Saturday, March 15, 2014

Sermon for March 16, 2014

Rev. George Miller
Genesis 12:1-9
“Stage 1…”
March 16, 2014

Arthur Miller once wrote “Maybe all one can do is hope to end up with the right regrets.”

There are many regrets I harbor, but one I’ve never had is of having a bird feeder.

On Thursday our guest speaker Jill Badonsky asked us to write down memories from our growing up and three of our current favorite things.

I discovered that the phrase “bird feeder” made both lists.

As long as I can recall, we always had a birdfeeder in the backyard, visible from the kitchen and dining room, a place that was always full of flight and movement, color and noise.

Mom kept the birdseed outside in a silver box once used for the delivery of milk jars. It was our responsibility to fill the feeder with the mix of corn and seed my mother blended herself.

A little over a decade ago I purchased my own bird feeder and bought a bag of seed and set everything up right outside my window of where I lived.

I filled the feeder up to the brim, looking forward to having tons of birds flocking to my part of the courtyard…and nothing happened.

Not a single bird came. Not the first day, not the second. Not the third. I couldn’t figure out why. I poured some seed on the ground; I put out a bowl of fresh water.

Eventually a pigeon came to the feeder. It was somewhat of a letdown; a far cry from the cardinals and blue jays we had at home.

The next day that pigeon came back, then a few more, then the other birds: the cardinals, the blue jays, even the occasional hawk.

Pretty soon it got to the point where the courtyard was filled with birds and the ground around the feeder was devoid of grass from all the feathered friends flocking there.

That experience taught me a valuable lesson: that some things require great patience; that you can’t just decide to do something and expect immediate, tangible results.

Certain things, like developing a community of wild, beautiful birds takes time, sometimes seasons, sometimes years.

This lesson of the bird feeder has carried over to each place I’ve lived. I now know it takes more than just the location, the type of feeder and the kind of feed you use, it is the ability to wait.

Last month, when my Mom came to visit, I got to view the birdfeeder with a new set of eyes. Since she relocated to Arizona, my Mom no longer has the variety of birds she once had, basically just morning doves.

So during her visit, we got to sit on the porch with our coffee and look out the window to see the birds which were there.

There were the pigeons, the blue jays, Mr. and Mrs. Cardinal, a hummingbird or two. Red tipped blackbirds. Woodpeckers. Chickadees.

One day a flock of egrets came swooping into the backyard. There were 30, 40 of them, all pecking at the grass with their white feathers, short legs and long beaks. Mom also saw sandhill cranes fly over head.

My favorite moment was when two mallards made their way from the lake up to the feeder. The male stood guard while the female ate the seed off the ground. Then they waddled back to the lake.

I’d been waiting almost three years to have ducks and now they’re here. Every day they waddle up to the feeder, every day I put a new pile of seed down in the grass.

Before Mom visited, before Jill spoke on Thursday, I had become blasé about the avian community that have developed, over time, in stages, in my own back yard.

But this week I was able to see them with new and fresh eyes.

There are things we do, opportunities to create, things to build, that take time, take patience, that occur not at once, but in stages.

And sometimes we don’t even realize what part we’ve played or what role we have had.

But others do.

I experienced this yesterday. Rev. Lawrence invited me to a gathering he had organized. It was a reunion of people he had known, mentored, loved, who were part of the Lake Byrd Lodge Community.

For those who don’t know, the Florida Conference of the UCC had their office in Avon Park, right off of Lake Byrd. It was also the place where the summer camp was.

Rev. Lawrence played a huge role for both the Conference and the Lodge.

At this gathering yesterday, I was the warmly welcomed outsider who got to observe and listen as they shared stories, told jokes, relieved experiences, many which had taken place over 40 years ago.

Not all of it I understood, not all of it I found especially funny, because so much of it was what you’d call “You had to be there” kind of humor.

But there was this moment when one of the women was talking and I could see the young adult she was.

I could hear the excitement and exhilaration in her voice of what it is like to be at that age when sneaking beer into a camp is exiting, where dressing up and lip syncing to songs creates a rush and everyone is discovering who they are.

Not only at that moment did I get to see them all as the youth that still lives within them, I got to understand just what a difference Rev. Lawrence made in their lives and how none of them would be who they were if it wasn’t for the way in which they experienced God through him.

I don’t know if Rev. Lawrence really knows the impact he has made on others lives.

I don’t know if any of us ever truly know the difference was can make in another’s life.

Do any of us really know the ways in which the bird feeders we’ve put up, the seeds we’ve scattered have affected others and shaped not only the present but the future?

This all leads up to today’s reading. It’s the story of how a couple named Abram and Sarai become the people through which God blesses the entire world.

It’s a story that is as ancient as time but feels as new as today.

The narrator wastes no time setting up the plot. Without fanfare or a long origin story, we are introduced to Abram. He is the son of Terah, uncle of Lot and husband of Sarai.

He is beyond middle aged, he is without children and the Lord says “Go. Go from your native land. Go from your people. Go to the land I will show you.”

Why does God choose Abram? What made Abram so unique?

We don’t know, but we know God’s command to go is matched with a 3 fold promise: there will be land for Abram’s descendents, from his family will come a great nation, and because of his family all families of the world will be blessed.

Land, greatness and blessings all sound like wonderful promises. But at what cost? And…how long will it take to come true?

Today’s reading starts with a startling command to go, but it ends with the languid statement that Abram journeyed by stages.

In other words, Abram did not put up a birdfeeder and whoosh a multitude of birds filled his life, but it would take his entire lifetime and beyond.

The biblical irony of already and not yet; of being told to go but then having to wait.

I love the Abram and Sarai narrative because it is so unclear, because there is so much left unsaid, because there are so many missing pieces that we are welcomed into the story to fill in and find our own bits of narrative.

God tells Abram and Sarai to go and they go. But the way is not always easy, the path is not always clear.

There is no indication that either of them knew where they were going or what to expect.

You even have to wonder if God knows either or is God just making it up as they go along.

God tells Abram and Sarai to go and they go, over 500 miles, in a series of short movements, in stages that they journey by.

Stages filled with courage and hope, stages of tragedy and stupidity, stages of new birth and of death.

There are stages in which they make some terrible mistakes, they come across some interesting characters, stages in which they have their share of blessings, and they also have their share of heartbreaks.

And yet…neither Abram nor Sarai live long enough to see God’s promises come true. Yes, they have a child, but the promises of land, nations and world-wide blessing do not come to pass in their lifetime.

Yet that did not stop them from moving forward, it did not stop them from believing, it did not permanently stop them from acting as if it was true.

And if they had not acted with some form of patience and faith, would we even be here today?

Abram and Sarai had the amazing ability to listen to the Still Speaking Voice that nudged them on.

Abram and Sarai had the amazing ability to journey in stages even when the way was not clear, even when the path was not easy.

Doing so allowed them to go from being tied to the past to playing a part in creating the future.

Doing so allowed them to go from being confined by their age to becoming eternal.

Doing so allowed them to go from childlessness to an abundant legacy of life.

From them came the generations which brought forth Joseph and Moses, King David and Solomon.

From them came the prophets and the poets, the scholars and scribes.

From them came a baby born in a manger; a savior who would journey in stages from the Sea of Galilee to the cross and beyond.

The truth is that anyone who does anything in any way to make this world a better place will never really know what a difference they have made in the world.

Rarely do all their gifts, their impacts, their choices come into fruition in one lifetime or even the next, but many more down the line.

The truth is that we will all live with, and we will all die with, regrets. With shoulda, woulda, couldas in our lives.

But one regret we should never have is what we did for the Lord if what we did was truly felt, truly done, and truly for the sake of God’s kingdom.

As people of faith, there are things we do, things to build that take time, take patience, that occur not at once, but in stages.

And sometimes we don’t even realize what part we’ve played or what role we have had.

We each have our own kind of bird feeder; we have our own kind of seed that is meant to bring beauty and color, life and abundance to the world.

Sometimes we do get a glimpse into the differences that were made; most of the time we just have to be patient and faithful and trust that God’s plan is being worked out.

Step by step, stage by stage, Sunday by Sunday, each of us hoping that we end up with the right regrets.

Amen and amen.

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