Sunday, May 9, 2010

Our Quilted Future

Sermon for the Sixth Sunday of Easter, Mother’s Day, and Lutheran World Relief (Quilts) Sunday, 2010
For St John United Lutheran Church, Seattle, Washington

Dear friends in Christ, it is still the season of Easter. Therefore:

Christ is Risen!
He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

A prayer before preaching. This prayer is one I heard from Archbishop Desmond Tutu when he prayed it in an interview on public radio this week. I know it’s an old prayer, a traditional one, but I’ll always hear Archbishop Tutu’s voice when I hear it. Let us pray.

Come holy spirit, fill the hearts of they faithful people, and kindle in them the fire of thy love. Send forth thy spirit and they shall be made, and thou shalt renew the face of the earth. Amen.

I had a friend in town last weekend. When he arrived, he told me he had never seen mountains.

He had never seen mountains! I said, “Oh-ho! Well, my friend, you have come to the right place. This is one of the best places in the country to see mountains. You can stand in one spot, look to the west and see mountains, the Olympics, a jagged earthen fence between the Sound and the ocean. Then you can turn around, look to the east, and see more mountains, the Cascades, dotting the landscape from here up to Canada and down to Northern California. Then you can look to the south, and there’s the biggest mountain I’ve ever seen, the greatest of the Cascades, Tahoma, Mount Rainier! Seriously, dude. You want to see mountains? This is the place.”

But do you all remember what the weather was like last weekend?

We never did see any mountains.

Late on Saturday we took a ferry ride across the sound, and at one point I pointed west and I said, “Look! You can kind of almost see a shadow of the mountains, behind the clouds there!” He said, “Yeah… I guess I can kind of see it… sure.” He couldn’t see it. My friend came to Seattle, a place surrounded by mountains, and he went back home never saw having seen one.

Sometimes it is difficult to see what lies on the horizon.

One of my spiritual companions, Bono of U2, has a phrase for the kind of faith required to live into what God is doing even when we can’t always see it from day to day. Bono calls this kind of faith “vision over visibility.” Vision over visibility. Holding on to the vision of God’s future even when our ability see that vision becomes obscured.

In our reading from Revelation today, John of Patmos is given a vision of God’s future for all creation. Visibility had become obscured in his world, and so he needed a vision to keep him moving forward. And on one holy day long ago, he saw it: God renewing the face of the earth! A river of healing flowing through his city, washing away all the brokenness. A great tree growing up beside it, with plenty of life-giving fruit for all of God’s hungry people.

If John were writing in our day, God might have taken him to the top of Mount Rainier and given him a telescope to look down on Phinney Avenue, right down on this neighborhood around Woodland Park Zoo, and John would see the new creation coming alive in our neighborhood, a wild western river of healing and a big Red Cedar Tree with so much fruit there wouldn’t be any need for a soup kitchen anymore. “High heaven’s kingdom come on earth,” in the words of Wendell Berry.

On some holy day long ago, the author of Revelation could see it. No more hurting, whether from surface wounds or deeper ones. No more hunger, whether for bread or for more than bread.

But some days it’s difficult to see the vision of God’s future. Grey clouds move in, obscuring the glorious mountains beyond, with their green trees and wet snows. Some days a fog comes in so thick that from up here on the Ridge I can barely see the waters of the Sound.

Of course, those are just weather patterns. Fog dissipates, clouds break up and move on. What’s worse is when our visibility is obscured by painful events that make it hard to see God’s vision of a brighter tomorrow. Life can dis-illusion us, un-vision us, take away the vision that just yesterday we really believed was possible.

I think of the oil spill on the Gulf Coast. I think of racial profiling and discrimination not only in the Southwest but across the country. I think of the people in our neighborhood who are still dealing with the aftermath of buildings burned down in last fall’s devastating arson fires. And this week, I think of Sam Malkandi deported, and of a family torn apart. The visibility of God’s future can grow dim very quickly.

Jesus knew this was going to be a problem. In our reading from the gospel of John, Jesus is speaking to his disciples about a time when the memory of the resurrection will fade and the vision of God’s coming future will seem to be too far off. Jesus will eventually leave – in a physical sense, at least. And the new creation will seem further and further away.

But God has more than two ways of being with us. In this passage Jesus begins to prepare us for Pentecost, preparing us for the arrival of the one who will remind us of the vision when the visibility gets bad, who will make sure we’ll remember that Mount Rainier and the Olympics and the Cascades are still there even when clouds roll in, who will make sure we remember that the path into a brighter future is still there, even when the lights grow dim.

Maybe that’s why the Spirit is so often referred to with feminine pronouns. God has no human gender, of course, but if we are to use human concepts to make sense out of God, we might do well to use the image of a mom to imagine the Spirit’s work.

Moms can bandage our skin when we fall down and scrape a knee. They can bandage our hearts when they are broken by hurt feelings or a horrible injustice. They hold out a hand when the lights grow dim.

Our mothers – and all those who are like mothers to us: grandmothers, aunts, neighbors, friends, mentors, fathers, and yes, even sometimes kids when one day they become mothers of a different sort caring for their own mothers– these mothers of all kinds show us how the Holy Spirit works.

And at its best, this is what the church does, too. It’s no coincidence, after all, that our brothers and sisters in other Christian traditions refer to a “Mother Church.” The church is propelled out into the neighborhood, to remind the world that God is here, working for a brighter tomorrow. Through our hands, God feeds and shelters people. Through our hands, God nurtures the gardens of creation. Through our hands, God moves the clouds aside to show us the vision of a future we can’t always see.

And through our hands, God is making that future vision a visible reality. That vision becomes visible, for example, in the quilts that our Fabric Fantasy group has been making and sending. Pieces of cloth have been sewn together into blankets, and then they have been sent abroad, to faraway places. And in that very sending, a new sewing takes place. God sews the fabric of the world, connecting people across continents, mending the brokenness and making the vision – making us – whole again. Through quilts like these, God is making us one, so that what happens to others there affects us here, and vice versa. God is making us one, so that there is no separation between us and them – no borders, only a common thread. God is making us one people on our way to a common future.

Hear again this passage from Revelation:

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb, through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life, with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month, and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.

God is producing leaves for the healing of the nations. Do you want to know what one of these leaves of healing looks like? I have one to show you.

(Ask the a few people to help display one of the quilt for all to see.)

This is but one sign of what God is doing. Each of us here has our own pieces of different-colored cloth within us, our own creative gifts God has given us for the purpose of being added to cosmic tapestry. Come now to the table, that God might knit us together.

Let us pray again the prayer of Archbishop Desmond Tutu:

Come holy spirit, fill the hearts of thy faithful people, and kindle in them the fire of thy love. Send forth thy spirit and they shall be made, and thou shalt renew the face of the earth. Amen.

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