Sermon for Wyoming Diocesan Convention

Neh 8:2-10; Ps 113; 1 Cor 12:12-27; Luke 10:14-21
October 1, 2009

Last weekend I was in Montana for their diocesan convention, and rather than go all the way back to New York, I spent a couple of days in Nevada. I even had a chance to go flying, but there was only a small window of decent weather. The big storm that has come through here in the last couple of days was forecast to hit southern Nevada by Monday afternoon. So early Monday morning Dick and I flew over to Shoshone (California, not Wyoming!) for breakfast. There is a tiny little airstrip out there in the desert just south of Death Valley, and you can walk across the street to find a bite to eat. It being Monday, we’d expected to walk down the road to the more ordinary Crowbar Café and Saloon. There is also a very small café that has really creative food, but it’s open irregularly, usually Tuesday to Sunday. As we walked across the road, we saw a remarkable garden out there in the desert, with corn and herbs and tomatoes. And there was the café’s owner, Dave, working in the garden. He saw us, and came running up, saying, “Katharine!”

I was blown away, because we’ve only eaten there twice, and the last time was a couple of years ago – and this guy is not an Episcopalian! I had written something about our first visit in a sermon, and I sent him a copy, years ago, but he remembered. And yes, the café was open. Its name is a hint of the grace it works: “C’est si bon” – it is so good!

We had a lovely breakfast and chatted with Dave about his garden and business and his young son, Olivier, one of just 12 students in his elementary school. At one point I asked him what music we were listening to – Satin Skies, he said, by Mars Lasar. The name didn’t mean anything to me, but it was filled with peace. We finished, paid, and walked across the road to go explore some of the mining ruins. Dave came running out and gave me the CD we’d been listening to. Our morning was filled brim full with joy, peace, and grace.

Then I came back and went to work. The email was filled with the usual – complaints, decisions to make, signs of healing and growth, and busyness. And I sat down to think about coming here. My first question was, who picked these readings? And why? We don’t often hear about all those listeners in Jerusalem – probably because their names are so challenging! Ezra reading the law is not the usual topic in Sunday morning sermons, maybe because we tend to downplay the law in favor of the gospel, assuming that they are diametrically opposed. But the law that Ezra read was about the relationship God claimed with those people – it was really a love letter. The gospel is nothing less.

There’s a strand in Christianity that sees law as grim and confining. That is not how the Jewish people understand it. The law they call Torah is seen as life-giving, as blessing. Too many around us confront law as something to be rejected – think about speed limits! But the law Ezra read is like a garden in the desert. The garden is a gift, a surprise, only possible because of the presence of water. Where there is water, there is life – and we might understand that as the law or grace of the way the world has been created. Like water in the desert, Ezra’s hearers are told to rejoice, to make a feast, and to share their feast with those who have nothing. Jesus summarizes the law Ezra reads as “love God and love your neighbor.” We might add the frequent biblical message, “don’t be afraid.” Fear not, for God loves you and the world is actually more gracious than you can ever fathom – the peace that passes understanding.

The psalm is about that grace and generosity of God, who brings rejoicing to the poor and the childless. And I have to conclude that somebody chose this Corinthians reading to remind us that we’re supposed to rejoice in the body’s many parts – if one part suffers, all do, and if one part is honored, then all rejoice together. This body of Christ here in Wyoming has been doing remarkable things in its many parts. The Mustard Seed projects we’re going to hear about tomorrow are indeed about encouraging wastelands to bloom. In some cases, that seed has grown into great harvest, in others it’s still maturing. Together, the 47 congregations of this diocese that have planted seed will indeed bring bounty to many who would never have known it otherwise. The desert is blooming.

The passage we heard from Luke is also about rejoicing at God’s abundant harvest. That striking image of satan falling from heaven is a simple reminder that evil will not long endure when addressed with joy and the riches of grace, like the seed planting you have been about. Jesus is reminding his disciples that they don’t have to wait for falling meteors or the end of every injustice in the world to rejoice. Make a feast today, and share it with those who have nothing, for your name is written in heaven. Like Olivier and the other 11 students in that rural elementary school, you are known as an individual, you are blessed in the sight of God and infinitely precious – and you can join in that seed planting and harvest.
That CD Dave offered me is called Satin Skies, and I’m struck by the image of the heavens restored to beauty when evil is confronted, when satan no longer occupies center stage, the skies turn peaceful. It takes a cooperative act to remove evil from that center of our focus, and it takes no more than the planting of a tiny seed.

Many of you probably recall the big disaster on Mt. Everest in 1996, when eight climbers died near the summit in a freak storm. Jon Krakauer wrote a powerful book about it, Into Thin Air, and an IMAX movie was made about it. I ran across an article about one of the survivors this week, Beck Weathers, who sat out two nights and nearly died waiting for his companions to return from the summit. He wrote his own book, Left for Dead. He lost his nose, his right hand, and most of his left to frostbite, and he’s been through a long series of reconstructive surgeries. He is a pathologist from Texas, and still practices medicine. The article was about him learning to fly – and how he’s adapted to his disabilities and put his life back together again. The piece that struck me more than anything, however, was the answer he gave to a question several years ago, “if he had known what would happen to him, would he do it again?” He said, yes, he would, because of what he had gained, because he’d had to salvage some relationships that were very badly damaged before he ever went to Everest.

Somehow, in his life, the self-centered part, about going off to do whatever he wanted, has been replaced by joy. Joy in figuring out how to adapt to reality, joy in his family and friends, joy in the life he has recovered, joy in resurrection. He spent nearly a dozen years speaking about his experiences, and works with amputees today, with comments like this, “it does no good to sit around wishing you could grow your hands back, and there’s no getting around the fact that missing parts is a nuisance. But life is still a delight, even for those of us who can’t be jugglers.” We’re going to need more seed-planters like that, as we welcome home wounded soldiers from the Middle East, and work with their families who stayed here.

We need people of resurrection to partner in all God’s work.

Is there a big dark thing in the middle of your sky? It will fall, and the skies will clear by remembering the law: love God, love your neighbor, fear not. Discover peace and rejoicing instead.