Sermon in four acts

Linda

Some months ago, Jan and Peter and I went on a cross-cultural trip. We went to the land of MOA (otherwise known as the Mall of America). We went on a walkabout to see the sights and eventually came into the capital of this make-believe land, Nordstroms. It sounds Scandinavian, but it’s not humble enough to be Danish.

Anyway, I was in a good mood, having spent an hour under the sparkly, decorative lights of the mall, breathing in that slightly intoxicating smell of chlorine from the water park – a scent that makes everything seem clean and pure.   We had no business at Nordstroms, but wandered in anyway. Once we left the escalator, I quickly came upon a really lovely dress. Simple lines, quality linen/fine wool blend, black with a pale pink yoke. I liked it a lot. I accidentally found the price while looking for the fabric content. $1685. Peter pointed out a little navy woven top – $1265. We agreed not to touch anything, but had gotten spun into the web. We circled the wonders on display.

On a golden pillar with glass shelves sized for a single magic slipper and spaced for artful emphasis, I saw the most perfect shoe. I hate to call it a shoe. The fabled glass slipper had nothing on this one. It was deep blue like the ocean – deep, brilliant, evocative blue like the sky just after sunset – fine grained suede, 3 1/2 inch stiletto heel. A golden clasp held the ankle strap. Perfect. Balanced, elegant, gorgeous. Givenchy. $1400 (maybe just for that one shoe!). I circled the area but kept being drawn back to that perfect blue shoe sitting like a jewel on a golden pillar. The boys and I noted that blue was a practical color – so many colors would set it off – it was just the right shade of blue. I began to imagine the places that shoe would be worn, the admiration it would draw, the elegant rooms it would enter on the foot of a tall, thin woman.

In the midst of these pleasant imaginings I turned and saw myself in a mirror. Full length. Of course I was wearing my hiking boots because I can walk all day in them. Of course I had on my favorite baggy brown sweater, and gray coat. Nothing matched. My hair was….well, much like it is now – which is to say, not the hairstyle one would wear with Givenchy.

You have to know I never actually considered buying the perfect shoe. I didn’t really imagine myself wearing it, I just imagined it in the life the shoe would inhabit… and imagining that, I felt the need to accessorize my life to match the shoe’s worldview. That’s the spell of Nordstroms.

In unexpectedly seeing my reflection alongside The Shoe I felt the farce of being there, the cinders of my little, plain life and how impossibly absurd my fascination with this $1400 shoe.  In that one glance in a mirror I felt ugly, stupid, conspicuous, a failure.

But in the next moment – before I could turn away from the mirror of my sad reality, Jan and Peter passed behind me. I saw them reflected there for just a moment. I couldn’t have loved them or needed their grinning faces more than in that fleeting glance. Because somehow I had taken it all personally – the strings of sparkling lights filling in the domed sky, the exalted land of Nordstrom, the perfection of a blue shoe.

The contrast to my own life had become a critique of me. I had been so taken in by the marketing of this contrived land that I lost my way.

The grace of that moment was in seeing the ridiculous world of Givenchy shoes in the same mirror as my sons… and hearing them call my name.

What does all of this have to do with resurrection, with the fourth Sunday of Easter? I find that I can’t say much about Resurrection with a capital R. It is a mystery. But I think there are glimpses, small events that get us ready – moments of grace, of seeing a different reality, of opening ourselves to a resurrection vision.

The magic mirror at Nordstrom’s shoe department stripped away my false images and imagination and revealed me as I am – messed up, maybe, poorer in spirit, of lower estate than how we would like to imagine ourselves, but possessing all we need – the love and truth, simply, of who we are before God.

The moments when we know that, accept it, rest back in it, are little resurrections, raising us to new life in this same old familiar life. Like Lazarus, like Mary, like Thomas – we hear Christ call us out of grief and fear and disbelief – calling us by name and giving us cause to tell someone else of this rise-up-my love-and-follow-me love of Christ.

Mary Magdalene stood weeping outside the empty tomb in which Jesus had been laid… She turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was him. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned, “Rabbouni!” 

And Mary went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord.”…              ~ John 20

Musical interlude

When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain them, they are retained.’

But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came.

So the other imrs.phpdisciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord.’ But he said to them, ‘Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.’

A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.’ Thomas answered him, ‘My Lord and my God!’

Christy

At our house, pot roast is a winter food. We had pot roast this past week and it was yet another sure sign that spring has indeed not come. For us in the north this year, the idea that spring will come is more a point of faith than an evidence-based fact – is it too late to add it to the Apostles’ Creed?

We’re all so busily looking for signs of spring these days it’s turned us into amateur phenologists. Phenology is one of my favorite sciences: literally “the study of appearances,” it’s the systematic observation of seasonal natural phenomena. Ice-out dates, the dates the woods green up, lilacs leafing out and blooming, bird migrations, the first redwing blackbird sighting in Luck, WI…believe it or not these appearances are meticulously tracked by scientists to understand climate patterns.

Generations of farmers and gardeners have also, year after year, noticed patterns of appearances and collected them into phenological dicta, essential for life on the land. “Look for morels when the oak leaves are the size of a squirrel’s ear.” “It’s safe to plant tomatoes when the lily-of-the-valley are flowering.” “When the thistles are in bloom, the apple maggots are out–take protective measures.” And here’s my favorite: “You know you should start tapping your maple trees when you smell the first skunk roadkill.”

So the disciples gather together in the confusing days after Jesus’ death-and-whispered- resurrection, and Jesus appears to them in their frightened upper conference room. The first time he comes he gets a jump on Pentecost by breathing his spirit into his disciples. It’s much more intimate than Pentecost will be: instead of tongues of fire, Jesus crowds them in close and exhales a long, warm breath into their faces.

When next he appears to the disciples, it’s his body he shares with them (thank you, Thomas, for asking what we were all thinking). He again crowds them in closely and asks them to touch his wounded body–hand touching hand, hand touching body. The disciples become intimately aware that Christ has indeed risen. They have smelled his breath, and touched his living skin.

Pay attention, Jesus says. These are the signs that I’m alive. Look for them. Get out of your little upper room of fear; go out on the lake and go fishing. Keep looking for me.

And still today we look for God in the world, but sometimes, I think, we look in the wrong places. We ignore that breath of wind tossing the bare trees–what if it were the breath of God, the spirit of God hovering over the waters, melting the ice, and it means he’s alive today, breathing warmly on our faces? You might begin to smell the lilacs blooming, the unfurling of their sweet scent on the breeze–and what if it were the fragrance of burial spices, wafting out of an empty tomb? Wouldn’t you breathe it in to the deepest part of your lungs, and treasure it there?

And what about those coarse, needy people in your life, crowding in uncomfortably close, breathing onto you, reaching out their wounded hands to you, to touch and be touched? Wouldn’t the only proper response to them be joy? Hallelujah, Jesus is risen?

What if both the annual running of the maple sap and the skunks coming out of their dens after hibernation were images-1signs of God’s presence in the world, Christ’s continuing resurrection? And if that redwing blackbird you hear were the voice of Christ, how would that change the way you listened? Do we ignore the sound of birdsong to our
peril? And what about that bread you taste at supper, alongside the pot roast, what if it were his body?

Don’t miss the signs, Jesus says. Pay attention. Because the spring we wait for has already come. And will keep on coming, forever.

Musical interlude

     After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias; and he showed himself in this way. Gathered there together were Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples. Simon Peter said to them, ‘I am going fishing.’ They said to him, ‘We will go with you.’ They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.

     Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, ‘Children, you have no fish, have you?’ They answered him, ‘No.’ He said to them, ‘Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.’ So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish. That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, ‘It is the Lord!’ When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on some clothes, for he was naked, and jumped into the lake. But the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, only about a hundred yards off.

  When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, ‘Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.’ So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred and fifty-three of them; and though there were so many, the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, ‘Come and have breakfast.’ Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, ‘Who are you?’ because they knew it was the Lord. Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.

 Molly

How messy this breakfast story is. How deeply beautiful. The disciples, lost again for what to do with themselves, return to what they know, fishing. And they fish all night – and catch nothing. Not until dawn when they take the fish_bbq250advice of someone on shore and cast on the right side the boat. Nearly overwhelmed with fish and Peter overwhelmed with recognizing that shoreline someone is Jesus, they go to shore. And Jesus invites these tired, stinky, physically and emotionally wandering disciples to breakfast. Most of them are naked and probably thoroughly smelly – with sweat and fish. And Peter shows up drenched with his clothes on.

“Bring some of the fish you have just caught” Jesus calls, “Come have breakfast!”

If this isn’t the essence of hospitality, I don’t know what is. Jesus invites the disciples and feeds them– -right now! shows them they have something to offer — right now, in their unsightliness, in their lostness, “Come, Eat, and Bring some of those fish you have, we need them!!”

The disciples don’t seem to know how to tend themselves. But, oh, how Jesus loves them. Loves them and knows the love that lives inside them. “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Love Jesus–that great giver of hospitality to all – untouchables and mistake makers, stinky wanderers. “Do you love me?” “Feed my lambs”, “tend my sheep”, “feed my sheep”. How? What does this look like? I don’t know. Probably like a lot of different things; a lot of small everyday occurrences. This week I’ve been thinking about what it looks like to literally feed people.

One year I was working in the kitchen at Holden Village, a retreat center in the North Cascades of Washington, and a woman named Marsha came on teaching staff for a week. Now Marsha couldn’t eat certain foods – gluten I think was one of them. Located in the remote mountains, the village dining hall was the only place to get food for many miles (and hours of traveling) around. One morning I was in charge of finding something Marsha could eat for breakfast. As an entirely volunteer staff — some of us having little experience in kitchens — certainly commercial kitchens — we tried our best and learned as we went. But sometimes we fell short. I think we had been coming up short for Marsha. This day, at the end of the week, she came to the front counter and asked, in not too bright a tone, what there was for her for breakfast. Oh, we not been feeding Marsha well —she was not being filled and I was not feeling good about what we had made. That day, like the previous days, the de-facto option was the same, Cream of Rice. I was ashamed at the kitchen’s shortcomings. My shortcomings. I worried b/c I needed to be the one with the answers—I was in charge—and I didn’t have the answer— didn’t know what she would want or what I was really capable of making. But here she was. And her need was palpable.

“We have cream of Rice”, I said, “but we could make you something else—whatever you’d like!” And began listing off theoretical options. Eggs! A brightening relief spread over Marsha’s face. “How would like them?” I asked. Sunny side up? O dear! I had never made sunny side up eggs. In my emptiness, I told her this, but that I would try my best — How did she usually go about making them? Tenderly, she explained and I unhitched a frying pan from above the counter, and set tremulously to work. Nervously I brought the cooked eggs to the table where Marsha sat sipping coffee, and set them before her. She looked at them and then at me and said, “they look beautiful!”

We are not called to single handedly divine what the sheep require and deliver it to them. We’d probably get it wrong anyway. We are asked to be the broken tending the broken. (even Jesus bears nail holes and a pierced side) Every day it’s easy to hear voices telling us we aren’t enough or don’t know enough to do useful work. We are too young or too old or too broken or make too many bad decisions. But Jesus says, I love you. You are good enough just as you are. To be loved, to love the sheep. All you need to do is show up to hear and learn from one another. I lambs-wool-lamb-imagewas supposed to feed Marsha, but she fed me just as much. Really, we made breakfast together. It is in the feeding, we are together filled, together made whole.

Musical interlude

When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?’ He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my lambs.’ A second time he said to him, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Tend my sheep.’ He said to him the third time, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, ‘Do you love me?’ And he said to him, ‘Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my sheep.

Claire

I love Thomas. He needed proof he could touch and see before he could say ‘my Lord and my God.’ He just says it right out, and he is granted those proofs. Lucky, lucky man.

I’ve gone around needing proofs just like Thomas. I wasn’t bold enough to say it aloud, not even to myself, but that is what I’ve been looking for all my life. It’s made all the difference to have found the joyful Danes and West Denmark where questions are welcome and searching and learning are a way of life.

Thomas’s story has set me to thinking about the proofs I’ve been given, about where I see and touch God in my life. I’ve come up with a list I’d like to share with you.

God made me an introvert and a Romantic so He meets me in those places.

I love quiet and stillness and the story of Samuel listening for God’s voice. When I sit quietly God is right there in the quiet waiting.

I love color, somehow it plays me like a guitar, and I feel God in those glorious vibrations as color strikes my eyes. Colors, especially the red/blue ones swallow me up in a velvet sea of God’s glory.

I love sound, birdsong, water, rain, sung harmony, D major chords on my piano, spring peepers, waterfalls and windblown grass. When I get to heaven I’ll be able to sing harmony by ear and resonate with the energy of the universe.

I feel God’s spirit when I’m in community, especially here with all of you. That’s why I have so much fun passing the peace. Working together physically as a church family gives me strength and joy.

Singing together at family camp feels like a foretaste of heaven.

Most of all I meet God in nature….rich beyond imagining life before my eyes. Connecting across species is my greatest joy. It really does feel like meeting God, doing God, representing God, receiving God.

Thank you Pastor Linda for asking for reflections this Easter season. I’ve learned so much from sorting through my thoughts and beliefs and hearing from other writers. And thank you, Thomas, for your plain speaking. Now I can say “My Lord and My God” with you.