Pentecost XVII – Proper 22 – October 5, 2014
A sermon preached by The Rev. Dianne Andrews at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Port Townsend, WA.
The Hungers We Share
As I set out to prepare a sermon I wrestle with the question: what are the hungers that you will be bringing with you on Sunday morning? I wonder what draws you here… to church… to worship… For some it is a life-long rhythm that is comfortable and familiar… a hunger for Good News… a hunger to be fed with bread and wine… we bring our joys and we bring our pain… we bring our hunger for the hope that things will be better… we bring our joy and gratitude… we bring our tired selves seeking renewal… we bring our resistant selves… not sure if we want, or even need to be here… and we bring our stories… each one unique… each story unfolding… each individual being called into greater wholeness within this community of faith, that at its best, calls forth life in the name of the one who binds us, and all creation, in the light of love. We bring our personal geography, our history, our location.
On my first Sunday with you last year I shared a piece of my own story. I shared with you an experience I had with my Grandmother Fannie whom I consider to be my spiritual mentor. When I was in seminary a question that was often posed was: “What was your first experience of Christ”… I went straight back to my 4-year-old self, standing thigh-high next to Grandma.
Grandma was a “no frills” kind of person. She grew up in a very rural Finnish community on the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Though her formal schooling ended at eighth grade, she was a wise, caring and able woman… firmly grounded and very pragmatic. I was by Grandma’s side as she cared for many people, including my own mother, her daughter-in-law, who suffered with mental illness. Grandma was able to roll up her sleeves and give compassionate caring to whomever she was with.
Grandma Peterson owned a smelly old rest home. It was an old house in an old neighborhood where elderly women lived out their last days. In this early memory Grandma was bringing me around to meet and visit with some of the residents. This particular room was dark and musty… with large slatted blinds on the window that let in the hazy light of late afternoon in such a way that dust motes could be seen slowly swirling in the air, mixing with the thick, heavy odor of incontinence. Next to an empty bed was an old woman, in a tattered nightgown, hunched over in a wheel chair with a blanket of frayed patchwork crochet on her lap. What I noticed most was that the woman was missing an eye! There was nothing covering it was… just sucked-in flesh… …scary… I gripped Grandma’s leg a bit tighter. But then another sensation came over me… I could feel Grandma’s strength, her comfort, and her ease about being with this woman… a feeling that fell onto me also. Grandma walked me over to the woman for an introduction. The old wrinkled woman looked up at me. She smiled… opened her hand… and offered me a piece of candy. An encounter that began with fear was transformed, by Grandma’s presence, into a gift of meeting and sharing. It was a lesson in compassionate presence. It was a lesson in helping me to grow across what felt like gulf of separation and fear.
From this story you can glean a few things about me… I am of Scandinavian descent, I had a close relationship with my grandmother, and also that my mother Margaret suffered from mental illness…. schizophrenia to be exact. There are other things you know about me… I am a middle-aged woman, a mother, I have suffered a divorced, I have had a colorful spiritual journey, my first career was in the field of cardiology… I love the arts and have studied design… and more. My story is filled with its unique ups and downs and with the grittiness of being human… a human experience that I share with you all. You, too, have a life histories that have brought you to this present moment… built on experiences and memories, both good and bad… a life shaped by beliefs… marked with scars… seasoned with joy. What is real is who you are in this moment, built on all previous moments… What is real is the truth that brought you here today. …and though our hungers may be different… the experience of hunger is shared by us all.
When you see someone walking down the street you cannot know what they carry inside. One man may have just won the lottery. Another may have just learned that he has a malignant tumor. Another may be chewing over a recent argument, or daydreaming about the weekend. We cannot know precisely…. What we can know is that each and every person has their own story… and that each and every one has a hunger to know that they truly belong. Mother Teresa has said that “Loneliness and the feeling of being unwanted is the most terrible poverty.” We know that there is far too much poverty, of every kind, in the world, and in our midst…
I would like to share a story about my mother Margaret. She was first diagnosed with schizophrenia after the birth of my brother Roger. Mom went into a tailspin that seemed to recur every couple of years. She would endure months of hospitalization at a time, and even multiple series of electroshock treatment that eventually wiped out her memories of us as young family. At the end of her life there was no chatting with her and getting a response to the question: “Remember when…?” Because she didn’t.
I worked my way through college as an EKG technician on weekends. I loved this job as it allowed me to visit all corners of the hospital meeting folks in all kinds of conditions. In the Emergency Room I met folks who were experiencing crushing chest pain. In the Intensive Care Unit I first encountered the results of violence and trauma… victims of gunshot wounds or maybe a bus accident. In the nursery it was a joy to see adoring parents cradling their newborns. On the surgical wards I met folks who were preparing for or recovering from operations of all kinds… major and minor… cosmetic surgery and life threatening interventions.
One Saturday I was winding up my shift when I got a call from the psychiatric unit. I knew that my mother had been admitted the previous day but I had wanted to give her time to settle down. In her darkest times a visit from family could only add more stress. The call was for a “STAT EKG” on Margaret Peterson. I was not concerned that it was a STAT order, which means “get down here right now.” I was not concerned as the psychiatric unit was notorious for asking for urgent responses when the situation wasn’t really critical. If it were a true emergency they would call a Code Blue and have the emergency team respond. As it was the end of my shift I had the option of passing the EKG order on to the Respiratory Therapists… but they were still in report… and I did have the time. So I decided to make the long trek to the far, far end of the hospital.
When I got to the nursing unit I told the unit clerk that I was there to do an EKG on Margaret Peterson. Her eyes lit up as she said, “You are going to have real fun with this one! She is bouncing off the walls in the ‘quiet room’” (which is a euphemism for a padded cell.) A great calm fell over me… and it felt as though a clear, solid, truth, came up from the ground, right through the soles of my feet and up and out of my mouth. I said to the clerk, “I don’t think I will have any trouble… because Margaret is my mother.” The clerk was dumb struck. Her jaw nearly hit the ground. She handed me the order slip as I left the station. I knocked gently on the door as I entered a room that was clearly not a padded cell. Mom was sedated and resting very quietly. I said, “Hey Mom, I am here to do your EKG.” And so I did. My hope was that, forever after, the unit clerk, and I for that matter, would remember that each and every person in her midst was someone’s mother, or daughter, brother, father or son… each one has a story and each one belongs to someone, to some family… and if the family had been fractured, they always have a home in the larger family of God’s beloved. Everyone belongs, though they, we… may forget…
Paul is in a jail cell as he is writing to his beloved congregation of Philippi… the first Christian community to be established in Europe, in the area we know as Greece. He is reflecting on this moment… and on all that led up to this time… and he is looking to the future, to the possibility of his imminent death, and to the prize, to the bigger picture, that is before him. In his letter he notes his current location in life… he was born Jewish, of the tribe of Benjamin, and also a Pharisee and zealous persecutor of Christians… he had cheered on the crowd that stoned and killed the first Christian martyr Stephen… Paul’s life was totally transformed on the Road to Damascus when he encountered the risen Christ… and from that time on he had used his special gifts of understanding and experience… he used all that had come before… the good, the bad and the ugly… now transformed… to serve him as he became a cross-cultural church planter… a pastor and tender of the infant Faith. From his jail cell Paul sends messages of encouragement and hope to the congregations. Though in our day and age we may struggle with some of his messages that were written for the first century church, we can admire his pastoral gifts and his commitment to the God he knows in Christ. Paul helped to build the religion that we know as Christianity. The word religion comes from the root re-ligio…. the Latin for “to bind again” that which has fractured and has come apart, to bind us one to another and to the God who calls us to wholeness.
We come here, I believe, to be rebuilt and renewed… reconnected and transformed. It is a call that rises up from the very ground upon which we stand… and a call that rains down upon us from the heavens asking us to remember from where we have come… and to whom we truly belong… and to keep our eyes on the prize… of the greater calling of fullness of life that we know in Christ… that we are to know this day and always… now and forever more…
To close I would like to invite you to join me in praying a prayer attributed to St. Francis as we celebrate his feast day (pg. 833 BCP). It is a reminder of our calling to help feed the hungers of the world, hungers that we all know ourselves:
|Lord, make us instruments of your peace. Where there is hatred, let us sow love;where there is injury, pardon; where there is discord, union;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.
|Grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are
born to eternal life. Amen …