Sunday, February 20, 2000

Happiness is a Gentle Spirit

Asbury First United Methodist Church

Text: Mark 2:1-12

Happiness is…

A first grader walking to Number 1 School in Rochester the other day carefully climbed his way over drifts and piles and puddles. He had learned in Sunday School, at Asbury First UMC, to pray. He was late and worried that the bell would ring. So he swung into a little trot, and prayed, "Dear God, please help me to get to school on time." No sooner had he utteredthis petition than he fell face down into the snow. No Floridian, he stoutly stood, dusted off his cheeks and pulled snow from his neck. Trotting forward, he prayed again, "Dear God, please help me to get to school on time…but please don’t SHOVE."

Does that story remind you of someone? Of a particular voice,a point of view, an angle of vision from our time? Of a non-religious (Paul would have said ‘uncircumcised’) voice? Vox dei?

Except you become as little children you will not see thekingdom of God.

Last weekend, within hours of his last comic strip’spublication, drawn by one hand for 50 years, Charles Schulz died. Hischaracters, his imaginative reality, had ended, and so did his very life. Itmakes you wonder doesn’t it, about what is real? Is what is actual, what isreal (Aristotle)? Or, is what is spirit, what is real (Plato)? Does history comefirst, then theology (Mark)? Or does theology come first, then history (John)?And who is more real, now as then, the artist or his imaginative world? I amcoming home with this, be careful: On which do you base your life—spirit orflesh?

My friend Phil’s son was about five years old when they hada conversation about God after church. After a while, Phil said, "Well,Dan, we don’t know much about God, do we?" The son thought for a minuteand said, "No, only old preachers do." But old preachers don’t knoweverything either.

Which is it: Where there is life there is hope? Or, wherethere is hope there is life?

Which is it: Where there is life there is happiness? Or,where there is happiness there is life?

An underrated kid, with a kite stuck in a tree, forever onthe losing baseball team, whose best friend still carries a blanket-GOOD GRIEF!His creator, Mr. Schulz flunked Latin, English, algebra and physics.

In this world, all the loves are unrequited and all thebaseball games are lost and all the test scores are D- and the Great Pumpkinnever comes and yet, there is a horizon of happiness, a luminous presence, agentle breeze blowing, perhaps like that which drew the paralytic to Jesus to behealed.

This popular artist, no religious leader, evoked a sense ofhappiness with a gentle spirit.

Home Remedies

Today’s lesson presents us to Jesus at home. As far as Iknow, this is the only passage in which Jesus speaks to us from his living room.He is at home and, in a strikingly memorable manner, his home is invaded, firstby those who want to hear and then by a few who want to heal. Gently, through anopening in the roof, these friends lower a paralytic to Jesus’ side.

There follows an odd conversation. Perhaps everyconversation, like every sermon, is odd in its own way. In this one, a requestfor healing of the body is met, first, with a response that heals the spirit.Jesus sees the faith of the friends, and the illness of the paralytic. And heoffers his word, "My son, your sins are forgiven, your insides are madeclean, your soul is healed, your spirit is made gentle." Leaning off thecouch, Jesus moves first toward the spirit, the heart of the man, the inside ofthe cup.

And then, in dispute, almost as an afterthought, and to provea point, he again asserts his power to bring a miraculous external healing,"rise, take up your pallet, and walk." But this is done, he remindsus, only to show the power that Jesus has on earth to bring, what we might calltoday a kind of spiritual remedy. Call it a psychic freedom from the past. Callit a readiness again to lift the chin for each day. Call it leaving church thismorning feeling happy and able to look others in the eye and say,"hey". Call it a new lease on spiritual life. Call it, as we do today,a gentling of the spirit that brings happiness, Jesus is bringing an innerpeace, the home remedy of Mark 2.

I am not sure that anyone finally can name thistransformation. But we know it when we see it and we know it when we feel it.And its author is Jesus Christ, and Him Crucified. There is a gentle breezeblowing.


(Here is a story about a nurse named Rory.)

She bounced into the room carried along by what you couldquickly see was confidence in her self and her work. "And how are we todayin this wee little room? Faith and begorrah, and sorry for your troubles"she sang, adjusting catheter and intravenous. Her head and voice attended to thespirit, while her arms and hands attended to the body. Red hair flashing andeyes bright, she maneuvered around pastor and family. She felt the brow, andsmoothed back the hair. She caressed forearm and shoulder. She slightly huggedand patted. All this, while she took a temperature. I tell you, it made youconsider the advantages of being sick.

"Are you Irish?" I asked. She paused from thesteady breathless encouragement she gave her patient, the gentle strengtheningwe at the bedside so envied, and, I could see, controlled her tongue. That toois a kind of gentling. She did not say, in answer to such a lame question,"Well, let’s see, I have bright red hair, my nametag says Rory Flanagan,I attend St Patrick’s church, can’t you see I’m Chinese?" No, rathershe said, "Yes, happy to be so, and so glad you have come to the hospital.Please have a prayer with us and then you will need to leave."


Jesus heals the inner man. Jesus heals the inner woman. Jesusmeets us at home today to give us a true happiness carried along by a gentlespirit.

With Isaiah, Jesus teaches us about "good tidings forthe gentle." (Isaiah 61:5)

With David, Jesus repeats that "the gentle shall inheritthe earth." (Psalm 37:11)

In Matthew, Jesus commands, "take my yoke upon you for Iam gentle and humble in heart, and you shall find rest for your souls." (Matthew11:29)

As Paul said to Titus, "be gentle." (Titus 3:2)

And to the Corinthians, "I entreat you by the gentlenessof Christ".

And to the same Corinthian band, "Shall I come to youwith a rod, or with love in a spirit of gentleness?"

And to the Galatians, remember? "The fruit of the spiritis gentleness".

James says, "learn the gentleness of wisdom." (James1:21)

Peter says, "give an account of your hope withgentleness."


Still, you may feel like Longfellow did one snowy winterafter the holidays:

I heard the bells last Christmas day

Their old familiar carols play

And wild and sweet

The words repeat

Of peace on earth, good will to men

But then in grief I hung my head

There is no peace on earth, I said

For hate is strong and mocks the song

Of peace on earth, good will to men

Ours is a violent world, one the consequences of realfreedom. And our very brief particular slice of history has produced its ownforms of violence, always connected, somehow, to the freedom to choose which Godhas given us, and without which life would not have the potential for happiness.


Let others chronicle the march of violence. You are here aspeople excited by spirit, a gentle spirit at that.

Such a spirit could not ever be confined to one institution,or one denomination, or one church, or one religion. Jesus says, "Whoeveris not against me is for me." Let us try to keep first words first.

Paul said, "When I was a child, I thought, reasoned andacted like a child, but I became a man, I gave up childish ways." But thatis a second word, always in the shadow of the first, which is, Jesus’ word:"you must become as little children"

St. Ignatius acclaimed the importance of spiritual exercise.But that is a second word, always in the shadow of the first, which is that ofSt Francis, ‘Lord make me an instrument of your peace."

Calvin emphasized the value of sanctity and perseverance. Butthat is a second word, always in the shadow of the first, which is Luther’s,"By faith alone".

Likewise, and our Methodists in Cleveland might recall it,Whitefield acclaimed the importance of Scripture and strict theology and thesovereignty of God. But that is a second word, always in the shadow of thefirst, which is Wesley’s first, "I felt my heart strangely warmed"and last, "the best of all is that God is with us."

Raymond Carver

For some years one of our neighbors was Raymond Carver, amuch-acclaimed writer, now deceased. His writing was important and popular. Butthat was always a second word. The first was that happiness that at the end ofhis life he found in a gentle spirit. As a sometime teacher, I have loved andremembered one story, of a very earnest PhD candidate who came to the universityto study with the great Carver. When other classes were fighting tooth and nailabout post-structuralism and deconstructionism and theorists and humanistsviolently argued, Carver simply led his own classes in a very free ranging,impressionistic, and maybe a little idiosyncratic study of books he liked.Toward the middle of the semester, the PhD candidate, frustrated by Carver’sgentleness, raised his voice: "This class is called Form and Theory of theShort Story, but all we do is sit around and talk about books. Where is the formand where is the theory?

Carver was quiet and seemed hurt. Then he said, "That isa good question…I guess I’d say that the point here is that we read goodbooks and discuss them and then you form your own theory."


A few years ago, I called on the pastor of a vital church. Onone hand, I was impressed by the challenges of his life: the time demands, theclose personal brushes with sin and death, difficulties both crisis and chronic,an apportionment rising more surely than death and taxes, his own aging. Twoyears later Rev. Vogel suffered a nearly fatal and permanently disabling stroke.On the other hand, I was impressed by the painting behind his desk. The paintingshowed a Sunday School teacher training children. Under his feet, there was aquestion, "Where are the gentle people?"

Sunday, February 13, 2000

The Power to Heal

Asbury First United Methodist Church

Text: Mark 1:40-45

Introduction: Finding What Condition our Condition is in.

Too often we live in a kind of gray limbo, a condition, toplunder early feminist rhetoric, that has no real name. We hurry through ourdays conditioned to be insensitive to the life of the spirit, the mind, theheart. We move through our weeks conditioned to a one dimensional, flat habit ofbeing. We remain naturally conditioned to a condition that is not our right wayof being.

Then, it may be, we fall ill. Or one of our loved ones, ourbest friends, our family falls ill. Or someone rejects us. Or we are forced tochange. Now we are alert again, on the qui vive, angry or sad orperplexed. We may find ourselves again on a search, on the hunt, looking andwatching. We may come or come back to church.

"If Adam had not fallen, Christ had not died." (Sosaid John Wesley, of whom Samuel Johnson remarked, "He never has time forlengthy discussion, but is ever heading off to visit one poor widow oranother".)

The great gray temptress can becloud us for the better partof a lifetime, until we are brought up short.

Calderon de la Barca, Shakespeare’s Spanish contemporary,put it thus:

Que es la vida?

Un frenesi.

Que es la vida?

Una ilusion, una sombra, una ficcion.

Y el major bien es pequeno

Porque toda la vida es sueno

Y los suenos, suenos son.

What is life?

A clouded fantasy

What is life?

An illusion, a shadow, a fiction

And the greatest good is a small thing

For all of life is a dream

And dreams are only dreams.

At Christmas we viewed The Green Mile. I went asWesley said of his trip of May 23, 1738 to Aldersgate street, "veryunwillingly", sensing that this was not my kind of film. Yet, this oddpostmodernity had something to say. It is a fiction about powerful healing, thecrucial role of touch, and the personal cleansing brought out of the wounded,peripheral, dark figures in life. For these few moments along the road, such atowering Figure has bestrided us, as the Scripture says in five measures, fivebeats, five verses…

Healing the Leper

Mark 1: 40: Alert again to our shared condition, a lepertoday comes to see Jesus. There is a general sense to this leprous malady thatencompasses many ills, small and great. We can find ourselves here. I mean ouranxious brooding, our physical pain, our confused minds, our sense ofdistresses. One reading has us kneel, too, as well as beg or call out or cry.And we raise a sharp, even critical, challenge, "If you so desire, if youwant, you can heal…" Today, in the reading and hearing of the Word, weare right before the Lord Jesus Christ. There is no intermediary, no detail tocomplicate or confuse. We call out to Him.

Mark 1: 41: Now, with sudden and great power, good newsis what we hear, as we take the leper’s role. There is a response, and theresponse is affirmative. How often with the best of people we have waited, inhospital or in prayer, awaiting a report. How often we have watched the mail fora response. When the psalmist sings of weeping that lingers for the night, wefeel a resonance. How much more shall this morning’s good news resonate. Jesusstretches toward the leper. Jesus touches the leper. Jesus says, "I sodesire". This one great Greek verb, THELO, gathers up the grace of Godwhich bears a power to heal. It means much more than the single rendering,"I choose". It means I want your healing, I desire your healing, Idelight in your healing, I crave your healing, I hunger for your healing, I longfor your healing, I am made happy, joyful by your healing.

Mark 1: 42: Today we worship from the inside of a miracle.Call it the miracle of the power to heal, or the miraculous healing of a leper,or the miracle of every single day, or the miracle of life. It is immediate.This spoken and miraculous power surrounds us, and all lepers. By this power toheal, we are made clean.

Now there is, let us be frank, a darker side, painful toadmit, about this miraculous bubble in which we worship. Searing, it is, toadmit. A close cousin is electrocuted. A child is run over. A friend succumbs toillness. A mentor dies in a hunting accident. A best friend’s first child isstillborn. A nephew is developmentally delayed. Why are some healed and notothers? This too is part of the strange mystery, the occult miracle of life.

Nevertheless, in this hour we kneel before the outstretchedarm of One who delights in healing. Today’s is a Mayo Brothers Christ,fervently alive to heal. One physician said, "I have learned how importanttouch is to healing." Let what we cannot understand, give way for the timebeing, to the faith of Jesus Christ, by which we may withstand all ill, andstand with all ill.

Mark 1: 43-44: Now Jesus, for a reason unknown, sternly warnsthose who are healed not to speak of this at all. I cannot just this morningunravel a mystery that has puzzled people for hundreds of years. Perhaps fromthe time of the leper’s cleansing. Why does Jesus keep his identity secret? Todirect all to such a personal encounter, rather than a reported religion? Toavoid the scrutiny and criticism of this world? To teach a kind of loyalty tothe blessed and beloved? We cannot say.

Mark 1: 45: What is certain is what we feel when we are madewell. What is certain is what this one leper did when he was healed. What iscertain, for the human being, is what is done as related in this passage. Thosewho are healed shout and sing! Something happened and now I know, He touchedme and made me whole!

Somehow, in a sermon, in every sermon, this same encounterbetween Healer and Leper occurs. The opportunity appears, again on Sunday, ComeSunday, for real healing. There is a quickening to life that only God can give,though, as St. Augustine said, "He that made us without ourselves will notsave us without ourselves." What would happen to Rochester if today, in thehearing of this Word, all the leprosy in your life were cleansed? If you had asense of the brevity of life…If you could see with compunction hurts inflicted…Ifyou could reach out for the high prize of the upward call…If a depth of graceand faith and love came upon you…If the love of God became the work of good…Ifthe motion of this verse, "Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him…andimmediately the leprosy left him…and he went out and began to spread the word…"

A Personal Touch

How lightly we are tempted to treat the power to heal thatlies latent in a personal touch. The Spanish philosopher Ortega y Gasset wrotethat one day, sitting in the Madrid zoo, he realized that life was worth livingeven if he didn’t become one of the 20 most famous people in history. Healing,too, is discrete, quiet, personal.

After a summer service some years ago, I remember speakingwith a woman who was still wrapped in the shroud of her husband’s recentdeath. It can take months, years, or longer to heal finally from grief.Something in this service, a verse of scripture, a word in prayer, had gatheredher again down deep into her own aching hurt. But I was struck, as we combedthrough her sense of loss, by one of her memories. "He was ‘just’ alawyer. He practiced within miles of the home in which he was born. He knew hispeople and they knew him. He helped sell farms more laden with memory andmeaning than with earning power. He helped people plan who had more need thanresource. He wrote wills and watched the willpower of others in conflict. He hada personal touch. But he never was made a judge, and he always, I think, downdeep, regretted it. He so seldom spoke about his own hopes, but I know he wasdisappointed. Why? What he did, house by house and estate by estate, that iswhat matters!"

If you choose, you have the power to heal.

I have watched one of my very closest friends practicemedicine for the last 15, now approaching 20 years. He is "just" adoctor. He has sailed the bark of his personal practice into all manner of highseas and great winds: insurance changes, HMO’s, changing populations, the needto band together with 30 other doctors to stay solvent. I watch him age andgracefully care for the sick. And still shots over the years stand out, all ofthem extremely personal: his grief over the death of a neighbor; the day hedrove away so busy and harried that he forgot his medical bag was still on thecar roof; a visit to one of my staff who had no insurance, but whom hepersonally attended; his face and voice as my arm was set. He does not run ahospital and he does not become quickly rich and he does not now, even, presideover the practice which he created and of which he is clearly the heart andsoul. He heals. He has a personal touch.

If you choose, you have the power to heal.

And I think of our churches, too. For so long, our attentionand our honors and our empowerment, as a denomination, have gone to people whohave made their way in ministry at some distance from the actual life of realchurches. So that you can go to a meeting or two and hear someone mentioned as"just a pastor". She just preaches and prays, just visits andcounsels, just funds and finds, just …heals. She has a personal touch. Wheredid we ever get the idea that there was something in ministry more important ormore powerful?

If you choose, you have the power to heal.

When we came up from New York to Ithaca, our first child wason the way, and our second arrived pretty soon thereafter. Now Ithaca in themid-70’s was a fairly active, professional place, a town with enoughcommittees so that everybody could be the chair of at least one. Jan would gofrom setting to setting, and people would ask, "And what do you do?""Just a mom," she would say. Just a mom. Now it is twenty years later,and I wake up in a quieter home. Yet all these years, waking up, the first 17words spoken and heard in our home, day by day, were the same… "mom, mom,mom…" There is a personal touch that heals.

If you choose, you have the power to heal.

Are you alive to the power to heal? Healing comes through apersonal touch.

Every one of us has been given a powerful cleansing, apowerful healing. One day we recognize what we have been given, and turn to runpast the temple and past the priest and to spread the word freely.

Concluding Suggestion

God has not come in Jesus Christ to holler advice at us froma height or distance, so neither should we treat one another so. Like the leperof old, we hear Gospel best when already we are moving toward the GreatPhysician, and come with knee bent and ear trained and skin crawling.Unsolicited advice and uninvited suggestions are not our stock in trade. Still,this announcement of healing power in personal touch does carry naturally enougha minor postscript: you have a person to touch this week, and in that touch ishealing power.

Has a social issue caught your imagination, and would youhonestly like to have some influence. Think about one person to whom you canspeak this week.

Has Christ, today, ignited your desire to share the goodnews, as the leper did? Think about one person to whom you can speak this week.

Do you know from your own experience what it feels like to besick, a leper. The isolation, the exclusion, the fear, the guilt, the ennui ofthe untouchable? Think about one person to whom you can speak this week.

Has God given you a passion for ministry? I believe God givesevery one of us such a passion. What is yours? Think about one person to whomyou can speak this week.

There is a real truth, as we acclaimed last Sunday, by Grace,to the adage, "Don’t just do something, stand there."

But there is also a real power to heal in a personal touch,by Love, in the adage, "Don’t just stand there, do something."

Sunday, February 06, 2000

Snow Day

Asbury First United Methodist Church

Text: Mark 1:29-39

It is perhaps unfortunate that over time we in the frozen north have not allowed a powerfully central feature of our existence to teach us more, about God. We have shoveled snow. We have groveled before storms. We have muffled our pleas for warmth. We have stifled our spouse’s prayer, "take me to San Diego". We have trifled with the gruesome details of the weather channel. Shovel, grovel, muffle, stifle, trifle as we may, however, we have not fully considered the gracious presence of snow, and it is high time we did,thank you very much. James Sanders, OT teacher in Rochester and NYC, taught us to theologize first, then moralize. So before in moral indignation we liftanother shovel, let us reason together about the gracious presence of snow.

I have only one category A complaint about Rochester. Thereare not enough snow days here. The schools rarely close (I did not mentionBrighton by name), and the city rarely stops its commerce. There is a strengthin this abstinence from snow days, but there also is a weakness.

On the eastern end of Lake Ontario, whence cometh somewisdom, there is more snow and there are more snow days, in Watertown andPulaski and Syracuse. Sandy Creek took on 54 inches of snow a few weeks ago,that town on Route 11, which we call "a little bit of heaven on Route11".

Grace Prevenient

That was a snow day, on the Tug Hill plateau. And a snow dayis one day within in the Day of God on which all our strivings cease. A day thattakes from our souls strain and stress and lets our ordered lives confess thebeauty of God’s peace. A day of preventive interruption, a day of personalreckoning, a day of cleansing health-a day of grace, within the one Day of God.

At 5 A. M. on a snow day, teachers pray for a day withfamily. Children implore the ivory goddess to wait upon their needs. Dads lookforward to canceling class (though never church), calling in for messages,unbundling the toboggan, digging out that old ‘tuke’, and living, for once,in the interrupted preventive grace of God that says, flake by flake: You arenot God.

One of the great anticipated moments of life in our home, ahome of teachers and students over some generations, has been the rapt 5 A. M.televiewing of school closings, for which all fervently pray, as, in otherplaces, people light votive candles or clutch rosary beads or place prayer slipsin temple walls. Please, oh please, please let this be a SNOW DAY. A Snow Day isa day of grace.

At judgment day you will not regret having spent a littletime away from the office.

Come Sunday, Come Sundown, you will forget the many ordinarydays, but the Snow day, the day of Dad’s chili bean soup, the day of iglooscut with precision, the day of chipping the ice together from the roof, the dayof grace, this you will take with you into God’s presence, as a foretaste ofheaven.

God knows, we need prevenient interruption. Otherwise, wethink too much of our own doing, and too little of God.

What counts in life is the love of God. What matters inexistence is the grace of God. What needs doing most, God has already done. Whatcosts most, God has given. What we can trust, God has offered.

So, says St. Paul, we do not preach ourselves, what we mightdo, what we might be, what we might accomplish, we preach Jesus Christ, and himcrucified.

If we are not careful, if we do not accept the Snow Day, theday of prevenient grace, then we end up demanding Godly things of our spouse,expecting Godly achievement of ourselves, requiring Godly performance of ourchurch, worshipping the creature and not the Creator, sculpting golden calves,and doing what most humans most of the time do-practicing idolatry.

There is one God and you are not God, nor is your husband,nor is your pastor, nor is your boss, nor is your parent, nor is your friend.Camus said, rightly, that culture is meant mainly as a setting wherein we remindeach other that none of us is God. "They shall understand how they correctone another, and that a limit, under the sun, shall curb them. Each tells theother that he is not God." Says Dorothy Day to Wall Street, "You arenot God." Says Julian Bond to white America, "You are not God."Says Betty Friedan to the old boy network, "You are not God." Says theRepublican congress to the Democratic President, "You are not God."And what does the President say? And in the new millenium, John Doe will remindwomen that they are not God either, and Jane Smith will remind children thatthey are not God either, and, if we can muster a little humility, we will allget by together, singing, "I am not God and you are not God, and we are notGod together."

But it takes a Snow Day, the interrupting, preventing graceof God.

One Snow Day, fifteen years ago, when I was dyingly anxiousto finish my Ph.D., resurrect Methodism, become financially independent, and win"father of the year" awards-all by the close of business thatTuesday-ASAP, I happened to stop, in the late afternoon, for a pastoral call,another important interruptive. An elderly botany professor, known for herguided tours of nature and popular courses at Syracuse University, and once seenin her mid-seventies, swinging from the limb of a sycamore tree which she partlyclimbed in order to make some now forgotten scholarly point, recited this littlecharmer to me on a brilliantly snowy day, as we drank tea in the laterafternoon. Cold it was that day, and snowy, a day for limericks, and laughterand love:

There once was a parson named Fiddle

Who refused to accept a degree

For he said, "’Tis enough to be Fiddle

"Without being Fiddle, DD"

She included the poem, in a card, a few years later, atgraduation, to make sure I did not miss the point. Do you get it?

Says the Snow to you and me, "Fiddle de de, FiddleDD"

Grace Liberative

When St. Augustine in the fourth century was asked to teachhis people about the Triune God, he offered this analogy: God the Father is likethe Sun in the sky which lights and illumines and warms and gives life; God theSon is like the ray of sunlight that carries life and light and illumination andlove to us; God the Spirit is like the touch of that sunray upon our cheek,which sustains and helps us, and which personally we feel.

But Augustine in sun and sand, like the young Camus. Hepreached with an African swing in his rhetoric: "bona bona, dona dona",good gifts, good gifts. Had Augustine lived in Rochester, and not along thesunny beaches of North Africa, had he lived in the cold Northern climate, andnot amid blue sky and ocean view and warmth in February-I mean, hello?, whatkind of life is that? Had he your perspective on reality, he might rather haveoffered this analogy: God the Father is like a great cumulonimbus cloud movingover the earth, ready to cover and cleanse and beautify; God the Son is likesnow, lovely snow, falling upon us to cover and cleanse and beautify; God theSpirit is like the touch of each unique flake upon our tongues and cheeks as weskate on the Manhattan rink, and feel personally a power that does cover andcleanse and beautify.

Think how the Scripture would be different if it had comefrom Upstate New York, and not the warm climate of Palestine…

And God separated the snow banks from the snow banks, thosefrom under the firmament, from those over the firmament, and God called thefirmament heaven. And there was evening and morning, a second day.

And Abraham took his huskies to drink by the frozen lake, andthere met Rebecca, who came to break the ice and draw water. And he said,"Pray, put down your pick ax and let me drink from the icy flow".

And Pharaoh’s daughter saw a sled come by downhill, inwhich there was wrapped in a snowsuit, a little boy, named Moses. Pharaoh’sdaughter took him home, and warmed him by the fire.

After the children of Israel had skated across the frozenBlue Sea, and Pharaoh’s army was in close pursuit, the Lord God sent a heatwave that melted the ice and Pharaoh, and his chariots and his army plunged downinto the briney deep.

By the icicles of Babylon we sat down and wept as ourtormentors said to us, sing to us one of the songs of Zion.

Save me O God! For the avalanche has cascaded upon me…Ihave fallen into deep drifts and the snow sweeps over me.

Many snowdrifts cannot bury love, neither can blizzardssmother it.

Let Justice roll down like an avalanche, and righteousness asan unending blizzard.

I baptize you with snow, but One is coming who will baptizeyou with fire.

Except a man be born of snow and the spirit, he will notenter the kingdom of heaven.

God sends his snow upon the just and the unjust alike.

The wise man built his house upon the rock. The snow fell,and the blizzard came and the lake effect wind blew and beat upon that house,but it did not fall, because it was built upon the rock.

In the winter of 1966 there fell a tremendous snow. Ourlittle village, 1100 feet above sea level on the northern edge of the Alleghenyplateau, received a sudden interruption. Schools closed. Programs werecancelled. Trips were postponed. For two weeks the town just stopped in itstracks. After a while, the supplies of milk and bread were running low. Danehy’smarket sported bare shelves and empty aisles.

There was a gracious and liberating pause. Looking back, Ican see the stresses of that year, all of them resounding around the littleColgate campus-racial attacks by town kids, the first 13 undergraduate womenliving in the Colgate Inn, Carson Veache’s father teaching English and burningdraft cards and losing his job for it. Down came the snow, freeing us, freeingus from the role of Almighty God, and liberating our souls for an open future inthe one Day of God.

That week, someone in Hamilton probably sat by the fire andread Josiah Royce: "Our world is the object of an all-inclusive and divineinsight, which is thus the supreme reality."

Grace is not something you do, it is something that happensto you. Love is not something you own, it is something you receive and return.

When the 10 commandments proved not enough on their own, trueand utterly on point as they are, God came to us, human to human, to free usfrom idolatry and settle a Snow Day on all our pride.

Grace Cleansing

Snow interrupts. Snow invades and liberates. Snow falls fromon high, heaven sent. Snow falls as friendly presence, freeing its recipients ofstudy, of work, of routine, and allowing, even forcing, a moment ofconviviality, and community, and time and space for family and exercise andunexpected pause. Snow is unpredictable, uncontrollable, varied, dangerous,seasonal, cleansing, soothing, quieting and disquieting, cool, comforting,friendly and free. Snow falls upon us like grace, or grace falls upon us likesnow.

We have some scouts here today, who are trustworthy, loyal,helpful, and so on.

Out in the snow, they have learned to respect one another andthe God of Abraham, who made heaven and earth, and who sends snow on the justand unjust alike.

Good troops go camping every month, including February. In agreat snow, we went out into the Adirondacks to feel again the cold comfort ofthe Day of God. That time, I may have been 13, we stood in a circle before theride home for some sort of ceremony. A few of us, warm again for the first timein three days, began running and throwing snowballs. It was innocent enough, Iguess, except that one I threw hit a woman, a member of our church, right in thecheek. I remember just standing there, as the snow fell-light, bright,white-standing and waiting for the earth to swallow me so that I would not haveever to face her. Our scout leader I guess saw everything, that being his job tosee everything. Because his hand, a snow-covered glove, came gently onto myshoulder from behind, and he whispered, "Bob, why don’t you just walkover and apologize to Mrs. Macaulay?" Which I did.

I guess they call that character education or value formationor something today. Probably there are millions of dollars spent on coursesabout it. You may be a teacher of this subject, I do not know. I suppose thereis good in all this.

But I prefer, for formative impact, the snow covered glove,the kind but firm hand of a high school graduate farmer and carpenter, whowatched and cared and whispered, like God watches and cares and whispers.

Our Scripture today, a declaration of Grace, puts all thisvery simply, all this about grace preventive and grace liberative and gracecleansing: "he cured many". And many cures He still.

I wonder about you this week. Will you accept a Snow Day ifit is offered? Can you accept the white blanket of grace falling around yourshoulders? Could you relax a bit and rely a bit on the Grace of God?


Would you accept the grace that gave you life?

That is Baptism.

Would you accept the grace that gives you the faith of JesusChrist?

That is Confirmation.

Would you accept the grace that gives you salvation?

That is Holy Communion.

Would you accept the grace that gives you Companionship?

That is Marriage.

Would you accept the grace that gives you forgiveness?

That is prayer and counsel.

Would you accept the grace that gives you a calling?

That is ordination.

Would you accept the grace that calls you home?

That is blessing in the extreme and at the last.

So we will recite with Paul,

It is no longer I who live

But Christ who lives in me

And the life I now live in the flesh

I live by the faith of the Son of God

Who loved me and gave himself up for me.