Click video below to view the full service video for Sunday, January 19, 2019, posted on our YouTube Channel
The snow fell and stopped everything this week in this part of the world. There’s nothing like a forced stop to make a person look around and see the world differently. That should be what Sabbath is for, a day to clear our eyes and see the ordinary miracle, God alive and calling from the middle of every day. Let’s spend an hour (or so) clearing our eyes.
Reflection by Rev. Will Sparks
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
There is nothing quite like an unexpected snow day to create a forced stop, a sabbath declared by the weather, an opening for sacred attentiveness. Snow days are like power outages, when all of a sudden, some external force says, “Stop. Shhhh. You have nothing to do but be. Nowhere to be but here.” That is sabbath. I sat at our kitchen table and watched a race take place in my back yard. I had brought in the humming bird feeder and thawed it out, and hung it back up beside the window. The race was on. The puffed up little hummers darting back and forth trying to extract as much energy from the liquid, and the cold crystals forming, slowly cutting off their access. Cold versus Hummers. Despite the beauty of watching the atomic configuration of a liquid re-arrange itself before my eyes, I was still cheering for the hummers. It was a sabbath, and the soft animal of my body was loving what it loves. The world was offering itself to my imagination, shining in the way it always shines, but I was noticing differently. The genius of God was playfully calling, like it always does. The snow day just increased the likelihood that I would say, sure, I’ll play.
I showed the children some precious things that I keep on my desk. I didn’t show them a precious thing that doesn’t look much like the owner sees it as precious but I really do. This is the bible that was given to me at my ordination coming up on 28 years ago. But it didn’t look at all like this when it was given to me. It had a cover on it that was made by the children at Conference in 1992. I have used this bible continuously for those 28 years and it shows it. The outer cover has long since fallen off. But often when I pick it up to use it, I think of those who gave it to me and particularly those children. I can’t remember their names but those of us being ordained had the honour of visiting with them for a while and it was a wonderful time. The bible cover was a lovely gesture of their good wishes for me. They remind me that if we are willing to listen, if we stop and take the time, God often speaks in their voice with playful genius. Their honesty can pierce most questions. In so many ways they reveal divine wisdom.
We are in the season of epiphany, the season in which we celebrate God revealed to us in Jesus, first the child, then as an adult blessed by God he became a light revealing divine grace. Epiphany is a time we pray that God would open our eyes and reveal God’s self and God’s ways to us now.
Storyteller Robert Fulgham, tells the story of God revealed to him by his daughter one time. He was going through a box precious things much like the ones I showed the children earlier. In this box was a paper bag, sealed up and held together with duct tape and staples but there is a rip in the side through which you can see the contents. It originally belonged to his daughter. Not long after she had started school she became a great lunch maker. She not only made her own lunch but also her father’s and her brother’s. She put in the sandwich and the milk, a piece of fruit and sometimes a goody or even a note in each bag. This one morning as she parceled out the lunches she handed her dad two lunch bags. “Why two?” he asked. “”Because.” “What’s it got in it?” “Oh, just some stuff. Take it.” Not thinking too much more about it, he put the two bags in his briefcase, gave her a kiss and was off to work.
Well, as he was quickly wolfing down his lunch at noon, he ripped open this other bag that his daughter had given him. In it he found two hair ribbons, three small stones, a plastic dinosaur, a pencil stub, a tiny seashell, two animal crackers, a marble, a used lipstick, a small doll, two chocolate kisses, and thirteen pennies.
He smiled and thought, how charming. Pushed it to the side and carried on with his day. A minute later as he got up to get going on his busy afternoon of important things, he swept his desk clean into the wastebasket- leftover lunch, and everything. There’s nothing there I need.
That evening his daughter came in to the living room where he was reading. “”Where’s my bag?” “What bag?” “You know, the one I gave you this morning.” “I left it at my office (technically true) why?” “I forgot to put this note in it,” and she handed him a small note all folded up. “Besides, I want it back.” “Why?” he asked feeling more than a little worried. “Those are my things, daddy! The ones I really like- I thought you might like to play with them, but now I want them back. You didn’t lose the bag did you daddy?” She had tears welling up. “Oh no, I just forgot to bring it home,” he lied. “Bring it tomorrow ok?” “Sure thing- don’t worry.” And she hugged him around the neck in relief. As he opened the note that simply said, “I love you daddy.”
So, anybody here ever have one of those moments when you think, my daddy permit never should have been issued. I’m such an idiot. I know I have. Here, she had given him her treasures- all that a little seven year old held dear. Love in a paper bag. And he’d missed it! Not only missed it, thrown it away! “There’s nothing there I need.” For crying out loud! I know that feeling.
Well, apparently he went back to the office in the morning and first thing he went through his waste basket before the janitor got there. Dumped the whole thing on his desk. Wiped the mustard off the dinosaur, and though it took him a bit to work out his guilt sifting through the garbage, he found all his daughter’s precious things. Well that became their ritual. She would send him to work with a bag of precious things. But over time, it didn’t happen every day and eventually she forgot to ask for the bag back, and he was, well, left holding the bag. He kept it- as a reminder that God’s love comes in so many different ways the genius of God offering itself to your imagination, calling, “will you come out and play?”
John was doing what he’s always done. And then one day Jesus walked by where people were milling about and John pointed him out, “over there, that is the sacred one of God.” “Right there! That’s the one we have been hoping for all this time. There goes God’s love in flesh and bone.”
Well, some probably said, “how charming” and forgot all about it, or went on eating their lunch, or getting on with the important business of the day. “There’s nothing here I need.”
Some probably said, “there he goes again with his weird religious stuff. I can never figure out what he’s getting at so after a while I just tune him out.”
Some probably said, “I knew he was a bit of a nut case, but now he’s really lost it. Ever since he took off into the desert and started eating paleo. It was bound to happen sometime.”
And some stood up, took notice, and followed. They said, “where are you staying.” And he said, “come and see.” The world, or God, incognito in the world, offered itself to their imagination, and they let the soft animal of their body and mind and heart, love what it loves. They let themselves be drawn in. The light of the world calling, from the midst of the world, from ordinary experience, from river of life, calling, “do you want to play?” Are you listening?
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