Today turned out to be that one day a year when I let down my resolve and bu a sweet at Starbucks, indulging myself in a slice of the iced gingerbread that appears there only during the holiday season.
The first bite always produces an instant sugar rush, a not especially pleasant warning that I shouldn’t do this often. Then comes a rush of memories.
I think of the seminary adjunct who introduced me to Starbucks gingerbread, someone I didn’t spend much time with but whose teaching is with me still. I remember the out-of-season gingerbread served at the informal gathering for parents and kids days before my son started kindergarten, our first introduction to a community in which my family would be grounded for years to come. Those kids have kids of their own now, and we still see many of them. I’m reminded that my mother occasionally made gingerbread, and for some reason it wasn’t until I was grown that I realized how much I had always loved it.
Memories, so many memories, and what comes back most especially are all these people I associate with the flavors of cinnamon, ginger, allspice, nutmeg, and cloves.
Remembering these things is healing. Revisiting good times, recalling love, reaffirming that happy things past also are still with us now. Reminding ourselves of the fundamental truth that life is a gift, and it is good. And even in this season of Advent, when we embrace the darkness to remind ourselves of the promise of light, letting go of what doesn’t matter to remind ourselves of what does, there is healing in this simple indulgence of a single thick slice of iced gingerbread.
See the full community Advent calendar at http://adventword.org
I remember being told as a child that God is everywhere. I think that was meant to be reassuring, although to tell you the truth, it could also be a little scary.
Now as an adult, I do hold onto that assurance of God’s enduring presence as one of the fundamentals of my faith, but I’ve also come to realize that there are places where I experience that divine presence in a way that feels especially real and immediate, and I don’t think I’m alone in that. Some people might feel that way here in church, while for others it’s more likely to happen when they’re out somewhere enjoying the beauty of nature.
And sometimes it’s only later that we realize that we’ve encountered the living presence of God in a place where that was totally unexpected.
That’s what happens to Martin the cobbler in a short story called “Where Love Is, God Is,” by the Russian author Leo Tolstoy.
Martin is a humble sort of fellow, an honest man and a hard worker, but his life has been touched by grief. His wife dies, leaving him a three-year-old son to raise alone; all of their other children had died in infancy. He isn’t sure how he’ll manage to take care of this child by himself, and he considers sending the boy away to his sister, but then he has second thoughts. He’s worried about how difficult it would be for the child to live with a strange family, and so he decides to keep the boy and do the best he can to raise him.
* Sermon as preached isn’t exactly the same as the written text. Continue reading
When I was a kid, I liked to sit very quietly in the shadows when my parents got together with aunts and uncles for the holidays, just listening to their stories, hoping they wouldn’t even notice I was there, so they’d tell the real stories, with all the details.
They talked about relatives I would never know, and others I had met but could barely remember, because they died when I was still very young, and somehow I sensed that all those little bits of information about who they were was also part of who I am.
Lately I’ve been working on my family tree again, trying to flesh out those stories, connecting individuals and tracing those connections back to ancestors I’d never even heard of. In one part of family now I can go back seven or eight generations, to the 1600s.
“’You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
Today we begin those couple of Sundays people like to call “stewardship season.” That isn’t really a very good name, but it is a convenient shorthand. Church people know what it means: You’re going to get a letter with a pledge card and a deadline for returning it, and for the next couple of Sundays the sermon’s going to be about giving in support of your parish.
But good church people should know that true stewardship has no season. It’s not a synonym for fund-raising.
It’s a way of life that begins with recognizing God’s abundant generosity, and it’s all about our grateful response. It’s about how we use what we’ve been given in all areas of our lives. It’s about how we spend our money. It’s about how we use the abilities we’ve been given. It’s about how we care for the earth.
The city of Assisi in Italy is built halfway up a low mountain in the region of Umbria, and when you approach it from a distance it’s strikingly beautiful. What you see is this long expanse of white buildings, and in the sunlight they have a pinkish glow. You have to go up the mountain to get to the city, and you can’t park or drive in the middle of it, and so when we visited last year, we parked at one end of the town and then walked down the main street to the other. The first place we stopped was the church that contains the font where St. Francis supposedly was baptized toward the end of the twelfth century. From there we went on to the place where they now have the San Damiano cross, that famous cross before which Francis was kneeling in prayer when God gave him the commission to rebuild the church. And finally, at the far end, we came to the Basilica of St. Francis, where Francis is buried. Now to get into the basilica, you have to go through a checkpoint that’s guarded by armed soldiers. And I couldn’t help wondering what Francis would think if he came back and found that he had been buried in such a grand place, and found it protected by armed soldiers. …