Sunday, October 31, 2010

Loose Ends

Sheepscott Community Church October 31, 2010

Habakkuk 1: 1-4; 2: 1-4

Luke 19: 1-10

Loose Ends

I decided to entitle today’s message “Loose Ends,” because that’s the title of the last entry on the blog of October 24 that Rev. Mary Harrington wrote, two days before her death. We have been praying for Reverend Mary since the summer. There was no real expectation of a rising up from her ALS sickbed, but there was the real hope for relief from pain and the comforting reassurance that she was loved by many, near and far.

Because she and her husband Marty chose to move to this community for what turned out to be the last year of her life, she belongs to us, and we belong to her. We have our own intercessor before the throne of God; I expect she has already met Marjorie Huntley. I like to think that these two women who understood the importance of the church community are already comparing notes. No theological stance intended there, only a wish of the heart.

This time of the year is always fraught, but especially so this year. Besides Mary’s death last Tuesday, two days after the blog entry, where she said her goodbye, today is Halloween. Tomorrow is the feast of All Saints, a holy day in Orthodox, Anglican, and Roman Catholic churches, and Tuesday is All Souls Day, another feast day in those same churches, where the souls of those who have died are remembered prayerfully. It is also election day. Phew! Mary’s passing, Halloween, All Saints, All Souls, election day. That’s a bowlful for reflection. The wise preacher would choose one item in that list to focus on, but not one to be accused of wisdom, I’m going to sit down with this bowl served up by circumstance, and see what sifts out in light of the gospel message today.

I’d like to begin by reading Mary’s last blog entry. And for those of you who hadn’t met her or Marty, they live right next door to the old postmaster’s, house where Carol Shorey grew up, directly across the street from the King’s Highway street sign. Their house is the small gray one with the flowers out front that looks out over the marshes, which was such an important focus for Mary as she was confined to her bed, but not confined in her imagination.

Loose Ends

Nothing ever really ends. I see this in the marsh, where things certainly change, but they don't stop. The colors provide a continuing lesson in how the color green, for example, can become greener, or greenish, or green-like, or sort of green, depending on the day, the season, and the light. Right now this is especially true of the browns: the umbers, khakis, caramels, and military camouflage abound. There is no one true brown when you look out the window. Instead there are many many many variations.

So what does this have to do with loose ends? In my life as a person, I have stretched myself towards certain goals, such as the kind of spouse, mother, sibling and friend I long to be for those people in my sphere. Once in a while, I have had that particular thrill of feeling I had gotten something just right, and perhaps I did. But it only lasts such a short time, then there's the next day, or month, etc. So I can never become a truly pure, purely good anything. There are always changing circumstances - cranky days, and loose ends. Nothing can get pinned down for long. Just like the browns outside don't stay any particular shade of brown for more than a week or two.

Which leads to the realization that even if you could try with all your might to hold on to one of those glorious connections, it just couldn't last. This makes leaving hard, wanting so much to find the moment when all is well in every part of my life, and with every person in it. Instead, I have to settle for knowing that at a certain point, things will simply stop where they do. And my ability to improve, repair, refine, or finish will have to be sufficient, and enough.

This is why I rest my eyes on the marsh. The slow, languorous, drawn-out days fill me with a little bit of peace and solace. Sometimes there's the excitement of a storm, or an astronomical tide - these really get my attention. Mostly, I attune myself with what is easy, swimming, or in flight, or the way the current carries the water in and out with such deftness. My hope is that I too will sail off on a such a gentle, peaceful current as my friends the geese and ducks do, leaving behind whatever loose ends my little ducky toes didn't have time to complete - but knowing that my people will come with me in my heart.

Posted by Rev. Mary at 11:17 a.m. October 24, 2010

“My hope is that I too will sail off on such a gentle, peaceful current as my friends the geese and ducks do, leaving behind whatever loose ends my little ducky toes didn’t have time to complete––but knowing that my people will come with me in my heart.”

I loved Mary and am sure I am still with her as she is with me. But not just me. Where I am, you are because of how I care about you all, so you too have gone on with Mary and in some Christly marvelous way are beholding the face of God as that One truly is, because of all the people I have met in my life, Mary had a singular everyday holiness that guaranteed the peaceful, gentle passage that she longed for. She saw God everywhere and would no doubt despise my assertion of saintliness in relation to her because of that, but I do so assert and recommend that we, all of us appropriate those lineaments of sainthood in the same way: by seeing God everywhere in everyone.

And God is everywhere––on the road, in the marsh, in this house of worship, where we meet each other and Him, in today’s gospel, where we can rejoice with Zaccheus in the availability, the accessibility of such a God, whom the despised publican from Jericho met on the road. Everyone in the neighborhood had heard about Jesus, and now here he was coming into town. Zaccheus was beside himself with excitement. Hoping to get a glimpse of Jesus, he hurried ahead of the crowd and scrambled up a sycamore tree, for he was small of stature and otherwise might miss seeing him.

When Jesus reached the tree, he called up to the startled publican, “Zaccheus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” Zaccheus was more surprised than anyone. He would never have dared to even consider inviting this extraordinary guest to partake of his hospitality, knowing he was viewed by his neighbors as a sinner, simply by virtue of being a publican or tax collector. But Jesus was actually inviting Zaccheus to partake of his––Jesus’––hospitality. There were the usual murmurings in the crowd, which Zaccheus heard, as did Jesus. Zaccheus quickly asserted, that half of his goods he would give to the poor, and if he had defrauded anyone, he would make fourfold restoration, which was in keeping with the Roman law, as well as the Jewish Law. And what was Jesus’ response? “Today has salvation come to this house since he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

Zaccheus was a sinner, as was the famous forefather Abraham, who was a liar. Remember when he introduced Sarah as his sister rather than as his wife in order to save his own skin? Moses was a murderer, if you recall his slaying of the Egyptian for badly treating the Israelites beneath his command. Jacob was a thief. Recall his scheming theft of his father-in-law’s sheep and cattle, and the earlier theft of the birthright from his older brother Esau. Jacob was ever a deceiver. Who’s left? Rahab the harlot, who hid Joshua’s men in her house to protect them from discovery; David the adulterer. All sinners, like Zaccheus, like us.

But, recall the promise in Deuteronomy 4: 29. God warns the people that if they become corrupt and make any kind of an idol, doing evil in the sight of God, they will perish, and some few will be scattered among the nations. But, says the scripture, if from there you seek the Lord your God, you will find him if you look for him with all your heart and all your soul.” Sweet promise, as God knows the heart and the soul. There are times when we talk about finding God in Christ. Infinitely truer is it that in him, in Christ, God finds us, just the way he found Zaccheus up in the tree that day, looking down, full of hope. God knew any craftiness that this publican might have employed, but he also knew the deeper heart and desire that underlay that craftiness.

“God is always courteous,” reminds St. Francis of Assisi, “and does not invade the privacy of the human soul.” But God knows where a welcome waits, as it did with Zaccheus. Are we waiting to welcome God beyond our own knowing simply by trying to live a good life, whatever our circumstances are at any given time?

Think about whom you would climb a sycamore tree to see? Jon was remembering an event in Chicago in the early ‘50’s when General Douglas Mac Arthur was visiting the city and rode in a motorcade down the Midway. He had famously been fired by Harry Truman for insubordination, but returned to a hero’s welcome. Jon’s school had been let out to see General Mac Arthur. They all craned their necks at the curb, their own sycamore, for a better view.

How about the Beatles in the ‘60’s? Would anyone have climbed a sycamore to get a better view of John Lennon? Or maybe John F. Kennedy, or Jackie Kennedy, or the Pope in 1978, Ronald Reagan in the ‘80’s, Clinton in the ‘90’s? Almost any sports figure has his or her following. Think of climbing to the best vantage point for viewing––with binoculars––Kurt Schilling’s bloody sock in the Red Sox successful World Series in 2004.

But you know? As exciting as seeing our personal idols or heroes might be, not one of these people, even my dear Reverend Mary, can do for us what Jesus was able to do for Zaccheus: to bring salvation to his house that day. It’s reassuring to know that in the small pitiful searches we do make for meaningful life, which searches are more like a groping discontent, we are still seen and known by the One who finds us in Christ. Wherever we hide ourselves, in whatever dark corner, there is Love, whispering and prodding about there with wounded hands, and we know whose hands those are. We’ve heard Curt Roberts sing about them.

We know our unworthiness, just as Zaccheus did, and God delights to reveal himself to those who do recognize their own unworthiness. As Jacob said in prayer to God, “ I am unworthy of all the kindness and faithfulness you have shown your servant”; or with the centurion in Luke, “Lord I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof;” or with the prodigal son, rehearsing his speech to recite for his father, “I am not worthy to be called your son.” Like all of these, we too know ourselves unworthy, and only then are we ready to hear and to see. Just as Jesus said to Zaccheus, “Hurry and come down,” shocking Zaccheus to his marrow. Isaiah, the prophet writes of God, “Before they call, I will answer.”

Zaccheus, who never would have dreamed of inviting this prestigious guest to his house, as he knew himself despised by other Jews for his occupation, God in Christ pulls a fast one and surprises the vertically challenged publican to come down from the tree because Jesus was going to come to his house on that day. How he must have scrambled back down that tree. He was seen and known and named worthy of and by God, and before he could call, God had answered because God knows where all the welcome mats are spread before our inner chambers, knows the deeper bending toward good that is our truer self.

Rev. Mary Harrington has abandoned her post overlooking the marsh, but she has not abandoned her family or us. She remembers us, even as we remember her and all those we love who have left this world for another. One way of honoring Mary, and indeed all those who have walked before us, is to be a good steward of our place in this world. For us that is this village of Sheepscot and other towns and villages on this central coastal plain. Part of stewardship in Sheepscot is seeing to the proper care and feeding of these buildings, which house our church and our church’s history. Let us honor Mary and Marjorie Huntley, and others who have grown up here, moved here, or who have worshiped in these buildings by making the best informed decisions we can at this time about how we go forward as a church.

Then, when it comes time for us to go the way of Mary, of the umbers and golds of fall, and of her geese and ducks, we can leave a few loose ends trusting that others of like mind will do what they can to ensure a future for our churches which have housed and celebrated life and enabled smooth passage for many into this life and on into the next.

Happy Halloween. Vote your conscience on Tuesday, and as Mother Jones, the nineteenth-century activist for children’s rights used to say, “Pray for the dead and fight like hell for the living.” Amen.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Attitude of Gratitude

Sheepscott Community Church October 10, 2010

Jeremiah 29: 1, 4-7

Luke 17: 11-19

Attitude of Gratitude

Koraysha shared her new baby Ellis with us last week. His beauty, his curiosity, his focus on everything from his mother to Carol Shorey, to all the new faces he was surrounded by as he nestled safely in his carryall, all of what makes up the new life that is Ellis was a gift to all of us last Sunday. If Ellis is hungry, he lets Koraysha know by his mewing or wiggling or grasping at. A mom knows in a thousand ways that it is time to feed baby. Or if Ellis’s diaper is wet or full, Koraysha knows that in ways we all understand, and will take care of it. If Ellis is tired, whether overwhelmed by stimulation, as he was last week at the coffee hour, or by the dictatorial hands of the clock, which indicate how many hours it has been since he slept, if he is tired, his lids will droop, even against his will.

The time may come when he will fight those drooping lids because he can’t bear to leave the party or to not have sight of his mother for even a moment. But that’s in the future. For now, he settles into his mother and sleeps like a baby bird in the nest. This is entirely appropriate for a 6- or 7-week-old baby. In a year or so he may be demanding another handful of Cheerios on his highchair tray. He might do that by raising his voice and pounding the tray, and just as she recognizes the signs of his hunger now, Koraysha will easily interpret the different signs of his hunger at that different time.

What is appropriate for Baby Ellis is not appropriate for healthy adult persons such as ourselves. I am not talking about individuals in care who need a high level of support, but about individuals demanding that kind of support who are capable of doing for themselves.

People need to grow in all their parts as they age, not just physically. And that growth involves assuming personal responsibility, which in part can lead to appreciation of what has been done for us in our own past, not only by our caretaking parents early on, but by teachers, doctors, scout leaders, family members, all those who have helped us into adulthood, an adulthood in which we can provide the same support and mentoring for others who are growing. This is the Body of Christ in action.

If that appreciation, another word for gratitude, doesn’t kick in at some point, we become self-centered human beings, overgrown infants, who take life and its gifts for granted, not unlike the nine lepers of today’s gospel. I won’t be too hard on those lepers, who, simply by virtue of their long-standing suffering, were no doubt so excited about the healing they received––Can you imagine? To be without fingers or whole hands or even feet, with just stumps to hobble about on, and perhaps no nose, and the characteristic grayish pallor of the leper’s face, and then to be whole and healed and able to leap. And so they went on their way rejoicing, to show the priests, as Jesus had directed them. We can understand their giddiness and their focus on carrying out Jesus’ orders. And yet, and yet, one did come back. And he, as Jesus said, a foreigner, a Samaritan, who on his way to the Lord praised God with a loud voice for this great favor and threw himself on the ground at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks. Where were the other nine? Because the writer takes the trouble to point out that this was a Samaritan, it is reasonable to assume that the others were Jews.

An incidental point, that addresses the question of what this usually despised Samaritan was doing among the Jewish lepers, suffering is a great leveler, a great democratizer. For instance, those who have lost loved ones and who attend grief support groups don’t check on age, ethnicity, sexual orientation, race, or religion of members before deciding whether to attend. Loss of a loved one is a universal experience, and the suffering that attends that loss is also universal. As varied as individual responses to the loss may be, the feeling of utter bereftness is the same, and being in the company, in the presence of those who know the experience comforts as nothing else can. The Body of Christ in action. So, this suffering lot of lepers would not have checked the Samaritan’s ID card, when he came to their conclave. They needed only to see the affected flesh to open the gate to admit him.

It is also possible to assume that the Jewish lepers who did not return may have had a sense of privilege, as the chosen people. If anyone would be getting a healing, it would be they, after all. They continued on their way to show themselves to the priests in accordance with Mosaic law, while the Samaritan in a spontaneous outburst of gratitude and joy ran back to Jesus and flung himself at his feet in gratitude. That action is spiritually instructive. Which attitude do you think would be more pleasing to God? The obedience to the Law or the acknowledgment through spontaneous joyful gratitude of the revelation of God among men? That’s a no-brainer as far as I’m concerned.

If we can’t tap the inbuilt sense of gratitude that would respond spontaneously as the Samaritan did in such a situation, how do we get there? How do we get out from under the heel of the Law that proscribes that kind of spontaneity? Can we cultivate such an attitude? A person cannot become what he or she is not. That seed of gratitude must be in him or her before it can grow. I think that seed is in everyone from the beginning. It’s part of the package when we come, a response by the creature to the Creator. However, that seed needs sun and rain in order to grow, i.e., moments of joy and of sorrow. The fact is that we grow more in and through the sorrowful times than through the joyful times.

Recall for a moment the voice that was heard to speak from the cloud that overhung Mount Tabor at the time of the transfiguration. Peter, James and John, who had accompanied Jesus up the mountain, were awestruck as they saw Moses and Elijah speaking with Jesus about his passage and heard the voice from the cloud say, “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.” The point is the voice came out of the cloud. It is often in those clouded times of our lives that we begin to see clearly, that we hear God, that we begin to get our lives into balance by coming to understand what is important, what finally matters. When we’re running around the field playing disc golf on a gorgeous day and tossing back a beer between rounds, as important as that R & R might be to maintaining our sanity, it’s doubtful that that’s where we’ll be learning life’s big lessons.

As the saying goes, “Into every life a little rain must fall,” and it is that rain that will water the seed of gratitude out of understanding of what we have been given. I’m talking about the air we breathe, the water we have to drink, fresh eggs from hens––Who but God could have come up with that one? all the gifts of nature, other people, the gift of life itself, a marvelous body that usually works, the love that we by grace discover in this life if and when we pay attention to the moment and what the moment offers. Then, if we have been spiritually developmentally delayed, having continued to sit at the table and bang our fist for more Cheerios, we’re more likely to get up, clear the table, and do the dishes. We’re more likely to ask what else we can do to make life easier for the rest of the household. Remember the gospel of last week, where the servant does not expect to be served when he comes in from tending the flocks or plowing the field. Rather, he comes in and waits on the Master and will have his supper when the Master has finished his. And the servant doesn’t expect thanks as he has only done his duty.

The source of our gratitude is the grace that enables us to recognize the presence of God in the world, whether that is in nature, in a human being, in a situation, in the gifts of food and drink, of bird song and human song. Praise of the Creator is native to people. Human beings give praise for the same reason that birds sing. It’s an instinctive response to the creative love of God; it is the river flowing back to the sea, that is, when it isn’t dammed up by aforementioned, inappropriate, child-appropriate attitudes and behaviors.

It’s true that we people have a disposition to sin, as well as to do good, what the Catholic Church historically called original sin. According to Oswald Chambers, a Scotsman who lived in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and who wrote extensively on spiritual matters, that disposition of sin is not immorality or wrongdoing, but the excessive preoccupation with self whereby we become our own little gods. By this I mean we claim our right to ourselves. Me, me, me. Like the baby, only inappropriately, I am the center of the universe. What a huge self-deception that is. Can you see what a mercy it is when we realize we are nothing except by the grace of God, whereby we then become everything, which we are invited to surrender. Didn’t you know it would come back to that? It takes a lifetime to surrender that way, but when it finally happens, it induces peace and joy.

Which brings me back to the reading from Jeremiah. It is presented as a letter from the prophet, who must have stayed behind in Jerusalem at the time of the Babylonian captivity, perhaps because of his advanced age, which would prevent him being a help to the conquerors. In the letter the prophet encourages the people to buck up, keep on building houses, planting gardens, marrying, having children, and then marrying off those children so they too can have children. Jeremiah stresses that the people should increase and not decrease. It’s basically an admonition to keep on keeping on, even in exile, and to pray for peace and prosperity, for if their Babylonian captors thrive, they too will thrive. Very practical and pragmatic. No time for the “woe is me” routine. It is the time of the exile, but God assures them through his prophet that he is with them, that they shouldn’t give up. There does come an end to the exile in the fullness of time, and the people return and rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem. God will not delay. God will come.

He will come on the road on the way to Jerusalem, and there the lepers, all unexpectedly, will meet God in the person of Jesus. And he will heal them, again all un- expectedly. Halleluia shouts the Samaritan. I am saved. I am healed, and he runs back to thank this one whose power from a distance ran through him. Although, mark well, Jesus said to him, “It is your faith has made you whole.” It is our faith that makes us whole, and we come together in faith on a Sunday morning to thank God for the gifts of grace, including the gift of life itself, and the gift of life as it should be lived in a surrendered fashion in the example revealed in the life of Jesus himself. It happens that his life on the earth ended on the cross, and that cross has become the symbol of what he did for us, the teaching that he died for us. The fact is he lived for us; he showed us how to live and give our whole selves to the life, which is the love of God in the world. His life ended on the cross, but that was his bridge to the resurrected life in the next world.

I think I told you this at least once before, but it bears repeating here. I used to have images of the crucifixion around my house. I understood at some point along the way that it was time to put away the images of crucifixion and live the imprint of the resurrected life, not the imprint of the nails in the hands. If we can believe that, we are not focused on that extreme suffering but on the extreme expression of life that the resurrection represents and that can actually, by the power of the Spirit of the risen Christ, raise others to life as well.

That is what the gospel today calls us to do: to have the faith to be whole and to allow the risen Lord, through his Spirit, to work through that faith for the sake of others. We need to come out of our selves and our petty needs, our feed me, our see me needs, and in gratitude do for the other what once our parents did for us by raising us, and what God has been doing for us since the beginning, i.e., having mercy and allowing us the opportunity and time to become ourselves. To be Christ on the road ready to be God’s instrument of resurrection for another person. That other-directedness comes out of a sense of gratitude and proportion about what the gift of life really is. Our faith makes us whole, and where that faith is lacking, our willingness to believe the gospel message indeed makes us whole. Amen.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Only Doing Our Duty

Sheepscott Community Church October 3, 2010

2 Timothy 1: 1-14

Luke 17: 5-10

Only Doing Our Duty

Waiting in faith for the fulfillment of promise has been widely demonstrated scripturally. We need only look at Abraham, old Abraham, to whom God promised descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky. How he could look at his wife Sarah, who was almost older than God at the time, and believe––well, that’s faith. Faith in the word of God as revealed to us, a willingness to set aside what we see with our natural eyes to focus instead with our spiritual eyes on what God promises and shows us.

And whether or not that promise is fulfilled in our lifetime, we need to resolve to continue to go back and plow the field again with faith that the crops will grow. If we look around and see a temperature of 113 degrees, as in California this last week, or 25 degrees below zero, which we will probably see this winter, either way we need to keep believing that God will give the harvest.

I am talking about the harvest in this church, a harvest of souls living in surrender to the will of God, and consequent inevitable service to the human community. As you probably heard or read, Tony Curtis died this last week. I heard a recording of an interview done with him wherein he said, “Service to others is the rent we pay for our time on the planet.” Nice. How far we are along that path of surrender to God’s will will determine just how we feel about that statement. Are we still naming what the will of God is for our own lives, serving ourselves and our definitions of the godly life? We need to be careful.

Let’s consider this morning’s gospel parable as we think about being careful. Before we do that, let me quote from the reading in 2 Timothy: “Join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God who has saved us and called us to a holy life––not because of anything we’ve done, but because of his own purpose and grace.” Why on God’s green earth would we ever consent to suffering, whatever that might entail, and actually actively join, by an act of our will, in suffering for the gospel. In a profound sense it is true that no man, no woman makes a sacrifice, in this case, to join in the suffering for the gospel. In the area of our duty, which is what today’s parable is about, there is no room for the sense of pride or merit that is usually part and parcel of the concept of sacrifice.

Too often, what passes for religion today is the gospel of health and success. All we have to do is be baptized and establish a personal relationship with Jesus and we will live the good life, the kingdom of God on earth. Would that it were that simple; would that that were entirely true, but it isn’t. Life isn’t like that. The gospel today makes that clear, and the word and life of Jesus are a sharp corrective on the gospel of easy salvation. Yes, Jesus has already done the Big Work, but we need to work as well. We will have times of the comfort, the balm of Gilead, which we sang about last week, the healing medicament of the Holy Spirit of the Living God, but it is the epitome of presumption to think that we either deserve to have that all the time or have somehow earned it by the decisions we have made.

When we begin to think that way, that we have earned the rewards of God, let us remember today’s gospel, which is a cure for self-righteousness, self-pity, pride and an imagined sense of merit. If we make a note to self when reading about the peccadilloes, the sins of others on line, or in the newspaper, or hear about them on the broadcast news, if we think to ourselves, “Hmm. I’ve never done anything like that. I’ve never failed my family and friends in that way,” watch your step. It’s like reading the obits and not finding ourselves there. While there may be satisfaction, there is no merit. Jesus has clearly said that no man ever makes God his debtor. As I noted earlier, there is a profound sense in which it is true that no man makes a sacrifice; in the realm of duty there is no room for pride in sacrifice or merit.

While this parable is not the whole truth about God and that One’s relationship to human beings, it is a truth, part of the whole picture, because the fact is that the demands of duty are never fulfilled when we surrender our lives. It’s ongoing and lifelong. . Think of that old saw, “A man’s work is from sun to sun, a woman’s work is never done.” And speaking for the distaff side, it isn’t ever done. And that is true of the servant in the parable. He comes in from the field after plowing or keeping the sheep. Does the master say, “Have a seat, and I’ll get you your supper.” Hardly. Rather, as the parable lays it out, the master tells the servant to wait on him, the master, and after he has had food and drink, the servant can sit down and have his supper. After supper, he may have to clean up the dishes and turn down the master’s bed as well. There is no respite. That servant can never say, “For an hour I am not under obligation.” However honorably he may live or imagine himself to live, the only thing he can say is, “I have only done my duty.”

The servant is not concerned with long-term results, but only with obedience in the moment. The satisfaction that we get from going forward in obedience to what we understand is the will of God in our lives––including being here together on Sunday morning––is the joy that is greater and better than that of self-pity or pride. When a person is doing what he or she considers their duty and yet knows that in this life he or she can never fulfill the obligation but then continues to go forward anyway doing what he or she can, we can be sure that the mark of God is on that person, who is content to serve the Lord of heaven and never ask to enter the service of some lesser lord, whose patch of ground is narrow and whose work is soon done. Then that person can labor in quiet joy and leave the issue in God’s hands.

And we fail at our tasks and in our attitudes in relation to duty. It isn’t all sweetness and light in submission to the will of God. It’s treacherous, long, tedious, often thankless, except, except in the depths of our own soul where we meet God, whose love lavished on us when we fail is greater than the vastness of the failure itself, and we can go on. We can go on to work in harness with Christ, who has invited us to take his yoke upon our shoulders because it is a light and easy yoke. Jesus makes the difference to s who sometimes feel like the oarsmen below decks dragging that oar back and back and back again, until we think our back will break if we don’t have some relief. But then the music starts to play, and it turns out to be Jesus. His music makes every task possible because our hearts lighten when he is around. And I’m not making light of difficulties, whether of health or personal economies or seemingly unending troubles with kids, grandkids, friends and family.

All of that is not going away. We don’t live in the Never-Never Land that some religion promises. It’s work, it’s hard, it’s relentless, and finally we die, but God is in the midst with us, suffering with us, rejoicing with us, true thing, and Jesus himself, the Great Promise and Living Word of God is palpably with us. We can realize that this morning when we share communion together. Everything is possible for us because we have the living Christ in our midst. I’m not the one who said it. He said it on the night before he died. “Do this in remembrance of me. Whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup there am I in the midst of you.” Or “When two or three of you are gathered together, there am I in your midst.” So we are together, we are praying, and we are about to share communion. Jesus is and will be in our midst.

Here’s where the faith comes in, the faith Jesus spoke of in the earlier part of the gospel, which was not particularly related to the parable but which is always deserving of restatement. If you had faith the size of a grain of mustard seed, you could tell this mountain to be moved into the sea and it would obey. Jesus is exaggerating once again to make a point. Part of that point is the power of the prayer made in faith. Don’t pay attention to what your natural eyes see, but pay complete attention to what your instinct is telling you, what your own developed and thoughtful conscience and conscientious mind are telling you. That is the built-in homing device that will bring us back to the dovecote where we commune with the Spirit of God, where goodness resides in us and can make its home in all people of good will who desire it.

That mustard seed of faith is the thrust of the soul into a future always hidden, but we do get glimpses of it. What is our future here in the Sheepscott Community Church as a people of faith? Do we have faith the size of a mustard seed to believe that God can bring his purposes out of our few numbers? Do we feel God’s joy in the children who are here this morning, who are the promise of the future? I have alluded to this before, I allude to it now; I will allude to it again in a future: This is God’s time in this church, for this church. While all time is always God’s time, there are moments and there are moments, and this is this church’s moment to heal, to be reconciled one with another, denomination with denomination, historical perspective with historical perspective, forgiving as we ourselves have been forgiven. And we can consciously act that out in our communion service this morning.

We are a powerhouse of prayer and song, faith and action. I do believe that when I look out at you and love you with God’s heart. Some have chosen to leave our congregation, but we have chosen to stay, to try to uncover and facilitate the life of God in this village on the coast of Maine. That’s our charge, that’s our duty, and our joy . I will stay and continue to do my best, which in my humanness is a limited best, but what I have is yours to try to realize with you God’s dream for this church. We will fail, and we will succeed. That’s the way of human endeavor, but we will do it together, strengthened by the body and blood, humanity and divinity of Jesus, who offers himself to us through the communion today. Let us share that communion in faith. Amen.