“What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life? / The world would split open.”
Poet Muriel Rukeyser

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Baptized we are like seeds in God's garden

 A reflection on the readings for Trinity Sunday with a Baptism....

Over the last couple of weeks I have spent every spare moment gardening. I planted my vegetable garden. I worked with other parishioners to plant the ground cover in our new pet memorial garden. We also planted flowers in the planters around the labyrinth. I weeded the front and side yards of the Rectory. I pulled out dozens of maple tree saplings that popped up like popcorn.  I pulled up clover and a lot of grass growing into the landscaped beds. 

Despite the fact that the last two nights of frost may have killed off my newly planted basil, zucchini and cucumbers, overall I think plants are incredible hardy – most of the new planting survived!  Plants are seemingly careless in their abundance, prolific in their wild abandoned state, plants of all kinds grow anywhere there is a little soil, water, and sun. 
This time of year, all over the deck in the backyard of the rectory, are maple seeds. When I was a child we called these whirly-birds. So many seeds, scattered about the yard, in window sills, tracked in the house on shoes, and all over the roof. I have even seen squirrels eating these maple seed whirly-birds.
Despite their prolific nature the future of a seed is unknown –a seed might take root and grow into one of those saplings I pulled up, or become a beautiful flower, plant, or tree – or it might die for lack of nutrients or be eaten by a bird or squirrel. 

In some ways, baptism is like the maple trees in my yard, producing many seeds, some of which end up scattered about, wind blown, and abandoned as people lose track of their faith. But many seeds take root and bear life—some even become new trees that shade our homes and streets. Trees bring great beauty to our world and afford us comfort from the sun, comfort from the strife and challenges of life. So to with baptism – baptism plants in us the wild seeds of God’s love and grace. God’s love, planted in us in a particular way at baptism, affords us the potential to grow into the fullness of what God desires for us. God’s grace can bring out our most beautiful nature and through knowing the depth of God’s love in our lives, we become a people of love, scattering love far and wide.

You see the point of baptism is life. God desires that we live rich, full, healthy, satisfying lives. Scripture gives us Jesus’ baptism at the beginning of his story, his ministry here on earth. Baptism launches Jesus into becoming who he is as God’s beloved and revealing to us that Jesus is the fullest expression of God’s love on earth. God’s love in Jesus is radical – God’s love is for everyone, equally, all the time. 

This is the story of our baptism as well – we are, were, baptized into God’s love in Jesus. After baptism, our entire life becomes the overflow of those baptismal waters, which is the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and pouring forth of God’s love. Baptism is how we plant our lives to the life of Jesus and baptism is how we sprout seeds of new life, of God’s love, in others. 

Sometimes I think of God as a gardener taking pride in her garden. And, like any passionate gardener all God can think about and talk about is her garden. I know people like that. The first thing they want to show any visitor to their house is the garden—what plant was about to sprout, what she or he is going to plant in a new bed. I hope all of you will wander out behind the church and see our vegetable garden and walk the labyrinth or sit in one of the benches and appreciate the beauty. Take it in with deep appreciation, and offer prayers for the saints who have gone before, whose memorial gifts have enabled us to have this beauty place of prayer. 

You can only begin to understand people like this, avid gardeners, once you let them show you their garden. People like this don’t make sense without their plants and seeds and greenhouse and their struggle against the weeds. 

This time of year causes me to think that God is like a master gardener—not an amateur gardener like me who for a season spends a few hours planting flowers, putting vegetables in the ground and weeding.  Unlike me, God’s life is dedicated year round, day in and day out to gardening. The gardener and the garden are intimately involved in one another. God in us and we in God. You can’t have one without the other. The garden displays the nurturing love and care of the gardener, the gardener devotes her time and energy to tending to her garden.

That’s the good news. God is a gardener who is always sowing new life into the world, into our lives. On this Trinity Sunday we are reminded that God is a God of relationship. For Christians we know God as a being in relationship with God’s self, with creation, with us. God is a being who expresses God’s self as God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. God the creator, Jesus who redeems the creation with love, and the Holy Spirit who enables the love to live on through the ages, love acting in and through us.

When we are baptized our lives take root in the life of Jesus and in his baptism. The baptism of Jesus is like a seed that takes root in our baptism enabling us to grow in faith, grow as Christians, to sprout seeds and spread God’s love and live our lives loving others as God loves. Through baptism we become the gardener of our lives.

Today we have come to baptize M and I. We have come here like gardeners, to root their lives in the rich soil of God’s love. We have come to anoint them with the waters of life and thus plant in them the seeds of the Holy Spirit. May the fruit of this day flower in them all the days of their lives.


Life is Fragile, Love is Strong

This sermon was inspired by mothers I know who shared with me their pain of losing a child to suicide, and given at a funeral over which I presided recently. Some of the basic structure of the sermon was also inspired from  ponderingpastor.wordpress.com/2012/02/07/funeral-for-suicide-victim.

Who would have thought, just a few days ago, that we would be here tonight?  This has been an especially difficult few days.  

Days like these remind us that life is so very fragile.  One moment all seems well, and the next moment a sudden heart attack strikes. Or a moment of distracted driving and an accident happens. Or an historic tornado blows through town. Or a there’s a bombing or a shooting. Lives are lost in a moment of time. Life is fragile.

For Steven, his life too was fragile, and now, in an instant, he’s gone.

And no one could have predicted just how vulnerable Steven was. 

Perhaps some of you are feeling guilty or questioning what you could have done to help Steven more? The truth is, everyone did the best they could.  Steven didn’t die because you failed.  Steven died because of his illness.  You, his family and friends, did the best you could.  Steven didn’t die because you didn’t do enough.  

Some anger at Steven, should you feel that at some point in time, is appropriate.  This isn’t fair or easy or convenient.  Steven’s death changes everything and makes so many aspects of living that much harder.  Remember, sometimes a fatal illness leaves more questions than answers.  We don’t need to have answers to all of our questions. Some questions will never be answered this side of God’s kingdom.
But there are plenty of things we do know.

We know that Steven was unconditionally loved by his mother and his father. He was love by his brothers and family, and by many friends.

We know that Steven had this unique ability to touch the lives of people in significant ways.  You’ve no doubt been telling and hearing some of these stories over the past several days. You shared stories, even some laughter, at the viewing yesterday. You’ll continue to share stories, even some laughter, through the days ahead, as you remember him. You’ve also shed many tears and there will be more of those, but intermingled, there will always be some laughter. Life is complicated that way, a tumble of emotions as we remember….

That is your job.  In the coming days and weeks and months, remember Steven, and share stories.  Some stories will make you smile in amazement, or bring up feelings of sadness, nostalgia, and even sometimes raucous laughter.  Perhaps you will discover something about yourself and something about Steven as you tell these stories.  When you tell these stories, take a moment, as you are able, to be grateful, especially grateful to God for placing Steven in your life.

This is a good day to give thanks to God for placing Steven in your life.

We know that Steven has played an important part in shaping who you are. This is evident because his death has left a huge aching hole in the center of your being, a hole that will now always be a part of your life. 

And so today we also acknowledge the hurt and pain and the gaping hole, love ripped open.

But today is also a good day to care for one another. It is a good day to honor the fragility of life and hold one another tenderly. Because when we care for one another we are doing God’s work.

This is a good day to allow people to comfort us.

Perhaps you are wondering how you can comfort Pat and Bill and this family? 

Here are a couple of ideas: As time goes on call them just to say you love them. And sometimes, just show up with a cup of coffee.  Listen as they tell stories or share their despair. Just listen. You don’t have to have any answers, there really aren’t any anyway. Say the name of their beloved child out loud. Ask, 
"What have you been remembering?" 
 "What's the hardest thing these days?" 
 But most of all, just be present in a loving way. Remember, grief takes the time it takes. It can’t be rushed. Don’t judge, just love them.

Because the Christian hope for life is that we will know God’s love in our lives and share that love with others, graciously and abundantly.  

We come here today to celebrate the life of Steven but to also hold up the Christian understanding of life and death.  

As Christians we believe that death is not the end of a life but a life changed.  I mean this in the most spiritual of realities. Grounded in God we come to understand that in death a person is born into a new life with God. In this new life, all pain and suffering is gone. In this new life, the one we love is transformed from despair into peace.

Today is a good day to remember that Jesus, and God, know the depth of your despair. 

It’s a good day to remember that through Jesus God transforms our despair into peace. 

We know that God made some irrevocable promises to Steven.  Long ago Steven was baptized and became a child of God.  That was a relationship that God promised never to abandon.  I am confident that God kept God’s promise and Steven resides with God today.

On a day like this it is so important to let the words from the Gospel of John take hold of us:

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also..” 

The Gospel of John assures us that Jesus waits for us. That Jesus had a place prepared for Steven, greeted him with open arms, and comforts him this day.  That brings us hope.

We know that God loves Steven unconditionally. God accepts Steven into God’s arms, too. God  forgives him all that needs to be forgiven, and assures him that all is well. That brings us peace today.

And so, it is a jumbled up day with all these emotions of despair and grief, hope and love, assurance and peace all mixed together.  Slowly, over time, jumbled up emotions will settle.  God’s peace will take hold of today’s grief and soothe its brittle pieces. The grief will always be there, but through the grace of God and the love of God, God’s peace will prevail and the ragged edges will soften. 

Be not afraid, for Jesus goes before us, and will give us rest. 

May Steven rest well this day and every day in the peace of Christ. May you know Steven’s abiding love in your lives, in your memories, in your stories, in your tears and in your laughter, in and through all the days of your lives, until you meet again in that place where suffering is no more, but love and peace prevail.