Epiphany 6, February 13, 2011, St. Christopher's Episcopal Church, Rev. Paul Moore; Day before Valentine’s Day
The Second Vatican Council in the 1960's changed the face of the Roman Catholic Church. Among many things, it inspired a movement to streamline worship and focus it on Christ. Colonial Catholic churches in Latin America often house magnificent statuary and paintings of people of sacred history. Many of these were summarily removed from their places of honor in the churches. The priests taught the people that they need no intermediaries between God and themselves, that they must pray at the Altar and not before the statuary. In one prominent town the townspeople all came together to visit the priest. “Why are you taking our statues down?” They demanded.
“Because you do not need them,” replied the priest. “You have access to God through Jesus Christ, and you need not pray to the saints.”
“But you don't understand,” said the people. “Jesus always went around in a group!
Why do you take away His friends?” Indeed, the Spanish word "amigo" means more than just "friend" in English. It means companion, one who walks along side you, who shares your joys and sorrows, and, to borrow a phrase from the movie "Shall We Dance", to "bear witness to one's life." Bear witness...bear witness to whom, before whom, and on behalf of whom? These are the questions that scribe out the margins of community. We to bear witness before the universe, to say that this person was not alone, they had context, they had reference points, and therefore they had meaning and purpose. Community is at the heart of being human. Our homes are at the heart of our community.
Homes are like chickens. The chicken you buy in the store wrapped in cellophane is raised in a barn with thousands of other birds, all bread for large breast muscles and small strength, and growth so fast that they can hardly stand. They are scooped up at 6 weeks of age, and butchered and packaged while the growers earn $18,000 a year for their efforts. This is NOT what I mean.
I mean like the chickens my mother had when I was a child. These chickens provided eggs and meat for our table, and not a little bit of entertainment. They were scrub chickens that would go broody. The hens would suddenly start to get grumpy, they would seek out the roosters like there was no tomorrow, and begin laying eggs like mad. My mother would select 10 to 12 good eggs, and put the broody hen in the henhouse and lock the door until she began sitting on them. She would leave them only briefly for 28 days, and then emerge with a fluffy flock of chicks. We learned quickly that a hen with chicks is a force to be reckoned with!
Why did Mom do this? Well, for one reason it was virtually impossible to get a hen to get un-broody without going ahead and sitting her, but mostly, it replenished the flock. This is community. It is life-giving, it is self-sustaining, and it is beautiful, if not a bit hard to handle!
Life-giving, self-sustaining and beautiful, if not a little hard to handle, is this not exactly the essence of living in community? Is this not exactly the essence of our relationship with God? Hence we call marriage a sacrament, because in it is communicated to us the grace of relationship with God, which relationship is the basis for all holy relationships on earth.
It is life-giving. Maybe we don't have that "soul friend" feeling about our spouses, or maybe we do. Nonetheless, there is one person in the world outside of my Maker that knows me better than anyone else, and I know her better than anyone else, and that is Karisse, my spouse of more than 32 years. What does it mean to bear witness to her life? It means to be involved where it is appropriate, and to watch from the sidelines when that is best, to facilitate, encourage, and support, to be an essential part of the context of her life, in short, to encourage her full humanity, whether that is to nurture or challenge, and to take joy in that emerging humanity. The home is the womb of humanity.
It is self-sustaining. My mother always gave us chickens to raise ourselves. I had a big hen with no feathers on her neck. She was a great mother hen. Her chicks were well cared for, the threats to their wellbeing were summarily and vociferously contested. I learned to feed them every day, to make sure they were safe every night, and to dutifully contribute her eggs to the family’s needs. I learned animal husbandry, but I also learned altruism, discipline, and responsibility. These are life-skills that reflect the nature of our Creator. The home is the crucible of godliness.
It is beautiful, if not a little hard to handle. Our Bible and our Prayer Book define marriage as a lifelong relationship between one man and one woman. The author of Ephesians writes a beautiful piece in the 5th chapter about husbands and wives. It gives different instructions to husbands and wives. “Husbands, love your wives as Christ has loved you.” “Wives…” the Greek word is translated, "submit" or "obey," but in today's world the best word would be "respect" your husbands. The beautiful thing is, wives need loved, and we men are better at respect, so we are wisely admonished to do what is hard, but necessary. Husbands need respect, but wives are really good at loving, so they are wisely admonished to do what is hard, but necessary. As each of us learns to give what is needed rather than what is natural, we become more fully human ourselves! The home is the loom on which the tapestry of society is woven.
My mother is a typical mother. Her dream is always to have all the family together for Christmas. One year we planned to gather at my nephew’s house (he was stationed at Fort Bliss.) Our oldest son, Leni, was driving down from Wyoming where he was in school. He called eventually from northern New Mexico. His car had died on the highway, and it wasn't possible to get him there for Christmas, so he was the one who we missed most. Mom felt it more than anyone else, perhaps, highlighting the fact that when one is missing the community hurts. This is true of the family, of the church, and of the world. Perhaps God hurts most of all when one of God's own isn't in relationship with God, with God's world and with God's family.