,
words came flooding unbidden, and so I share them with you, from
the bottom of my heart:

For me, the sermon is not to point the finger.
It is rather an invitation to the members of the congregation
to enter into dialogue, to walk along with, to uplift and
encourage the pastor even as s/he lifts up and encourages them.
It is a frail, sinful human creature speaking words s/he needs
to hear and laying them out for everyone to see.
It is the deep acknowledgement of our shared humanity and
our shared need for connection and compassion.
It is not me saying to you that I know more, understand more,
am more- more spiritual, more Godly, more anything- except,
perhaps, somewhat more aware of my faults and foibles and
limitations.
It is simply me saying to you, "Here I am and here you are.
Can we perhaps build a bridge of understanding between us?
Can we journey a way on this often-difficult, mostly-confusing
road of life together- perhaps holding one another up, supporting
one another when the going gets rough?
A sermon lays the preacher bare and wrings from him or her
every ounce of energy, strength, honesty, and truth- (which
is perhaps why so many pastors nap on Sunday afternoons.)

Monday, September 14, 2015

Living A Glorious Day...

Windows open wide...a grand and glorious gift. The air blowing
through the house, sweeping in its path all that is stale and dull
and hidden...bringing with it a sense of energy, of newness, which
has felt dormant during the long, closed-in days of this summer's
heat. And filled with that energy today,I changed my bed linens,
did laundry, cooked homemade applesauce, all the while rejoicing
in the lovely, cool temperatures with which the day gifted me,
gifted us all in this part of Carolina.

And now, tonight, I will crawl between fresh, clean sheets- one
of my favorite sensations, a sense memory which harkens back to 
childhood evenings after Mother had changed the sheets- which
in her house happened every week but in mine happens only about
every month. For me, there is something so comforting, so nurturing,
about crawling into bed to the welcome of cool, clean sheets, which-
in those days- smelled of the outdoors and carried the awareness
of my mother's loving ministrations- at least until I was old enough
to do that task for myself.

Now, of course, I am the one who nurtures and nourishes and cares
for me. Mom is long gone and I have not yet reached the stage of
my life where I need someone else to do these tasks of everyday
living for me. I can still climb the stairs down to my basement
laundry, climb the stairs to my upstairs bedroom. I can still drive
and shop and cook and do all of those little things, those everyday
things, which comprise an ordinary life. And, as my early-morning
eye exam attested, I can still see quite well with my trusty and
ever-present tri-focals.

But the reality which I find myself facing more and more these
days is that I am no longer young, that I am actually among the
elderly in our society, the aged in our world. Now, this does not
mean that I am giving up or giving in, that I am not living life
as fully as possible. In fact, I suspect I am as fully alive now
as I have ever been in my life, as the awareness of the value
and wonder, the gift of each day fills me from my waking until
my sleeping each night.

Am I aware of the slowing of my step and the creaking of my
joints? Of course I am. I no longer run up and down the stairs
in my house, but take their courses much more slowly, as I heed
my arthritic right hip crying out to me to slow down just a bit.
And I am well aware that, with each passing year, I am nearer,
ever nearer, to that time when I will need assistance, will need
to depend on others far more than I do presently. That is simply
the reality of living a long time- and those of us who are now
septuagenarians have already lived far longer than many of the
generations of humanity who have gone before us. Two high
school classmates and friends have died over the past year, so
the awareness of passing time is ever before me.

For now, though, I am pleased to have prepared my house for
Autumn's approach, with sunflowers and fall colors and leaves
abounding. I am grateful that I am still able to negotiate those
flights of stairs to accomplish the simple task of doing laundry.
I am delighted that I can cook those foods which feed both my
body and spirit, nourishing me in so many ways. And if someone
refers to me as an "old lady", I can smile and nod and say, "Yes,
yes, I am, and I'm proud of it." And- just for today, for this
glorious, lovely, life-breathing day- I whisper a thank you to
the God whose very breath sustains me.



Saturday, September 5, 2015

Remembering Sara...with Much Love

Today, I had the honor of preaching the eulogy at the memorial
Service of a member of my parish who had, over the years, become
a dear friend. So many people asked me afterward for a copy of
that sermon that I am posting it here- for them and for those of
you who could not attend the service and for those of you who
never knew Sara but may come to know her through my words.
        +         +        +         +         +        +         +


Even though we are gathered here this afternoon to grieve a death, I
must tell you that I continue to think of Sara in the present tense. For
even in her dying months and weeks, she was one of the most vibrantly-
alive people I have ever met and had the remarkable privilege of knowing.

Sara Jane Anderson was born 76 years ago here in Rural Hall and lived her
her life within this small mostly-rural community…yet she was not bound
by local mores and customs and beliefs. Her life, while small to some, was
marked by unbounded love and acceptance and welcome to people of
every race and creed, of every age, of every sexual orientation…people who
walked into her life and were immediately drawn to her and embraced by
her in that inimitable “Sara” way of hers. “Mom collected people,” Carol
said to me the other day, as we met to talk about this service. “She got
under people’s skin and they wanted to be a part of her life…and she
welcomed them.”
 
Sara’s love of music, as well as her talent, was obvious quite early and by
the age of ten, she was the musician here at Nazareth, continuing in that role
until her health forced her to leave the bench of her beloved organ two
years ago. Teaching piano to countless students from the 1970s, she imparted
not only her love of music but life lessons as well. Those young people who
came to her for piano lessons found not only an enthusiastic and dedicated
teacher, but a confidante, a trusted friend, to whom they could tell their
deepest hopes and fears, knowing they would be held in heart and mind by
this open, accepting, incredibly honest woman, who never pulled any punches,
yet spoke the truth in love.
 
Sara never had very much materially, which bothered her not at all. And when
she did receive something, most often she shared it with others, since giving
was far more to her liking than receiving. Reading was one of her passions
and in the mid-1990s, she began keeping track of all the books she read from
that point on. That list grew to 1,776 books this year, until her health made
reading and concentrating more and more difficult. And gardening was her
passion, her joy, her life-giving hobby, with time spent in the garden a time
of being and thinking and celebrating the natural world around her, which
she so loved.
 
But the part of Sara I love most…the part with which I most resonated…was
her absolute dedication to justice…to the causes of inclusion and acceptance.
An avid Democrat, Sara wore proudly the appellation of “bleeding heart liberal”,
and my visits with her were punctuated by long discussions about politics and
the causes near and dear to both of our hearts. We laughed together, raged
together, commiserated together, and so forged a relationship which I will
carry in my heart for as long as I live…as will many of you, I am certain. For
that was Sara…her honestly, her unfailing open-hearted honesty and welcome,
drew us in and embraced us in a way I have seldom encountered in my
lifetime. And those pastoral visits, ostensibly for Sara, ended up feeding and
nourishing me in so many ways. I always came away feeling better…more
grateful…many times deeply delighted by the time we had shared- and I could
only hope that I was giving as much to her as she was giving to me.

Sara considered herself an agnostic- which to me meant that she was not afraid
to question, to doubt, to shake her fist at God when life just didn’t seem to
make sense. After her last hospital stay, after she had been given the word
that there was no more to be done medically, after Hospice had been called
in, when I was visiting with her, I began my prayer by saying, “God, this just
sucks. And sometimes we’re just angry and want an explanation for why things
happen as they do.” Afterward, Sara looked at me and said, “You just know
the right thing to say, Pastor Linda. Thank you for that.” We could be honest
with each other…for that was a hallmark of relationship with Sara. And yet, for
all her doubts and questionings, she LIVED the way of Christ as fully as any
human being I have ever known, living always with arms and heart and mind
wide open and welcoming.

An avid Garrison Keillor fan, Sara considered some of the highlights of her life
the two times she met the man in person, once giving and receiving a hug.
And Carol shared with me a memory I found not only delightful but which, I
think, typifies so beautifully the Sara we know and love. In 1993, Carol was able
to get tickets to go to Bill Clinton’s first inauguration in Washington, DC, and
urged Sara to go along. Now, Sara was a homebody and travel was not
something she often undertook gladly or willingly. But the prospect of seeing
Clinton sworn in as President AND hearing Maya Angelou read the poem she
had written for the occasion was just too much of an incentive. So Sara, Carol,
and Iris made the trip, went to the inauguration, AND went to and danced at
the North Carolina Inaugural Ball. Can’t you just see her, swinging around the
dance floor with Carol, her face alight with her own special Sara smile?
Delighted at being part of this historical occasion. Delighted at sharing this with
a daughter and a sister. Simply, fully delighted.
 
And knowing Sara’s love of and respect for the words of Maya Angelou,
especially those spoken on that day, I share with you some lines from that
poem which, to me, say “Sara” in a very special way, speaking as they do
about those things closest to her heart throughout the whole of her life:

Your armed struggles for profit
Have left collars of waste upon
My shore, currents of debris upon my breast.
 
Yet, today I call you to my riverside,
If you will study war no more. Come,
Clad in peace and I will sing the songs
The Creator gave me when I and the
Tree and the stone were one.

Before cynicism was a bloody sear across your
Brow and when you yet knew you still
Knew nothing.

The River sings and sings on.
There is a true yearning to respond to
The singing River and the wise Rock.

So say the Asian, the Hispanic, the Jew
The African and Native American, the Sioux,
The Catholic, the Muslim, the French, the Greek,
The Irish, the Rabbi, the Priest, the Sheikh,
The Gay, the Straight, the Preacher,
The privileged, the homeless, the teacher.
They hear. They all hear
The speaking of the Tree.
 
Today, the first and last of every Tree
Speaks to humankind. Come to me, here beside the River.

Plant yourself beside me, here beside the River…

You, who gave me my first name, you
Pawnee, Apache, and Seneca, you
Cherokee Nation, who rested with me, then
Forced on bloody feet, left me to the employment of
Other seekers- desperate for gain,
Starving for gold.

You, the Turk, the Swede, the German, the Scot-
You, the Ashanti, the Yoruba, the Kru, bought
Sold, stolen, arriving on a nightmare
Praying for a dream.

Here, root yourselves beside me.
I am the Tree planted by the River,
Which will not be moved.

I, the Rock, I the River, I the Tree
I am yours- your Passages have been paid…

Lift up your eyes upon
The day breaking for you.
Give birth again
To the dream.
 
Women, children, men,
Take it in the palms of your hands.

Mold it into the shape of your more
Private need. Sculpt it into
The image of your most public self.
Lift up your hearts
Each new hour holds new chances
For new beginnings.
Do not be wedded forever
To fear, yoked eternally
To brutishness.

The horizon leans forward,
Offering you space to place new steps of change.
Here, on the pulse of this fine day
You may have the courage
To look up and out upon me, the
Rock, the River, the Tree, your country…

Here on the pulse of this new day
You may have the grace to look up and out
And into your sister’s eyes, into
Your brother’s face, your country
And say simply
Very simply
With hope
Good morning.

 Sara, we remember you, with respect and gratitude and love. Amen and amen