The following is a short sermon from Pentecost, where we celebrated baptism, membership transfer, and communion.
These are the words from Anne Lamott’s, as found in her book, Travelling Mercies.
“After a while, as I lay there, I became aware of someone with me, hunkered down in the corner, and I just assumed it was my father, whose presence I had felt over the years when I was frightened and alone. The feeling was so strong that I actually turned on the light for a moment to make sure no one was there–of course, there wasn’t. But after a while, in the dark again, I knew beyond any doubt that it was Jesus. I felt him as surely as I feel my dog lying nearby as I write this.
And I was appalled. I thought about my life and my brilliant hilarious progressive friends, I thought about what everyone would think of me if I became a Christian, and it seemed an utterly impossible thing that simply could not be allowed to happen. I turned to the wall and said out loud, “I would rather die.”
I felt him just sitting there on his haunches in the corner of my sleeping loft, watching me with patience and love, and I squinched my eyes shut, but that didn’t help because that’s not what I was seeing him with.
Finally I fell asleep, and in the morning, he was gone.
This experience spooked me badly, but I thought it was just an apparition, born of fear and self-loathing and booze and loss of blood. But then everywhere I went, I had the feeling that a little cat was following me, wanting me to reach down and pick it up, wanting me to open the door and let it in. But I knew what would happen: you let a cat in one time, give it a little milk, and then it stays forever. So I tried to keep one step ahead of it, slamming my houseboat door when I entered or left.
And one week later, when I went back to church, I was so hungover that I couldn’t stand up for the songs, and this time I stayed for the sermon, which I just thought was so ridiculous, like someone trying to convince me of the existence of extraterrestrials, but the last song was so deep and raw and pure that I could not escape. It was as if the people were singing in between the notes, weeping and joyful at the same time, and I felt like their voices or something was rocking me, holding me like a scared kid, and I opened up to that feeling–and it washed over me.
I began to cry and left before the benediction, and I raced home and felt the little cat running at my heels, and I walked down the dock past dozens of potted flowers, under a sky as blue as one of God’s own dreams, and I opened the door to my houseboat, and I stood there a minute, and then I hung my head and said ‘F— it: I quit.’ I took a long deep breath and said out loud, ‘All right. You can come in.’
So this was my beautiful moment of conversion.”
I love Anne Lamott.
We find ourselves today celebrating practices that have been going on in faith communities for 2000 years: Practices of baptism, testimonies, joining the church, and communion. 2000 years! This is bigger than us. These are the practices of saints and sinners, of strong leaders and humble servants, of the faithful and the faithless, of popes and prisoners and priests and paupers. These practices are bigger than any one of us. These are the practices of Jesus himself.
We find ourselves here, celebrating these moments, over and over again. Some of us were baptized a long ago, and today we recall our own stories as we see the water. Others of us marvel at how our testimonies have changed over the years. Many of us speak with fondness about this faith community, and how important it has been to our spirituality. And we constantly remember Jesus when we participate in the bread and the wine.
We all have these stories. And it’s through our practices that we find our stories being part of the big story, part of the long story, part of God’s story… A story of hope and healing, a story of grace and peace, a story of God redeeming the world, bit by bit. This is the story that we find ourselves living in, over and over and over again. Every time we share in a baptism, we share in joining a church, we share in communion, we find ourselves living in God’s story.
Sara Miles is one of my favourite authors, and writes the following about finding herself in God’s story (as found in Take This Bread).
“Conversion isn’t, after all, a moment. It’s a process, and it keeps happening, with cycles of acceptance and resistance, epiphany and doubt.
The faith I was finding was jagged and more difficult. It wasn’t about abstract theological debates. It was about action. Taste and see, the Bible said, and I did. My first questioning year at church ended with a question: Now that you’ve taken the bread, what are you going to do?’
Now that you’ve taken the bread, what are you going to do?
God is constantly moving towards us, sometimes like a cat, inviting us to participate in the Kingdom of God. We come, we taste, and we see that the Lord is good. So what are we going to do?
May God guide us as we continue to find ourselves in God’s story of grace and peace.