Pentecost 2, June 14, 2020
St. Martin North Vancouver
I speak to you in the name of the one true and living God: Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Amen.
“I don’t know why it’s so surprising that I should laugh after all these years of being laughed at! Laughter! The laughter began that first year we were married. Have you heard? they whispered. Then louder, snickering when I passed. Sarai is childless. Of course, they were laughing at Abram, too. He was so proud when he married me. I was beautiful then. Not old and wrinkled and barren. I was beautiful and still hopeful. Perhaps when we settled down in Haran- perhaps then I would have a child. After all, God kept telling Abram that he would have many descendants.
I didn’t laugh then. I believed. I believed that God would bless me when he blessed Abram. I prayed every night that I might conceive. But it didn’t happen. Barren Sarai… each day praying that life would stir within me, each day hoping that my womb would fill with child. Each day enduring the questions, the assumptions, the laughter. Each day listening to the voices of the children. And the cries of the babies. And the gentle voices of the mothers bent over their young… the weeping… the hoping… the yearning…
Last night I laughed. I know who I am. I am old and my periods have stopped. My womb is shriveled within me. I know who I am and so I laughed. Abraham laughed too. He is old and he knows I am old. Abraham laughed, but later I found him outside counting the stars to see how many descendants we were going to have. I know who I am, but more important, I know who God is. God is the one who is with me, even in the darkness and despair of my life. God is the one who changes what cannot be changed. I will feel life in my belly after all. I will give Abraham a child in his old age. God is good. I go now to count the stars.”
- From “Sarah” in Searching for Shalom by Ann Weems
Sarah laughed. In the moment, there is a mix of bitterness and incredulity, surprise and hope, joy and gratitude. It bubbles up out of the experience of everything that has happened in the story of her life up to this point. She laughs in the face of her reality. Yet something shifts in possibility. A flutter of new life. A season of pregnant growing. An embrace of a future once imagined and discarded, and now coming to fruition within her.
Like Sarah, we may have long and weary times when we wonder about God’s promises. When there is not much to laugh about as we deal with the pains and the losses of our lives. Hoped for events get cancelled, or are sideswiped by illness or finances. Plans unravel, friends lose touch, loved ones grow frail and die. Life turns out differently than we wanted. We may struggle to trust in a caring and good God. If we don’t take it too seriously, humour can help to shoulder the load. It’s a recognition of the absurdity of it all. “Vanity: all is vanity” says the Jewish teacher in the book of Ecclesiastes.
I was helping get the church ready for the day when we can re-open by packing up the books in the pews. Boxes and boxes full. More than St. Martin’s would ever need even if the building were packed for a service. Certainly more than we need currently. Part of me wondered why we have so many. Part grieved the passing of an era when a church could be crowded in worship. Yet I smiled at the same time. We may be tucking away the non-essentials for safety’s sake, but by doing so we are preparing for a return. Our faith community is getting ready just like a body gets ready to bring a baby to birth. And as we trust in God’s promise, the laughter will come even with the pain.
When I first came to the parish at the beginning of December, it was the season of Advent. The interim ministry started with the story of Mary’s acceptance of God’s promise to bear the Saviour of the world. For six months now, we have been working together to identify the heart of St. Martin’s. It has been like a pregnancy. Learnings come slowly and almost unnoticed, interspersed by pangs of anxiety and uncomfortable changes in our ability. We are now at the six month mark- the end of the second trimester. And what a three months it has been- marked by confinement that we didn’t anticipate or sign up for! As we emerge from this time apart and yet connected, we are going to notice differences in shape.
What have we learned about who we are now? What have we learned about who God is for us? Who we are now is not who we were six months ago, when we started this interim process. As we take to heart the message that God is able to do things beyond our imagining, we may well laugh! What a delight that the Lord has been able to accomplish this work despite our situations. God is the one who changes what cannot be changed. And we are moved to wonder as we remember again to believe in divine power. Let’s share the learnings of the last few months, and see what has opened up as the most important priorities.
In the next few weeks we will be shifting again- see how agile we are becoming!- to respond to the gospel’s call. Today, June 14th, marks the start of the Diocese’s allowing Phase II re-opening. Parishes who are ready can submit a plan for approval and begin restricted in-person gatherings for worship. Each parish can choose when to move to this stage. The trustees and parish council at St. Martin’s have been working with me to discern what is best for this community. With the proper safety protocols in place, we believe it will be possible to come together in a limited way publicly on July 12th. That is four weeks away. This gives us time to submit our plan to the archbishop for approval, adjust volunteer roles, and train all involved in worship for the new norms. It will also give time to communicate with each of our parishioners about what to expect and how to act whether you choose to come through the doors or stay connected by virtual means. We are committed to doing what we feel is within our energy and capacity. But we must always leave room for God to surprise us and make us laugh.
I would like to end with one of the prayers we often use together in the Church called the Doxology:
“Glory to God, who does infinitely more than we can ask or imagine. Glory to God from generation to generation, in the Church and in Christ Jesus, now and forever. Amen.”