Sunday, June 1, 2014

Fanatics, Fragility and the Future: Easter 7a Homily

Bryce is a homeless runaway, a child who just barely gets by with the coins that are offered for his sidewalk performances.  His performing partner is Edward.  Edward is a fine china rabbit doll, who can think and feel; but cannot move himself or even close his eyes.  ‘The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane’ is a story that follows this china rabbit as his journey sinks him to the bottom of the ocean, and props up as a scarecrow.  Edward who was once a fine work of art, becomes an unbelievably dirty work of art.  In Bryce’s embrace he is offered as a puppet, he is still fragile, yet he is now a joyful thing with strings on his arms, offering himself so that his young friend Bryce can make him dance.  

One day a bully takes Edward from Bryce, and swings him wildly around, and then horribly, Edward hits a hard counter and his fine china head, it is cracked.  Young Bryce takes his precious but broken china rabbit to a doll maker, however this desperate child has no money to pay for any repairs.  The doll maker agrees to repair Edmund the china rabbit doll, in exchange for the rabbit.  Loving someone enough to let them go is necessary, is wise, it is an act of extraordinary love.  And it is also one of the many very hard things that we who live on earth will have to do over and over again.

Have you ever been a new ‘fan’ of something?  Brimming with the joy of the new experience that you just keep talking about it?  The book of Acts has that ‘fanatic’ rush of enthusiasm, and the new fan’s sense of deep disappointments.  Acts rises from the experiences of a mission that challenges us to reach out, to let go and explore new horizons.  It begins before it begins in Luke, and even before and beyond that.  You might recall that Elijah rode of on a fiery chariot at the end of his life.  You might know that the Hebrew tradition taught that Moses ascended to God at the end of his duties.   Furthermore, when a Roman emperor died it was known that his soul would be seen leaving his body and rising up into the skies.  

The artisan author of Luke and Acts has been lovingly tying our experience of Jesus into the heart of orthodox ancient Judaism while at the same time expanding it and sending it out into a wider world full of a hope greater than anything worldly power can pretend.  He shows us that Jesus the Christ, the Messiah, our Lord, is like Moses, but even greater than Moses, and that his love and sacrifice is much much more power than any empire.  The focus in the text is on the experience, not on the physics.  It redirects our line of sight,  this ascension pulls up our chins,  raises our vision to the horizon, focuses us on where we are going as we draw strength from those who have gone before us.  What if the ‘up’ in this story is a metaphor, what if the ‘up’ is about showing us the way forward?

Today we celebrate the transition of some of our young friends into what some scholars call ‘emerging adulthood’.  Changes are on the horizon.  Some of these changes will happen quite suddenly, others may take years.  So friends, have patience with each other in the days and months ahead.  Sending you out is our task, it is our calling to help you go out into the world, but it is hard to convey how astonishingly fast the time goes by and how scary it is to love you enough to send you out, and how much we would like for you to be safely asleep in the cradle once again.  

And one more thing.  A little bit of advice. Embrace community through the church, wherever you may be.  We are one company with lots of locations, like Starbucks.  You are always welcome home, here, wherever here may be.  Always.  Furthermore don’t buy into the popular notion that these ‘emerging adult’ years are supposed to be a vacation from religious traditions.  It is a false idea, sometimes packaged as ‘sabbatical’ that sometimes suggests this is a good thing. 

There are a million of reasons to continue in the way of Christ, some are practical, some spiritual, some the following of a great unknown.  However if you like data behind your choices, we have that too.  Those positive life outcomes you and I dream of for you, the safe, healthy and balanced lives we imagine for you as we consider your future, these things are well nurtured in faithful community.  The researchers controlled for every other factor and nothing matched the steadfast blessing of congregational practice.  It isn’t a fail safe, but positive life outcomes are consistently well correlated with an intergenerational community of prayer, fellowship and service.  Around here we call it church.  It is an eternal mystery how this life together brings blessing, yet we trust that it does.  Life together in Christ isn’t something you should just leave behind.

We are all fragile creatures like Edward, at times feeling amazing and at times feeling powerless.  We are all broken and learning to love as Christ loves us.  If young Bryce had held on to the broken Edward, they both could have been lost and stuck in an endless loop of narrow despair.  Edward would have no healing, no future.  Christ loved us enough to let his disciple’s graduate, he leads us out into the world filled with his love.  Ascension isn’t physics, it is holy mystery.  It is an expression of deep the foundational love that loves us enough to prepare us to go forward.  For all of us, for whatever type of journey we are on right now, I offer this from the Celtic poet John O’Donohue.

May you travel in an awakened way,
Gathered wisely into your inner ground;
That you may not waste the invitations
Which wait along the way to transform you.
May you travel safely, arrive refreshed,
And live your time away to its fullest;
Return home more enriched,
and free to balance the gift of days which call you.


Poetry Excerpt From To Bless the Space Between Us.
'Edward Tulane' is a fine 'children's' story by Kate Di Camillo.
7th Sunday of Easter, RCL, Year A
St. Paul's Episcopal Church
Walla Walla, Washington