All posts by The Episcopal Church of St. Matthew

Poppies and Lamps Cast Out Darkness (The Rev. Dr. Eric Kimball Hinds)

Poppies and Lamps Cast Out Darkness
The fall of my Junior year in college I studied abroad in London.  It was about this time of year that I had a week off from classes so I decided to travel to Scotland.  I took the midnight train from Kings Cross Station and arrived in Edinburgh early in the morning.  After securing lodging at a Bed and Breakfast, I set out to explore the city and began to notice that perhaps every fourth person or so was wearing a red poppy.  As the week went on it seemed that just about everyone was sporting a red poppy.  You had to look find someone not wearing one.  The reason for wearing the poppy was a mystery to me—and so I asked an older woman who patiently explained that they were a part of the observance of Remembrance Day which began after WW I to remember the members of the armed forces who died in the line of duty.  She also explained that proceeds from the sale of the paper red poppies were directed towards ex-servicemen in need of welfare & financial support.
Ever since the poem In Flanders Fields, the beautiful imagery of fields of poppies has become mixed with: lament for blood spilled, for lives lost, and for remembrance.  Many of you I am sure are familiar with the poem In Flanders Fields, which was written during the First World War, after John McCrae, a Canadian artillery commander and physician, observed poppies growing in the midst off battlefields where many soldiers had been buried.  The fifteen line poem reads:
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
    That mark our place; and in the sky
    The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
    Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
        In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
    The torch; be yours to hold it high.
    If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
        In Flanders fields.
The poem sets down a variety of images that sit together uneasily.  The fragility of life and a place where death has become commonplace.  The beauty of fields of poppies and larks singing in the sky stand in stark contrast with the violence of war.  And in the final verse—there is the image of a torch passed from failing hands to those still fighting.
What eventually dawned on me while walking the streets of Edinburgh was the magnitude of loss that the people of the United Kingdom suffered and still felt decades after the end of both World Wars.  Their sense of collective loss was far more intense than anything that I had experienced at home.  This impression was confirmed as eventually I observed everywhere long lists of names of fallen parishioners in the war memorials found within English and Scottish Churches.  This weekend marks a strange juxtaposition of holidays where the Commonwealth Nations set aside November 11th to remember the dead, whereas for us, Veterans Day is set aside to honor the living—those who are currently serving or who have served our country.  By contrast we set aside Memorial Day to intentionally remember our fallen.

 

At first glance this morning’s Gospel would seem to have nothing to do with our national observance of Veterans Day this weekend.  And yet, like the poem In Flanders Field, there is an uneasiness to the Gospel Story.  We have a story of a wedding feast, a bridegroom, and bridesmaids.  And yet, in the midst of beauty and celebration, we suddenly have a scene of judgement—where the five foolish bridesmaids are locked out of the Kingdom.  It is a difficult scene—for who among us has not misjudged a situation at one time or another been unprepared, as in not having extra oil for lamps or been so tired that one is unable to stay awake for something important.
For me the hard part of this Gospel, and the hard part of this weekend is the unfairness that seeps through—Not knowing if one is vigilant enough, or prudent enough, to make it into the kingdom.  And a holiday that rightly celebrates the living, but recognizes that it is impossible to accomplish without also remembering our fallen, and knowing the immense pain suffered by both the living and the dead.  The ambiguity of this morning’s Gospel also brings to mind the uneasy way that armed conflict sits juxtaposed with the church’s longing for a peaceable kingdom.
Perhaps the most meaningful imagery that comes to us from the Gospel today is that of the lamps shining in the darkness.  The acknowledgement that in all kinds of ways, and in a hundred different situations—we may find ourselves in the dark, facing uncertainty, crisis, doubt, unbelief, disaster, or an unexpected trial or tribulation—and yet the greater witness of our gathering for Church this day, and our worship Sunday by Sunday—the greater witness of wearing poppy’s or marking Veteran’s Day—is to demonstrate that we are never alone in the dark.  That we are part of a larger community that at our best learns to hold lamps for one another—knowing that Christ is with us as we pray for one another, and that we are called to lift one another up, in good times and in bad, in life, and in death.
In fact, the poem In Flanders Fields, is a tribute of sorts to a solider offering remembrance for a fallen comrade.  The poem was written in the days after John McCrae presided over his friend’s funeral.  In this context the poem is an enduring testament of the triumph of community, friendship and the Gospel of love. 
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
    That mark our place; and in the sky
    The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
    Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
        In Flanders fields.
Sermon preached by The Reverend Eric Kimball Hinds at The Episcopal Church of Saint Matthew, San Mateo, California on 12 November 2017, The Twenty-Third Sunday after Pentecost, Year One.  Lessons: Wisdom of Solomon 6:12-16; Psalm 70; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; Matthew 25:1-13.

Saint Francis Embraces God’s Love Song for the World (The Rev. Dr. Eric Hinds)

Music soothes the Savage Beast.  I first herd that quote as a boy while watching a scene on TV where Bugs Bunny was being chased by a gorilla.  With the savage ape getting ever closer to his wisecracking nemesis—a violent fight seemed likely.  Everything changed when Bugs picked up a violin and began to play.  The aggression of the gorilla suddenly disappeared and the beast even began to dance around.  The scene was comic and fit into my experience of their being wild and savage animals in the world in contrast to familiar and tame family pets.

Scientists have assembled considerable evidence that identifies dogs as being the first domesticated animal.  Dogs are the descendants of wolves and between 30,000 to 10,000 years ago wolves somehow became incorporated into the camps of our hunter-gatherer ancestors.  No one is exactly sure how the process unfolded—whether wolves gradually became familiar with humans in scavenging for food scraps around the campfire; or if while hunting a series of young wolf cubs were captured and raised by humans beginning the process of domestication.  What is certain is that this process of domestication took place before the advent of agriculture and long before the Hebrew concept of their being only one God.

Today we celebrate the life of St. Francis.  He was a 12th century saint who compared to his hunter-gatherer ancestors benefited from amazing leaps in human development.  Francis lived in a refined and sophisticated world that benefited from advances in agriculture, saw the invention of the wheel, and the development of written language.  The Hebrew people had shared with the world their belief in one God, and Christianity had proclaimed for centuries the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus.  In Francis’s day, churches worshiped with gorgeous Gregorian Chant.

Francis was the son of wealthy textile merchant and he lived a life that hunter-gathers could not have imagined.  As a young man Francis enjoyed his wealth and had ideas of seeking military honor.  Francis joined the military and soon saw action on the field of battle.  There he witnessed the horrors of war and saw dozens of men left for dead.  Francis was taken prisoner and held for some time until ransom demands were met.  If Francis shared my childhood notion that only wild Beasts were savage and untamed—in war he learned that there can exist something savage within the human heart.

Sometime after Francis returned home he had a roadside encounter with a leper. Something in that encounter resonated with Francis.  It changed his heart.  He began to identify with Christ and he eventually did a radical thing.  Francis decided not just to minister to the poor—he decided to become poor.  In order to fully live out the Gospel he gave away all that he had.  

Francis it seems came to comprehend the essential truth of God’s love for him and the world, and he was moved to in turn share that love with others.  And so began an incredible ministry.  A ministry that understood that the love of God could transform a savage heart, and also knew that the love of God extended to animals and all of creation.

It’s strange to think that Francis’s life could be so transformed by an encounter with a leper.  On this day it is also interesting to contemplate how once wild animals could become such blessings to us.  Francis learned that both lepers and animals—each in their own way—point to God’s transformative love song for the world. 

The next time you look into the eyes of your pet—think about how once there was a more wild and savage heart there.  It just might remind us how God’s Song of Love has worked to transform the world.  How God’s love song shaped and formed Israel. How God’s hymn was sung by Jesus and transformed his followers.  When the tune of God’s song was picked up by Francis, the world began to understand that the whole of creation was embraced by God.

In the midst of this day’s blessings it’s strange to think that the pets among us were once savage or wild animals.  The Feast of St. Francis reminds us that God’s love song comes to us through time affirming that: our hearts, our lives, our souls will be soothed and transformed by God’s steadfast Love.

Homily offered by The Reverend Doctor Eric Kimball Hinds at The Episcopal Church of Saint Matthew, San Mateo, California, at the 8:00am and 10:15am (outdoor) services, on 1 October 2017, The Feast of Saint Francis.  Lessons: Galatians 6:14-18; Psalm 148:7-14; Matthew 11:25-30.

RSVP to the GALA!!

Guys and gal’s, grab your jackets (leather and letterman) and your poodle skirts, and join the cool cats for a rockin’ fun night of 50’s style rug-cuttin’, dinner & fundraising!

Saturday October 14

5:30 Social Hour
7:00 Dinner
8:00 Live Auction
8:45-10 Dinner & Entertainment
Tickets are only $40!!

Free childcare will be provided

3 Ways to RSVP
1) Contact the church office 650-342-1481
2) Send in the Attached RSVP or drop it in the box at the back of the church
3) Easy peasy EVITE at http://evite.me/1bqYp1wT8q

Checks/money should be brought to the Church Office and written to
“The Episcopal Church of St. Matthew” with “gala 2017” in the memo!

Pentecost 11: God’s Revolutionary Love (The Rev. Dr. Eric Hinds)

A few years ago, at a Sotheby’s Auction in England, a first edition of the book De revolutionibus, in English known as On the Revolutions, sold for over one million dollars.  That’s not bad for a title that Arthur Koestler declared was “The book that nobody read.”  If one had to judge only by the title, you might think that On the Revolutions, was about the American, French, or possibly other popular uprisings.  Given that the author was Nicolaus Copernicus, and the full title of the book translated from Latin is Six Books on the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres—one can see that the valuation of the book rests upon the role that it played in changing humankind’s perception of our place in the universe.

Perhaps you have met the occasional person today who acts like they are at the center of the Universe and everything revolves around them—the fascinating thing about On the Revolutions is that 500 years ago, at the time of publication, everyone assumed that we as humans were at the center of creation—that we lived in a universe where God inhabited the heavens along with the sun, moon and all the planets—all which were believed to revolve around the earth.  In his lifetime Copernicus was reluctant to publish his work placing the sun at the center of our solar system both because of his fear of public ridicule, and because he knew that his work would be seen as a challenge to the ultimate authority of the Church.  Nicolaus Copernicus was deeply aware of both how tightly people could hold onto conventional wisdom and the way institutions resisted challenge to their authority.

Tomorrow, among the millions of people who people will view a full or partial Solar eclipse—most will not realize that after Copernicus published On the Revolutions it took another 100 years of dedicated work by scientists like Kepler and Galileo to complete the Copernican Revolution that forever changed the way that we think about our place in the world.  In this Context, it is interesting to contemplate the magnitude of experience usually required for us to change our minds.

A long time ago I remember talking to a sales person who always anticipated resistance and so he began his sales pitch by asking the potential customer if they thought of themselves as an open minded person.  The sales person’s experience was that many people already had a fixed framework for viewing the world.  When you think about it there are many realms of life where one is penalized for changing one’s mind.  Politicians encounter this all the time—the candidate who flip-flops is often portrayed as pandering, and yet there are times when a change of mind might actually point to a new insight and a real leap of growth.  In my experience, when we approach reading and interpreting the Gospels, we usually look for consistency of thought and action—and this is especially so in the case of examining the life of Jesus.  With all this in mind this morning’s Gospel presents us with a challenge because it is difficult to square the initial response of Jesus to the Canaanite woman with that of a caring and compassionate Savior.

As background for this morning’s Gospel, Jesus has engaged in his ministry of preaching, teaching, and healing in the Galilee region of northern Israel.  We are not given a reason why Jesus and his disciples travel to a non-Jewish region, a territory about 40 miles northwest of the Sea of Galilee.  In the first century, Tyre and Sidon were prosperous Roman port cities located on the Mediterranean Sea.  And there it is that Matthew tells us that a Canaanite woman approaches and shouts—acknowledging the elevated status of Jesus—and pleads with him to heal her daughter who is tormented by a demon.  After the initial silence of Jesus—we note the annoyance of the disciples who say Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.  When the focus shifts back to Jesus he responds saying simply I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel. 

It strikes one as more than odd that the reaction of Jesus already borders on callous—not offering to help a woman who is pleading on behalf of her daughter.  When one thinks about how difficult it would be to go out into public and to plead and beg for healing—the next step is extraordinary.  The woman kneels before Jesus and simply says Lord, Help Me.

As measured by the rest of the Gospel the next phrase uttered by Jesus is almost unfathomable.  He Says It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.  It’s stunning that Jesus would speak this way.  At this point some commentators intercede on behalf of Jesus and say look—this is simply a case where Jesus is caught with his compassion down.  This line of thought imagines that Jesus has been laboring without much of a break—and well—this woman just catches him at the wrong time.  That reasoning would hold more sway—if the response of Jesus were just not so insulting. Taking the children’s food and throwing it to the dogs—is a cutting remark—Brutal—when placed in comparison to the request.

At this point one would not expect the Canaanite woman to withstand such an insult—but amazingly she manages to utter “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from the master’s table.”  It is a completely unexpected utterance.  One of: determination, composure, and grace—to which Jesus finally responds Woman, great is your faith—and he heals her daughter.

It is an amazing exchange—for one’s sees the whole world view of Jesus suddenly open and expand.  What for Jesus began as a mission solely to the people of Israel—has expanded to a foreign woman of the larger Gentile world.  In a world dominated by tribalism Jesus is able to extend a healing hand across established religious divisions.  The thing that is fascinating to me is that the woman somehow ceases to be seen as an annoying outsider to the faith clamoring for attention, but rather she is eventually treated simply as a woman with a sick daughter.

Some preachers have ventured to title their sermon on this text Canaanite Women’s Lives Matter in an attempt to highlight the blatant injustice and prejudice experienced by this first century group.  I would observe that while such a label is apt and draws upon parallels in our own day—it is far too narrow to capture the full importance of this encounter.  This healing is followed by instances where other classes of outsiders are welcomed and included.  Jesus and his disciples had already extended their mission to those traditionally excluded: lepers, tax collectors and prostitutes, and soon after the Canaanite woman’s healing, Jesus welcomed a Samaritan woman and then healed the servant of a Roman Centurion.  Each of these encounters provide further insights into the inclusiveness of God’s Kingdom.

Our christology—the way that we understand Jesus to be human and divine—usually leans towards emphasizing the divinity of Jesus.  This tends to blind us from seeing moments where Jesus achieves human moments of real insight and growth.  This is not a small point for if we claim that Jesus shares our humanity—then we should rightly look for a Savior who shares in our predicaments and struggles.  

In this case, it is of some comfort to know that our efforts to overcome tribalism—our attempts to see beyond: our own people—our own group of comfort, is something that might take work and require growth.  It is a measure of maturation to come to the realization that our race, our gender, our class our orientation, or even our Church, may not hold exclusive claim to the center of the Universe.  The revolutionary lesson of this morning’s Gospel is that we ever are in need of finding ways to engage one another.

Over the past two weeks we have been reminded that this is the lesson that various “hate groups” have failed to grasp—and that attempting to lay exclusive claim to any form of tribal purity will ultimately fail.  It’s as futile as trying to go back and argue that the sun really revolves around the earth.  It was encouraging to see pictures of tens of thousands peaceful protesters gathering in Boston yesterday, and on Friday in Portland, Oregon, where the rather cleverly titled “Eclipse Hate” rally seemed to go off without incident.

The other important witness of the Gospel for us today is to note that Jesus and his followers did not occupy their time looking for groups to oppose—rather they bore positive witness by sharing the message and good works of the Gospel far and wide.  To this end, The Southern Poverty Law Center offered the Boston rally and others the good advice to avoid direct contact with groups like the Neo-nazis or white nationalists since interacting with them only gives them a larger platform for spreading their message of hate.

In the weeks and months ahead we might be reminded that the revolution that Jesus set in motion—was most often seen and experienced through simple human encounters.  We participate in that revolution when we set aside our tribal preconceptions and let God’s redeeming love shine through us—revealing that it is God’s love that can be found at the center of the Universe.

Sermon preached by The Rev. Dr. Eric Kimball Hinds at The Episcopal Church of Saint Matthew, San Mateo, California on the Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost, 20 August 2017, Year A.  Lessons: Isaiah 56:1, 6-8; Psalm 67; Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32; Matthew 15:[10-20],21-28.

Easter 6A: Love Your Neighbor: Paul Among Jews and Gentiles (The Rev. Dr. Eric Hinds)

Love Your Neighbor: Paul Among Jews and Gentiles
Sermon by The Rev. Dr. Eric Kimball Hinds

Almost 30 years ago, after I had made the decision to attend seminary, on a journey towards ordination to become an Episcopal priest, but before our young family of three had picked up and moved to The General Theological Seminary in Manhattan, a fellow parishioner presented me with the gift of a book—which was titled The Search for God at Harvard. The book had just been published and it was written by Ari Goldman whose name was well known to me—as he was a correspondent for The New York Times. At the time he wrote the weekly column on Religion. While working at The Times, Goldman managed to balance the demands of his Orthodox Jewish faith with the schedule and deadlines of a journalist—and incredibly was given a Sunday through Thursday workweek.

It was while he was the Religion Correspondent that Goldman hatched the idea of furthering his religion writing credentials by spending a year at the Harvard Divinity School—so that he could engage more deeply in the world of contemporary religions. One of the things that fascinated me about Goldman’s book was his description of how he was looking forward to directly encountering Christianity and gleaning insights of a faith so different from his own.

And so it surprised me when Goldman described that he felt kind of cheated—for most everywhere that he went he found that the Christians seemed to bend over backwards to apologize for the mention of Jesus. And I remember being so grateful for Ari Goldman’s observation for I eventually realized that he was describing the early stages of a process where many different religious traditions were just starting to think about, and feel their way through, finding ways to engage one another with the hope of building bridges of friendship across differences. And the immediate challenge that presents itself in such situations—is how do you on the one hand hold onto and value your own identity, while at the same time being welcoming and not feeling in competition with another?

Goldman attended Harvard Divinity School in the 1980’s—a time when many religious denominations were just beginning to venture beyond what I would describe as shells of isolation—a kind of religious protectionism that fears diluting or losing a perceived hold on truth more than exploring the benefits of getting to know your neighbor. The good news for us is that we benefit from decades of examples of communities reaching out beyond denominational identity to discover areas of shared interest while appreciating differences.

For some time now the lives of both Peninsula Temple Beth El and St. Matthew’s have intersected. We have worked together with Home & Hope, a local organization dedicated to

dealing with the issue of homelessness in our back yard. But it is really out of our joint participation in the Martin Luther King Day of Service—where among other things we discovered that our congregations have core groups of talented pancake flippers—that a set of relationships led to a set of mutual invitations to visit one another’s houses of worship.

On behalf of our entire congregation I just want to say how welcomed we felt last month when our unexpectantly large group accepted the invitation to attend your Shabbat Service and how thankful we are for your gracious and generous hospitality. We hope not only that we can reciprocate, but that our time together leads to an ongoing relationship marked by friendship and mutual affection.

Now at this point I will share that several of my parishioners—well actually quite a few—commented after attending the Shabbat service that they noticed that there was no sermon. (Now I want to be clear—it was not like a YES!! NO SERMON!!) It was more like an observation that was a kind of lament—for the observation I think betrayed a desire among our congregation to learn more about Judaism and to expand and deepen our knowledge of one another. Towards this end I would point out that in the past decades there has actually been a significant amount of attention given by biblical scholars to areas where our religious traditions intersect—a cooperative effort of scholarship that has done important work to remove old prejudices—and even in some cases lead to a deeper appreciation of our shared history.

In this morning’s first lesson we encountered a fairly famous passage where upon finding an altar dedicated To An Unknown God—the Apostle Paul takes the opportunity to preach to the Greeks in Athens about the God that he has come to know—Both through Judaism and his experience of the risen Christ. Nothing about this passage is simple—but I will point out that recent scholarship has highlighted that centuries of Christian interpretation have both forgotten and misunderstood important parts of Paul’s story and writings.

As a starting point most people do not know that Paul of the New Testament is one of only two Pharisees who have left behind any personal writings (Josephus is the other). On this basis alone says the Jewish biblical scholar Alan Segal—Paul is of interest for what his life can can tell us about first century Judaism. Digging deeper, one of the stereotypes of Paul, and the principle way that he has been understood through the centuries is as an apostate of Judaism—an individual whose conversion (temporary Emphasis) to Christianity can only be seen as affirming one tradition—and negating the other. And it is this trap—a false choice of extremes as applied to Paul—that has led to great misunderstandings.

Ari Goldman lamented that, by the time he got to Harvard, the groundbreaking Swedish New Testament scholar, Krister Stendahl, had left the faculty to serve as bishop of Stockholm. In his famous book, Paul among Jews and Gentiles, Stendahl persuasively argues that we should not properly speak of the conversion of Paul at all. Rather, Stendahl argues for adopting the language of prophetic call—a notion that comes to us from the Hebrew Scriptures. Stendahl at length details and articulates how Paul himself uses language that is very similar to the calls of the great prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah to describe his intense religious experience of the risen Jesus. Stendahl goes a step further, and his insight is worth our study, for he points out that Paul’s Call is to a specific vocation—where he comes to see himself as the Apostle to the Gentiles—an Apostle of the one God who is the creator of both Jews and Gentiles.

A careful reading of today’s first lesson from the Acts of the Apostles demonstrates Paul’s absolutely firm grounding in Judaism. I proclaim to you: The God who made the world and everything in it….The Lord of Heaven and earth…From one ancestor he made all nations…We ought not to think that the deity is like gold or silver or stone….Paul’s experience is grounded in the Hebrew scriptures. In his preaching to the Gentile Greeks, Paul clearly has a foot in two worlds and elsewhere in his own writings he attempts to reconcile the two major strands of his religious experience. While Paul struggled to understand it—in his writings he affirmed God’s mysterious plan for the coexistence between Judaism and Christianity, and he cautioned the early church against harboring feelings of superiority.

Stendahl’s brilliant insights into the first century perspective of Paul helps to illuminate some of the tragic misunderstandings that followed as later generations of Gentile Christians lost sight of the foundational way that Judaism had informed Paul’s relationship with and love for God. We Christians are just now beginning to rediscover the depth of all that Judaism contributed to the Apostle Paul’s knowledge and love of God.

In his year at Harvard Ari Goldman attended many interfaith events and he described how on many occasions he could hear the voice of his Orthodox Rabbi—Rabbi Siegal in the back of his head, complete with the image of his waving a finger, warning of the dangers of interfaith encounters. I have likewise heard members of several Christian denominations express concerns about contact and exposure to doctrines that deviate from their particular faith. From our collective experience—of reaching out to others—-We know differently. In attending the services of other faiths Goldman described his visits this way. He observed: In each case I leave as a Jew, rooted in my own faith—but nourished by the faith of others. That is do wonderfully stated.

As our visitors you have landed in the midst of our ongoing celebration of Easter. Part of the joy of our celebration on this day is knowing that we worship a God who is greater than our individual capacities of knowing and comprehension. We have come to know that we need one another, not only to strengthen the fabric of our larger community, but to learn from one another the many ways that God is at work in the world—in the midst of God’s many and varied people. We gather this day with great joy to affirm that we worship a God who is greater than our differences. A God who calls us to above all reach out and to get to know and love our neighbors.

Sermon preached by The Reverend Doctor Eric Kimball Hinds at The Episcopal Church of Saint Matthew, San Mateo, California on 21 May 2017, the Sixth Sunday of Easter, Year A on the occasion of a visit by members from the congregation of Peninsula Temple Beth El. Lessons: Acts 17:22-31; Psalm 66:7-18; 1 Peter 3:13-22; John 14:15-21.

Easter 5A: I will prepare a place. (The Rev. Lindsay Marie Hills)

Hospitals are often busy and noisy places…

all around people are moving, often quickly,

announcements can be heard overhead,

incessant beeping,

blaring alarms…

the hustle and bustle never seems to stop….

unless you find yourself into the NICU….or neonatal intensive care unit, like I did a year ago today….

At 3:30 am, after the babies have been fed and tended to,

they get tucked back into their little isolettes (incubators),

the lights are dimmed,

the nurses sit down and begin their charting….

the silence is pierced only

-by an occasional warning beep of an oxygen monitor

-the musical melody of a completed feed, by the feeding tube

-or the muffled whimper of a little one trying to get back to sleep

In this space….in this calmness…

While I sit in my rocker with a wrinkly, wriggly 8 week old laying square on my chest, hung-over on milk and tucked warmly under the hospital blankets that somehow exude the inescapable smell of maple syrup

….there is a peace which passes all understanding….

….a peace which took weeks for me to uncover in this place that so many parents worst nightmares come true.

….a place where what is often people’s happiest days of their life takes a bitter turn into a world of worry, uncertainty and heartbreak….

Surrounded by this overwhelming sense of peace…

I sat there and rocked in my chair…trying to take it all in.…..

then the pagers started going off….

and the nurses once at their computer terminals quickly jumped to their feet….

-they seemed to work almost in silence as they whizzed around the NICU….

– members of the advanced life saving team, begin to cover their navy scrubs with pull on protective gear, hair caps, and booties…

-the panda,also known as the emergency isolette, is being prepped for transport, checked and double checked, the nurse gives a thumbs up and is promptly pushed beyond the double doors by the nurses dressed  head to toe in light blue disposable gear making them appear like something from out of this world.

       -iv tubing is being cleaned and double checked

-Prescriptions are put on standby

-a surgical cart is being prepped

-ex ray machines are called in

-the heat in the incubator is turned up

-doctors start arriving

– with a sense of urgency but also an overwhelming sense of calm …everyone gets to work

I had seen this scene dozen’s of times since we first arrived weeks ago…
but this time…
this time… was different….

this time my mind wandered…..and all I could hear was this passage from John’s Gospel we heard today…. “do not let your hearts be troubled…….believe in God….believe also in me.”

It was the first-time God felt present in the midst of what had been weeks of pain, uncertainty, exhaustion and loneliness…and the message was one of pure comfort….

But it was something far greater than just regular comfort.

It was as if for the first time I had received clarity about the immeasurable and unfathomable love of God that John was trying so hard to articulate, in these final moments of Jesus’ life.

Because the passage we heard today is one of the options for funeral readings, it is one I am quite familiar with, have researched and have attempted to preach on dozens of times, and yet THIS was the first time I really — felt like I understood it

After the foot washing, after breaking bread with his disciples one last time, after the departure of Judas…. Jesus’s words attempt to provide comfort to the confused and lost disciples….for only he knows the entirety of what is to transpire  in the days and weeks to come.

“In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.”

While Jesus attempts to assuage the disciples’ fears, Thomas and Philip continue to be troubled…their questions reveal an almost palpable sense of anxiety.

Anxiety about being left behind.

Anxiety about loosing their beloved friend once and for all.

And yet Jesus asks them to simply trust him, pointing out what he thinks is obvious, that he and the Father — God are one…..reminding them, as John’s Gospel often does, that from the very beginning….. God changed God’s relationship with humanity once and for all, by having made Jesus incarnate… “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.”  Through this great incarnation….through his birth…life as we know it changed forever.

As preparations continued to take place all around me I realized that this is the Gospel message…in this preparation lies the hope of the resurrection…..that ultimately a place is being prepared for us, that Jesus will take us with him to that final resting place.

Before this moment I THOUGHT the hope lied in knowing Jesus was taking us with him…..but the real hope and beauty of the passage unraveled before my very eyes as all these nurses and doctors gingerly prepared the way to welcome this new fragile life into the NICU.

The promise IS eternal life….but the immense love that God shows to God’s people IS in the preparation….

I imagine that Jesus’ promise to go ahead of the disciples, to prepare a place for them…to prepare a place for us…. looks a lot like the calm yet calculated care that the NICU team takes to prepare a place for a new baby.

Sometimes they would get three or four  even five false alarms…. before it was actually time…. but they responded with the same love and care and painstaking preparation each and every time…. seemingly not out of obligation….but out a deep sense of vocation and pure privilege, because that’s what it takes to be responsible for ushering new life into the world in safety….and that is the ridiculously unfathomable love that Christ attempts to explain to his disciples, before his departure…..

There will be a place for you….I will prepare it….there is room for all.

As I continued to sit there, listening to his little labored breaths up and down, down and up, as he lay on my chest and seeing the doctors work on the little 910 gram girl next to us glowing bright red under the warmth of the heat lamp…..I was overwhelmed with a sense of awe and wonder knowing that when my own son was born…..

they must have taken just as good care of him….

that they had likely spent all day and several days eagerly anticipating his arrival, for long before he came screaming into the world there were several false alarms.

 

But knowing that they were prepared to receive him….

provided me with an overwhelming sense of comfort that I had not encountered in this sterile space.  Knowing that they must have cared for him the same way they cared for this little girl.

They knew he was coming here before I did.
They were ready when I was not.
They got to see his face and touch him before I could.

The little girl was quickly overcome by doctors, x-ray machines, respiratory therapists

each person carrying out their specific role

each person completing the tasks they are called to do, with very little need to communicate with one another….they cautiously and quickly go to work on the little girl

– her father looked on wide eyed in wonder and yet full of confusion at his perfect pint sized princess is poked and prodded.

And all I can think…is “do not let your hearts be troubled…believe in God”….

if only he knew how much preparation had gone in to making a place for her….

He would believe.

He would trust.

He would know that no matter what….everything will be ok….

His dashed hope would be restored.

In this place…in this moment –sterile space transformed to sacred space…and as I sat there in prayer…

I realized the perfection of God’s plan and faithful preparations….

Even though I struggle SO HARD with wanting things my way and on my terms.

On this Mother’s Day, like all Mother’s Days — many grieve for what has been or has not been, for mother’s lost and mother’s never known, for empty arms and arms too full, for mom’s that could keep it together and mom’s that fell and fall apart.  And yet others celebrate with joy and gratitude their children known and yet to be fully known…..

The tension of anxiety and hope of love and joy wrap this day up with a very, very tight bow, making it almost impossible to undo.  And yet the confluence of this fifth Sunday of Easter and Mother’s day and an assigned Gospel text fit for a funeral, that also can call to mind that new life, that life eternal, that shines as a bright light in the midst of darkness is both ironic and ultimately fitting.

For ultimately it is in God’s loving arms that we will all come to rest from our labors.

It is here where she has prepared a space for us….

it is here where she will nurture us….

It is here where we will be brought to new life.