The Things We Carry, Proper 24A, 2014
The Revised Common Lectionary dictates which texts are to be used for the sermon, they can be found here.
I wonder what they tucked into their belts. I wonder what they glanced at longingly as they fled into the darkness of the night. I wonder, what was left behind as the deserts immensity became clear and the weight of even the smallest tokens became too much a burden.
I am reminded of the Tim O’Brien collection of short stories, “The Things They Carried” in which he describes the burden borne by soldiers in Vietnam, “They carried the sky. The whole atmosphere, they carried it, the humidity, the monsoons, the stink of fungus and decay, all of it, they carried gravity.”
The heaviness of their burden, the vast expanse of it all. What a weight as the non-essentials are cast away one by one. Rotting in the wet or desiccating in desert winds. As the things themselves lose importance when confronted with the reality that they are just things.
Golden calves too heavy, gems to be cast aside. They carried gravity.
And, in the midst of all that was broken--the promises that their feet trod upon as they danced. The hearts rent by pain and loss in the shadow of the mountain.
I wonder at the fear. I wonder at the emptiness. I wonder at the hopelessness. And, then in the midst of my wondering.
I wonder what it felt like to be tucked so carefully into the crevice in the rock. As God, the lover of souls, passes by in glory--too great to be seen and too great not to follow.
"I will make all my goodness pass before you, and will proclaim before you the name, 'The LORD'; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.”
The promise of rest. The promise of shelter.
The promise of the God of all creation and abundance in the midst of a travel-worn people and the pleading intercessions of a man who trusts in an I AM of grace beyond any fear that would prevail.
I have had such moments of longing for that, for that moment of shelter--for the familiarity of love, in times of starting anew, in times of wilderness journey.
When I left home for the first time as an 18 year old, I had two cardboard boxes and a suitcase. And, when I stepped off of the plane to begin my new life as a college student, I remember watching them spin around the conveyer belt at the baggage claim. Dented boxes...fragile and heavy.
I hauled them off of the conveyer and trundled them to the car of waiting strangers.
And, each move since has had echoes of that first move...
-A hatchback packed with all my belongings and driven across three states.
-A couple of car loads from apartment to apartment.
-A small u-haul and another car to follow--packed to the gills with plants and yowling cats.
-A moving truck.
The gradual accumulation of stuff.
Yet still, and often, the longing. For the crevice of the rock and the sheltering hand of the God of love.
So, I have gone looking. Looking for the peace which passes all understanding. Looking for the God who will shelter, the God of love.
“so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him--though indeed he is not far from each one of us. For ‘In him we live and move and have our being” Acts 17:27
And, there are moments, moments when in my searching I catch glimpses of the God who surrounds us so completely that--in many ways--the glimpses are all that our limited vision can allow.
And, many of those moments of late have been here at St. Clement’s. That moment when I first entered and Dan and Pat invited me to sit with them so that I would not be alone. Watching babies become toddlers and children teens. Celebrating a thirtieth wedding anniversary with a renewal of vows--a renewal which took place before this altar, in the very place they were first made. Looking out into the pews as old friends laughed and cried together during family remembrances for Jeffrey Carlson, who once served here as Junior Warden. Azael hold a sloshing basin of baptismal water and the upturned faces of those anticipating sharing in the waters that marked CJ’s baptism. The shape note singing at Liza’s service. Sipping a mimosa in celebration of Verna’s birthday. Watching Rich tape up the image of thousands of trees as we marked the support St. Clement’s has given to Fond Verant in Haiti. The ring of the chimes at the choir’s sending forth, the ringing of chimes at Kevin and Ben’s wedding. The weeping and the laughing, the rejoicing and the sorrowing. All of us. Together.
None of those moments fit into boxes or trucks. None of those moments could have happened without being here, with being in community in this place with all of you, these people.
And, it is in this place, in this ministry that we gather in community. A gathering that allows us to see beyond ourselves and into the God of abundance. A gathering that encourages us to develop relationships across generations and share in the work of bringing God’s graciousness and mercy to all.
A couple of months ago, Mary Fred referenced the Greek word for Ecclesia, the gathering--and that’s what we are, a gathering of people trying to bring God’s love and grace to this broken world we live in. A gathering of people, who come back, week after week, in search of something beyond ourselves. A gathering of people called, even if we aren’t quite sure what we’re called for yet. A gathering of us...a gathering, sharing in the ritual and beauty of our tradition and finding ways for that beauty to shape the world we live in.
As a gathering we walk the way that Christ sets before us.
And, in today’s gospel, Christ is confronted by those who seek to confound him--and in reply to their question reminds them that while the coin might carry the image of Caesar, we carry the image of God. So, if what is Caesar’s is to be returned to Caesar--then what is God’s is to be returned to God.
I imagine that the coin felt heavier when returned to the purse. The burden of oppression weighing down the pouch in a new way. The confounders, confounded.
The question about what is God’s and what is Caeser’s no longer works when we consider that it is all God’s. And, in coming weeks you will be asked to consider what of God’s abundance, of your time your talent and your treasure, you will share with this gathering. There is no set amount, no specified requirement--just the request that you give what you can.
Isabel Allende writes in her essay for “This I Believe”, “Give, give, give--what is the point of having experience, knowledge or talent if I don’t give it away? Of having stories if I don’t tell them to others? Of having wealth if I don’t share it? I don’t intend to be cremated with any of it! It is in giving that I connect with others, with the world and with the divine.”
She entitled her essay, "In Giving I Connect With Others". We give, to connect. We give to lessen the burden. We find shelter so that we may be a shelter.
I haven’t seen God, but I have seen God’s reflection--in the image we each carry of our Creator.