Jesus meets today us along a summer road, a road to health. He meets us as the Lord and Savior of our humanity. Human beings, real, true, authentic, he calls us to be, as, in the same way, long ago, his voice did call out to one daughter of Abraham. For Luke, as for us, it is not her healing, finally, that lasts. Words seem weaker than deeds. Yet words outlast deeds. Unless they are perpetually repeated, deeds remain, located in their setting. Words carry. Words last. So Jesus offers us the gift of humanity today, his words to her, which now are his words to us: “you are set free from your ailment”.
The gifts of summer make us human. They recall Irenaeus who wrote that ‘the glory of God is a human being fully alive’. They prepare the way of John Wesley who wanted his poor Methodists to be a ‘people happy in God’ Walk with me. They remind us that we worship God who, as Paul Lehmann used to say, is continually at work in the world to make and keep human life human.
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. 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.
Picture an Ant…
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.
Ghandi said that ‘to the starving, God must appear as food’. Today we might add ‘to the threatened, God must appear as security. When our freshman come, and decorate their rooms in Warren Towers, we might murmur, ‘to the lost and lonely God must appear as companion’.
While we step around the ant, the little insect recalls others: grasshoppers, flies, locusts. Small creatures. Our world leaders summer in August, often near their places of growth. They must love the virtue of the simple people they have known there. They must like the simple rhythm of town life. Perhaps they enjoy the simple summer gatherings—reunions, little league, band concerts, parades. Surely they tire of the necessary urban emphasis on urbanity, the inevitable public relations concern for appearance and apparel. They return to place from which they can see life, not from the top down, but instead from the bottom up, from the vantage point of one ‘daughter of Abraham’. We may pray that there is a summer pause in which we all may focus on the little. The ant. A pause in which we may fully consider the human consequences of what we choose and do, the effect on actual individual lives. Consider the human consequences. This is near the marrow of Luke 13. Jesus steps past the relics of a form of religion to seize one human life, to heal one daughter of Abraham.
Maybe that is the meaning of summer, to pause and appreciate simple, good people, one daughter of Abraham at a time, ‘folks with good hearts’.
Imagine a Berry…
We can stop up the path just a bit. Raspberries,
blackberries, all kinds of wild fruit are plentiful. Jesus taught us to ask, simply, for bread and a name. “Bless the Lord O My Soul”. 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. They church finds its prayerful voice 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.
Perhaps this is the gift of summer, its meaning, to pause and make space for real worship, for that which can feed our hungers, and set us free for the next adventure.
Envision a Fence…
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. The book of the prophet Jeremiah begins with the divine voice in shaping mode. “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you…” (Jeremiah)
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. (He now sends an e-note every Sunday morning). 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, an old style doctor, long dead. He remembered that Dr our friend to visit him the day his mother died. I remembered the gentelman swimming the length of the lake and, while he did so, barking various orders at the universe and some of this 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.
You need not have read all of Tao Te Ching to know the truth of Laot Tse’s remark, “the reality of a vessel is the shape of the void within”. Here is a gift for the end of your summer. Set limits and keep them, mend our fences and protect them, honor one another. How? In faith and love.
Behold a Cloud…
This is a clear day, in our reverie. (It is our sermonic hike. We make of the day what we choose. How are we ever to proclaim of grace and freedom unless we live lives that exude grace and freedom?) 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, one that brings together meteorological splendor and theological insight.
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 forms 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, earlier, just before our reading in the Gospel Luke, 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.
A gift of summer. Maybe this is the meaning of summer, to pause and allow a fuller consideration of all the possibilities around us.
Sense a Breeze…
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 apples, already ripening, greets us at the turn. More sun, bigger and higher and hotter, makes us sweat.
Most families have a family secret or two, that one subject that dominates every present moment by it 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 listening quietly and asking gently about what is feared.
The human family has this same kind of family secret. It is 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. I made a summer list of the most utterly personal things about each one of you. Your fingerprint. Your voice. Your gaite. Your manner of aging. What would you add to that foursome? 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.
In the face of death, we turn heavily upon our faith. It is the steady and warming wind, the breeze of the Holy Spirit, which keeps us and strengthens us all along the road. Here is the argument Luke has made just before Jesus gazes upon the daughter of Abraham. If your children ask you for something, do you not provide it? And you are evil! (Not to put too fine a point on it!) Imagine, then, how much more God will provide for the children beloved of the all powerful, holy God.
Does your brow furrow when a reading from Hebrews is announced? Lord, if it be Hebrews, let it be the cascading litany of Hebrews 11: cloud of witnesses, by faith Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, Moses…Lord, if it be Hebrews, let it be the clear ten point ethical sermon of Hebrews 13: love, love strangers, love prisoners, honor marriage, be good stewards, remember your leaders, avoid strange teaching, praise God ceaselessly, obey your leaders, pray for the church. Yet, by grace today we hear Hebrews 12. Fire. Trumpet. Darkness. Trembling with fear. A consuming fire, but all showered with a mystery, and showered with a promise. “We are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken. Let us give thanks”.
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.
Utter a prayer…
Think for a moment about prayer.
Prayer is a kind of shadow boxing, the struggle of the soul for one’s own life, over against all the forces outside arranged against us.
As Anne Morrow Lindbergh wrote in Gift from the Sea, “Every person, especially every woman, should be alone sometime during the year, some part of each week, and of each day.”
Prayer is the possibility of an inner life, of communion with God—whether in the graveyard, the library, the symphony hall, the art gallery, the study, the beach. Or, in church.
A sanctuary is a place to be quiet, in order to reconstitute our real life: “the very best prayers are but vain repetitions, if they are not the language of the heart.” (J Wesley)
The soul, personal or collective, is boxing with its shadow in prayer….
Before the firelight of a hard decision, as your soul sees its shadow lengthen into something like fear
Before the blue haze of the television glass, as your soul sees its shadow lengthen into something like listlessness—acedia
Before the searching, seering floodlight of clear and painful memory, as your soul sees its shadow lengthen into something like hatred
Prayer is one great battle, your soul locked shadow boxing in combat with what maims and harms life.
Prayer tunes out many of the frequencies of this world. Prayer is deaf as a post, stone deaf to the telephone the radio the world around.
One older, beloved hospital patient, who had only one working ear, found peace and healing at a nearby medical facility by lying with his good ear straight down, planted firmly in bedding, muffled in the starchy pillows. He turned a deaf ear to the orderlies and nurses and heavy constant dehumanizing noise. Prayer is like Beethoven at the end, deaf. So in prayer, if you will steal away, you will hear another music.
The song of the soul
The chance for an inner life
The language of the heart
Ears to hear THE REAL YOU
Remember Job, as sentence which provokes an end to any sermon, “Be not rash with your mouth, nor let your heart be hasty to utter a word before God, for God is in heaven and you are on earth, therefor let your words be few.”
Your Gifts of Summer…
May the Good and Gracious God make of all of us prayerful people. May the Good and Gracious God make of us all simple people. May God make true our virtues of the heart, nourishing and nourished in pardon. May God’s grace discipline us with fences of peace, inspire us with gracious clouds billowing and high, and support us all the day long by a summer wind, a spirited faith in the face of death, and an honest attempt at prayer.