Saturday, September 26, 2009

Proper 21B sermon

What do the Collect for the day, St. Peter’s by-the-Sea and a pirate all have in common today? Give up? A focus on treasure.
Now, a good pirate is always very concerned with treasure, so that, I believe is self-explanatory, but the other two may need a bit of explanation.
Let’s look at the collect of the day: “O God, you declare your almighty power chiefly in showing mercy and pity: Grant us the fullness of your grace; that we, running to obtain your promises, may become partakers of your heavenly treasure…”
In this prayer, we are ultimately asking God that we may be partakers of God’s heavenly treasure. Well, what does that mean? What exactly do we think we are asking for when we ask to be partakers of God’s heavenly treasure? ‘Pie in the sky when you die’ or something more pertinent to the here and the now? And how on earth do we run to obtain it?
The epistle reading for today from James gives us some help with this. The writer of James seems to be talking about different forms of prayer in our reading for today, but it goes even deeper than that. He is writing about common life, the grace and power that we receive when we are all united with God and each other through prayer. This is God’s heavenly treasure, what Jesus taught over and over again—love God and love each other. It was what he was referring to when he said “Whoever is not against us is for us.” Anything that doesn’t grow out of those two commandments is sin—that which separates us from God. God’s heavenly treasure is offered to us even now, when we try to live our lives faithfully according to Jesus’ teachings and are mindful of how our lives and choices and actions impact all people.
So much of our lives are spent running to obtain treasure, but it is not always God’s heavenly treasure that is found through loving God and loving others that we pursue. Our culture has very different ideas of what treasure is, and the message of what we should want, what we should need, often overpowers the gospel message of God’s grace, abundance, and invitation. It is all too easy for our own ideas of treasure to get all tangled up, and we lose focus on the offer of being partakers of God’s heavenly treasure.
The Anglican priest, Herbert O’Driscoll writes about a Celtic endearment—that is one of the most loving ways to refer to someone in that culture: “mo stor” or “my treasure.”
I’ve been wondering this week…..If I were to sit down and take an inventory of all that I am and all that I hope to be, what people and things, what gifts and talents would I consider to be ‘my treasure’. Treasure is not just about our income or our possessions, it is about what we afford value to (rightly or wrongly). For many people, time itself is considered a treasure because lives are so busy ,and time is such a precious commodity. What in my life do I most value…what people, places, experiences…what talents and dreams…what possessions. That is my treasure.
I learn so many spiritual lessons and truths from my children and this area is no exception. When we were preparing to move here, I was immersed in the business of moving, packing up all our things, buying a house…One day, Mary Margaret, who had been having some bad dreams, found a picture of us 4 Lemburgs taken at a Christmas parade last year. She asked if she could have it, and we put it into a frame that we found, and she told me that she planned to put it on her bedside table so that when she awoke from a bad dream, she could look at it and remember—no matter what happens, we’ll be together. That photo and all that it symbolized to her became a treasure.
What is your treasure? How does your treasure overlap with God’s treasure or are there gaping inconsistencies? All that we are and all that we have comes from God, so all is God’s treasure that is entrusted to our care. But in God’s economy some treasures have higher priority, such as acts of mercy and pity.
Today at St. Peter’s we have a two-part focus on treasure. Today is the beginning of our fall financial commitment campaign (a.k.a. the stewardship drive). Today we begin a 5 week focus on the various gifts that we have, the treasures that have been given to each of us by God and God alone and entrusted into our care, and how we are called to share these treasures, as individuals and as a church, to spread the good news of God’s saving work through Jesus Christ. Today we have our Parish Opportunity Day, a time when most of our ministries and programs are represented at tables in our parish hall, and all are invited to walk around, pray and discern where your gifts, your talents, your treasure can best be used in promoting the spread of the gospel through the work of the church.
Also today, we celebrate another treasure of St. Peter’s in the life and ministry of The Rev. Diane Livingston. You all know, better than I, how Diane’s presence among you during a time of intense transition served as a source of comfort and care, a graceful example of the servant ministry to which we all are called in our baptism and an icon of God’s loving care and presence for each of you. Diane has truly been a treasure here, and we give thanks for her witness and presence among us.
What exactly is God’s treasure that is promised us? What do you consider to be your treasure? Where do the two meet (or not meet), and how might you live your life or adjust your priorities so that your treasure and God’s treasure are one and the same? Our pursuit of treasure can be a source of hope and life for us, but it can also be something that separates us from the love of God and slowly kills our souls. Which do you choose?
In closing, I share with you a story by the clergyperson, John Westerhoff. “At an informal family Eucharist I celebrated last year during Lent, I asked the group to name persons whom they knew were suffering. A little girl sitting next to her father said, “My father’s suffering but he will not tell anyone.” While I was thinking of a response, she began to hug him. In embarrassment he said, “Oh, Beth, stop; you’re going to hug me to death.” No Daddy,” she exclaimed, “I’m hugging you to life.”
What is your treasure? What is God’s treasure? Are they the same?

Friday, September 25, 2009

Washed in the blood of the Lamb and Lovesme like the Rock of Ages

It had been a long, long Monday. I was on my way home, later than I had planned, and I got a call from D on my cell phone when I was at an intersection less than a mile from home. All he said was, "Come home right now."

When I walked into the door, I felt fairly confident that some form of chaos would greet me, and I was not disappointed. In the kitchen stood D and baby J, both of whom were covered in blood. And the baby was screaming hysterically. As I quickly surveyed the scene, I noticed that D had blood all over his white t-shirt, and J, who was not wearing a shirt, not only had bood smeared all over his chest but also had it smeared all around his mouth. I quickly learned that J had cut his finger and that it probably didn't require stitches, but that it would require two adults to subdue and bandage him to stop the bleeding. About 30 more minutes of drama ensued as we worked to clean and bandage him. I am always amazed at D's prowess at any kind of first aid. His training as a boy scout has always served us well.

So after we got J bandaged and cleaned up, he was still quite hysterical. I turned off the light in his room, and I sat in our rocking chair where the two of us have spent many long hours since the beginning of his life, in moments of quiet communion, first nursing and praying, and now reading, and singing and rocking. I held him closely, and I rocked him, and I sang to him. And I reflected.

First, I thought about the shocking image of seeing my 15 month old baby with blood smeared all over his face and around his mouth. D had told me that after J cut his finger, he had immediately put it in his mouth to try to make it feel better. But it was quite a disturbing sight to witness. Then I thought about how prominent a part blood plays in our weekly liturgy and how domesticated it has become for me. It took that shocking image of my child with his blood all over his face and all over his father for me to remember that Jesus talking about his own body and blood in the Last Supper isn't normal. It's disturbing. There's a violence that is associated with blood, for most people do bleed of their own free will. But there is also an earthiness there. It is the life-force of our bodies, a natural accompaniment to giving birth.

As I rocked and sang and comforted my baby, I thought about Paul Simon's song "Loves me like a rock", which to me is about the steadfastness of a mother's love through all stages and positions of life.

Haven't quite figured out how the two fit together, but I'll be thinking about it.

In the meantime, check out Paul Simon and the Muppets.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

"Bring your gift to the altar"

It was my second Sunday at St. Peter's and after the church service, one of my new parishoner's and friend came up to me to apologize for her almost 7 year old son's behavior at the altar rail. I thought back and didn't remember anything spectacular, and we surmised that it must have happend on the deacon, Diane's side. But then, of course, I had to know what happened, and she begrudgingly told me.

Apparantly, H had come to the altar with some friends of the family. When Diane went to place the host into his one open palm, he was nudged by the "adult" male who was with him, and H opened his other palm proudly to reveal that it contained a roly-poly. The story then went that Diane was so surprised by this offering, that she dropped the host (but this turned out to have taken on some elements of urban ledgend).

What most struck me, as my friend was telling me this, is that H was, in fact bringing his own offering to the altar as Jesus instructs all of us. What more appropriate offering from a 7 year old boy than a roly-poly which he has captured and contained, watched and wondered at?

One of my favorite things in this whole wide world is to witness children at the altar. I love to see their shining faces, the epitome of hope. It reminds me of who I have been and also who I hope to be: simple, joyful, and grateful.

Monday, September 21, 2009

"Changes in latitude; changes in attitude"

Last night, the Lemburg family went out to eat in our Sunday evening family meal ritual. (Sunday lunch is just too harried for priests' family, and we often find ourselves in different churches or citites at the noon hour and unable to gather before rest time). We've tried many different restaurants in our time here on the Coast, and this past Sunday, we tried a different one, just downt the street from our house.

Things were going well. They actually had a high chair for J (we've been to a couple that have not, and we won't be returning there); we had ordered our food, were being served by an energetic attentive waitress; MM was coloring on the fabulous kids sheet they had provided, and D and I were catching our breath and enjoying a moment or two of relative peace. It was then that I noticed that J (who is 15 months old) was doing something weird in his high chair. As I observed him and payed attention to our surroundings, I noticed that there was a Jimmy Buffet song playing in the restaurant. J was putting his hands behind his head with his elbows out to the side and gyrating his body (much like the siganture move from The Full Monty). I realized that he was trying to show his appreciation for the music by dancing enthusiastically. It was hilarious, and I kept laughing out loud as he continued to do his new move all throughout dinner.

We finished dinner and went home and started the bedtime ritual, and I got to put J to bed. We read a story, turned off the light, and snuggled in his rocking chair. I sang to him and rocked him for a good long time, telling him how precious he was to me and how much I enjoyed his dancing, and soon, he fell asleep in my arms like he has not done in months.

It was holy time. As holy as my time at the altar had been that morning. And as I sat there in the dark with the heavy weight of a sleeping baby snuggled against me, I thanked God that I am able to be a mom and a wife and a priest, and that God speaks to me through it all when I take time to listen to the music and be still in the holy moments.

Not your mother's church

I have recently started a new position as Rector of St. Peter's by-the-Sea Episcopal Church in Gulport, MS. This new job has included a move for my entire family--a major transition for my husband and me as well as for our two small children, who had only ever known McComb as their home.

I had been worried about how my five year old daughter would adapt to life in a new place and especially life in a new church. Clergy kids have such a blessed and a cursed existence. Because of their connection to the priest, they are often cast into the spotlight just by association. In a way, they become the property of the entire church, almost like a church pet, and this can truly be a blessing, as we have experienced in the past, as the parish showers upon them love and attention that is truly like grace--well beyond what could ever be asked for our imagined. We definietly experienced this at Mediator-Redeemer, and I was somewhat anxious as to what it would be like for my children at my new cure.

Just before this past Sunday (after two Sundays at the new church), D was talking to MM (5 year old daughter) about what was going to happen on Sunday. He told her that he would be serving his last Sunday in Crystal Springs, and that she and her brother "would be going with Mommy to Mommy's church." At this point in the conversation, MM interrupted and said, "You mean we are all going to MY church."

It made my heart glad to hear those words come from her and the sense of belonging that she already feels. It speaks greatly about the warm welcome that we have received here, as well as about the unique way that children adapt to the world around them. And it reminds me of what I used to feel in the church of my childhood, how I knew it was MY church and would walk the stairways and halls with a sense of belonging.

My prayers this night is that I might learn about new beginnings, welcome, and transitions from my daughter and plunge right into belonging with no hesitation or reservations. And my prayer is that all the children of our church may proudly say, "It's not Mommy or Daddy's church. It's MY church!"