Sheepscott Community Church October 31, 2010
Habakkuk 1: 1-4; 2: 1-4
Luke 19: 1-10
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.
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.