In the Name of the Creator

Aug 28, 2022   •   Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16

In the name of the creator, the son, and the holy spirit, let my words be a meditation to the church community I love.

It is such an honor to be able to speak to you today in our beautiful sanctuary and to speak to beloved church family members watching from home.  My heart is full.  I have spoken in churches before but I have never given a formal sermon, with the expectation of relating my words to scripture.

I want to tell you about the very first time I was asked to speak in Church and the church that inspired me.  I was 13 years old and asked to give the sermon for a Girl Scout Sunday service, at the Methodist Church in my Kansas hometown, Lansing.  I loved that church because my Grandparents and many dear friends were members.

I went to Summer Bible School there and over my growing-up years, I attended many dinners, socials, fairs, and services there.  In the sanctuary of that church, I first felt the presence of God one day when I was there with my beloved Grandma Dody.  As a very little girl, Grandma sometimes took me with her when she cleaned the Sanctuary, a labor of love.  I was too little to be of any real help to her.  In her unique and authentically loving way, she spoke to me as she cleaned, explaining what things were.

I followed her around wide-eyed and eventually found myself in front of a large picture of Jesus.  He seemed to be looking down at me.  As I stood there while my beloved grandmother cleaned, I suddenly felt lifted up and warmly embraced.  From that moment on whenever I was in that little church, I felt God move in me.

At thirteen I found myself giving a sermon at that precious little church.  I remember that sermon came directly from my heart, built on the things I learned in my “happy places” and believed, my safe places–church, school, scouts, my Grandma Dody’s house, places in nature, or in the quiet of my room, where at times love seemed reinforced in my heart–places where adults kindly taught principals of love and service or places where my heart felt the spirit of love.

The sensation of feeling God’s presence has come to me time and time again: in churches and sanctuaries, (too many to name), in small moments, in nature, in opportunities to use my art to express the love, hope, and dreams I feel, in the quiet of moments when one’s heart needs to recover from the brutality of life, in the joyous expression of music and dance, in an unexpected exchange with a stranger that was clearly meant to be, in my dreams, and now more and more in gatherings to say goodbye to family and friends.  Recently, when my nephew called to let me know my sister had passed, he woke me from a sound sleep.  The minute the words came out of his mouth I felt God’s presence and was glad of it.

Those moments of unexplained knowing came to me time and time again in so many experiences here at St. Mark’s between 1990 and 2000, when my miracle babies were baptized (my baby girl being the first in our family baptized by a woman, Susan Flanders), in worship, in classes, in retreats, working with children, directing for the St. Mark’s Player’s, committee work, through the grace and dignity of teacher friends like Verna Dozier, Collie Agle, Jim Adams, Lilly March, and so many more, in fellowship after church and at social events.

And when I came back to DC making my way to a service here in 2017 I felt that reassuring presence once again.  I feel it today as we prepare to welcome Rev. Michele back after her Sabbatical and as we prepare for the fall beginnings of so many aspects of our community life.

Each Sunday brings me into the glow of our faith community.

I believe a beautiful aspect of our community life, of any faith communities’  life together, is providing a place where space is made for giving comfort.

“…all that is God, all that is good.”

In the collect today, are words that live in my heart because they bring me comfort.  I am going to paraphrase slightly, substituting creator for Lord.  From the collect: “Creator of all power and might, the author and giver of all good things . . . .”  “All good things,” those words are a major part of my personal theology.

I often say “all that is God, all that is good” because I want to emphasize that God to me is good, not the God of wrath and vengeance.  Religions use images of revenge, wars, and violence to illustrate the power of God.  Often the religion or group maintains their sanctity as those protected by God, those representing God and wage their wrath in God’s name.

I just don’t buy it.  To me, God promises us a way to have community and live in peace.  I abhor the claim God promotes violence and the harming of anyone.

I believe in the power of community, a place where we can work together in peace and continue to open our arms wide to all who would join us.  I love the power in that.

The collect today is full of intriguing and powerful images like “graft in our hearts the love of your name.”

There are many references in scripture to God writing on our hearts: From Hebrews, “For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares God: I will put my laws into their minds, and write them on their hearts.”

Or from Ezekiel, “And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you.  And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.”

I like the power in the word graft.  There is no question God knows what happens to our hearts in the weariness and challenges of life…the swirl of ideas, language, people, expectations, social norms, emotions, and, and, and . . . .

“God will graft in our hearts the love of God’s name.”  There is a  sense of completeness in that love, an awareness that love is the main thing.  I like the further simplicity of directions to us in the collect:  “God will increase in us love for the truth, nourish us with goodness, and bring forth the fruit of good works,” demonstrating to me all that is God all that is good.

I honor the power we find in ourselves and in community to build God’s kingdom of peace on earth.  Those are the fruits of good works that are almost magical in the power they shed.

I feel that power here at St. Mark’s.  When a community taps into the power of the spirit, love increases as does the capacity for doing God’s good work in the world.  I am so grateful to be part of such a community.

The Hebrews reading truly exemplifies the gifts I see and feel at St. Mark’s every day. These past four months have allowed me to see even more clearly our God-given potential and the gifts we all bring to building the work before us.  I continue to see how we bless each other.

When I read Hebrews in preparation for writing this sermon it literally brought tears to my eyes because it so closely aligned with the work going on at St. Mark’s, which brings to the community as a whole, avenues to express God’s love and good works.  The reading struck me almost as a poem to St. Mark’s at this time:

Let mutual love continue.

Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers (for by doing that, some have entertained angels without knowing it).

Remember those who are in prison as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured as though you yourself were being tortured.

Let marriage be held in honor by all.

God is my help.

I will not be afraid.

What can anyone do to me?

And the passage ends by reminding us,

Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have.

Hebrews states this is pleasing to God, but what I know is that it is pleasing to our hearts, our hearts where the divine spark lives and where each day we are put in the position of cutting through the emotional burdens of life to keep our divine spark alive, to listen to it, to feel it, to know God is there.

As members of a faith community, we nurture our divine spark and we strengthen the graft of love placed in our hearts.

In our faith community, we have that safe place to encounter God in ourselves and others, to be supported in creating good works, to explore the strength that faith and love give us, to reach out through radical hospitality, inviting all to join us.

The heart of St. Mark’s continues to grow and grow through the loving spirit among us.  The goodness of God works miracles in us each day.

As we begin this next chapter in St. Mark’s history it is exciting to watch the church grow and change.  It is even more exciting to watch us all grow in grace and shared ministry.  I thank God and you for all the miracles of this community.   I look forward to the continued good works we are all a part of.

And in the name of all that is God, all that is good, I say Amen.