January 4, 2015
Celebrating the Feast of the Epiphany
Good morning, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in God’s sight and helpful for this faith community to hear.
Some weeks ago, I had a lovely conversation with Trish regarding life in general, the recent race and diversity class, her trip with Pat around Mississippi and other topics. In that conversation over tea at my dining room table, one desire that Trish shared was that I preach more frequently. I am generally a once a year preacher and you can check with celebration circle about that (they do keep records). Once a year works well for me, it is manageable in my life. Yet, I heard her request. My offering today, to stand here and speak, is my gift to her and to you because of that ask.
Another piece of what Trish and I talked about was the Children’s Sermon and their offering plate. I love the children’s sermon. There have been times in the past when the sermon that they received was what held the most truth and gospel for me. I am grateful for the gift that other church members, such as Trish, Larry, June and David, give when they give the children’s sermon. And thank you >>>>>>> for doing so today.
While I love the word, the children’s offering plate has bothered me, and to some extent, bothered Oslin too. Some years ago, Oslin asked me what he was supposed to put in the plate. We had a conversation about the offering plate and what can and should go in there. Considering the gift that our children are to us and to God, having the plate be empty did not seem right. And, the solution or approach that was part of my childhood didn’t seem right either. The children’s offering plate is not supposed to be a pass through for my parent’s fifty cents.
Trish noted that she has the role of collecting the children’s offering. At that time of table fellowship with her, I share how Oslin and I had come up with his note to God of giving thanks as a way to do the offering. Money isn’t a big part of Oslin’s daily and weekly life, although he is developing a growing awareness and we do provide him a small money allowance for his discretion. On a weekly basis, on Sunday mornings, Oslin writes a note of thanks and that is what he puts in the offering plate. What he is thankful for varies. Sometimes I know what he wrote, but less now as he develops his own “voice” to write. I am grateful that this is a habit. Frankly, I don’t even remember when we started doing this. It is rooted in our night time routine of saying a standard memorized prayer and then naming two items of thanks and two items of help.
On this Sunday, the Sunday that marks the Epiphany and the gifts the wise men gave to Jesus, it seemed really appropriate to take a little time to share about Oslin’s offering experience. I was grateful that this date was available to give you a peak into this part of my life and Oslin’s participation in Seekers.
Money and the role that money plays in supporting life and comfort and connection has varied historically. We, in this area, now seem to use money as a shorthand way to assess transactions and worth. Money wasn’t so central in the past, although certainly there was value in it. The tradition of offerings in the past was also centered in the skills and non-monetary ways that people contributed to their community – whether that was in offering vegetables or healing herbs or animal products. The deeper gifts reflected upon the time and skill and passion of the individual.
In this my 50th (and soon to be 51st) years of walking on this good earth, I’ve found myself struggling it figure out what I bring to this faith community and what I can put into the offering plate. I am no longer steadily employed, having been “severed” from CGI in 2013 and then with sporadic employment on different projects in 2013 and 2014. When the offering plate for “adults” comes by each Sunday, I have struggled much of 2014 with what to do, what to put in there, and what putting nothing in means for me as a Steward of this church. Coming up empty handed to the offering plate also did not seem true. I have probably spent the past few months, during the offering time, trying to understand what has been going on for me and what I need to do next. And, one Sunday morning, when Oslin put his offering into the offering plate for the kids I came away realizing that the lesson I had been teaching him was something I needed to learn again for myself too.
For the poor, and for those whose riches are not easily translated into a monetary value, assuming that the only thing that can go into the offering plate or that can be presented as a gift is equivalent to some unit of dollar bills diminishes all of us. Finding a way to put, name and recognize these other gifts is, I believe, essential work for all of us. Without it, we mask how gifted we as a faith community are, how much each person gives already and how each member of this community offers skills and talents. Let me say it again, assuming that the only thing that can go into the offering plate or that can be presented as a gift is equivalent to some unit of dollar bills diminishes all of us.
During a worship service this fall, Jesse offered up a song called “Holy Now” by Peter Mayer. For me, that song was a turning point to look around and start naming, in my own note to God in the offering plate, the many gifts that come my way. To name the places where I may have offered to help our faith community and it didn’t translate into a dollar value. For example, Oslin and I have been doing the nativity scene downstairs. Sometimes, I look around to see if my fiber work is gracing this space (the vests or shawls that the kids wear when the light the candles, the banner in the corner). Sometimes I simply have to name the gifts that others are providing, such as Kenny and his welcome at the door, or Emmy Lou in preparing the bulletins. These gifts of time and love and attention belong in the offering plate as they build up God’s kingdom and our faith community.
In December, I found myself grateful that my life was not as chaotic an advent as others seemed to be having. But, in my own quiet advent, I’ve been trying to figure out what would be coming for me, what needed to fill my life next. I found myself fully enjoying making holiday presents, starting a belated annual letter and listening to the music of the season. Often, music gives to me a way to hear again the story in fresh ways. This season has been no different, with a song from the Ocean Orchestra, in partnership with a British group that Jeffrey and I have heard in Britain many years ago and enjoyed. So, as I prepared to preach and live into the Christmas and Epiphany season, every day, at least once a day, I have been listening to this song and share it now.
I am still listening to this piece of music on a daily basis, but it holds a different note of importance for me now.
I can name the light of Jeffrey, Oslin and I as we, so many years ago, came up the elevator on a Christmas eve in 2005, like a traveling holy family that found its way to the magi and the gift of community.
I can name the light of my father, whose birthday is today.
I can name the lights of Melinda, Kavi and Ruth, who saw me through surgery this past Monday.
I can name the light of Oslin, whose 10th birthday we celebrated on December 30 (he says it was his best birthday ever).
I can name the light of Gail Silverstone, my mother-in-law, who was with Seekers on Christmas eve. We were with her on Christmas Day. But on Oslin’s birthday, at 12:45 pm, her physical light in this world stopped. She did not survive the single vehicle car accident she had on Sunday, December 28.
As Christ is God’s light and we follow Christ’s example, we too are God’s light. We too are God’s gift, given to each other to help each of us stay open and light and loving.
Our lights do not have to be strong. A number of you have asked me over the past week if I wanted to step aside from preaching, if the task was a burden. While the shape of this word may have changed from my immediate plan, faithfulness to the community just means that I stay on the path to preach and give myself (and you) whatever grace and space we all need to recognize the gifts and light of Epiphany.
The story of Epiphany is also a story of death. Herod, in fear of the new king the wise men were trying to find, ordered the slaughter of the innocents. Gifts come in different forms and different shapes. Sometimes those gifts are best evidenced in the really tough times. Another gift within Seekers that I hold dear, especially in the tough times, is the gift of tears. As I shared with my mission group through email this week when they asked if I needed to put preaching down, I wrote:
The “advantage” is that it is communion Sunday so the sermon can be short. I have yet to put thoughts to paper but the thoughts are there. And, well, if the thoughts have to come out in the middle of tears within the faith community, where else but in the faith community do tears belong? Broken and whole, we are the gifts of faith to each other, not simply the bread and cup.
This is a place, has been a place and needs to continue to be a place where tears are as normal as laughter. Not just that the building can hold this but that we as a people of God can hold this – holding the tears like crystal in the light of God’s love is a gift as well.
As many of you know, I often shape my daily time of reflection around some of the emails that I receive. There’s a new one that has been part of my daily devotional mix, from the UCC. My guess is that Pat encouraged me to sign up for it. There are two email gifts that I want to share from this source:
Molly Baskett, on December 22, 2014, shared this:
Once upon a time, there was a little girl who had trouble sleeping. Night after night, she’d wake her parents up and crawl in bed with them. They loved the feeling of their young daughter snuggled up with them, but nobody was getting a good night’s sleep.
Finally, they put her to bed one evening with an admonishment to stay there for the whole night. She started to cry. Panicked, they said, “Sweetheart, you’re never really alone! Don’t you know that God is here with you, keeping you company?”
“Yes,” she said through her sobs, “I know that God is here. But I just want someone with a little more skin on.”
Molly goes on to remind the reader that Jesus is an example of God with skin on and closes with a prayer that we, as followers, remember to help others who need God with a little skin on these days.
For me, that God with skin on came this week with phone calls from friends whom I had lost contact with over the past two years, with Brenda showing up at my door with the 2 cans of tuna fish and bag of frozen peas that I needed to make Oslin’s favorite dinner on his birthday, with Linda and Bill bringing flowers.
Then, another reflection, on December 30, included a prayer by Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador, written shortly before his assassination in 1980, offers this insight:
“It helps now and then, to step back and take the long view. The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is even beyond our vision. We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is God’s work. Nothing we do is complete, which is another way of saying that the kingdom always lies beyond us.
“We plant the seeds that one day will grow,” Romero continued. “We lay foundations that will need further development.
“We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that. This enables us to do something, and to do it very well. It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning . . . an opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest.
“We may never see the end results,” Romero concluded, “but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker. We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs. We are prophets of a future not our own. Amen.”
In this season of Epiphany, what or who are the gifts of light that you can name and recognize? Where is God with some skin for whom you are thankful? Who are the co-ministers you see, extending God’s vision for this good earth and this faith community? We are the gifts of God, for the people of God.