6th Sunday after Easter – May 21, 2017
Rev. Regina G. Knox
Dear Lord, you have called me by my name.
You have carved me in the palm of your hand.
(from the Irish Jesuit prayer site, Sacred Space)
The words of this simple prayer echo words from the psalm this morning. Bless our God…who holds our souls in life. What a comfort to think of our souls held by God, a God who calls us by name.
As I tidied up last week’s sermon so that Jean could have it to print, I saw that in two places I said,” Someone said.” I regretted this and wish I had spoken their names. We need to speak each other’s names, because we have a God who holds our souls in life and knew us long before we came to be. And calls us by our names in love and for love. We are called to love. A concrete act of love is to acknowledge another. No matter who we are, what our standing in the world is. The circumstances of Jesus’ birth in a barn and his death on the cross should leave us with no misunderstanding on this (credit to Ron Rolheiser for this thought).
That first “someone” I mentioned last week is Clarence Jordan. Southern Baptist minister. Greek New Testament Scholar. Farmer. Founder of Koinonia Farm in Americus, Georgia. He lived from 1912 to 1969.
On the Koinonia Farm website, Clarence Jordan is described (by G. McLeod Bryan) as “a strange phenomenon in the history of North American Christianity. Hewn from the massive Baptist denomination, known primarily for its conformity to culture, Clarence stressed the anti-cultural, the Christ-transcending and the Christ-transforming, aspects of the gospel. He was an authentic product of the Bible Belt, of the rural, agrarian heartland, of the people’s church. [he got his college degree in agriculture … [and ended] … with a Ph.D. in the Greek New Testament…”
Perhaps some of you may know of him, and the Christian community, Koinonia Farm, which is still active and very much alive.
He was a follower of Jesus, a witness to the gospel. And felt the best way he could witness was being a member of a radical Christian community in Georgia.
And I called him “someone.” When he was a child of God with a name and a story. I may have told you this story before, but this story makes the point better than my words can. Once, outside of Whole Foods in Portland, there was a man begging on the median strip. He had just arrived. A policeman slowed down, and called out to him his name, Edward, “Edward,” he said, “you know that you cannot be here.” It seemed to make a difference. Edward acknowledged the policeman, and left the place where he stood. It sure made a difference to me, as a witness to this encounter. It was an encounter, one to another; it was not harsh or dismissive.
Some of you may have seen the author Richard Ford on the PBS NewsHour Friday evening. He came at the very end, at a part called In My Humble Opinion, and spoke about his latest writings, a memoir, a book about his parents called “Between Them: Remembering My Parents.”
To him, and this is what it says if you go to the PBS website, “a memoir is to utter what must not be erased.” On the website it says further that “Richard Ford’s parents were ordinary people, ‘all but un-noticeable to the world’s disinterested eye.’ But the acclaimed writer still decided to write a memoir of their lives because, to him, being their son felt like a privilege. And more simply, he missed them. Ford offer[ed] his humble opinion on the power of memoir to make us remember what’s most vital to us” (PBS NewsHour website). If I did not tell their story, who would, he seemed to say. He honored them by acknowledging them.
When I listened to Ford speaking about his parents and how he missed them, I thought of mine, and how I missed them. I thought about their own history and story, a story of immense suffering and yet continual resurrection. My parents too were ordinary people, who had more than their fair share of heart ache and suffering. They were not only survivors, they lived. The other “someone” I quoted in last week’s sermon was Geoffrey Tristam, a priest and monk at the Society of St. John the Evangelist in Cambridge, who wrote that “resurrection is woven into the very fabric of life.” Such were my parent’s lives, the rising and dying with Christ was the very fabric of their life. And lives I see now filled with grace. Scrappy grace at times but there was no mistaking it.
That grace lives in my bones, a legacy of their lives to me, a deep memory of who they were. I speak of them often. Like Richard Ford, I felt it was a privilege to be their daughter. To tell their story. To give it the meaning the world might not grant.
I would like to think a little about that this morning. About stories, some ordinary, like Richard Ford’s parents. And some more out of the ordinary, like the life of Clarence Jordon, a life rooted in the Gospel, and not talked about enough. And about the virtue of memory, and to paraphrase Richard Ford, on “how it makes us remember what is most vital to us.”
That brings us to right where we sit this morning, listening and reflecting on the Word, and about to come to a table where memory is at the heart of it all. It is here that we enter into the mystery of it all. It is here that we receive love into our outstretched hands, nourish our souls and spirits, and then turn around and feed the same to the world.
Our world is not unlike the one Paul is preaching to in the reading from Acts. A commentator named Bruce Epperly (The Adventurous Lectionary, May 25, 2014) wrote that “Paul’s speech in the Athenian marketplace of ideas speaks to our current spiritual landscape. Like the Athenians, we live in a pluralistic time, with many options for worship and spiritual practice. Christians need to share their good news in light of the world in which we live in all its wondrous diversity.” He goes further on to say that “In perhaps the only place in the scriptures, Paul explicitly quotes Greek philosophy to describe God’s nature as the one ‘in whom we live and move and have our being.’ “ Paul spoke of God in ways that the Athenians could receive, indeed most people could receive.
“In whom we live and move and have our being.” We live in God and God lives in us, something Jesus is trying to tell us in the gospel. Asking us to remember. Assuring us…
Let us tell the stories that should not be erased, stories of God made manifest in our own lives, stories of love and creation and the joys and the sorrows of our lives. Perhaps a form of Christian witness is just that, to slow down enough and pay attention enough to see the evidence of God and God’s care in our lives and all around us and to tell those stories, kitchen table stories, giving witness to God’s love for the world. A religious named Ron Rolheiser wrote that “God is as much domestic as monastic.” Perhaps this is a way to be in the world but not of it. To frame the stories of our lives in the reality of God in whom we live and move and have our being. To make the domestic story the eternal story. And to hear the stories of others in the same way. Listening to others acknowledges their own humanity, their place in the kingdom as children of God. It is a way of love. And hearing others stories let us know that our own stories, although they have their own particularities, are universal stories, they are of your life and they are of mine too.
We are so connected, one to the other. Like God, we hold each other’s souls in our hands.
Let us remember that this is so. Amen.