May 28, 2017

Easter 7

Acts 1:6-14; Psalm 68:1-10, 33-36; 1 Peter 4:12-14;5:6-11; John 17: 1-11


At the time of our death, we long for the mystery of love extended through God.

My spouse and I recently took care of an important piece of overdue business.  We finally signed and made legal our wills which had been drafted months before.  Our delay felt reckless, because we have a special needs toddler.  Guardians had been named and had agreed, but the legal documents were not in place.  The technical process could not have been more emotional.  While the documents were being prepared, I imagined every possible scenario in which we could orphan our child and all the ways that she might possibly subsequently be abandoned in the world.

As I cried my tears and worried and worried, I came to recognize that destitution was not what I feared for my child.  My greatest fear was that she might end up with no one to love her.  My heart and my liver were overcome with a toxic grief of total fantasy.  Luckily, a lawyer type in the family reminded me of how statistically unlikely the realization of my grotesque fears was.  With the documents signed and the activity behind us, I have more or less recovered a state of sound mind.  And I was reminded from this experience that a common death time wish is release for ourselves and extended love for those whom we have taken most to heart.

There are so many ways we love and fall in love.  There is summer camp love and war time love.  There are beloved friendships that develop through shared work, marriage, hobbies, places of worship and places of learning.  There are many patterns of the process of taking someone or some ones deep into our hearts.  There are also sad times when we recognize that we have failed to take someone to heart or to hold them close to our center.  Hopefully in those cases, we take new habits.  We start over.  Or we try again with someone new, doing it differently the next time around.

Sometimes we have to fake love until we can make it a reality.  My foster son has had to learn how to give and receive love.  While he spent much of his time with us defending against it, because he did not feel safe I saw him practicing with a most unlikely recipient of his affections.  A clove of garlic he named “Baby Garlic.”  With Baby Garlic he could safely exercise his words of compassion and actions of caring.  “Baby Garlic, are you hungry?  Baby Garlic, time for bed.”  Somehow thatclove of garlic traveled the path to my son’s heart, so that he could make way for the rest of us to map to his heart.

Much like us the church also takes people to heart and in a number of ways.  We offer sacraments.  We provide pastoral care.  And we reach out in mercy with healing hands or food and clothing.  One of the things that most impressed me about St. Andrew’s was the number of hands that assemble our 300 sack lunches every month as though it was the obvious thing to do with your time and resources.  I was equally impressed by the dissemination of those lunches.  One staff person and one parishioner know the names and stories of the dozens of people who ring our doorbell Monday through Friday and ask to be fed.  They never say ‘no.’  They always say ‘yes.’  They ask no qualifying questions but more often something like, ‘Would you like some water or fresh fruit to go with that?’

I thought and thought about the depth of those relationships the door, and then it hit me.  Trish and Dave are the two who have taken these brothers and sisters to heart, but the rest of us as a whole still do not know them nor they us.  As a result fourteen of us set up tables in St. Andrew’s House one Saturday morning and covered them with placemats, flowers, bread baskets, jelly, butter, flatware, glass plates and coffee mugs.  We invited members of the sack lunch community to join us for breakfast.  Twenty-two came.  Thick, delicious, homemade casseroles abounded, and we shared stories and listened and no one tried to fix anyone else.

As the hosts our hearts were touched.  We had taken our new friends to be ‘our own’ in the gospel sense, and we had felt unconditionally loved by them while they were with us.  If we ever thought that we or our sack lunches were to go away, we would likely pray the prayer that Jesus prayed.  “Take care of them, God.  Protect them in your name.  For they became ours and now they are yours.”

I hear a vulnerable Jesus, working on his final will and testament in this Gospel of John.  I hear Jesus begging God that his comrades and companions whom he had taken so to heart would somehow know and feel the extended power of his care even after he would be gone.  It is a final plea that reminds us of the mysterious way that God can take multiple forms, drawing us into the divine circle of endless love.

Lately the church at large asks itself an ethical question which is whether or not ministries like our sack lunch are toxic.  Do they perpetuate helplessness? Do they keep people from their strength?  It is an open question that we at St. Andrew’s have neither asked nor answered.  The question can lead us anywhere.  We know the Biblical admonishments to feed the hungry, and we know the feasting stories.  And we at St. Andrew’s know how to love through food.  So as we pray our way through World Hunger Day and as we potentially ask the toxicity question, let our goal and our guide take us to that place put forth in hymn 487 – the place Jesus was asking for his friends - a place of “… joy as none can move…” and a place of “…love as none part.”