Monday, May 13, 2013

Mother's Day Prayer

Mother’s Day Prayer
Rev. Laurie Furr-Vancini

O God,
This morning we sing for joy!

We give thanks for mothers. All mothers.
Mothers who raise us up,
birth mothers,
adoptive mother,
foster mothers,
mothers to be, aunts,
mothering neighbors,
friends’ mothers with motherly advice and love,
all those women who have cared for us.
We pause to think of those in our lives who have mothered us in ways big and ways small…..

….And we give thanks that you are a mothering God who loves us before you know us and writes our name on the palm of your hand so you are always with us.

We pray for those who cannot mother as they would like.
Those who yearned for children who did not come.
Those who wait still.
Those who chose to mother nieces and nephews and pets and humanity
and feel as if they have to explain their choice.
We pray for mothers who cannot mother as they would like
because they live in poverty and cannot feed their children every day,
who cannot protect their children from war and violence and disease.
We pray for mothers who are not good mothers.
Who, because of addiction,
mental illness,
broken hearts,
feelings of helplessness or loneliness
could not and cannot mother their children as they needed to be mothered.
We pray for them and we pray mightily for their children.

We pray for mothers who mourn the loss of their children
and for children who mourn the loss of their mother.

We give thanks that you cause the mountains to sing and have comforted us, your people.
We pray for hearts of compassion for us and we pray that others have compassion for us.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Lindisfarne - An Old Story for Today

Genesis 17:1-8 Laurie Furr-Vancini
Hebrews 11 (selected verses) October 21, 2012
Stewardship of our Religious Heritage Palms Presbyterian Church

An Old Story for Today

A few weeks ago, I found myself on the shores of a tidal island in Northern England
In the region of Northumbria.
(I like to say that because it sounds so very Chronicles of Narnia)…Northumbria.
So, there I was on an island of Northumbria, called Lindisfarne, otherwise known as The Holy Island.
What makes the Holy Island, Holy? You might ask?
And the answer is…it’s history…and it’s present.

Here is the story…..
A long, long time ago in the 7th century A.D. there was a King of Northumbria, named Oswald.
He was a devout Christian who battled others in the name of Christ.
When he became King, he sent for a contingent of monks from Scotland to come spread Christianity
Throughout his kingdom.
And so it came to pass that a monk named Aidan, austere, gentle, holy and moderate, having a zeal for God came to the Holy Island of LIndisfarne, established a priory and sent monks out from there through what we now know as England and that is how England became a Christian country.
As happens with kings, King Oswald was killed. His body was cut into quarters, but his brother went and retrieved his Head which was brought to the Holy Island to be buried.
It is a lovely story, isn’t it. And there is more, but you must be patient. You must wait, and the end isn’t even yet written.

I am not much in to history.
I only sort of like museums.
I only sort of like to read about history.
I only sort of like history classes in high school and college.
I appreciate people who are full of historical facts
and can re-tell details from time gone past.
I understand the importance of passing on history
as part of our shared understanding.
Now, stories from history, those capture my interest.
The people, the places, the events, if they are told like stories, those I love.
If I can smell the horses,
if I can see the landscape,
if I can feel the wind blowing, if I can visualize the king’s severed head...
then, I am there
And history becomes the now.

I can stand outside the tent with Abraham and hear God say,
Look up in the sky and look at those stars.
I can see them twinkle. I can see the expanse out there in the open desert. I can feel the sand on my feet and face.
See how many starts there are, those will be your descendents….
I know what it feels like to wonder if I will ever have a baby.
I know what promise sounds like and the excitement that Abraham must have felt.
And to look at the big expanse of sky and wonder, “How will this be?” and
“Glory, Hallelujah” all at the same time……

After King Oswald died, Aiden, the monk, became bishop and lived a long life,
(well a longer life than Oswald).
Then he died and was also buried on the Holy Island.
A few years later another monk,Cuthbert, came along.
Cuthbert was as beloved as Aiden had been.
According to historian priest David Adam,
“Cuthbert recognized the need for rhythm in life. Like tidal Holy Island, we sometimes need to be part of the mainland and all that is going on, and sometimes need to separate out and be an island for a while.”
The people loved Cuthbert and he became a bishop ….
the head of the English Church in Northumbria.
and he lived a long life, then died. Cuthbert, too, was buried on the Holy Island.
It is a lovely story, isn’t it. And there is more, but you must be patient. You must wait, and the end isn’t even yet written.

In the church, we have a number of sources for our history.
We have the Hebrew Scriptures, where we find our story about our ancestor Abraham.
We have stories of the life of Jesus found in the gospels.
We have the stories of the early church, where our second scripture for today from Hebrews recounts earlier stories and heroes.
We have traditions from the early church.
We have writings and sayings such as the Apostles Creed and the Nicene Creed.
We have much newer creeds, as well, written at specific points in history when the church needed to proclaim what it believed.
We have the ancient places where modern people live today.
We can walk the road to Jericho and we can drink from the river Jordan (but we wouldn’t because it is terribly polluted). We can walk through the same ancient gate of Jerusalem that Jesus would have walked through.
We can follow Paul’s footsteps throughout Asia Minor
And we can go to places like the Holy Island of Lindisfarne.

After Cuthbert died, monks and bishops came and went.
Time came and went.
The priory on the tiny island fell into disrepair and was rebuilt.
One day, the Vikings came and ransacked and ravaged the Holy Island and much of Northumbria.
The monks of the Holy Island were lost. They did not know where to go or what to do. So, they dug up bones and they set out for the mainland. They took the bones of Cuthbert and the head of Oswald and wandered Northumbria for an unknown amount of time
There are statues in a number of places which depict the bones and the bonus head of Oswald being carried around the countryside.
The story came to be told (and might be true) that before Cuthbert’s death, he carried around the head of King Oswald.
I made a collage of a number of the beautiful stained glass windows that show the now Sainted Cuthbert carrying around the head of the dead king.

We might find that rather “yuck”, but here is the truth.
We in the church, carry around a lot of our history that is yuck.
And beyond yuck, we carry around a lot that was wrong, bad and evil in the name of a loving Christ.
We carry around the bloody crusades.
We carry around the history of a Church that didn’t respond and when it did respond it did so with swords and spears and guns and all things hurtful.
We carry around the history of a Church that built grand cathedrals while folks starved and died.
We carry around a Church that baptized native peoples
all over the world as they ravaged the land and the people in the name of Christ.
We carry around a history of a Church that didn’t respond or under-responded to wars, injustices, lack of human rights and dignity,
We carry around a load of wrong in the church.
We Protestants in this country, of a certain age,
carry around the church of our childhood.
A church filled to the brim with people and programs…
babies baptized every week.
We think of it as the best of times of the church.
That same church in that same time didn’t allow in people
whose skin was a different color….
women were not permitted in leadership roles….
yet we dream wistfully of the “glory days.”
We carry it around and it is wrong if we ignore it or if we pretend we are not carrying it, that it is not part of our story, from which we need to repent. That which we need to remember in order not to repeat.
It is a lovely story, isn’t it. And there is more, but you must be patient. You must wait, and the end isn’t even yet written.

The bones of Cuthbert and the head of Oswald came to rest in Durham (not North Carolina, but Durham, England)
You can go there, as I did, and visit the place where St. Cuthbert is buried.
From the website of Durham Cathedral: Durham Cathedral has been a place of pilgrimage ever since it was built to house the shrine of St Cuthbert. Today people still come to visit his tomb.”
It is said that Oswald’s head is still enshrined with the bones of Cuthbert.
As for the bones of St. Aidan, the first monk on the Holy Island, his bones seemed to have scattered,
Reportedly, half of his bones are on the Isle of Iona in Scotland and others in Durham.
Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, bone to bone, head to head, generation to generation.

I am not moved by bones.
I know some are (particularly in Northumbria) and I give thanks that
the bones’ presence moves some closer to the love of Christ.
But, I am moved by the life behind (or rather in front of the bones).
I am touched by those who breathed and lived and died. Who loved with and by a love a Christ. Who, even though misguided made decisions based on the church and a love for the it.
Like the writer of Hebrews, I am captivated by the stories of our heroes of faith….
Of Noah and Isaac and Jacob (guided, yet willful)
Of Sarah who laughed long and hard when she was told that she would have a child at an old age and generations would call her blessed.
Of Jacob and Esau who fought and tricked and forgave and loved
Of Moses who had his own problems, but was the one chosen to lead a people.
Of Joseph and his brothers all with their problems
That the writer of Hebrews chose to include the prostitute Rahab in the list of heroes of faith….
I love that!
And what more should I say?
I should say because we are talking about “Stewardship of the Faith”,
that we are part of a church of the Reformation.
Of brave Martin Luther who said, “enough” and spoke truth to power leading the Reformation
Men and women who would cry:
Sola Scripture – Scripture Alone
Sola Fides – Faith Alone
Sola Gratia – Grace Alone
Sola Christus – Christ Alone
Soli Deo Gloria – God’s Glory Alone
I love that the reformers named five things ALONE that as essential, not one thing alone. And I laugh because five things ALONE sounds very Presbyterian.
Being shaped by the reformation means something.
In our story, it means that things aren’t written and followed.
The bible is alive!
Our faith must be active!
Our heroes aren’t only the heroes of our past, but our heroes of NOW!
Grace is present and moving, swirling around and resting upon us as individuals and as a community.
Christ is present among us – at font, at table, in our gathering, in our going out, love poured out to be shared.
God’s glory is all around – waiting to be named and praised!

If we understand our Reformed Heritage as always being reformed, we understand ourselves to be part of the evolving history of the love of Christ come to God’s earth.
And that…has less to do with us changing than with us being changed
By the power of the Holy Spirit.
New life. New flesh on new bones.
There are bones and severed heads that do not need to be carried around.
We can put them down.
We can say “we are sorry for what damage was done by the church….
Injustices carried out in the name of Christ.
Past wrongdoing.
We can mourn that which is lost and wrong with our church and with our history.
We can repent of the wrongdoing of our ancestors while holding up moments of
Calling and grace and love and goodness. Stories and heroes of our faith.
Real men and women. Bones and muscle and blood and spirit.

So, if you go to the tiny, Holy Island of Lindisfarne,
you will see the ruins of the once great priory.
You will see a BIIIIIGGGGG castle up on a TAAALLLLL hill.
You will see a fishing village.
You will see crosses against the backdrop of the beautiful English countryside.
You will see rocky beaches and a castle high.
You will feel the cool wind blow on your face.
You will watch the tides come in…..
and the tides go out……
You will see roosters and sheep and horses.

You will see vacationers and pilgrims and regular folks who live on the island.
You will walk on a beach full of sea glass and hear the colony of seals that surround the island.

And if you listen, very, very closely you may hear God say:
It is a lovely story, isn’t it. And there is more, but you must be patient.
You must wait, and the end isn’t even yet written.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Hexham, Northumbria, England - Monday, September 24, 2012

I m closer to figuring out why i am here. It is rainy and cold and blustery and it is supposed to remain this way for 3-4 days. Had Sharyn and I walked the length of the wall, tolday would have been the first day of at best long, hard trudge, at worst, misery.

I wasa still determined to walk today, so I put on layers and loaded up my lunch (leftover salami and brie on a crusty roll with 2 plums). I decided not to use the gps (the call gps "the tom tom" here) because the lovely young woman at the Corbridge Roman Town gave me a simple map that I reasoned surely I could follow. Wrong. The mistake came somewhere and I ended up in Hexham, not on Military Road (where Hadrian's Wall lies). Because I had a ticket for an a capella concert tonight in Hexham (part of the Hexham Abbey Arts Festival), I decided as long as I wasa here, I might as well figure out where the Abbey was and where I could park tonight.

I headed into the city center in the Audi. Mind you, I am still fearful each time I make a turn in the car. Behold, right beside me.....a sports store! I am searching for a Newcastle soccer jersey for Sam. I figure out how to park, going back and forth about 18 times in a parallel spot. I make my way to the store.

Sadness. No jersey. Not only are there no jeseys, but I am told by the very kind owner, that I am not going to find a Newcastle jersey except for at the stadium. "Why?" I ask. It turns out the guy who owns the team, owns the t-shirt manufacurer and the sports store in newastle, which is in a very busy part of town. The store owner advises me not to drive there (maybe he saw me park?) He suggests ordering it off the internet. Too bad, Sammy. On a better note, the store owner shows me I am very close to the Abbey and where I can park this evening.

It is raining harder now. I decide to walk to the Abbey to see for myself where it is. And...because I am there now, I go in. I take a "Welcome to Hexham Abbey" brochure and go in.

It is an old, warm, dry, lovely place. Immediately to the right is "St. Etheldreda's Chapel". Note to self: look him/her up. Then St. Acca's cross-shaft. Need to look up both St. Acca and cross-shaft, as well.

There are a effegies of knights and ladies.

I come to St. Wilifrid's Chapel (again, look this up) where a sign says, "St. Wilifrid's chapel is set aside for quiet prayer." I go in. To the right is an icon of St. Wilifrid. He holds his right hand out and has his thumb and ring finger together, his hand outstretched. In front, there is a stained glass window of a bishop (probably Wilifrid, I presume?) with three young angels under his feet. The angels in the middle and on the right are in color. The one on the left is grey. Interesting. Why? Damaged? Never colored? Strange and out of place, it seems. What does it mean? To my immediate left is a niche with some sort of strange little statue on the left, a large candle on the right and a bunch of rocks that look very intentionally placed. Not the kind of stone the Abbey is made of, but smooth, egg sized stones of various shades of grey and differing textures. These stones make me know I am meant to be here. So I quiet myself and settle in.

Why am I here? In the quiet, stillness of this small space of this chapel within the huge space of this Abbey in Northumbria in England. (I like to say Northumbria because it sounds so Narnia). Wait for it......"I brought you hhere for freedom. Do not be restrained." This comes into my head. I am skeptical enought to think that I made that up in the quiet of prayer. I also know myself enough to know that I wouldn't have chosen the word "restrained" to describe myself. I don't think of myself as a particularly restrained person. Generally, I feel I can do and say what I please in a fairly unrestrained way. I came to Northumbria, by myself, I might remind God. Restrained? OK, I think it through. "What restrains me," I ask myself. Strangely enough, a list begins to form: obligation, guilt, moods, t-do-lists, money, the rain, my body, this sports bra, my need for productivity.

There is a piano being tuned in the Abbey and I hear a ping, ping, ping, like Nora the Cat on the YouTube videos. "Slow down with the drizzly rain. I brought you here for freedome. Do not be restrained. Listen to the piano being tuned." Ping, ping, ping.

At some point I leave the chapel. The piano continues to be tuned and I can see the tuner now.

I come upon the crypts of two women. There is a carving below the crypt that reads: From the 1514 Book of Hours, often used at funerals.
God be in my head, and in my understanding;
God be in my eyes, and in my looking;
God be in my mouth, and in my speaking;
God be in my heart, and in my thinking;
God be at my end, and at my departing.


I move on and look at the huge stone baptimal font with a pointy wooden steeple above it. There are stairs in the floor and a sign that reads, "Entrance to St. Wilifrid's famous 7th century crypt. Please see website for tour times." Odd and creepy to my Protestant bones how important all these old bones are to people even today. Same as yesterday at Durham where the old kings head and the bones of St. Cuthbert can be found in the cathedral. Can these bones live. Maybe, but only if they bring new life to people today.

Near the bones, I see something new. Modern. Art. I pick up a pamphlet because I so love pamphlets: "New Beginnings" Art Exhibition in Hexham Abbey featuring 19 local artists: masks, watercolor, fiber, canvas. Some are hung between windows by wire, some are propped up on wood on top of radiators. All are interpretations of creation or new life. We could do this at Palms Presbyterian. This is doable. One of the pieces catches my eye. It is a rectangular labyrinth with spectacular, interesting starts at the center. I notice there is writing in the bottom left corner of the labyrinth. The words weave themselves through the labyrinth: The end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started. The last inlaid on labyrinth of earth yet to discover is that which was the beginning." - Carolyn Hawkes. (I need to look her up, also. I pick up her card:

Other artists to explore:
Karen Vickers - no web address.

I notice the piano tuner has finished his work. I pull on my raincoast and head outdoors.


Epilogue to the Abbey Visit: I stayed the entire day in Hexham, poking in lots of Thrift Stores and other shops, sipping tea and writing.

When I showed up for the concert, I remembered that my seat assignment was on the front row. I was a few minutes early and noone was on my row. I went back to St. Wilifrid's Chapel and I made a cairn out of some of the stones and moved the others around. I went to the front row and sat down as some others were now seated there. Before the concert and during the beginning of intermission, I visited with the woman next to me. She explained who St. Wilifrid was (indeed, the bishop). I told her I was going to Lindisfarne and she took me to show me a picture of St. Cuthbert (of Lindisfarne) carrying the head of King Oswald. (another stange story, for another time) At the end of intermission, she told me that she was an artist and her work was displayed over in the art show. "Which ones are yours?" I asked? "The labyrinths." she answered. She is Carolyn Hawkes, whom I had written about earlier in the day. Hmmmm.....

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Hadrian's Wall

Corbridge England---Just off of Hadrian's Wall Responsibility traveled with me. Because of what I leave behind, I am required to come back a better person...better mom, wife, pastor, friend. Because of the opportunity, I am responsible to bring part of the world back with me in my reality and in story.

The question remains, "why am I here?'

I woke up from sleeping for 12 HOURS!! What?? 12 Hours? Yes.

I made my way to Chollerford Roman Ruins, particularly good bath ruins, I am told. This is NOT what is here from me. More interesting, I find, are the drawings of what things would have looked like. I would love to hang out in a real Roman bath --except or the part where you are naked with everyone. The idea of all the different rooms is intriguing: hot bath, cool bath, plunge rooms---why doesn't this exist now? Why hasn't Ponte Vedra Inn and Club recreated one of these? I think it could make it as a business.

I made my way to Housesteads Roman Fort, purchased a national trust 10 day international pass, glanced at the Roman Fort ruins, and was on my way up to Hadrian's Wall.

This is where I was Spirited to come....but why? Months ago, "there is something for you there" was the message. "OK, I am here, what now?" I started walking.

I don't know what is here for me, but I don't want to miss it if it is obvious (I don't think it will be obvious). But, I will pay attention while I walk the wall. After day 1, I do have "lessons I learned on the wall." Actually lessons I learned on the first 3 miles of my walk because the last 7 miles I was tired and seaty and I ran out of water and my level of perception went way down.

Lessons from the Wall

1. Sometimes you take the long way around rather than put yourslf at physical risk.

2. There is lots of poop.

3. On pretty days, there are lots of people, but they leave when it starts to get cold.

4. There are many ups and downs.

5. You should walk next to people, not in a straight line (to help preserve the land).

6. If the walk gets really steep, look down and chount each step. When you get to 100 you are either at the top or you deserve a break.

7. Dogs are good companions.

8. Sometimes, going down is more difficulut than going up.

9. Sports bras are a good invention.

10. Older couples wearing matching sweaters make me smils.

11. When you sweat, little flies follow you.

12. Some days are a great day to live and would be a fine day to die (again, this was written when I had energy and all was beautiful).

13. Sometimes, it is good not to have anyone to complain to (I was beginning to get tired here).

14. You give way to people coming up (not those going down).

15. Cows make a lot of noise eating.

16. Guidebooks are good, but don't use them as rule books.

17. If you go off the path, you might end up in deep poop (see lesson #2)

I'm not sure if any of those lessons are Spirit lessons that I was to learn. Maybe the 12 hours of sleep was what was here for me.

Now, I have had half of my pint at the Golden Lion (built in the 1700's) I ate a big fish and chip meal with some kind of mashed up peas which didn't taste like any peas I know. But, the peas were green, so I ate them because I didn't have any other green thing today.

Off to the Priorfield Bed and Breakfast. Tomorrow, Sunday, I am going to the cathedral in Durham, walking more and then Vespers at the St. Andrews Church in Corbridge.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

The Breath of Life

The Breath of Life

My friend, Sallie sent me a text right as I went in to evening worship. I knew that dad had gotten ill last week and had gone into the hospital last week and things had gotten very bad. The family had gathered at his bed. Her text read: “Please pray right now. They are removing the vent. He will hopefully pass quickly. Thank you. Sallie.”

I had heard the scripture in the two morning services, but this evening Genesis 2 took new meaning. God breaths into the creature just formed from the ground. The holy breath of life. A ventilator can keep oxygen going, but the holy breath is what brings life.

I knew as the service went on my friend’s father was breathing his last breath of this earth. I listened to my own breath as the musicians sang during the offering I prayed their words for Sallie and her family, inhaling and exhaling:

Light in my darkness, peace for my soul.
You are my rescue. You’ve never let go.
Light in my weakness, always the same.
Your love is my shelter. Your life is my way.

All my hope is in You. All my strength is in You.
With every breath, my soul will rest in You.
All my hope is in You. All my strength is in You.
With every breath, my soul will rest in You.

Constant Savior. Friend forever. Lord, You have my heart.
Sure foundation. Never failing. Lord You have my heart.

All my hope is in You. All my strength is in You.
With every breath, my soul will rest in You.
All the earth beneath You. All my life before You.
With every breath, my soul with rest in You.
With every breath, my soul will rest in You.

When I came out of worship an hour later I had another text. It read, “He is gone. And no longer in pain. Love you too. Sallie”

Sunday, January 1, 2012

New Years Day Sermon 2012

New Years Day 2012 Rev. Laurie Furr-Vancini
Revelation 21:12-6
Luke 13:6-9 Palms Presbyterian Church
A New Day

Once every seven years – give or take a year because of Leap Year—
New Years Day falls on a Sunday.
Welcome to that day.
Let’s put some things on our New Years Table (not be confused with our communion table)…
Most of you are the ones who don’t make a big party of New Year’s Eve.
Some of you do, but not most of you.
Most of you really want to be here today or you would not have made the effort.
(After all, this is a sort of “free pass Sunday”)
One service, no Sunday School,
I don’t even know if we have snacks in Patten Hall…
Look, no choir….no special music….
Pinch Hitter Preacher….
(I traded Christmas Day off for preaching on New Years Day…)
Aside from all that, we are here….
And we will make the best of it.
Please pray with me: God of this New Year, God of our every year. Thank you for dwelling among mortals, among us. Make our time together a holy time.Fill each person here with your Holy Spirit. Make us a holy people. Amen.

From earlier this week:
I’m in Atlanta, or rather, Decatur, with my family.
We are staying with college friends who live at the edge of Columbia Seminary.
The New Years sermon must be written.
We will leave for Nashville for the Wake Forest Bowl Game in three hours.
More college friends, the kids, hotel, tailgate,
Sermon writing needs to take place now or in a car of chaos.
The seminary library is my destination. I
love the quiet, the closed off-ness.
I love the smell of old books and the feeling of retreat for the purposes of serious study.
It is freezing.
And I have no coat. It will be warm in the library.
I break away from the warm house, get in my van and make my pilgrimage to my alma mater.
I walk up the steps to the brick building on the quad.
The library is locked tight.
And so are all the other buildings.
Doesn’t anyone work here the week between Christmas and New Year?
Isn’t this a holy week, too?
Don’t they know traveling preachers have sermons to write?
I stand on the campus alone in the cold and I am resentful and sad.
It isn’t about the library anymore.
It’s about me not getting what I want.
It is about locked, cold doors and cold wind blowing.
And suddenly, it also about what ifs and jealousy of others for whom doors always seem open.
As I simmer in the middle of the quad, I wonder why I have these feelings because the good folks of Columbia have a day off to spend with their families.
Resentment, sadness, jealousy, what ifs….
Isn’t this the way we could spend much of our lives if we are not careful?

I’ll make the best of it.
I go back to my car, pondering those feelings in my heart.
Surprised that I had such a strong, visceral reaction.

I begin driving.
I get on Missionary Drive and head towards downtown Decatur.
A squirrel sitting in the middle of the road darts away from the car.
It has been standing over the body of a second squirrel. A dead squirrel.
Mate? Brother? Sister? Mother? Friend?
I didn’t know squirrels mourn,
But there is no doubt that this squirrel is mourning.
Our scripture from Revelation is already in my mind—
“God will be with them; God will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more”
It is a promise, but does it already exist, as well?
At least in some form?
And could it be true for mourning squirrels, for all of creation, as well?”

I wait for a train to go by and then cross the tracks.
I see several bundled up homeless people and I think about how cold it was last night.
I find an open parking meter and park.
Two hour limit.
Do I have change?
Yes, lots of nickels.
A nickel gets two minutes.
I scrounge around in the bottom of my purse.
2 mintues, 2 minutes, 10 minutes, 20 minutes….
I get up to an hour and 17 minutes.
That is how much time I have in the coffee shop to write a sermon for
New Years Day 2012.
I’ll make the best of it. God expects no less.
I order a cup of coffee.
I have already had breakfast, but I also get a banana and a piece of
Pumpkin bread to give to the next person I see who looks homeless and hungry.
I scan the coffee shop.
No one here looks physically hungry, so I sit down.
An acoustic version of “Honey Let Me Be Your Salty Dog” comes on.
A memory from Macclenny flits by. But I don’t grab it and think about it.
I let it pass. Time is ticking.
I reread the Revelation verse and parable of the fig tree.
O God, please don’t cut me down, give me one more year.
I take out a clear piece of paper and colored markers.
I write in different colors:
New Year
New Heaven and New Earth
“Water as a gift from the spring of life!”
Fig tree, fruit, Manure, Digging Around
Alpha, Omega
My task? To link these up.
And time is ticking.
The title of the sermon at my ordination was called
Connecting the Dots.
The pastor, who was a good family friend said, “Follow where the Lord leads you, but don’t erase the dots behind you…connect them, not just on paper, but in reality…. Connect them for yourself and your family and connect the dots for others…..”
Baptism, Communion, New Year, Fig Tree, New Heaven….
Come on. Make the Best of It.
And it occurs to me, as if a revelation, that for God “make the best of it” is actually a cop out.
Because God expects more than the best of it.
God expect the best of us.
God came and dwelled among us and within us not so we could slog by in this world and in our life, making the best of it,
But so that we can be God filled creatures ourselves. Created in the image of God.
Lived out in the life of Jesus, as our pioneer and role model for God-like living.
From our first cry, God claimed us.
At our last breath, God will claim us.
At baptism, God’s grace showered over us.
Not with the promise of a walk in the park, lovely, perfect life where all the doors are open.
There is no promise that we will not stand over the body of one we love and mourn,
There is no promise of no hungry and homeless people,
There is no promise that we won’t be filled with sorrow, regret and jealousy for the what ifs in our lives.
The promise IS that God is with us and in us.
And that God will be with us.
And that the day of those promises will come.
A time of a new heaven and new earth to hope for and pray for
And we see just enough glimpses of that time to come,
We are participants in enough holy moments,
We dig around enough and feel the dirt in our hands enough to know that the promises of baptism,
of scripture,
the promises made when we gather at the table….
That they are true.
We gather at the font to baptize,
Because we believe in the promises of God’s grace.
Because we believe in the power of God in Christ Jesus over the evil in the world.
Because as a body of believers, we claim God’s promises not only for ourselves but for brothers and sisters of all ages, stages, races, backgrounds. And we are in this together.
We love, because God first loved us.
And we gather at the table together renewing our bonds with God and with community…
Strengthening who we are and who we are called to be.
Empowered to “go forth” as disciples and as a community of disciples.
This what we do here….
Reading the bible,
thinking on the word,
telling stories,
baptizing, gathering at the table,
connecting the dots,
rooting around in the dirt and manure of life…..and proclaiming “Jesus is Lord”….
Isn’t this more than just “making the best of it?”
And we are linked with those who come before us
And those who come after us.
But still, it is a New Day for us.
A New Year to decide who we will be.
As individuals, As a community, as a country, as a world.
I leave the coffee shop.
The sun is shining now and I don’t miss not having a coat.
I see a young mother kiss her child as she puts him in a stroller.
Two Muslim women in head scarves walk by.
Teenagers are laughing in the adjacent park.
I look around for someone to whom I can give the banana and the pumpkin bread. It is later and the homeless have crept into the shadows.
I know that just because I do not see them, they are not there.
And I will not forget them, I vow.

I arrive at my car and I have two minutes left on the meter.
The bells on the courthouse chime.
Today is a new day.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Prayer for Harmony

So...there is a family at our church...the Toma family. A number of months ago, they talked to me about transracial adoption. They were already in the process of adopting in the foster care system of Florida and were being considered for an african-American girl. As my only experience in transracial adoption involved having adopted a daughter from China, I do not declare myself an expert. I suggested they trust their instinct and their ability to open their hearts. At first, it seemed that child would not be the child for them, as the foster mother decided to adopt her. Then, the foster mother changed her heart and the little girl, Harmony, began visiting with the Tomas. Everyone fell in love.

As Harmony moved in with the Tomas, the question arose whether to change her name. Harmony is a perfectly lovely name, but the Toma wife/mother is Melody. Too kitschy? Would people think the Tomas named her so as to have Melody and Harmony together? How would this naming affect big sister, Karla, who would be out of the musical naming group? It was decided that the little one had had quite enough change in a brief lifetime and Harmony would remain.

Today, I traveled to the downtown Duval County courthouse with this family along with some of their neighborhood friends. We pulled up in a limo and scrambled out of it into the 95 degree heat of Jacksonville. We took pictures at the riverside....a bunch of dressed up white folk with a black as pitch toddler in a fancy dress and a bow in her hair. Harmony smiled from ear to ear. She gave out hugs willingly, but would return to cling to her Mama and Papa.

Following the brief service, I was invited to offer a prayer. The judge (Judge Gooding) suspended the proceedings of the court and invited me to join him and the Tomas at the front of the courtroom. What an honor and a blessing it was for me to be part of the day. Thank you Toma family. There will be the hardships all families experience yet to come. Today, a celebration!

Prayer at the Adoption of
Harmony Kiehl Toma
August 11, 2011

Creator God,

You made us in love and for love. By your imagination, you form families in different ways, through birth, through adoption, through fostering, through marriage…..

By your sense of humor, you gift us with smiles for each other and with the ability to laugh at the smallest expressions and movements.

By your providence, you place in our arms exactly the child and parents and siblings that will complete us.

By your steadfast love, you equip us with what is needed to live in that family: patience, wisdom, care, gentleness, understanding and more patience.

Where there is woundedness, sow healing.

Where there is abandonment, sow fulfillment.

Where there is emptiness, sow an everlasting bond.

We pray this morning for families all over. May their hearts break open and receive your children through adoption.

We pray for perseverance and courage for families who are in the often lengthy and often frustrating adoption process.

We pray for our government and agencies and the governments of other countries that the adoption process may be made ever and ever easier: that the adoption process not be a yoke to bear, but a glorious time of re-union for your children.

We pray for the day that there is no need for adoption, when hunger and thirst cease for your children and when no one raises a hand or weapon against brother or sister. Restore your creation.

As the Toma family expands, may their joy expand and be a witness to others. Bless Karla in her role as big sister. Bless Jeff in his role as father of two and lone male in the house and bless Melody in her role as mother extraordinaire.

Let Harmony not only dwell in their household, but sing and dance and love with abandon throughout their house and beyond, all the days of their lives.


Rev. Laurie Furr-Vancini