Saturday, May 31, 2008

All shall be well ...

Good grief! I've not posted here the whole season of Easter! Well, it's been busy ...
This sermon from May 25, the Second Sunday after Pentecost, was preached on the occasion of a First Communion. A ten-year-old girl studied and prepared herself for communion, bringing her family along with her to church. She and her mentor have developed a close and surprising relationship of mutual learning and delight. The event marked progress in our congregational development: new people, total strangers, have come to meet us, seen us, liked what they have seen and heard and prayed and read, and they will stay. We are blessed that they have joined our communion, and we look forward to greeting more ...

Proper 3-A
May 25, 2008
St. Paul’s
Isaiah 49:8-16a
Psalm 131
1 Corinthians 4:1-5
Matthew 6:24-34

Long ago and far away, in a kingdom by the sea, a woman lived in a small room – one small room, attached to a parish church. This woman, some years before, had become ill, very ill, so ill in fact that she and everyone around her thought she would die. Her constant companion during this serious illness was her mother, always by her side, always wiping her brow, changing her bed linens, holding her hand, encouraging her to eat and drink. And since this woman lived in a time when people had vivid dreams and visions and believed God came to them in visions, she had vivid dreams and visions during her sickness. She had visions of Jesus on the cross, suffering and burning with fever as she was. And she had visions of a loving God, cooling her brow and stroking her hand, always by her side, just as her mother was, all through that long and frightening illness. And during her visions, these two images came together, of Jesus, suffering just as she was suffering, and of Jesus, caring for her with devotion and compassion, just as her mother cared for her. And eventually, the illness passed.

But the visions stayed with the woman for the rest of her life, and since these visions were a gift from God, she decided to think about them with her forever. To do this, then, she lived in a room, one room, with stone walls, attached to her parish church. She had a maid, who brought her food and drink and helped her stay clean. And she had a cat. The room, and its simple furnishings, and the cat – and her visions – were her only possessions.

As she thought and prayed and slept and dreamed, she came to understand the visions she had during her illness. She was not the only one in her time who knew serious illness. She lived in the 14th century, in England, during the time of the plagues. Life was terrible, with this devastating illness sweeping away whole families, whole towns, whole populations. The powers of the time – the aristocracy, the church, the king – ruled the peasants with brutality and taxed them heavily. The church itself was split between two popes – it was a time of intrigue and danger and anxiety. If she suffered, and her neighbors suffered, then her visions showed her that Jesus knew those sufferings, because he had felt them as well.

But remember who cared for the woman during her illness: her mother. Her understanding of God and of Jesus and her mother were all intertwined, the suffering wrapped up in the comfort, the image of Jesus with the knowledge of her mother, the love of God with the love of a parent, and there, even there, in that difficult world, of sickness and war and struggle, in her one-room dwelling, all stony and cold, with only her cat for a companion, this is what Julian said: "All shall be well, and all shall be well, and every manner of thing shall be well."

God gives us everything all the time, she said, weal and woe. Good things and bad things. And yes, way back then, in the middle ages, it was easy to see the bad things, and many people certainly interpreted the bad things that happened to them as coming directly from God, as punishment for sin. Many people saw the hand of God in those bad things.

But as Julian – for that was her name, Julian – reminded the people who came to her seeking her advice, God gives us good things as well, loves us as a mother cares for us, and we can love the goodness in the world around us – even a world filled with suffering – if we see it through God’s eyes, through the eyes of mothers who love their children no matter what.

During this Memorial Day Weekend, it seems like the anxieties – the woes – of this world are heightened. Gasoline costs over $4 a gallon. Some people worry about losing their homes, about paying bills, about keeping a job. Memorial Day is a time when we remember soldiers – other mothers’ sons and daughters who died in service to our country. If there was ever a time we needed to hear those words, “All shall be well,” this is it.

“Consider the lilies,” Jesus says, in this passage, familiar to many, from his Sermon on the Mount. Spectacular flowers, and grasses and birds in the air, all rise and fall, all flourish and die, full of weal and full of woe; don’t you realize how much God loves you? Two things, Jesus says, just remember these two things – two things which Julian would have understood all those centuries ago in her stony little room, with her cat on her lap. Don’t worry about all those things that you need – food, drink, clothing. Yes you will always need them, and yes, you might worry about them someday, but they are not the end of life. And here is the second thing Jesus said, Strive – not for those things that worry you, but strive for the kingdom of God. See the world as God sees it, as a place of love and righteousness and compassion and abundance and beauty. The prophet Isaiah speaks for God: See, I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands.

Today we welcome Giovanna to this altar, for she wishes to commune with us, to be one with us as we remember Jesus among us and partake of – take part in – his body and blood. Giovanna wants to be with us as we say those holy words, “Send us out to do the work you, God, would have us do.” Send us out to the world where things are not always so easy, where things are not always so beautiful. Show us how to see the world through your eyes, God; show us how to love all of the world with a mother love, that love that never leaves our side. Then all will be well, and all will be well, and every manner of thing will be well.