When Accompaniment Becomes a Calling
Revelation 21:1-5, 22:1-2
Grace and peace to you from God the Father, our Lord Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit. AMEN.
We made it. You don’t just stop by Holden Village. Whether we have come for the summer, come for the board meeting and installation, or come to stay, it takes a real effort to get to Holden Village. Yet come we have – by car and van, train and boat, bus and bike – and our getting here has afforded each one us time to reflect on what is precious and life-changing about this place. About this time in this place.
Peg + Chuck, this is now to be your place in the world. I will have a few more things to say about that but as we turn our attention to the Living Word of God on this hot and festive day, I simply want to remind you of the Latin origins of this wordinstallation. It means -- to be put in one’s place. And that’s not only an imperative for the two of you, this day is about all of us being put in our rightful place among the peoples of God.
The lyric verses of Revelation give us a glimpse of that new Jerusalem of God’s promise to all creation. A tearless city. A crystal river of water, clear and flowing. Trees bent low with fruit. It is the final picture of the journey’s end for all who follow God along the pilgrim route. I don’t know if the lure of these apocalyptic verses sound as enticing as trekking to the North Cascade Mountains for a Saturday afternoon service, but over the centuries the image of Revelation’s final, hope-filled chapters has loomed as mysterious and life-giving as the journeys that have led us here.
And how good it is to be – right here. For Holden has from the start been a place of pilgrimage and renewal, a place for learning and healing, a place where the seeds of new ideas and dreams and prayers have taken on life and form in the midst of the community gathered here. Oh, friends, I have been anticipating the last curve in the road for some time now.
But to be honest, there has been a shadow cast over my anticipation of this joyful day. It began in February when I had an opportunity to be in Rome during a week of unusually spring-like weather in that grand city where I and others had the privilege of meeting with leaders from the Vatican. I can tell you there is fresh Spirit blowing among our Roman Catholic sisters and brothers, and in the amazing leadership of Pope Francis. I believe we will all be surprised by this unanticipated ecumenical springtime within the Body of Christ.
But it was in Rome that I also met some of the undocumented migrants, who have made their way across the Mediterranean in small boats from Syria and Ethiopia, Afghanistan and Iraq, seeking a different kind of future. Like those at our own borders, they come – the young, the frightened and courageous – desperate for a life that honors the basic needs of family, a life of peace and ordinary hard work. When I got home I printed a photo of Pope Francis greeting our Bishop Elizabeth; but in my heart I carry the indelible image of those refugees being welcomed by the community of San Egidio, a justice-minded community not unlike Holden.
And then all spring my heart has been heavy with news from Ferguson and Staten Island, Cleveland and Baltimore. How fragile, how unfair life is for our neighbors of color. In early spring we remembered the significance of that march across the bridge in Selma fifty years ago, but even that witness of courage and reconciliation was not enough to prod most of us to act to restore justice, to ensure a fighting chance for every child in this country.
And then, just over a week ago, the news poured forth of the cruel and senseless killing of nine women and men, as they sat together in Bible study at Emanuel AME Church. Targeted for death because they were African American. So cruel. So unjust. So revealing about all that is still unsettled, unfinished, unnamed in our national life. And then, the very next day, one after another, family members stood in a courtroom and spoke of forgiveness. Spoke of the love of God that is more powerful than the hatred and cowardice of that young shooter.
I’ll bet they had read Revelation in that church on Calhoun Street in Charleston. For person after person from that black community of deep and tested faith, spoke as though they were standing side-by-side with their beloved family member, knowing in their broken hearts what God has promised. What God offers in Jesus Christ. God will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away. (Rev 21:4)
Look around this village. It doesn’t quite look like paradise on this mountain today. The incredible undertaking of mine remediation – the hard work of making the earth whole and well again – and the needed work to improve the hidden systems that make Holden itself safe and welcoming; well, we can see that progress is being made but there is still a ways to go along Railroad Creek.
Yet, this not-yet-finished reality is a complement to the testimony of Revelation. For in John’s vision, God does not promise to make new things that will hold up better than our old things. God promises to make all things new. And it is in the shadow of that reality that we install two new Directors for the Holden Village community.
Chuck + Peg, you’ve made your way here. I don’t when the seed of your willingness to come and serve was first planted in your hearts, but I know that you come, having set aside work and relationships and a home base that was valuable and familiar to you. You’ve done that in order to cross the threshold into a time of service and learning in unique new time and place. Thank you for your courage; your willingness to show all of us what it means to set out on a venture of which neither you nor any of us can see the ending.
You have entered at a time of unfinished business, a time of visible change in this place. What good work Chuck and Steph Carpenter have done in overseeing this time of material rebuilding. But now they leave and you stay. Like all the directors before you – the visionaries, the teachers, the poets, the community builders – you will be indebted in your service to all those who have gone before you. Thank you for your humbleness; your willingness to show us what it means to follow in the steps of others without everything now needing to be all about you.
But there is more change afoot in our world than just the remediation and rebuilding in this place. We live in a time of fresh joy for many. Can you believe the announcement of the Supreme Court just yesterday that everyone – everyone – may marry the one they love? How hard people in this community worked to bring about that day!
But we also live in a time of wariness and suspicion, a time in which hatred and vengeance have been unleashed in so many contexts. Holden does not protect any of us from those realities. Holden is not a place where suffering is no more; but a place that understands that where suffering is, God is there, too.
Peg + Chuck, your gentle, persistent work of reconciliation around the globe is a beautiful part of who you are and the good, new work you will encourage in this place. Thank you for bringing your greatest talents as artists and peacemakers, and your deepest loves, to this calling.
Many decades ago, I had a two semester stint as a fine arts major, and I witnessed firsthand the truth of the prophet’s imagery in the text from Jeremiah. Before clay is fired it is, indeed, as malleable and forgiving after having been molded as it is when it comes fresh from the earth. I suspect there are analogies with canvas and paint.
But our God works now only with raw materials but also with what has been glazed and fired, and then in the course of use, broken and shattered. As you may know, there is a technique in Japanese pottery called kintsukuroi, which is the art of repairing pottery with gold or silver lacquer, so that what was once broken is more beautiful for having been repaired.
God said – “See, I am making all things new.” This place called Holden Village. These directors called Peg + Chuck. You and me. Our lives. This beautiful, frightening, fragile, resilient time in history in which we live. Thanks be to God. AMEN.