I am a parish minister currently serving the Eliot Church of Natick MA. Eliot Church is a Community Church affiliated with the Unitarian Universalist Association and the United Church of Christ. Any statements made and postions held in "Unity," however, are solely mine(of course, they may be used with appropriate atribution). Therefore if you disagree, please do not blame the church!

Monday, March 27, 2006

Another Lenten Sermon (Welcome Spring!)

So, here is that sermon I was writing during my last post. These are the notes, at least. Today when I openned my New York Times there was a picture of two Roman Catholic nuns rollerskating in Manhattan. This was just what I needed to see on a day when office work will take up the vast bulk of my pastoral time. Thank you Nuns, for finding joy in your vocation and reminding the rest of us how honored we truly are...

Welcome Spring!
Rev. Adam Tierney-Eliot
The Eliot Church

Today we didn’t read that famous passage from Matthew
When Jesus tells us to
Consider the lilies, how they grow, they neither toil nor spin
But, of course, that is just what many of us are doing these days
Both toiling and watching the flowers bloom

Now, those of you who are regular visitors to the dam
(Across the Street)
Know that the flowers are starting to come out there
(I have no idea what kind of flowers they are
But I am sure someone can fill us in later)
Last week the flowers in the park slowly began to make their appearance
And this week they have picked up the pace

They are among the first signs that a change is occurring
Both in nature and in our own lives
Rise up fair one and come away for lo the winter is past, the rain is over and gone.

No matter how we may feel about winter: the season
Whether we love the cold clear days,
The skiing and other sports
Or if we could just as soon do without these things
There are few people who cannot identify with this passage
From the Song of Solomon
After all, there are very few who haven’t
At one time or another endured the winter of the heart

You know what your winter feels like
Better than I can tell you
But we have, most of us, experienced the emptiness
Felt the cold of a moment of doubt, pain, or anxiety
And struggled through day after day, week after week
Unsure, sometimes, of what to do or what the next moment will bring
Many of us, also will acknowledge
That the winter of the heart comes regularly, too
On its own cycle
And that some winters are more harsh than others

Martin Marty, a professor of Church History
Describes the feeling he had since the death of his first wife
In this way
Winter can blow into surprising regions of the heart when it is least expected. Such frigid assaults can overtake the spirit with the persistence of an ice age, the chronic cutting of an arctic wind

Marty also believes that these cold times are necessary
For our own growth
But still, just as we cannot survive long in the arctic wind
We humans cannot live with total absence
Bereft of joy, warmth, creativity forever

And so we hang on to listen again for those Divine words
Rise up fair one and come away, for the winter has past

Now, according to the calendar, spring is here
But, of course, it comes slowly
Our liturgical calendar, focusing as it does
On the big holidays, like Christmas, Palm Sunday, and Easter
Sometimes neglects the gradual nature of change
Walking every morning by the dam I see new things each time
But these new things are small
Their alterations incremental

And so we wait,
Just as we wait during Lent for Easter Morning
We wait and see the awakening of the earth

Now, there really is a connection between spring
And the growth of the soul
After all, for all our pretences concerning
Civilization and the use of logic and reason
At the end of the day people are animals, too
And the warming of the days
The chance to be out in the natural world
Changes us, gives us an opportunity to experience the magic
Of creation

The minister and religious educator Jeanne Nieuwejaar
When I was a child, the fields and the forest were my playground…I remember moments of lying in a meadow, grass and wildflowers tall above me, vast sky overhead, insects buzzing and brushing by me. In such moments I felt a sense of near dissolution into the earth…moments of feeling that the boundary between me and the meadow was a permeable [one], when I was a child I was a spiritual being—as all children are…

The birth of spring gives us the chance
To experience the rebirth of something inside us

Now some folks, don’t have to wait too long
Before spring enters their hearts
They are already up and about
But others don’t rise as quickly

We want to realize that promise of Psalm 107
For God satisfies the thirsty, and the hungry are filled with good things
But sometimes we need help
And we need to find the faith to see the hope that love brings
This is the faith that defies creed and sterile theology
It is basic and elemental to who we are
It is a faith, that, itself sometimes needs
That unexpected but always hoped for
Message from God

Thomas Long, a professor of preaching
At Candler School of theology writes
Then I realize that I am face down on a linoleum floor somewhere in my life, powerless, praying like mad “You have done it for others, God, I am begging you, do it for me.” And when I find myself lifted up [he says]
I am more grateful than I can say
So we wait, during this time of year for that kind of help, as well

Now, waiting can be done in a variety of ways
We can pace, we can plan, we can complain
About how long the trip has been

But there are other ways
And this is a good time to practice them
Because, no matter when the winter of your heart is
The transition from the season of winter to the season of spring
Is marked by Lent
This is an excellent time to intentionally practice transitions
Charles Dickens describes those
March days when the sun shines hot and the wind blows cold: when it is summer in the light, and winter in the shade.

What better time to build up our strength
To push ourselves up off the floor
And to develop our spiritual sensitivity
So that we can hear the voice telling us to rise?
This is the time to develop new habits,
Not the immediate kind
But gradually, as with the flowers in the park

Now, last week we talked about relationships
Nothing fills the absence as well
As sharing the love others have for us
And we for them

Now, there are ways that we can do this (each of us)
There is the formal way
For example, since Lent is already halfway over,
It may be a good time to give something up, for example
And instead of giving up a material thing (like dessert)
Why not make it be something to do with the connections we have?
I have a colleague, for example,
Who has given up the judgement of others this year
Last year she refrained from gossip
Apparently life was pretty quiet for her in March
There are these kinds of things
That make us think about how we relate
In an often cold environment

But, of course, there are other less structured ways to practice relationships
I remember the congregation I served in Sangerville, Maine, for example
where we would all gather in the kitchen on Wednesday mornings
This time of year before the sun came up
We would have pancakes and smoked salmon
We would have some short reading, usually from the Bible
And then we would just visit before folks went off to work.
Human connections get us through the hard times.
Casual rituals such as this help us relate to each other
So we are ready when the hard times are less seasonal and more unexpected

Before walking my son home from school Friday
We stopped at the playground
So he could hang out with his friends
The other parents and I were marveling
At how all the children had grown over the winter
And also at how little we had seen of each other
The winter of the heart, as with the actual season
Is a time of inwardness
A time where the lack of ease and comfort
Naturally limits our movements and our encounters
There is a lot of connecting going on these days
In church, in town, and everywhere else

But this does not mean, however,
That we should start living so far outside ourselves
That we ourselves stop growing
After all, as our quote from Dickens said earlier
There are days of winter in March, too
And we need to be ready for them

One relationship that needs to be kept up
Is the one we have with ourselves
We need to spend time,
Yes, in nature
Yes, with each other
But also listening to voices inside
Both in times of absence and abundance
We need to just be

Robert Frost writes
Oh, give us pleasure in the flowers today;
And give us not to think so far away
As the uncertain harvest; keep us here
All simply in the springing of the year

So let us, during this time of awakening
Remember to spend time together
And to spend time alone
To not look too far ahead
To wait patiently for the breaking in of the Divine

But let us also cry out when we need to
Reach out when the spirit moves us
And seek out the voice of the Beloved
Calling us to rise up
And to move on