St Barnabas, Norwich VT
Sermon by Rev Jennie M Anderson
Lord, make us stewards of ourselves, that we may be servants of others. Take my words and speak through them, take our minds and think through them, take our hearts and set them on fire, for Jesus’ sake. Amen. Good morning! Welcome!
Marilynne Robinson, in her novel Home, wrote, "There's so much to be grateful for, words are poor things."
Rainer Maria Rilke, in Letters to a Young Poet, wrote, "Believe in a love that is being stored up for you like an inheritance, and have faith that in this love there is a strength and a blessing so large that you can travel as far as you wish without having to step outside it. " And, in that same collection he said, “Perhaps all the dragons in our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us act, just once, with beauty and courage. Perhaps everything that frightens us is, in its deepest essence, something helpless that wants our love.”
Thomas Merton wrote, “At the center of our being is a point of nothingness which is untouched by sin and by illusion, a point of pure truth, a point or spark which belongs entirely to God.”
My friend Kate continues to frame my reflections our readings, as she often does, so well, even now in the nascent days of her retirement. She reflected about today’s reading from Paul’s letter to the Hebrews. How life is difficult: at one time or another, the experience of living has brought pain or illness, loss or loneliness, fear, worry, doubt, anxiety, defeat, hardship of one kind or another. And yet, for people of faith, there is a knowledge, a feeling, an assurance that even in the midst of that pain or doubt or suffering, God is good. [I think of Charlie Brown’s expression, “good grief!”] The author of the Letter to the Hebrews is recalling the ancient story of two people who knew hardship well, our ancestors in faith, Abraham and Sarah, who were old and without children, but who were promised by God that their descendants would be as difficult to count as the stars in the sky. "Look up toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them...so shall your descendants be." Abraham believed the Lord, we read, "and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness" (Genesis 15). [Kate Matthews Huey]
I am so grateful to be home. I cannot express the amazing joy I feel deep inside to be home and to call this place of such beauty and gift, home. For me, part of that ‘knowledge, a feeling, an assurance that even in the midst of that pain or doubt or suffering, God is good’ is in being so privileged as to live in a place that calls to many, many, people from all around the country and even the world to come and explore, walk through or journey through. These people come to wander in order that they might find out who their lives are leading them to be or perhaps where their lives are leading them to go next. Like Sarah and Abraham, it is in our nature to wander and seek and explore so that we can encounter that which is strange and that part of the strangeness that reminds us of home. We journey through the sometimes very rough and challenging pathways of life, or life on the trail, so that, coming through that part of the passage, we come out to a new view, a new understanding, of ourselves and the world around us. To meet those challenging pathways, we need God’s own courage and the companionship of one another.
Having a home with the AT, the Appalachian Trail, right outside our door is such a treasure to us here at St Barnabas and to be able to call this spot, this amazing and beautiful spot, home is to claim richness and abundance that is rare indeed. This week, as I have come home, I have been able to provide a resting place for several groups and no less than 12 thru-hikers on the AT. These people are amazing and so spiritually rich. The courage they have, or is it the courage that they acquire along the way, to take on each step of the journey is spirit led. It is wonderful to find in the souls of those who stop and rest with us for a while some reflections of their faith, not told to us in the language of our Sunday morning Episcopal Church poetry of prayer and song, but their reflections are of faith and prayer and song all the same. The greatest gift that I have found and received, in the center of those courageous souls who are journeying with such great trepidation is the gift of gratitude.
My friend Kate said a little more about today’s reading in Hebrews and that is that the author of Hebrews uses Abraham as one in a series of examples of faith in a letter that is really a sermon exhorting an early Christian community to stand fast in the midst of difficulties and challenges to their faith. Perhaps faith is so hard to define that it is easier or better to use examples than to write a lot of theoretical things about it.
It's the experience of real people in a real relationship with God that can help us to grasp the meaning of faith, not a precise or scholarly theological definition. The Letter to the Hebrews exhorts an early Christian community that's struggling with something, perhaps persecution, marginalization, and fear. For a long time in not so distant memory, many modern churches didn't know what persecution felt like, for they lived in a "churched" society. Today, however, in a secularized culture, we certainly know the dull frustration of being marginalized. Suffering swirls around us, but so does a blithe disregard for the things we say about that suffering, and for the things we are about in responding to it, or so it feels. Beneath it all, however, this text reminds us that there is a greater and more powerful though unseen reality. In a sense, this passage is about the "however" of life. That "however" raises its head here and there, lifts up from beneath the trouble and turmoil, interrupts the incessant noise and electronic chatter, turns our attention toward ancient promises, and calls us toward our true homeland. [Kate Matthews Huey]
It is my hope, my dream, that we in this generation of church, especially here at St Barnabas Episcopal Church in Norwich, VT, right in the middle area of the Episcopal Church in Vermont, can find a better and even better way to welcome the stranger and wayfarer who travels the road seeking a better connection with their spiritual, mental and certainly physical selves on life’s paths. Who in other circumstances may be called wanderer, traveler, or maybe drifter, hobo, refugee, homeless, vagabond, itinerant… perhaps we can find a way to offer a spiritual resting place for such persons as they try and heal their broken, fragmented and lonely hearts. And perhaps we already do this ministry, we just have a chance to better keep in practice… provide respite, and be open to receive the spirit of love that comes from this generous gift of rest in God’s presence.
I am so glad and grateful to be home after having been on my own journey of walking side by side with my mom as she got ready to and then died peacefully in her sleep. To come home to such welcome, such beauty, so much beauty, and a community of generosity is for me deeply healing to my soul. No matter how peaceful the passing of my mom, it still breaks my heart and fills me with loneliness. Perhaps as I heal and grow through this pain, now, at middle age, I’ll find faith and wisdom to listen well to my own kids as they struggle through their own faith journey.
Let us pray. God of Abraham and Jesus, you invite your people to contemplate heavenly things and urge us toward faith in you. May your coming among us find our doors open, our tables set, and all your people ready to greet you. Amen.