Friends around the Table

We celebrated the Lord’s Supper this morning, something we do once a month. Today we did it around the table. A number of small tables were set in front of the sanctuary, a minister present at each one. We gathered around the table in groups of six or so, serving each other the gift of bread and (in my church) juice, the stuff of life and peace and hope.

I was so greatly moved as I looked around the table this morning and watched us serve each other. Eyes sparkled with genuine affection. We weren’t just serving another person. We were serving a friend.

I’m in the choir,so gathered together around the tables. As we shared the supper we shared the connections of long rehearsals and laughter and missed notes and the triumph that comes when we finally get that difficult section right.

I couldn’t help but think about my first experience of communion in this church. It was a strange and dislocated feeling. I’d come from a church I’d been a part of for decades. Coming forward for the Lord’s Supper always meant smiles and a hand on a shoulder and the recognition that comes when you spend twenty odd years in a community (some of them odder than others.).

But here in this new place I knew very few people. I felt like the cousin’s neighbor hauled off the to the family reunion with a pity invite.

What a difference a few years makes. I was now sharing the Supper with friends. The transformation didn’t just happen with time. I joined up. I showed up. I worked very hard to learn names, which can be intimidating in its own right. I invested myself in this community.

One of the things that I see people struggling with is a lack of community and connection. But community and connection don’t happen while you’re home binge watching Netflix. It takes the willingness to be inconvenienced. It takes the willingness to walk through the door of something new. It takes the willingness to  make a commitment and invest of yourself. When you drop in and drop out as they winds of your whims blow, you’re not going to find the community that your soul needs.

Where do you find community? Where are you investing yourself?

 

Miz Agnes and the Miracles

In the good southern way, children and youth alike called her Miz Agnes. In real life she was Mrs. Agnes Joyner, a fixture as a Sunday School teacher, an intimidator in a Bible study anyone else led (you best be prepared because Agnes was going to ask questions) and the keeper of the wearing hats to church tradition.

She also became the designed sitter in our church. When both parents were in the choir or divided between choir and preaching, Agnes was the person with whom parents could leave their children. They knew she’d welcome their wiggly presence with her in worship but had the gravitas to keep them from getting too wiggly. For a while she also came early to meet with children in the library and read to them. The children loved Miz Agnes.

As they also loved Miz Jane who taught generations of children in the preschool Sunday School class. Parents begged her not to retire before their children came through her class. When she died her body was carried from the church to the strains of Jesus Loves Me and a congregation filled with her now grown-up preschool children cried a bit for the deep hearted gift of having known her and the sadness of having to say goodbye to her. She told me once that in all of her years of working  with children she’d never met a bad child, only ones who needed a little more attention and care.

I thought about Agnes and Jane this week as I read an article about the impact of older adults in the lives of youth and young adults. A survey of college students found that the ones who had adults over fifty in their lives – regardless of the health of those adults – reported lower levels of illegal drug use.

It’s one of the best gifts we as the church have to offer and it’s a light we keep trying to hide under a bushel. Children used to have the benefit of lots of contact with grandparents, aunts and uncles. For many children these days such contact is infrequent.

But in a church, well it’s a different story. That’s the miracle of it. Here children can sit with Miz Agnes and be loved by Miz Jane. Here they can be friends with the volunteer helping with the youth. Here, unless we fall into the trap of segregating ourselves too rigidly by age, children and youth can find the extended family that we all desperately need. In a wonderful win-win, adults of any age can also find purpose and meaning in those connections.

Who has been Jane and Agnes for you? How might your church nurture those connections?

6 things I learned in choir

  1. Sometimes you need a little help from your friends. I am grateful for those voices beside and behind me that help me hit the right note at the right time, who remind me with their singing that I should have already come in by now.
  2. Sometimes you need to ignore the people around you and do what you know is right. (I’ve been singing in choirs since 1973, so I am not talking about YOU.) But sometimes those people around you? They’re wrong. They come in at the wrong time or sing the wrong pitch. Sometimes you just have to trust that you know what you know and ignore the rest of the noise.
  3. Some truth can only be sung. A colleague on Facebook regularly posts videos of him singing accompanied by his guitar. Not so very long ago his son wound up in ICU unexpectedly and then died, leaving behind a young family. My colleague continues to post his songs but now the words are imbued with a deeper, broken hearted meaning. It is a holy thing to witness his journey, knowing that sometimes grief is so deep that all you can do is sing.
  4. Magic still happens and sometimes we get to be a part of it. We were singing one of my favorite Christmas anthems. Something happened when we sang it in the evening service. The music took us up out of ourselves. We flowed like a river. We soared towards the tops of the arched roof, carried by notes and by spirit. It was so magical that  I nearly wept in the midst of it just for the privilege and blessedness of being part of such a thing. Sometimes we take one step and step into something bigger than us, being reminded that it’s not all up to us.
  5. The end of the story seldom looks like the beginning and the difference between those two places depends, at least in part, on us. Our minister of music starts introducing our Christmas music to us in the post Easter lull of the spring. The more difficult anthems are usually train wrecks in our first readings. But after all of the hours of work, when we sing it before the congregation it comes pretty close to something like music. Yet too often in our lives we tend to judge ourselves only by our beginnings.
  6. What we focus on becomes a part of us. Two days ago we sang two Christmas concerts.  This week as I started my workweek I’ve sung alleluias in the shower and a magnificat while making breakfast. After all the repetition of rehearsal the music is now woven into my bones, ready to bubble up to the surface. With inspiring music that’s a good thing. When we are meditating upon bitterness or upon all of the ways in which we have failed having such music in our bones ready to surface isn’t such a fine thing.

For all you choir members past and present, what have you learned?

 

How I Changed My Mind

I’ll admit it.

Once upon a time when it came to homosexuality I was in the “Hate the sin, love the sinner” camp. I mean, it was so clearly against God’s law. It said so right there in one or two verses in my Bible. Besides, I didn’t know any gay people.

Well, actually I did. One of my first escorts to a winter dance was a gay guy in our youth group. Except no one openly said he was gay. There were just some oblique remarks about the fact that he was different, maybe he was “that way.” I didn’t care. He was a great dancer and I had a great time.

As I got older I was scared of looking at the issue directly. It was so different from my experience and that foreignness felt like threat. Still, I eventually decided that I owed it to myself to consider the issue more in depth.

Two things happened.

The first is that I read a book. Entitled, Is the Homosexual My Neighbor, it provided for me a context for the biblical verses regarding homosexuality. I realized that the sin of Sodom was not homosexuality but a terrible abuse of the Middle Eastern hospitality mandate. For the first time I considered what sort of practices Paul was really railing against, and the fact that he had no model of a committed, monogamous gay relationship.

Ironically, I’d been on the wrong side of selective scripture myself. I came along as a woman called to ministry in the eighties in the Southern Baptist Convention, a time when that issue was part of the dividing line between folks on one side and different folks on the other. I’d had people tell me straight out and to my face that I must be wrong because after all, Paul said that women should keep silence.

Of all people, I understood the dangers of proof texting. In reading this book and others I finally understood that we’d been doing the same thing to gays and lesbians.

A second thing happened that was just as important and even more powerful. Openly gay people started coming to my church. When they found welcome they told of other experiences, like being met at the doors of churches and told not to come in because “we don’t want your kind here.”

(Parenthetically, let me just say I cannot imagine Jesus ever saying such a thing.) 

They told me of the anguish and sometimes near suicidal despair of trying to reconcile being who God made them to be and who God’s people demanded that they be. I saw a brilliant, kind, funny and deeply faithful man face his own death with fear that the fundamentalist preachers were right. This man who’d followed Jesus his whole life at the end of that life feared going to hell.

I’ve seen them care for partners whom they could not marry, in sickness and in health. I’ve seen them care for their friends and give sanctuary to abandoned and abused four legged friends. I’ve laughed with them and been inspired as they’ve shared their gifts in worship. I’ve seen them care for Christ’s body, the church, doing what needs to be done for the church as a whole and for individuals within it. I’ve seen some of them be deeply involved and others just show up on the occasional Sunday – kind of like the rest of us.

I’ve seen my friends love God and love people.

If this be the gay agenda, then by God, may they be successful in overtaking our culture.

When I was called on staff of that church I was the first ordained woman to serve. One of the older members later admitted that she couldn’t understand why we were calling a woman when “there were so many fine male ministers around.” After confessing this to me, she said, “but then I met you and saw that you were going to be my friend.”

I met these folks, and saw that they were going to be my friends, and in that I was blessed indeed.

Reading the book opened my mind. Embracing my friends opened my heart.

I have to disagree with something President Obama said after the Supreme Court handed down its decision. He lauded the “small acts of courage” that led to this day, like people coming out. With all due respect, Mr President, that’s no small act of courage. That’s a great big, knees knocking, heart pounding, doing it even though your life may change forever act of courage.

Through these roller coaster weeks it has become increasingly evident to me that we cannot afford not to know each other. Law enforcement and citizens, black and white, gay and straight, popular and outcast. We need to know each others’ stories and to catch a glimpse of each others’ worlds. Only then can we truly hear with our hearts what the other is trying to say.

Why Do We Need Churches?

Why Do We Need Churches?

This morning I saw the story of a 91 year old man who came home from his cancer treatment at the hospital to an empty kitchen. He had no food and no way of getting food. Out of desperation he called 911. The operator and her supervisor agreed to let her take him some groceries, then help get him signed up with support services.

You see, this is why we need church. We need communities to support us when we are frail or sick or disabled. We need communities to step in and do for us what we cannot do for ourselves.

Of course, there are other nonprofits. Out of necessity, however, their mission has to be focused and limited. Used to be you could count on your neighbors or extended family to step in. These days most families are smaller and many are spread out across the country and around the world. Some people have neighbors they can call on. Many others wouldn’t know a neighbor’s name to make a call.

There is no shortage of things the church gets wrong these days. There is no shortage of sins for which we need to make heartfelt confession. There is no shortage of challenges of which we’re still trying to figure out the answers.

But for once, can we talk about what church – what local churches – get right?

I’ve not been a member of a ton of churches. I tend to go and stay put in a place. But here’s what I’ve seen. Older folks get their lawns mowed, even when they’re crotchety about the mowing. Kids have adult friends who are not related to them but who care about them and care for them. Tired new parents have two dozen other arms to hold (and love on) their baby for an hour or two a week. Someone who never had a family before experiences what it feels like to be connected.

My present church is in a partnership with a local school, a partnership that continues to grow. Through it kids are tutored and have new buddies. Through a partnership with Bookmarks, every child was given a book of his or her own. Every child who needed a warm winter coat received one. Think about it. Not one child at that school went cold last winter for the want of a winter coat.

When I was in a wheelchair for two months my church, located thirty miles away, brought me meals every week. When my parents were dying, my church held me up with love and care and just checking in not just on them, but on me. When I was a kid and faced with circumstances that told me that I was worthless the people of my church told me that I was priceless and treated me as if it was true.

By its nature, a lot of the caring that goes on in a church has to be kept confidential. Some needs don’t need to be trumpeted. And by our nature a lot of us don’t like calling attention to such things because it runs counter to the whole spirit of why we do it and Who we’re serving by doing it.

Civic clubs adopt schools as well. And the tennis team can rally around a fallen member. But the church not only does these things but also reaches out to those who would otherwise fall through the cracks, like a 91 year old cancer patient coming home.

Maybe we don’t talk about it much because we really do it out of a kind of self interest. We do it because Jesus said that’s where we’d find him.

Miz Barker, the dancer

Miz Barker, the dancer

Perhaps you’ve seen it. How can you not love it?

Personally, I loved it the minute Miss Barker told of always having her name misspelled.

“They always left out the ‘r’,” she said. As a Haymes (‘m’ not ‘n’) I can relate. But i loved this video for another reason.

More than a frail old lady

Unless we have known them for a very long time, we tend to judge people by the selves they put before us. Young or old or in-between. Accomplished or struggling. Weighed down by jobs or scattered by families.

We see the one hundred-year-old-and-some-change old woman in the bed. We don’t realize that we are also looking at a Harlem dancer who could pull off quite a shimmy and shake. Only as we listen do we see the little girl who ran away from bath time to dance, naked as a jaybird by the music of a neighborhood band, concerned only when the music stopped playing. And in our listening, she is no long the woman in room 105 but is a real live, unique person.

Knowing me. And you.

Even if our dancing days are long behind us, we never lose the people whom we have been. Inside us is still the little boy who played baseball until the dark chased him inside or the little girl who climbed trees with fierce abandon. Sometimes that’s a painful thing, like when a boss calls us on the carpet and suddenly we’re five years old inside, quaking before a critical parent whose love and approval could be never quite earned. Sometimes it’s a wonderful thing, like when we start building sandcastles with the kids and realize we are kids as well.

For joy or for struggle, we are inside all of the ages we’ve ever been.

I am. So are you. So are they.

Hearing their stories transforms them from a flat, two dimensional portrait to a being with all the shades of life. I may disagree with you and you with me, but if we know something of the stories that have shaped us we may understand each other.

The problem is, we don’t spend an awful lot of time listening to each other. Mostly we talk at each other. Even in churches, which ought to know better, there’s precious little time for us to share our stories with each other.

She was an old woman on my mom’s Meals on Wheels route. When my mom learned that she was going to be alone on Christmas Day she insisted that the woman join us. She was an old woman, but over the course of our lunch I also learned that she was a little girl who awoke one Christmas morning to find a pony tied to her bedpost.

We are all of the ages we ever have been and we are all of the stories we ever have lived. There is a richness inside all of us.

Sometimes we just need to take the time to see the dance.


sexual abuseHave you ordered your copy yet?

Here’s what pastoral therapist James Stillwell (Frankfurt, KY) had to say:

This book could well be required reading for therapists, even for those not consciously dealing with a victim of childhood sexual abuse. This is because there is a very good chance that if you see a lot of clients, you probably are dealing with some who are not even conscious of the source of their pain. Walking through Peggy’s journey has given me the confidence of “being there” which enables me to sit with empathy and compassion to others…

What makes Peggy’s book so incredibly readable is her sense of humor. Such a tough subject requires it. Her humor carries the book, even as it carries us all as we travel through this world. The mindset that sees the ironies of life. In reading Peggy’s book, you’ll smile and laugh with her almost as often as you have those intense moments of compassion for pain.

read more

Order now from Amazon

The table will be wide

The Table Will Be Wide

a sermon by Peggy Haymes
Isaiah 40:25-31
I John 4:7-12

It’s a strange sort of day.
All around us trees are beginning to look like collection of paintbrushes,
their tips dipped in yellow and burgundy.
The thermometer
has dropped to temperatures
more appropriate for Pumpkin Spice Latte season.

For the folks who dread winter
it feels like a harbinger of doom.
but I suspect that the most seasonally challenged of us
still cannot help to delight
in a day like we had yesterday.

Bright. Shiny. Crisp.

It’s a strange sort of time
because when you read a newspaper that you hold in your hands
or watch the news
or catch up online,
the world looks considerably less shiny.

Ebola once sounded exotic,
the stuff of an adventure novel.
Now it feels scary
and Africa feels a bit too close.
I saw a slide show online this week
of pictures from Liberia.
I tried to fathom what it was like for the people in those pictures
to be stretched out on the hard earth,
so terribly sick,
perhaps sick unto death,
with friends and family afraid to come near.
What is a like to try to work there,
knowing that even with best precautions,
you may be next.
What is it like to live there,
watching your family and your village and your town
decimated before your eyes?
What is it like
to watch your country being destroyed
not by war but by illness?

The world looks less shiny
and verily, seems filled
with bubble, bubble, toil and trouble.
In Hong Kong umbrellas are weapons of choice
as protestors try to protect themselves
while saving their futures.

In Syria,
captive are beheaded.
Does anyone really know what’s going on in
Israel and Gaza,
in Egypt,
in Afghanistan?

Lord, have mercy.

It’s not just out there, you know.
Parents search for children
who cannot be found,
and parents sit vigil by the besides of children
praying for cures to be found.
Terrible things are done to the vulnerable..
a child, a wife, a girlfriend,
even an animal.
Terrible things are done
to this creation that is our home
and our stewardship.

Lord, have mercy.

Today is World Communion Sunday.

World Communion Sunday was begun as a way
for the multicultural and multi-hued
body of Christ to remember that we are indeed one.
Whether our label is Baptist or Episcopal or Methodist or Presbyterian or Catholic
or some other brand,
whether we are in a first world country
or a third
or somewhere in-between,
we are one as the body of Christ.

But as I thought about this service
and as I thought about the news
and as I thought about the stories I hear every day,
it seemed to me that the whole world
felt a bit broken.
Maybe we gather at this table not as a sign of our unity
but as a sign of our brokenness.
Because, this table,
it knows something about broken things.

We have two texts for today.
The first comes from the book of Isaiah (40:25-31)

The audience of the prophet
knew something about broken worlds.
They lived in one.

Despite the reassurances of the TV preachers with good hair
that everything was going to be just fine,
their country was defeated by the Babylonians.
Overrun, really.
The Temple, God’s house, was destroyed
and many of them were taken away from their own homes
into exile.
Many of them would never get home again.
They feel like God has abandoned them.

To a dispirited and dejected people,
Isaiah thunders out words of challenges and hope.
God is not defeated
and God hasn’t given up.

Even when the most aerobically conditioned among us
fall by the wayside,
God’s people keep going.
Not just shuffling along.
But flying.

God gives power to the faint.
To the weak God gives strength.
To those who wait upon God,
to those who don’t give up,
to those who keep showing up,
God won’t abandon them.
God will renew them.
God will lift them up.

Now our second text may not seem like
it has much in common with the first.
The writer, whom we call John,
is writing to this new Christian community.
Jesus hasn’t yet returned
so they have to figure out
how to live with each other
in the meantime.

My beloved friends, this is how you know
You’re one of God’s people:
you love.

The apple cannot fall far from the tree.
God is love,
and so should we love.

God showed us how far love can go.
Out of the love the infinite,
all powerful God
became a helpless baby
who had to be fed
and carried from one place to the next
and I daresay, have his diapers changed.

Out of love,
this baby grew up to be a man
who taught and healed and loved.
A man who chose to share in the experiences that we share,
to love his friends,
to be hurt by them and even betrayed by them,
to be tired and to be hungry,
to be hurt and humiliated,
to be shamed and to be bruised,
to be beaten up.
Finally, to die.

God showed us
that love knows no boundaries
and God’s love knows no limits.

Do you know of Nadia Bolz-Weber?
She’s the minister
who is known for her use of what many feel is not not quite appropriate for the sanctuary languageand collection of tattoos,     including a large Mary Magdalene on her forearm.

But she is also known for reminding us that grace isn’t just for those of us
who clean up real good
or who never got that dirty to begin with.

She writes,
“God was never about making me spiffy; God was about making me new… It happens to all of us. God simply keeps reaching down into the dirt of humanity and resurrecting us from the graves we dig for ourselves through our violence, our lies, our selfishness, our arrogance, and our addictions. and God keeps loving us back to life over and over.” ( Nadi Bolz-Weber, Pastrix, p. 174)

We gather at this table
because it’s a table that knows about brokenness.
Jesus says it right out loud:
this is my body, broken for you.

But the broken isn’t the end of the story.
This table is set with love.

We gather at this table
because our host Jesus meets us here,
reminding us that God loves this whole
shiny, hurting, confused, brilliant world.

We gather at this table
because this is food for the weary.
This is strength for the struggling.
This is balm for the sad.
This is celebration for the joyful.
This is blessing and commission for the strong…
and the weak,
for the successful
and the failures.
In other words,
we gather at this table
because there is room here for all of us.
there is love enough here
for you
and for me
and for this whole world.

We gather at this table
knowing that broken isn’t the last word.

It is strange sort of days but God knows,
God knows,
they are days held in the heart of God.
As are we.
As I was preparing for this service I came across this poem.
It is a blessing for World Communion Sunday,
and it is our blessing.

And the Table Will Be Wide

A Blessing for World Communion Sunday

And the table


will be wide.


And the welcome


will be wide.

And the arms

will open wide


to gather us in.

And our hearts


will open wide


to receive.

And we will come
 as children who trust


there is enough.

And we will come


unhindered and free


And our aching


will be met

with bread.

And our sorrow


will be met

with wine.

And we will open our hands


to the feast

without shame.

And we will turn


toward each other

without fear.


And we will give up

our appetite


for despair.

And we will taste


and know

of delight.

And we will become bread

for a hungering world.


And we will become drink


for those who thirst.


And the blessed

will become the blessing.


And everywhere

will be the feast.
– Jan Richardson

© Jan Richardson. janrichardson.com.

Amen.

Lindley Park Church, Greensboro, NC 210/5/2014