Isaiah 51:1-6, Matthew 16:13-20, Racism, Sermons, Uncategorized

To the Quarry

“Listen to me, you that pursue righteousness, you that seek the LORD. Look to the rock from which you were hewn, and to the quarry from which you were dug.”

My quarry was the American South of the mid-20th century, a racially-mixed city where I grew up in a neighborhood so oddly quaint that it felt more like the setting for a 19th century novel written by a maiden lady with keen skills of social observation. My childhood memories skew to the excessively genteel. I can see my mother sitting at her desk, writing thank you notes, and have few memories of my father not wearing a necktie, unless he was playing tennis or in his pajamas. We lived in an old city, and both sides of the family had been there for many generations. One of my grandmothers was President of the Historical Association and an avid preservationist. Therefore I almost cannot help looking back and pondering how we all got to where we are.

There are a lot of influences in each of our lives that form us.

  • Location – where were you born, and how did the climate and the environment impact you?
  • Ethnicity and Nationality – what are the cultural influences that mattered in your early life?
  • Religion – what stream of faith formed you?

Isaiah wrote these verses for a people returned from exile in Babylon to take up living in Jerusalem again. Their faith tied them to a location their ancestors had left behind unwillingly, but by this time not only had that place been changed by years of occupation, the people coming back were not the ones who left in the first place. “Returned” is a term that applies to their race, but not to the individuals making the trip. They went back to the location of the Temple, the place where God could assuredly be found – but the occupying forces had destroyed the Temple, too.

Look to the rock from which you were hewn – look to the ancestors, says Isaiah, and to the way God dealt with them. Abraham was only one person, but from him came many. The heritage of the returned exiles included many people who felt like they lived at the end of the line, but God delivered them. Isaiah wrote a word of encouragement:

This land may feel unfamiliar, but no matter how complicated things seem, God is with you.

Look to the Rock.

Peter, the gospels tell us, grew up by the Sea of Galilee. He worked beside his brother, Andrew, casting the nets and supporting their families. He grew up in a family-oriented time, but he left both boat and family to follow Jesus. All the gospels suggest he had a strong, impulsive personality. When Jesus asked the question, “Who do you say that I am?” Peter never hesitated. “You are the Messiah, the Son of God.” Jesus called him the Rock; “On this rock,” he said, “I will build my church.” We remember Peter for his denial on the night of Jesus’ arrest, but we also remember that he went on to lead the early church, preaching and teaching and eventually being crucified himself.

Look to the rock from which we are hewn, to the quarry from which we were dug.

My childhood home may have been quaint and genteel, but it was also segregated. The African-American women I knew were all maids in our neighborhood. The one I remember best took care of my brother and me. No one thought it was strange for me to call her by her first name, Catherine. The one man of color I knew worked at my church; he was the janitor. No one thought it was odd for a very little girl to call him by his last name without a “Mr.” in front of it.

That’s been on my mind the past few weeks, as we’ve watched some terrible scenes unfold on television, scenes of armored vehicles on the streets, cell phone video of what amounted to an execution. I don’t like to see these things when they take place in Syria. I hate to see these things when they take place in our country.

I wish that scenes of violent oppression and stories of racial prejudice were ancient history, or at least as far away as my childhood. I was sheltered from the violent reaction to the Civil Rights movement – the violent reaction of white people, my people. I could hide behind the memory of the times we made sure to visit with Catherine after we moved away, because it’s a true story, and I could tell you about how my mother was one of a minority of white women employing help who bothered to do the Social Security paperwork, but the truth is we lived in a segregated and oppressive time and place, where the drug store counters and the water fountains had signs saying who could use them and who could not.

And what do we have now, fifty years later?

We have armored vehicles on the streets, deployed against our citizens. We have flash-bangs and tear gas canisters being used on our citizens. We have a church being raided in an American city – an AMERICAN city – for the sin of offering protestors first aid and water bottles and a place to gather.

We see scenes that look like the gates of Hell.

Jesus said, “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.” It’s too easy to read the gospel lesson this morning and pretend it refers to some far-off confrontation between metaphysical powers or imagine it as an apocalyptic IMAX summer blockbuster with Biblical figures instead of comic book characters.

The truth of these past two weeks has been a grindingly every-day hell. It’s as horribly ordinary as the delay of the first day of school, or a trip to the convenience store interrupted by a shooting, or a deadly walk home on a residential street. In big cities and middle class suburbs and small towns there is hatred and fear and cruelty. Mistrust feeds on mistrust. People get righteously angry. People speak painful truths. People do things we wish they wouldn’t. People on all sides do all these things. We – collectively – commit the sin of treating God’s beloved children as “other.”

Even without the tear gas, it’s hellish.

If it feels unmanageable to you, you’re in good company.

Listen to these ancient words, from Psalm 138:

Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you preserve me against the wrath of my enemies; you stretch out your hand, and your right hand delivers me.

The LORD will fulfill his purpose for me; your steadfast love, O LORD, endures forever. Do not forsake the work of your hands. (Psalm 138:7-8, NRSV)

The Israelites coming back from Babylon didn’t know how they were going to manage in Jerusalem. Peter had no idea how to be the person Jesus claimed he would be. I grew up and through many awkward relationships with African-American classmates and co-workers before I could be a real friend to any of them. I’m pretty sure most of the faithful sitting in churches this Sunday morning have a feeling we ought to be doing something about racism, but just don’t know where to start.

I don’t like to use “we” here. I want to say “they” and make it someone else’s responsibility, someone else’s problem. We are afraid we don’t know what to say, or what to do, or we tell ourselves these things only happen far away from us. We could turn our heads away, but the trouble is, we read Isaiah this morning.

“Listen to me, you that pursue righteousness, you that seek the LORD. Look to the rock from which you were hewn, and to the quarry from which you were dug.”

We want to be those people, don’t we, to have that kind of persistent faith? That quarry from which I was dug had some pretty faithful people in it. They couldn’t shield me entirely from the unconscious racism of our culture, but they could point me to the rock from which we were all hewn. God is that rock, a God of steadfast and enduring love for all people. God is that rock, who loves all people *so* much that God became one of us to make sure we knew it.

Peter knew. He knew God was in the world, even before the world was ready to know it.

That’s how every new movement starts. Someone listens to God, even before the rest of the world is ready. Someone puts it into words. People start to listen. The world begins to change.

We can see it some places. But we aren’t all the way there yet. It seems like it should be simple, but when we turn on the TV, there they are again, the fiery gates of Hell, in the middle of a neighborhood.

Greater St. Mark church (snagged from Brian Merritt's Facebook page)
Greater St. Mark church (snagged from Brian Merritt’s Facebook page)

In that neighborhood, the raided church continues to offer first aid and water bottles and a place to gather.

We can do it in any neighborhood when we open out with healing and nurture and community for all beloved children of God. That’s the way to be Christ’s church, founded on a rock, hewn from the quarry of God’s steadfast love.

The gates of Hell can never prevail against it.

*******

(Today’s readings here and here.)

Uncategorized

LOST

My oldest, my TV- watching companion of many years, had gone off to college. Looking for things to do with his little brother, a chipmunk-cheeked 8th grader, I suggested we watch a new show, LOST.

After many twists and turns, even time travel, tonight we begin the end of the story. The young boy is a slim young man and is away at conservatory. I don't know if he's watching. But we'll keep the episodes on the DVR until he comes home.

Really, we've travelled through time, too. We've grown and learned, made mistakes and granted forgiveness. I still believe in redemption, and I hope, in the end, LOST will, too.

Blog posted here.

Uncategorized

Friday Five: Planes, Trains and Automobiles

As posted at RevGalBlogPals by yours truly:

By the time you're reading this, I'll be en route to a Great Big City to see my son in a play. I'll go by car and bus and train and no doubt cab and maybe even subway. Thus, our Friday Five.

1) What was the mode of transit for your last trip?

I am blogging this from the bus!

2) Have you ever traveled by train?

Yes, in this country and in Europe. My children loved traveling by train when we took our trip to England and Scotland a few years ago. A train took us to Kathryn (Goid in Parts), who we first met on the station platform, a very happy memory.

3) Do you live in a place with public transit, and if so, do you use it?

I do, and I don't, though my children have all ridden the city bus.

4) What's the most unusual vehicle in which you've ever traveled?

It wasn't unusual in and if itself, but I remember pelting around Devon and Cornwall in 1977 with my parents and brother in a very small car driven by the son of a British law professor who was a colleague of my dad's. I felt pretty sure we would go smash! But we survived.

5) What's the next trip you're planning to take?

My next trip will be to Miami in April via plane, then on a cruise to the Bahamas for BE Three!!! I'm quite excited to go!

Blog posted here.

Uncategorized

Friday Five: Crush

(As posted by yours truly at RevGalBlogPals.)

I have to admit it. I felt for her.

http://www.hulu.com/embed/ZEuKUmNWloGROayLi2Tcxw

You see, in high school, I had a crush on my Chorus teacher. He was a young guy, and he had gone to college with some cousins of mine, and over the summer between 9th and 10th grade, we ran into each other at a series of pre-wedding parties, and I feel DEEPLY in like.

You?

1) Did you ever have a crush on a teacher? 

Yes, as I said above, I had a HUGE crush on Mr. Archer, who taught Chorus. When he announced his impending marriage I was, well, crushed. They were both musicians, and I'm happy to say that 30+ years later I can find them via Google, still married and performing together.

2) Who was your first crush?

The paper boy who used to pull me around in his wagon and let me "help" with the deliveries. I was 3. My parents knew him, but I am darned if I can remember his name. A neighbor complained that he had taken me into the lobby of an apartment building, and made my mother feel ashamed of letting me go with him. Really, it was fine. I felt very grown-up and important.

3) Have you ever given a gift to a crush? 

Yes, I have been known to offer baked goods to crushes, but probably the most sweetly pitiful example of crush-gift-giving would be from the era between my marriages. I appeared in a production of "A Christmas Carol" with my sons and developed a huge crush on the composer/music director who played on stage during the shows. Out of the cast he had chosen me to assist with the wintery percussion during the Ghost of Christmas Past segment of the story, and my part included artistically shaking a string of jingle bells in a variety of ways. When the show ended, I gave him a string of jingle bells with a card on the blank side of which I had written in tiny letters the words to "All Beautiful the March of Days." (He was British and musical, I felt that had to be a good idea.)

All this eventually led to two dates and one kiss, after which he vanished into the ether as traveling composers are wont to do.

Castle 4) Do you have a celebrity crush? (Around my house we call them TV boyfriends and girlfriends…)

It's embarrassing, because I remember when he played the suddenly grown-up Joey Buchanan on "One Life to Live," but my current celebrity crush is Nathan Fillion, otherwise known as Mal Reynolds of "Firefly" and "Serenity" semi-fame, as Captain Hammer in the absolutely irresistible "Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog," and most recently as the completely delightful Richard Castle, mystery writer and hero of "Castle."

(You may click on the picture to make it bigger…)

5) Have you ever been surprised to find yourself the crushee?

Indeed, I have. I assumed that even though people had crushes on their pastors, I would not be on the receiving end. That was incorrect. I hope I am as kind to those people as my many crushes were to me. Because there were many, many, many. I used to keep a list. Apparently, I live to love!