Sunday, July 29, 2001

The Gifts of Summer

Asbury First United Methodist Church

Text: Luke11: 1-13


The meaning of summer, sub specie aeternitas, and particularly in a climate, like yours, long in darkness and deep in cold, the meaning that is of the four score summers God gives you, at the largest extent of God's favor, is itself a matter for prayer, even if our Lord's Gospel today were not so fiercely invested in prayer. Let us pray together today for a few minutes by taking a homiletical walk, down a dusty summer road. In the mind's eye, and with the sun upon our backs, let us meander a moment, and see what we can see.

Start small. There in front of your left moccasin moves a lonely red ant, the lowliest of creatures, yet, like a Connecticut Yankee, bursting with the two revolutionary virtues, industry and frugality. Benjamin Franklin wrote, admiring such frugality and industry, and dubious of much dogmatic preaching, "none preaches better than the ant, and he says nothing." A good reminder.

While we step around the ant, the little insect recalls others: grasshoppers, flies, locusts. Simple creatures. Our current President, George W. Bush, prefers the locusts of Crawford, Texas to the blackflies of Kennebunkport, Maine. I remember driving past the Bush compound on the downeast coastline, and admiring its beauty. Why would our President prefer Central Texas? Its locusts, burning dry heat, flat arid landscape, and lack of water would seem to offer no competition. Yet, he flies to Crawford, and according to one recent NPR commentator, has a singularly good reason to do so. He loves the virtue of the simple people he has known there for most of his life. He likes the simple rhythm of town life. He enjoys the simple summer gatherings - reunions, little league, band concerts, parades. He must tire of the necessary urban emphasis on urbanity, the inevitable public relations concern for appearance and apparel. Or, as he said recently, "the people there - they are folks with good hearts." And as Jesus taught his students, "if people have some measure of goodness themselves, think how good their maker must be.

Maybe that is the meaning of summer, to pause and appreciate simple, good people, folks with good hearts.


We can stop up the path just a bit. Raspberries, blackberries, all kinds of wild fruit are plentiful now. Jesus taught us to ask, simply, for bread and a name. We daily need food and forgiveness. Give us each day our daily bread, and forgive us our sins, for we forgive all who are indebted to us. What bread does for the body, pardon does for the soul. One of the gifts of summer is the time and leisure to remember this. Church should be fullest in the summer, for this reason, this recognition of our ultimate needs.

Our neighbor has baked some of these wild berries into morning muffins. We stop to savor them, with butter and coffee. We listen to one another along the path. So we are nourished, by one another, and made ready for the next steps in the journey.

Maybe this is the meaning of summer, to pause and make space for real worship, for that which can feed our hungers, and set us free for the next adventure.


Up ahead there is an old fence. For a river to be a river, it needs riverbanks high enough to contain the flowing water. For a lake to hold its integrity it needs a shoreline that stands and lasts. For a field to retain any semblance of usefulness, it needs fences to mark its beginnings and endings. For an individual to have any identity one needs the limits of positive improvement, as Jesus taught about perseverance, and of protective caution, as Jesus taught about times of trial. For a life to have meaning and coherence, it needs those riverbanks, shorelines, fences, and limits that give life shape and substance.

We can spend some summer time mending fences. It is hard work, but utterly crucial. Keep your friendships in good repair, and mend the fences where they need it. Think, heal, write, love.

The other day I came by this same old fence. I was walking with my dad, as it happened. We had some coffee and a muffin. Then we started off together, down the old road, he to walk with a gnarled walking stick, and I to jog after my own eccentric fashion. But for a mile up to the same fence, to the place where the road parts, we walked together. We shuffled and talked a little, remembering the name of a former neighbor, spotting a new garden planted, making a plan or two for later on. We remembered an old friend, a old style doctor, long dead. He remembered that Dr. Thro came to visit him the day his mother died. "It's hard when your mother dies," he said, "it gets you right in the chest!" I remembered Dr. Thro swimming the length of the lake and, while he did so, barking various orders at the universe and some of his patients along the shoreline, riverbank, fence - along the virtuous limits that make a life. We came to fork, one taking the high road and one the low, and with that an embrace and a word and a glance and we were alone again.

Maybe this is the meaning of summer, to set limits and keep them, to mend our fences and protect them, to honor one another in faith and love.


This is a clear day, in our reverie, but even so there are a few dancing clouds, white and bright. We try to make sense of the summer, and to make space for the summer, and to honor this season, so different in New York than in Texas, one that brings together meteorological splendor and theological insight. In our church, we put together a dozen summer experiences, like next week's Summerfest, to allow meteorology and theology to dance well together.There is a dimension of possibility alive in the summer that is hard to approximate in the rest of the year. We alter our summer hours of worship, not at all to suggest that worship is less central now, for in some ways summer ought to be the most worshipful of the seasons, but rather to accommodate our life to the necessary rhythms of life around us.

It is astounding to hear again in the Gospel that seeking, knocking and asking themselves bring discovery, opening and reception. But they do. Summer is the season and worship is the focus of all such wonder and possibility.

Maybe this is the meaning of summer, to pause and allow a fuller consideration of all the possibilities around us.


A summer wind accompanies us as we walk farther down the dirt road. A fawn - or was it a fox? - darts into the brush. The smell of apples, already ripening, greets us at the turn. More sun, bigger and higher and hotter, makes us sweat.

I guess every family has a family secret or two, that one subject that dominates every present moment by the sheer weight of its hidden silence, that one taboo topic that somehow screams through its apparent muteness. Daddy's drinking. Junior's juvenile record. Grampa's prison term. The so-called elephant in the room. True of nations, too, and businesses, and projects and even churches. You find it, finally, by asking gently about what is feared.

The human family has this same kind of family secret. Something we avoid discussing, if at all possible, something that makes us fearful, something that dominates us through our code of silence. It is our mortality. Our coming death is the one thing that most makes us who we are, mortal, mortals, creatures, sheep in another's pasture, not perfect because not perfectible, the image of God but not God, "fear in a handful of dust". Yet we are so busy with so many other things that this elemental feature of existence we avoid.Maybe this is the meaning of summer, to number our days that we get hearts of wisdom, to measure the mystery about us and give over our imaginations to a consideration of our limits, to learn to pray.


May the Good and Gracious God make of all of us prayerful people, simple and true our virtues of the heart, nourishing and nourished in pardon, disciplined by hard even bitter fences of peace, inspired by gracious clouds billowing and high, and supported all the day long by a summer wind, a spirited faith in the face of death.

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