glory of god

glory of god

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

On Lutefisk, Princess Torte, and Resurrection: A Wedding Sermon

Well, there are some things that you just never expect to do in life. And one of them is marrying your mother, or rather, officiating at your mother’s wedding. Then again, I’m sure that just a few years ago Mom and Jerry wouldn’t have thought that they would be getting married again, after having lost their beloved spouses in the space of just a few weeks. But here we are, and in an Episcopal Church in Massachusetts, no less. They even had to go to a Massachusetts court room to ask a judge for permission to marry. Mom and Jerry are living witnesses to the fact that life is always full of crazy twists and turns, with something new and unexpected around every corner.

And as it happens, those new and unexpected experiences can happen at any moment, even in the weirdest of circumstances—like a church lutefisk supper. I don’t know why, but somehow, lutefisk—that smelly, toxic Scandinavian delicacy made of codfish soaked in lye and then smothered in butter or cream--always seems to want to make an appearance when I start talking about Minnesota Lutherans, or at least when I talk about my mom, and she says doesn’t even like the stuff (though I have witnessed her eat it on more than one occasion). And today is no different since, as it happens, Mom and Jerry first took notice of each other when they and a group from their church were out on a field trip checking out other churches’ lutefisk suppers (why, I have yet to understand). By chance they ended up sitting next to each other, and looking down at their “appetizing” plates of white fish, white sauce, and white potatoes, my mom said to Jerry, “It’s never a good sign when the fish jiggles.” Flirting over lutefisk. Only in Minnesota.

So, it was lutefisk that brought Mom and Jerry together initially, and in a way, it’s lutefisk that brings them here to Emmanuel this afternoon. Now, of course, they had been planning to get married for some time, but they also really wanted to get out of Minnesota, since this weekend their church is holding its own second annual lutefisk supper (they were here last year for the first annual lutefisk supper, as well). That’s what Lutheran churches in Minnesota do for fundraisers. Now you know why I turned Episcopalian. We have wine tastings; they have lutefisk suppers. And as we approach Thanksgiving and then Advent, the Minnesota Lutherans are entering lutefisk season big time.

Garrison Keillor says, “Every Advent we entered the purgatory of lutefisk, a repulsive gelatinous fishlike dish that tasted of soap and gave off an odor that would gag a goat. We did this in honor of Norwegian ancestors, much as if survivors of a famine might celebrate their deliverance by feasting on elm bark. I always felt the cold creeps as Advent approached, knowing that this dread delicacy would be put before me and I'd be told, ‘Just have a little’.” Advent Lutheran Church in Maple Grove, where Mom and Jerry are active members, likes to beat the rush by holding their lutefisk dinner in November, so as not to conflict with other churches’ suppers. But since my mom is mostly Swedish and Jerry is mostly German, they aren’t so thrilled about this largely Norwegian custom. (Even my godmother Sara, who’s also here and is Norwegian, won’t eat the stuff). So, now you know what they gave up (or are escaping) to be married this weekend.

And I bet you thought you were safe, didn’t you, Mom and Jerry? What you don’t know is that we have a tasty surprise waiting in the parish hall! Actually, we don’t have any lutefisk here—you can tell by the fact that people aren’t running out of the church from the smell. But the women’s group seriously did offer to make it (along with a Jell-o-salad)! However, instead, the only Scandinavian delicacy, which really is a delicacy that everyone will enjoy, is a fabulous three-tiered Swedish Princess Torte. That seemed like a much more pleasant way to celebrate a wedding. And in honor of Jerry’s German roots, you’ll notice that most of the music in today’s ceremony is German—Bach, Pachelbel, Handel, Beethoven.

As much as we like to joke, more than lutefisk bringing Mom and Jerry together, it would seem more likely that it was God who brought them together after they each suffered the devastating loss of their beloved spouses—George and Jeannie--in December 2008. Who else but God could have arranged such a thing? Now, I have no doubt that if Mom and Jerry hadn’t met they each would have survived just fine. They both have lots of wonderful people in their lives—friends and family—who wanted to help them get through the trauma of loss. But, of course, life is not only about surviving. Life is really about living.

For Christians, for those who set their trust in Jesus, life is about living the promise and the joy of the resurrection each and every day. And, as we have to be reminded again and again, the resurrection that Jesus promises us is not only something that we experience after we die (though I certainly believe that Jeannie, George, and my Dad--Peter, are experiencing that joy even now), but resurrection is also, and just as importantly, something that Jesus wants us to experience each and every day on this side of life as well. That’s why he said, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”

And anyone who has seen the joy in Mom’s and Jerry’s eyes over the past few days can’t help but feel that together, in their relationship, they are experiencing the joy of the resurrection even now. Their happiness and love for each other is obvious—to their family and friends who have flown here to Massachusetts for this special weekend, as well as those back in Minnesota; to the judge at the courthouse in Quincy who was delighted to approve their marriage license request; and even to people sitting at the next table in an Italian restaurant in the North End. In a very real way, Mom and Jerry are living witnesses to the power of the resurrection.

Of course they know that every day won’t be as perfect as a beautiful fall day in New England. Much as we (and they) may like it to be, life together isn’t all smiles and Swedish Princess Torte wedding cake. Some days will probably feel a lot more like smelly old lutefisk. Because that’s just the way life is. But that’s also when that same resurrection faith will give them the strength, patience, and courage they will need to work through whatever problems they face, ever confident that joy is stronger than sadness, and that hope is always more powerful than despair.

So, here we are in another day on a twisty journey through life. And it’s a beautiful day. It's warm, the leaves are vibrant in their rainbow of colors; joy, love, and resurrection is in the air. I have no doubt that for Mom and Jerry, as for all of us, there will be many sharp curves, bumps in the road, and plenty of unexpected things around corners, maybe even a lutefisk supper or two. But the good news for them, and for us, is that they will have the love and support of each other as they walk along, arm in arm, strengthened and supported by their families, by friends, by faith communities here and in Minnesota, and most especially by the God who is constantly bringing us new and abundant life, the God who is the source of all love.

To whom be the glory: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Singing a Song of the Saints of God: A Sermon for All Saints Sunday

Today we celebrate one of the best days in our church year–the Feast of All Saints. It’s our annual opportunity to remember all those who have gone before us–the famous saints like Mary the Virgin and Mary Magdalene; holy monks and nuns like St. Francis and St Claire; priests and bishops like Augustine and Thomas Aquinas; and kings and queens, like Edward the Great and Elizabeth of Hungary. We also recall those who aren’t saints in the strictest sense, but nonetheless were people of courage and conviction–like Martin Luther and Martin Luther King.
And we remember as well those who are less famous–not much remembered by the church at large, but who nonetheless had a deep and profound faith: our own loved ones, those who worked for the building up of the church, even right here in Wakefield, members of Emmanuel, who helped this parish to grow and flourish. Every culture, age, and place raises up its own saints, people whose hearts are aflame with the light of God, and who by their words and actions are able to draw us, as well, closer to God’s radiant light.
The church, typically, has come to see the saints as people whose lives are complete and have been received into God’s greater glory. But you know, in the Bible, all Christians are considered saints–those who have died, certainly, but also those still living and sharing God’s love with the world. Personally, I like this expanded understanding–saints are not only the few who have survived a lengthy canonization process by the Roman Catholic Church, but really are the millions of people who have loved God and witnessed to God’s love for the world with their words and with their lives. And so when, in the Nicene Creed, we confess that we believe in the Communion of Saints, it is this ever-expanding group that I think of–the well-remembered saints, but also people like us, even including us, right here, right now.
I wonder, can you think of any saints you have known personally? Are there people in your life, now or in the past, with a special ability to draw others into the heart of God? Who seem to put the needs of others before themselves? Or who stand up against oppression so that others can know the peace, hope, and healing that God intends for us all? Do you know anyone like that? Do you any saints?
For me, a few special people come to mind. Some have died, and some are still living. One, who comes to mind, is very much alive. His name is David Kiel. David was my church’s assistant pastor when I was in junior high and high school. (I’m sure he would object to being named a living saint, but since I’m standing here and he’s not, I get to name whomever I want.) David is a Texan, through and though. But for whatever crazy reason, he moved to cold and snowy Minnesota to go to seminary—maybe he thought that blizzards and below zero temperatures would build character and bring him closer to God. They say that suffering does that. However he got there, David came into my life when he was my church’s assigned seminarian—like Jessica was for us last year. And luckily, after he graduated and was ordained, the church was able to hire him full-time.
Pastor David (as we called him) focused a lot of his ministry on youth. We lived in a growing suburb, so there were always lots of youth. I think my confirmation class had 15 kids. And a few years later there were as many as 30 kids in each grade. Now, I don’t know if Pastor David liked youth work or not, but to me, he seemed like a natural. He was fun, funny, and he seemed to enjoy the kids he was ministering with. He even held youth events at his house on Sunday evenings—engaging in amusing banter with his wife Renee to entertain us. To be honest, I hated going to youth events, so my parents had to literally push me out the door (I think even locking it behind me). And since David and Renee lived just a couple blocks down the street, I had to walk to their house, even when it was 20 below outside. I usually had fun once I got there, but getting there was tough. (By the way, I would feel completely differently about our youth, who are not cliquish and are so much fun and accepting of absolutely everyone. I’d love our Emmanuel youth group! But that’s not how it was in Maple Grove—or “Maple Grave,” as I called it).
Well, I had a good, but not super close, relationship with Pastor David, until the summer of 1988. That’s when my life changed dramatically fashion after my father died suddenly after an accident. He was 38 and I was 15, just heading into high school. After that tragedy, Pastor David seemed to pay special attention to my brothers and me—perhaps at my mom’s request, or perhaps on his own, I’m not sure. Because he lived down the street he would occasionally drop in on us after school. Once, he came over and he tried to teach us how to cook dinner (with a Texas twist) for our mom—I’m not sure what it was, and I don’t think it turned out so well, but it was fun to have him there. He took us on a field trip or two to downtown Minneapolis for lunch. And he always seemed to ambush me when I got to church on Sunday mornings, waiting by the door, and asking me to acolyte because so and so hadn’t shown up. (The same kind of thing I do now!) Pastor David even brought me to his seminary in St. Paul once, which certainly planted a seed; although, it took a while to germinate and take root. In my junior year of high school he registered me for a high school students’ visiting day at the seminary. What’s really funny about that, though, was that before attending that event I thought I might be interested in the ministry. Afterward, I was certain it wasn’t for me. But you know what they say, never say never.
Like all people, even saints, David isn’t perfect. I remember once he got so upset with my rowdy confirmation class that he slammed his fist on the table, broke his wristwatch, and stormed out of the room and just left us in there for an hour, wondering what to do next. But on the whole, he was kind, generous, and patient. In a very real way, he helped me understand that God hadn’t died along with my father. What’s more, he helped me to feel and know that God was there for me—not so much up in the sky beyond reach, but through the people around me, in the saints I knew, in people like David himself. Well, my senior year of high school he announced that he had accepted a call to a congregation back in Texas. From there he eventually moved to Utah, and then to Iowa, and now he’s in Texas again.
We’ve stayed in touch a little over the years. Not a lot, but from time to time. One of the most meaningful times in my life was when he flew from Utah to Boston in a very snowy January to serve as one of my presenters for ordination. I always felt that if I ever were ordained I wanted him there. And so he, along with Bishop Harris, and loads of other clergy, laid hands on my head, and asked for the Holy Spirit to enable me to perform the ministry that God was still in the process of dreaming up. David and I were both a long way and a lot of years from the time when our lives intersected in “Maple Grave,” but the chords God had woven years earlier when my father died so tragically were unbroken. And I can say with certainty that I would not be up here this morning, as your priest and rector, if it weren’t for David Kiel. For me, he will always be one of the most special saints in my life, just as I know you have special saints in yours.
You know, we often say that “so and so” is no saint, or that we are not saints. When we do that we make a disclaimer about our lives or suggest that because we are not perfect, God wouldn’t choose us to spread his love. But this, really, is messed up thinking. None of the saints were perfect—not Mary, not Paul, not Peter or Francis. They were, and are, all human. But they also knew that in spite of their frailties or shortcomings, God still needed them. God still wanted them. God still used them–to live holy lives, to spread the gospel, and to shine with the light of Christ. And through their examples, they call us to do the same, right here, and right now.
Unlike most of the well-known saints, chances are that we will not find ourselves anointed king or queen; none of us, I suspect, are rich enough to endow the building of majestic churches like Westminster Abbey. In all likelihood, won’t die of poverty or starvation in the desert. And probably, none of us will be martyred for our faith. But if that faith tells us anything, it is that we don’t need to be rich to care for the poor and the weak, we don’t need to be powerful to share the love of God, and we don’t need to be kings to build the kingdom of God. On this Feast of All Saints, may we be inspired by the examples of the saints all around us, and then shine just as brightly with the light and love of God, in this place and every place we go.
Let us pray,
Eternal Father, the God not of the dead but of the living: We give you thanks and praise for all the generations of the faithful, who, having served you here in godliness and love, are now with you in glory; and we pray, enable us so to follow them in all godly living and faithful service, that hereafter we may with them behold your face, and in the heavenly places be one with them, and you, forever and ever; all this we ask through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
© The Rev. Matthew P. Cadwell