Clergy often say, that Sunday morning is not their own worship time. Because they’re working. On the job.
I am not that clergy person. Yes, I am working, but I am deeply engaged with you in the Sunday morning experience of actual worship, even though I am 'the celebrant’.
And, as the celebrant, I am keenly aware of the moments, the energy, the movement, within the liturgy.
Last week I was ‘keenly aware’ of the water of baptism and the sacramental drama we engaged in, when we sang “Down to the River to Pray” and everyone processed to the font, encircled it, and stood together for the reading of the gospel and the story of Jesus’ baptism.
I know it’s a vulnerable thing, to do something like that as a congregation. Might make you a little uncomfortable, because its a vulnerable act.
Getting up from your seat, and moving out of the pew.
Singing and walking around and going somewhere.
Embodying the definition of Liturgy, which means in Greek: the work of the people.
Attempting to follow new rubrics (liturgical directions) gracefully, like Episcopalians are want to do.
But we gave it a whole-hearted try, and it was rugged and beautiful.
When I felt your nearness and gathering, your presence, your voices coming close, the movement of your feet, your circling around; It was powerful. The energy changed. The human element animated and transformed. It became a living symbol. I wanted to just stay right there, for a long time.
It’s not like the moment happened ‘by accident’, the Worship and Music team planned it that way.
And, although we cannot orchestrate spiritual experience for one another, the Worship and Music team thought about, talked about, mused and envisioned, what the season of Epiphany might mean for us and how we could create liturgy in just that purposeful way.
We chose the Font as a center-piece for the season, to move it front and center as a sacramental gesture, “an outward and visible sign for us, of inward and spiritual grace". We chose it because it is overt and obvious, as a symbol of gathering and becoming community.
We are born of this holy water. We’re kin.
We are born of God;
We are born, like Jesus was born, of Holy birth waters, Holy womb, Holy human flesh.
We gathered around the font, and then we saw Jesus, dip down into the water with John. And we got in, too. Down into the Jordan River.
And suddenly, there in the water with them, we realize our sameness.
We see Jesus in the water with us and realize that He is like us.
He is human.
The water ripples and parts and encircles us together with him in the water.
Our human form immersed with his human form.
You and me, in the water with the Holy Incarnate One.
We see Jesus in the water with us and realize that we are like him.
We are holy.
Even in our humanity. Even, born of a woman. Even, ordinary, physical, and earthbound.
We are holy.
He got in the water with us, so that we would know it.
That He is human, and that we are holy.
He got in the water with us, by way of his Incarnation, and by way of his Baptism.
Splashing about in the water with you, for the humanity of it, and for the holy.
One year ago, at this very time I wrote to you these words:
“A wind from Ghana has swept in
and we are filled with the Holy Spirit and the delight of God
in the face of his son, George Neequaye!”
A year ago, we stood in that liminal place that we talked about on Epiphany, the liminal place of a doorway and standing on both sides of the threshold; by nature, a vulnerable place; we stood in that place and extended Welcome and Hospitality.
And now, one year later, a wind from Ghana has swept in again:
George sent us a Christmas Card with that wonderful African symbol that means: Except for God
We are swept up into 2018’s hospitality journey with these Christmas greetings.
George is feeling nostalgic for our company as he keeps up with us in the parson’s letter. He loves us and sends us greetings of Merry Christmas, and at the mention of it, we well up with an international love held in mutuality from half way around the world.
And suddenly in our mind’s eye, we feel ourselves standing in the doorway again, on both sides of the threshold, reaching and loving, and calling out.
We can see his stature and playful grin,
and hear his laugh and wallow in his preaching words and clever accent.
And his singing. . .!! Oh his singing!
I can see him, now,
stepping out from his flat on a Sunday morning,
clad in his High Church vestments, ready to worship and greet. And love.
We have been changed, because we opened our doors to George.
We risked love,
loss, possibility, challenge.
We risked knowing and being known.
We did something that hasn’t been done before,
and it took the likes of everyone to pull it off!
And it paid off! A Wonderful experience!
But there was no way to know ahead of time. . . what it would be like.
And now we’ve said good-bye yet again, to our second seminarian in as many years. First there was Matt, and now, Bob.
Bob Farrow has graced our presence with class and sophistication,
his wholeheartedness and
gentle listening spirit,
and ever-ready sense of humor.
He stepped into the requisite vulnerability of being a student!
That was his risk.
We risked welcome and allowing another to know and be known.
Bob loves us and we love him.
We stepped into that liminal space again when we said good-bye and bade him well,
and we risk the loss of his going.
But we have written it on our doorposts,
that we love God with heart soul mind and strength,
and that’s how we get through it!
That’s how we endure a love that sustains a bit of sorrow.
And now, the wind of God sweeps in again,
this time with a -3*C chill,
because it comes from Helsinki, Finland!
We opened our doors and welcomed a holy family on Tuesday.
Toni and Katerina Makela, and their little 2 year old boy, Daniel, arrived.
They are delighted with their apartment and will be our guests for one semester as Toni begins his studies at Candler School of Theology at Emory University.
And don’t you know. . . here we are, still painting and carpeting and working with the fire marshal on ‘crash doors’ and emergency exits, and then last evening the thermostat went out, the room went cold, and the bathroom lights quit working!
But you know what?
Our faith community at Highpoint
keeps the love,
lives the love, and
walks in love,
and all is well. . . (space heaters, extra trips, phone calls, repairmen, ladders, patience, and paint rollers notwithstanding!)
Keeping, living, walking in love, with you,
That is what we are doing with this open door of hospitality.
We’re missing one essential piece: A Crib!
Of all the Christmas kinds of things to say,
“We have room in the inn and we need a crib for the infant child to lay his head. . .”
Yes, we’re having a baby!
Well, actually, we're having a toddler.
Daniel is 3 years old.
We will open our doors and welcome the holy family, on January 8th, this coming Tuesday. Toni and Katerina Makela, from Helsinki, Finland, will be our guests for one semester, from January to June, as Toni begins his studies at Candler School of Theology at Emory University.
Jesus said the Greatest Commandment is this:
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength”.
It’s called: the Shema.
It is from Deuteronomy chapter six.
Deuteronomy cradles that commandment with an initiative:
It says to write the love on the doorposts of the house, to strap it to our foreheads, and to twist it around our hands, wrists, and up our arms. In other words: an initiative to live the love with our full being.
It says to talk about the love of God as we’re sitting down and rising up, when we eat and when we lie down, and when we walk out the door and onto the lane and into the world!
In other words: Words! Love language. Think it, say it, speak it.
Fill up, bubble up, overflow with love!
And that is what we are doing with this open door of hospitality. A second opportunity to be home for some from a faraway land, to welcome in, to love, to offer respite. To be a place to live in love with God.
We’ve done it before, and we are good at it!
God delights in our big hearts. Our generosity. Our vulnerability.
Our entrepreneurial spirits. Our willingness to risk.
Here we go! For another experiment in love!
God inhabits our house,
and even you and I, in our very bodies, are his holy habitation.
Keep the love.
Live the love.
Keeping and living, with you,
I received some joyful words from Roy Wright on Christmas morning that served as a balm for my soul after a wild and woolly Christmas Eve.
It was his description of our Christmas Eve Service laced with endearing humor and the sense of God’s presence in it with us, embracing our human frailties.
I thought you would enjoy reflecting on the Christmas Eve Service with his lightheartedness, which creates quite a pleasant soulful vignette! For those of you who missed this Christmas Eve with us, let this fuel your imagination as you will! For those who were also there, may we lift a ‘cheers’ to deciding how it is we choose to tell our stories.
Roy’s letter lightened my spirit and as I read and reread it, I am finding that it keeps Christmas for me. Fortunately, Christmas lasts for 12 days! (and is not all spent in one quizzical night)
So here’s this, from Roy:
“Good Morning, Ruth......
What a wonderful Christmas Eve service at Highpoint!
Thank you and all the members for the team effort to make the service a success.
Yes, as I pondered the service afterwards it seemed like parts of it were from a scene from a Fellini movie - pianist has flat tire, arrives late wearing a Christmas cap, sort of stumbles through the hymns, but is probably a wonderful improvisational jazz pianist, John with his wonderful baritone voice pitching in to help move along a hymn, Mike’s occasional vocals and the lady, who was a guest, had her small dog regaled in his special Christmas outfit. It was all good and God was in the midst of it all accepting and forgiving our human frailties.”
Roy’s greeting, that “The New Year for Highpoint will be a good year!”,
is mine as well, to you.
In Merriment and Love,
Reverend Ruth Pattison
Rev. Pattison serves the people of Highpoint Episcopal Community Church as the Parson, exercising her gifts for collaborative leadership through preaching, liturgy, and the pastoral arts.