In a few hours I will be standing at the pulpit at the Charlotte Congregational Church in Charlotte, Vermont. It’s a return to a home, of sorts, for me, as I spent many Sunday mornings sitting in the balcony there listening to Will Burhans when he was the pastor. And several sunny afternoons sitting with him in his office trying to figure out what the hell was going on when I first started feeling the nudges toward a calling toward the life I’m living now.
The flight from balcony to pulpit has not been an easy one, that’s for sure. Not that I expect that anything in this life is going to be easy. I think the last time I had that thought was just before I graduated from college, just before I got creamed by a speeding car, just before I entered my 20s and bona fide adulthood which turned out to not be the never-ending wonderland of fun and freedom that I thought it would be.
I’m not so sure I would have it any other way, however. The trials and errors, the mountains and canyons have all been worthwhile. In particular, these past six years or so since things started to get really weird, have been, in their own lovely way, just right.
One of the reasons I had the nerve, the courage, to venture into the unchartered territory of my new life was the warmth and strength of community that I found at the Charlotte Church. Many people there didn’t know me that well, the quiet balcony-sitter who snuck out each week at the end of the service before all the handshaking began, but when they learned that I was contemplating attending seminary and possible ordination, they formed a group that formed a circle that held me up for a time when my knees were buckling beneath me on a regular basis.
This is one of the things I’ll be talking about from the pulpit in Charlotte today, that community matters. I chose a reading from Jeremiah that I love, largely for this passage: “Seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, for if it prospers, you too will prosper.”
Jeremiah was my kind of guy. When he was called to the ministry he hemmed and hawed and basically said that he wasn’t qualified, which was what I did, too. God wasn’t interested in his lame excuses and set him up with the things he needed: the courage to “not be afraid, to stand up to speak and to go where sent.”
I mean, crud, that’s basically been the story of my life, these past years. I used to hate speaking in public, now I look forward to it. Like Chance the Rapper, I speak to (and of) God in public, too. At first it felt strange; now it’s who I am and what I do. Like most people, I’ll always hold a kernel of doubt about the whole thing, but that’s how it should be. I don’t want any answers and I’m not a fan of people who think they have them.
Seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile.
Jeremiah was talking to a bunch of Jews who had been banished from their homeland because of their lousy behavior. God essentially put them in a 70-year time out. They were not too psyched about this, needless to say. And Jeremiah is the messenger with the bad news: get used to it, people, you’re not leaving any time soon. Make this Babylon your new home by building houses, making babies, growing vegetables and taking care of each other.
Timely advice coming to us from 625 B.C..
The news from Pittsburgh is heart shattering. Eleven dead at the hands of yet another hate-filled white male shooter. Should we give up? The world seems an absolute cesspool of madness. Do we turn our backs? I am as tired as I suspect many of you are and my impulse is to close the door and lock it, build a fire in the woodstove and sit quietly with my dog, Daisy. I don’t want to participate in a world this crazy, this horrifying.
And then again, I do. I do. I don’t think that my presence here at this moment in time is pure coincidence. I like to believe that I have some skills (just yesterday I learned to use a maul to split wood; if only I had known sooner how incredibly satisfying that is!) and some talents that I can use in service to this world. I’d like to think we all do. The answer is not to throw up our hands in defeat; the answer is to throw up our fists in productive rage. Let the anger and the frustration move us to act in ways that produce positive change.
There are many Sunday mornings now when I wish to return to what I call civilian life. I don’t want to spend my weeks reaching for something inspirational to say; I don’t want to get up early on Sunday mornings; I want to stay in bed and read the New York Times.
But it’s too late for that, all of this is too far gone. I made the leap from balcony to pulpit, from civilian to servant and there really is no going back. I believe with all of my heart that we need each other in ways that are as authentic as we can muster. We need to be helpers, we need to form the net for each other, we need to be present, in body and heart, not online, not in the wispy nothingness of Facebook and Instagram and whatever else we are using to construct pretend lives.
If you’re not doing anything else this morning at 10, come to church. Come and nestle into a pew and sing some old songs and let your voice mingle with lots of others in prayer. Bring your sorrow and let it get mixed up with the larger sorrow. You will find solace there, I promise. Come and be together with us, in all the ways that humans are meant to be together. I have a few things to say, I promise it won’t be long. I have some hugs, too, and they’re free. Amen.