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Married February 2, 1974
God's World Within Our World
Epiphany V Year B
A sermon by The Rev. James Flowers
All Saints, Mobile
“Have you not known, have you not heard? Has it not been told to you from the beginning? Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?”
A couple of Fridays ago I tagged along with Katharine to the Gulf States Horticultural exhibit held downtown at the convention center. The fun for me was watching Katharine have fun doing what she loves to do. The exhibit was huge: scores of nurseries from three different states; there was a heavy commercial mulch-making machine…could fill thirty 35-gallon pots with mulch in a minute!…I’m sure there’s a name for it…I sort of wished I needed one…lattice salesmen…seed companies….palm trees thirty feet tall staged inside the vast exhibition hall….agricultural chemical exhibits…..just a world within a world….thousands of people checking out what’s new in their vocation…a vocation that one day they chose; or perhaps one day chose them.
One of the nurseries exhibiting was a nursery that Katharine does a little business with, and they, the husband and wife proprietors, had invited us to a barbeque at their house out near Semmes that night….we learned that it was an annual event, one not to be missed….We drove through the garish gauntlet that is Moffett Road in the last of rush hour traffic…the impertinent neon lights of lower Alabama suburbia aglow…..We turned left toward Semmes…out of the city lights and onto a county road headed nightward towards the last rose ribbon of sunset…It was night when we arrived…We knew we had arrived because we could see hundreds of lights strewn among the woods…the warm glow of windows still further into trees….We parked in a pasture just past the lighted wood….mostly pickup trucks and our Honda Civic…It was dark and we found our way to the party by following a continuous string of lights that led us past mountain laurel and native Azaleas under the canopy of silent trees grown wise with age, at what they had known and heard….we could hear laughter, and ardent voices in conversation…a fiddle being tuned.
In the basement there was a whole cooked pig, cooked to perfection of course…friends and neighbors and clients had brought potato salad, fried cornbread laced with red pepper flakes; Brunswick stew…I tasted the pig….and an elderly gentleman looked at me with twinkling eye and said… “Son that’ll cure what ails you.” He was right. We greeted our hosts who were so pleased we’d come….Outside there was a fire pit around which this fellowship had gathered…stories were being told….we found ourselves drawn and welcomed into conversations with people whom we’d just met….Talk of the egg laying cycles of chickens….of the dogwood blight….of genus and species…of rolling acreage and soil….of good dogs long dead…of horses….of old camellias….of propagation and seedsmanship…. “I’ll tell you one thing about Bob, he’ll do anything for you,” a voice said sitting just near….now, a guitar plaintive amid the crackling fire….
We heard the band tuning up; upstairs in the house….a stand up bass…the leathery thick and worn hands playing it….people beginning to dance….voice, guitar and fiddle aligning in the harmonious rhythm…A rhythm that I suspect set the heavens loose in the beginning.
We ate our fill, thanked our most gracious hosts, said goodbye to the people, the house and the woods….we followed the lights back up to the pasture, smelling more now of hay….the stars ablaze overhead… closer they seemed…Orion in eternal pursuit…Polaris to the north…the way to find the big dipper….and there the Pleiades huddled in mysterious sorority….all making their familiar voyages across the night sky…burning with some question…or perhaps some proposition….the heavens come close by.
We didn’t say much on the way home….except that the night was magical….no, a better word was needed. We’ve been trying to make sense of this night for two weeks now: nurserymen, and women, horticulturists, farmers, landscape contractors, gardeners…and yes poets and musicians and artists…an artful fellowship of wisdom known and heard…a world within a world.
These are the people, the children of the earth…these are the ones who know the rhythm of life and of death…of sun for waking and moon for sleeping…of seasons that wheel us towards eternity….from earth we are formed and to earth we return…the rhythmic truth of the matter…..of sacrifice and hospitality, and community…because that is how the earth is made, and that is how we are made in it, and when we live our true selves, our true nature, our true vocation, then the heavens come closer…and the plaintive cry and the joyful shout become one.
Mark’s gospel has a distinctive rhythm…It is urgent…Immediate…the time for fulfillment is near…the heavens at a metronomic pace have come close by, and we are told by the writer of the mystery of this coming….Jesus, not a magician, but the model of community, Jesus heals Peter’s mother-in law… healing, one of our principal responsibilities as humankind ….healing, borne by compassionate touch and passionate advocacy…healing, the art by which the community bears its dignity and bears its wholeness…so the significance here is that once healed, the woman can now again take her rightful place in her community…We all know one is isolated from the community when one is ill….she is claimed, raised up, the text tells us….so another resurrection appearance here…she is raised back to dignity…the dignity of gracious fellowship….the dignity of fellowship, the very face of salvation…and the climax of this story is that she begins serving….the word literally means ministering…..raised to a life of sacrifice for the other…her true nature…our true nature…our God given vocation…as community we are duty bound to raise up others among us, so that they too can be taught the rhythm of sacrifice, the harmony of earth and heaven.
This is a story at its heart about community….a community of friends who practice the art of sustainable relationship up and against a world that degrades and shames….a holy fellowship that lives and moves and has its being in the rhythm of earth, which is in truth the rhythm of heaven….heaven in earth, engendered by sacrifice…yes, there’s the word…not merely a magical evening, but truly heaven in earth….We saw it on a cold and starry night as real as the sonorous rhythm of that stand up base.
God’s world within our world, Real, alive among us…real and alive in gracious conversation, real and alive in every act of sacrifice….real and alive at every meal graciously shared…real and alive in every act of serving the other…in even the simplest ways….simple, like the ways of earth….simple, like the ways of heaven….Have you not known….have you not heard…that which has always been…and that which will forever be….We are children of earth…and therefore dear sisters and brothers we are children of heaven.
This, the high vocation that claims us, raises us up into a life of service to make real God’s life in earth….so go now, go and claim others amid the beautiful rhythm, a rhythm from the foundation of time and space…sacrifice all that you are….as heaven surely comes close by.
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