Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Third Sunday in Lent: We have moved back

Sunny. But still below freezing. Nearing the steps, it’s apparent someone was sick here last night.
As I go to the door to unlock, three people are walking behind me. An older couple, a young adult man. I hear someone say, “So is this a church?” and someone else answers, “well we’ll know when we look  at the signs...” So I turn around, smile and say “yes it is a church an we’re open at 11.” And as we turn the corner and start down 86th, I tell them our story. They are from Chicago, the young man relocating to our neighborhood. They comment about the lines at the restaurants, I joke about brunch vs. church. They tell me they’re catholics and got their mass in yesterday. So I tell them about my friend, my parish priest, Father John Duffell at Ascension Church. And his monthly martini mass. (First Sunday every month, 6 PM) I reach the door. They say thanks. We shake hands. 
Holly comes up the steps as I’m beginning to sweep, her arms filled with choir robes and other Christian Ed materials that had been left at SPSA. Our move back day has begun. From up the street I hear “pastor Bob” and look up and see Brian Taylor. He promised me he’d come here when he was back. 
He asks what he can do to help. I send him to see Holly. He’s quickly back. “Listen” he says “you should let me do that. You need to be getting ready for worship.” I explain that for me, it’s a kind of spiritual discipline. “yes, I know, so give me a chance, ok?” I always enjoy his boyish enthusiasm.  So I let him take over and he does all of 86th Street. 
I greet Deacon Linda on her way from before church grocery shopping. I notice someone is taking pictures of our Lenten signs and walk over to see who it is. And realize it’s Uli. I invite everyone inside. It’s time to begin. I introduce Uli. And Brian. Recall how he’s been Winky the Clown, Santa Claus, and even Spiderman but with us he’s just  Brian.  

Folks are a little slow in gathering. I start with remembering three obituaries from the week. We start with Elizabeth Taylor. What was your favorite movie? I ask. The answers come back: Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, and of course Cleopatra, Butterifield 8, and for me, the enigmatic Sandpiper with its Shadow of Your Smile. We each had our own favorite. But we lifted her up for her early advocacy for justice and compassion for people with AIDS. She opened the door for the rest if us to follow. 
And Geraldine Ferraro who opened another kind of door for women and elected officials. A door through which would walk both Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin. And finally, Lanford Wilson. I ask who can identify him and Brian answers right away. He was able to take the everyday language of the people and turn it into lyricism. From his Circle on the Square theatre came the Talley Trilogy, Angel’s Fall, the incandescent Burn This and Hot l Baltimore. That one play makes so clear his capacity to lift up the beauty, the sacredness of all of our lives, even in a seedy hotel. The Missouri he wrote about was an easy drive from Tulsa where my friends from the American Theatre Company introduced me to his work. We celebrate these lives, even as we celebrate the lives of these around us. 
I read a letter for Japan that my new friend has forwarded to me from Emiko Iinuma. Simply the personal experiences of one person, but filled with words about hope, cooperation, solidarity. I had to share it. 
The gospel story of Jesus and the woman at the well is so long, I divide it up, with non-traditional casting: Samantha as Jesus, Brian as the woman. And when the gospel is finished, I say that I’m about to step outside of myself. And I  sing Jesus Met the Woman at the Well...

I remember Peter, Paul and Mary singing this song. There’s a video on Youtube, Mary rocking, flicking her head to keep the bangs out of her eyes. (Yes, I am old....) But as with most of their songs, it didn’t begin with them. Online I found recordings by the Alabama Singers, Dave Van Ronk, Ian and Sylvia, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, the Pilgrim Travelers, and my personal favorite , the Swan Silvertone Singers. Must be something about that story...
Today is the third Sunday in  Lent.
And Friday was the 100th Anniversary of Triangle Shirt Waist fire.  Uli, Katherine, Andrea and I went Friday night to a performance of a new work, From the Fire. About that fire. The victims were women,  all immigrants . They spoke Yiddish and Italian. Some were as  young as 15, two even 14,  the oldest only 48.The tragedy  led to lots of changes, child labor, fair labor, etc.  But far too much is sadly the same.
Today the immigrants  are speaking Spanish, Chinese....
I can’t help but wonder:  what sermon was preached here right in this place that Sunday 100 years ago?What did they think, feel, say?  And down in the Labor Temple?  On Union Square. How did they respond? What was the conversation in its neighborhood? This neighborhood?  This is the context in which our church was born.
Lot of images of water this week. In Japan, I learned from our friend Takako, children under four can’t drink. the water. So what if your child is four? And yesterday they declared the tap water unsafe. And as Emiko reminded me, so with water,so with vegeatables: spinach, lettuce, broccoli..the whole food supply has been compromised...So Emiko and her friends are are gathering non-perishable food items to send to Japan.
And in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the control of water is almost as important as the settlement issue. On one  side of the wall are irrigated fields and swimming pools. on the other, parched gardens. 
Water.  Meanwhile, in Exodus, in the wilderness,people getting impatient..Freedom hasn’t brought them what they expected. At least back in Egypt, back in slavery, there was certainty. Can you relate? And so they grumble...
"Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?"
And Moses’ lament. Most of us  pastors understand.. Which one of us, at some point or another, has not felt what shall I do with these people? They are just about ready to stone me..Been there.
And so Moses is instructed to strike the rock.(I always thought that was strange, with God on it?) So in Psalm 95 that we Andre chanted, the  rock of salvation is not about solidness, but about the source of water. Living 
Marsha, Luis and the table

Luis, Alma and Marsha
In light of our struggles Romans 5:3 give me pause. 
 ... but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance,and endurance produces character, and character produces hope,and hope does not disappoint us, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.
Well, yes...but sometimes, no. Two people, two children of the same family, same neighborhood, same parents, same family life and yet....radically different lives,lived, experienced...Suffering can also  wear us  down, wear us out...
It’s back to Frankl again, his book I’ve been reading this Lent  ....Man’s Search for Meaning..Like I told my son Nate a couple of weeks ago, very few things have inherent meaning of and to themselves. They take the meaning we give to them. We choose, (though our tradition would tell us some can’t)....
As we’ve talked about before, hope is not optimism. HOPE is radical.One of our touchstones in this congregation comes from Jim Wallis and what he has to say about hope, that hope is to have faith despite the evidence and the courage to work to make the evidence change.
So now we come to Jesus and the woman:  water again...Some say that the whole story is a parable. That the five husbands symbolize who had occupied Samaria, who they intermarried with. And this new one is Rome...That it reflects on the conflict between Jews and Samaritans.That grew out of a divided kingdom. Different worship mountains. Different cultures. Prejudices. Politics...
But all I’m interested in is the story of Jesus and the woman. Just like the all those singers of the song. It’s elements are  set up like a classic courtship story. Like Jacob, like Moses. You see an attractive woman at a well. You ask her to draw you some water. If she does, it’s on.
What surprises her is that he sees her as she is, not as how she presents  herself. And he sees her as who she could be. She sees that he knows her. And she calls him a prophet.This shows that she is on a  journey. it’s not an epiphany, an all in one shot getting it, it’s a process. We move from the season of epiphany into the season of Lent, the season of  journey. 
In this season I notice that Jesus’ food is to do God’s we are on our journey, may we be fed in the same way. By seeking to act, to be who we are called to be. 
And as we move towards the celebration of our hundredth anniversary, we think of those who came before. May they go with us too on this journey...
Andre sings Rock of Ages. And we all sing Guide My Feet. As we gather around the table for our final blessing, I give Brian and Uli pieces of the building that have fallen off this week. Uli is very touched. Will put it on his desk. Like my Berlin stone. 
A young couple with a child comes in. Wants to know about the story. The woman is interested in offering health screening services. 
It’s time to move back. We gather and walk together down to SPSA remembering the day we left. Brian has a brunch date but plugs in the vacuum and cleans before he leaves. 
We’ve got quite a crew. Luis and his van. Marsha. Pat and her husband Larry.   Alma. The girls, Jamie and Amanda. Just about everyone. (Hope has gone to join the Saigon Grill picket line.) Luis loads the communion table, the biggest  symbol of our life in diaspora, at the center of every worship in our SPSA space, onto a dolly. And Marsha and I pull it back up the street. Ahead I see the girls struggling with a file cabinet on wheels. One has come off. At every intersection, random people appear to help us with the move. 
Finally we are done. We turn the communion table upright, wheel it into place in the center of the sanctuary. Read the carved  Do This in Remembrance of Me on the front. 
We did it. We have moved back. Not exactly as we imagined it. But we are home. Every day like this, I believe, in spite of the evidence.  I hope.

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