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.

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