Sunday, September 07, 2008

Four weddings and a funeral

I'm back.

Today was my first Sunday back from vacation and I preached at 7:30, 9:00 and 11:15. I actually started back to work yesterday with a wedding that ended up as one today's sermon illustrations ... a sermon entitled:

Four Weddings and a Funeral
(Romans 13:8-14; Matthew 18:15-20)
The first-Sunday-in-September. Is it possible that it’s already time to bid a fond farewell to those “lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer?” Afraid so … and that means it is also time to bid a not-so-fond farewell to unscheduled days with freedom to read what you want when you want to and to sleep as late as you feel like it without an alarm clock dragging you into the morning – ready or not for the tasks ahead.

At least, that’s what I thought of when I read these words from Paul’s letter to the Romans – great ones for back to school week, don’cha think? “You know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep.” And – if I’m honest -- my gut reaction to that particular “word of the Lord” is not “Thanks be to God” but “Oh Mom, do I have to?” For they are words that could almost be from the lips of any mother or father charged with the thankless task of getting the kids “up” on the first day of school. I remember my own mother trying valiantly – and with limited success -- to readjust our elementary school body clocks at the end of a long, summer vacation and get us “up and at ‘em” for the school year ahead. And I certainly fought many the losing battles with my own boys on those first back-to-school mornings.

Of course Paul is talking about a different kind of waking up … a different kind of work to get busy at than the dreaded “What I did on my summer vacation” essay assignment that haunted those first days back in school. But before I get to that, I want to take a few minutes to share with you what my “What I did on my summer vacation” essay might have looked like if I’d written one this year. It would have been titled: “Four Weddings and a Funeral.”

As most of you know, my summer this year included not just time off for summer vacation but time away from All Saints Church for something called “The Lambeth Conference” … and that was most definitely NOT a vacation! Organizing our witness at the every-ten-year gathering of bishops from all over the Anglican Communion was a pretty consuming piece of work and I thought my plate was as full as it could get last spring. Then – on May 15th – the California Supreme Court ruled (stop me if you’ve heard this before!) that separate was NOT close enough to equal when it comes to marriage for same sex couples here in California and suddenly it seemed it was all-weddings-all-the-time.

The first was here in the All Saints Church chapel on June 17 – the day after Marriage Equality became the law of the land in California. At our regularly scheduled every-weekday-at-12:10 Noonday Eucharist, Mel White and his partner of 27 years Gary Nixon were married – in the sight of God and the State of California! – in an intimate gathering of friends and family … and regular noonday worshippers … with a wedding that was both extraordinary in its historic “first-ness” and oh-so-ordinary in its familiar vows and promises, prayers and blessings.

The very next day we gathered up here on the chancel for Wedding Number Two … where Bear Ride and Susan Craig promised to love, honor and cherish each other … in sickness and in health … ‘til death did them part … as they were married – in the sight of God AND the State of California (and with the PBS “Religion & Ethics Weekly” cameras rolling!).

Wedding Number Three of my summer vacation was not here at All Saints but in a Pomona backyard where my friends Warren and Michael were married by a Superior Court judge surrounded by friends, family and twinkle lights. Together since 1992, Warren and Michael had done this before … in 2004 at a San Francisco courthouse when marriage was ... for a brief, shining moment … an option for all Californians. And now here they were again … making the vows and promises to each other … hoping that this time it would “stick” … that their “happily ever after” wouldn’t be put on hold by yet another legal maneuver designed to make marriage the heterosexual privilege of some Californians rather than an equally protected right for all Californians. And after the judge pronounced them “spouses for life” two Episcopal clergy stepped up and blessed the rings they had just exchanged and the vows they had just spoken. And a good time was had by all!

Four weddings and a funeral.

We plan ahead for weddings but there are no “save the date” cards for funerals. On July 24, while in Canterbury for the Lambeth Conference, we got word that my mother died in her sleep just days from her 83rd birthday in her home in Alexandria, Minnesota. My brother and I were stunned at her sudden and unexpected loss and deeply grateful for all who came together to make the celebration of her life we held on August 12th such a tribute to her and to the values she held most dear. As I said at the service that day to the congregation that included three of her Class of 1943 cheerleading team and more cousins than I could shake a stick at, Betty was someone who never took no for an answer.
She never GAVE no for an answer, either … instead she was famous for “we’ll see” – which translated to “no way.” She was stubborn, strong and opinionated and you could never count on her agreeing with you – but you could always count on her loving and supporting you. My mother didn’t talk a lot about family values – she just lived them. For nearly 83 not-long-enough years. And we continue to be blessed by her love and by her example.

Four weddings and a funeral.

Wedding Number Four was just yesterday. What a privilege is was to be the celebrant at the wedding of Kathy Van Tassell and Terry Wick, who celebrated 16 years of commitment by making “honest women” of each other with friends and family surrounding them with love and good wishes for a lifetime of happiness together. One of the readings in their liturgy was this poem by Maya Angelou:

We, unaccustomed to courage
exiles from delight
live coiled in shells of loneliness

until love leaves its high holy temple
and comes into our sight
to liberate us into life.

Love arrives
and in its train come ecstasies
old memories of pleasure
ancient histories of pain.

Yet if we are bold,
love strikes away the chains of fear
from our souls.

We are weaned from our timidity
In the flush of love's light
we dare be brave

And suddenly we see
and will ever be.
Yet it is only love which sets us free.

And these words of Maya Angelou bring me back to these words from Paul's Letter to the Romans:

Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments are summed up in this word, "Love your neighbor as yourself." Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.

And these, my brothers and sisters, are the words that bring my summer vacation of “Four Weddings and a Funeral” smack up against Jesus’ call to all of us for the year ahead. What binds all these events together – these four weddings and a funeral – is the love that sets us free – the love that is stronger even than death: the love of a God who loved us enough to become one of us in order to show us how to love one another.

It is the love that will strike away the chains of fear from our souls and empower us to speak up for the oppressed and marginalized, to comfort the grieving and to rejoice with the joyful.

Love that liberates us into life also calls us into action. As the rector names it, faith in action is called politics. And if I learned anything on my summer vacation, I learned that sometimes it takes the political to make the pastoral possible. The four weddings I’ve described – like hundreds of others all over the state of California since June 16th – would not have been possible without the hard political work that went into securing marriage equality here in California. And there’s more of that work ahead of us if we’re going to fend off Proposition 8 – the ballot initiative that would take away the right to marry from same sex couples.

How is it possible to hear these words from Paul this morning – Love does no wrong to a neighbor – and not “get” that taking away the freedom to marry from our neighbors is just plain wrong? I’m proud to be part of a church that took a strong and early stand against Proposition 8 and I’ll be proud to stand with our bishop, +Jon Bruno on Wednesday morning at the Cathedral Center press conference where he will issue his statement opposing writing discrimination into the constitution and urging Episcopalians to Vote No on 8.

Yes, there is much work ahead of us. So let us hear Paul’s words written to the Christians in Romans all those many years ago as if they were emailed to us in Pasadena this morning: “We know what time it is, how it is now the moment for us to wake from sleep. For the night is far gone, the day is near.”

Let us believe that the day that is near is the day when “whoever you are and wherever you find yourself there is a place for you here” is not just the message All Saints Church sends out but the message the whole Episcopal Church … indeed, the entire Anglican Communion … steps up to both claim and to proclaim.

Let us challenge the night that is not yet far enough gone -- the dark night of exploiting “family values” to value some families and to oppress and marginalize others. The alarm clock is ringing – for us and for all who are committed to this high calling of joining with Jesus to turn the human race into the human family we were created to be. A human family coming together to celebrate every time two people find love and step out in faith to commit themselves to live happily ever after “‘til death do them part.” A human family grieving together whenever death separates us – for a time – from those we love but see no more.
Let’s hear it one more time:

Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments are summed up in this word, "Love your neighbor as yourself." Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.

And may the God of grace, mercy and empowerment give us the grace to be not just hearers but doers of these words as we live lives set free by the power of love -- by the Holy Spirit -- to be agents of change, messengers of hope and -- most importantly -- bearers of God's love into the world.

Thanks be to God.
Alleluia. Amen.

1 comment:

IT said...

That Maya Angelou poem is a keeper, Susan. Wow. I read it aloud to my beloved...That might pop up in OUR wedding too.