Sunday, May 11, 2014

Easter 4A sermon

Easter 4A May 11, 2014 I LOVE YOU LITTLE. I love you big. I love you like a little pig.” I was starting to get bogged down in the gospel reading for today, lost in Jesus’s mixed metaphors of shepherds, sheep, gatekeepers, and gates. My attention had been captured by the last line of our gospel, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” I was trying to focus on what abundant life really is? And I was contemplating the following line written by the Lutheran pastor David Lose, “In contrast to all that would rob us of life-the thieves and the bandits he mentions-Jesus comes to give, not just life, but life in abundance. Not just survival, that is, but flourishing; not just getting by, but thriving, not just existence, but joy.” I was thinking about how this abundant life that Jesus brings flows out of being cherished by, being known by God, and how it flows out of the work that we do of cherishing and knowing others. And then I happened to pick up the Christian Century, and I read a story that I think gets to the heart of abundant life. It’s written by Mark Ralls who is a Methodist minister. “ ‘I LOVE YOU LITTLE. I love you big. I love you like a little pig.’ During my visit to the nursing home that afternoon, I must have heard this sweet, odd rhyme more than a hundred times. I was sitting in the atrium, talking to a distinguished older man I had come to visit. He was a church member, and I enjoyed visiting him. But that particular day we were not sitting there alone. Near us sat a woman, another resident, wearing a nondescript pastel blouse and a broad, broad smile. Though the woman sat close enough to touch, she expressed no interest in us or in our conversation. She just stared out the window and said those childlike words: ‘I love you little. I love you big.’ She repeated them again and again and again. ‘I love you like a little pig.’ I tried my best to focus on the man I had come to see. But throughout my conversation with him, I caught myself wondering about our neighbor and her whimsical rhyme. Did she ever say anything else? Of all the words to remember, why these? As I was leaving the nursing home, my curiosity got the better of me. I searched for a nurse and, feeling a little sheepish about interrupting her work, approached her. ‘Could I ask you an odd question?’ I said. ‘The woman who sits in the atrium. She says this little rhyme over and over. Do you know why she does this?’ The nurse smiled and repeated the words with a dramatic flair: ‘I love you little. I love you big. I love you like a little pig!’ She had obviously heard the rhyme thousands of times—and she wasn’t the least bit tired of it. ‘That’s Thelma,’ she explained. ‘She taught first grade for more than 30 years. Her little rhyme was her own special way of greeting the children each morning. As she helped them remove their coats, she would whisper those words in every little ear. It was her way to let each child know she possessed a special place in her heart.’ Thelma’s mind was ravaged by dementia, but here was this single holdout from her memory. I marveled at this. Perhaps Thelma and her rhyme suggest a way to understand…[the love of God as lived out through Jesus—the shepherd for us the sheep.]” It is a kind of cherishing. And that is certainly at the heart of what Jesus is saying when he talks about being the good shepherd. He’s talking about how he is the one who knows us, who calls us by name, and who cherishes us, always, no matter what. This message takes on deeper meaning when we remember it in context in John’s gospel; our passage today is Jesus defense against those who criticize him for healing a man who was born blind on the Sabbath. It shows the lengths to which God will go in God’s cherishing of each of us. But it also serves as a reminder that when we follow Jesus, then we are called to not only receive this cherishing from him. But we are also called to pay attention to the times when others offer us that same type of knowing, of cherishing, and we are called to offer that to others. It is my deep hope that you have known and experienced this knowing, this cherishing by God and by another before. Whether it is through the love of a parent, a lover, or a child; a grandparent, a grandchild, or a grand-friend; whether it is a sibling, a best friend, or a soul mate…I suspect you each have truly been known and cherished by at least one other person in this world. Once we have known that kind of knowing, or cherishing, then we are called to do that for others. “Thelma gave this kind of love to her students. That is, she gave them a sustained cherishing, not mere mindless repetition. This is why she greeted every student with a hug and a rhyme—and it’s why, even now, she can’t seem to stop greeting them. ‘I love you little. I love you big. I love you like a little pig.’ ‘Does she always do that?’ I asked the nurse. ‘Oh, no!’ she replied. ‘Only when she is very happy.’ The nurse paused. ‘But then again, Thelma has had a good life, and she’s happy most of the time.’” “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” This sense of abundant life is captured in the StoryPeople story by Brian Andreas titled Whole World. I’ll share it with you in closing: “Moms come in all shapes and sizes, but they’re pretty easy to recognize because they’re the ones who teach you stuff all the time about how to be in the world and sometimes that sounds a lot like: chew with you mouth closed sit still. Stand up straight be polite. Look them in the eye. And Sometimes it seems like that sort of thing doesn’t add up to a whole lot. Until the day you feel the soft ache of love in your heart that makes you take care with a friend who hurts or when you look in a stranger’s tired eyes and you stop and smile. Or when you listen to the ABC song for the thousandth time and you laugh and say again and suddenly you understand that is the real thing moms do and it adds up to the whole world.” I LOVE YOU LITTLE. I love you big. I love you like a little pig.” “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Easter 3A

Easter 3A May 4, 2014 It is a season of hope, this great 50 days of Easter Season. It is a season of hope in our diocese of Mississippi, this week that has led up to the election of the 10th bishop of Mississippi. The hope and the energy and the excitement have been palpable—both in my conversations with you, in our gathering here on Wednesday night, and as our diocese gathered together in a re-convened Council to elect our new bishop. Yesterday, we elected the Very Reverend Brian Seage to be our 10th Bishop of Mississippi. And people there and all across the diocese are excited, hope-filled, and hopeful. And yet, in the middle of this season of hope, my imagination is captured by 4 little words in this gospel story for today, one of my favorite gospel stories. The two men are on the road from Jerusalem to Emmaeus when they encounter the risen Christ, but they do not recognize him. They tell him of all that has happened, and then they say these four little words that echo deeply within our own souls: “But we had hoped…” It is the cry of frustrated expectation, of disappointment, of heartbreak, of failure. “But we had hoped…: It is said that Ernest Hemmingway was once challenged to write a short story in 6 words. He replied by taking out a pen and writing on a napkin: “For sale: baby shoes, never used.” “It’s not just the tragedy of what happened that hurts, but the gaping hole of all that could have happened but won’t.”(David Lose on And we know something about this, don’t we? But we had hoped….that the cancer wouldn’t return. But we had hoped that the addiction would be overcome. But we had hoped that the beloved wouldn’t die, the friend wouldn’t betray, the child wouldn’t walk away, the perfect job would come along, the people wouldn’t disappoint us. So today, in the midst of this season of hope, we take a moment to grieve the future that will never be, to acknowledge the expectations that will never be met. We like the two men on the road to Emmaeus, walk together a ways on this day to bury our hope. And like them, we encounter the Risen Christ in the breaking of bread, in hospitality and welcoming the stranger. We encounter the Risen Christ in the Eucharist—he who is the embodiment and fulfillment of a hope that can never be lost or frustrated or even expected and anticipated. Like the two men on the road to Emmaus, we, too, discover, that in the Risen Christ is the true source of our hope that is never diminished, no matter what happens, as long as we gather together in his name. And we discover that a significant part of that hope exists in the fact that we always have companions on the way. So on this day, let us grieve the loss of our hope, even as we feed on the love of God and drink from the spring of his hope. And may we go out into this world as ambassadors of this hope—proclaiming to others that even though their hope may be lost, and they may grieve a future that will never be, God has created and prepared a future for them that is beyond any they can ask for or imagine. That is an Easter message. That is what it means to be a resurrection people. Thanks be to God. Alleluia. Alleluia.