Charlie Barton • November 24, 2011 • Saint James, Monkton
Today is Thanksgiving and the lessons remind us that gratitude and generosity are the appropriate response to the life God has given us. There is an old saying that the world can be divided into those who see a glass as half full and those who see it as half empty, but I want to suggest that for those who believe there is a third, more excellent, way. There is no glass. It is a chalice, and in it is enough. All life is holy. All life is a gift, even the hard parts.
All of us have challenges and burdens, perhaps not as severe as the 10 lepers in the Gospel, but even our illness and injuries, and the slights and insults we have received are an invitation to give thanks and to think kindly of others. Does this sound like temporary insanity? Let me explain.
When we are struck down for a time by sickness or circumstance we see evermore clearly that it is God who sustains us and not we ourselves. This is always true, but success and good times can obscure the larger reality of life. When we are injured or ill we can find ourselves on the receiving end of kindnesses for which we would not ask but which others freely gave. In our weakness, the compassion of others is an echo of God's grace made manifest in casseroles, flowers, prayer shawls and home communions brought by an ever-growing number of lay ministers.
All of us are laid low at some point. And from that incapacitation we can consider the loving-kindness of God and our neighbors in a deeper way than we could before. When we are upright again, we can go and do likewise with greater conviction.
Have you survived cancer, recovered from a heart attack, or moved through grief to a time when life held promise again? You can be a blessing to others. Give thanks. Do you know that raising a teenager is survivable, that children have a way of turning into decent, happy adults in spite of our best efforts and all of our mistakes? Give thanks and be a blessing to others.
Have you been through months of unemployment and found that your values are shifting, that things that seemed essential now seem peripheral and things that you were moving too fast to notice are now precious in your sight? Has your marriage been through a time of severe stress but moved to a deeper level as you and your spouse sorted things out? Give thanks and give support to others from the wisdom that God has given you.
Perhaps you've survived an attack at work, a questioning of your value and integrity? Have harsh words been directed at you? This too is an opportunity. Plato said, "Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle." Those who lash out in anger are often in considerable pain.
Those who diminish others are often feeling small themselves. We all process our emotional response to life at different rates. Sometimes we're the one who is feeling stretched by the speed of life, sometimes it's the other person. But all the time we choose whether to meet another's fire with fire, or to offer a cup of water to the deeper thirst that stands behind the storm front they are presenting.
There is no passage through this life without pain and sadness but joy is available too. The heights and depths of life come mixed like water and wine in the chalice that we elevate to celebrate the life, ministry, death and resurrection of Christ. Our challenges are sanctified when we offer them up to God. Our sufferings have meaning if we pour them out, well aged and strained clear, for the benefit of others.
God is present even in such darkness and shadow that creeps into our lives. But as sure as dawn comes in the morning, a greater light will rise, again. Telling the tales of good things seen and done is a way to build a fire to hold back the pre-dawn chill. Counting our blessings is a good way to start Thanksgiving. Let me highlight a few.
At four this morning the air was crisp but not cold. The stars were brilliant and they stared down in silent majesty. Orion the Hunter had walked most of the way across the sky as though to clear the clouds away from our coming Thanksgiving Day celebrations. As I walked, I thought of how the Parish and the Hunt have grown closer over these past years. Cast your minds back and remember how the number of red coats in the pews has increased, as have the various roles that members of the Hunt now take in worship. But even more importantly, let us remember how the shared lives of people in this community have grown deeper. We share not just an event full of history and pageantry but a ministry that strengthens our faith and reaches out to others. Now we celebrate not just the hunt, but what we have already found.
Earlier this year we gave thanks for the ministry of Loree Penner and watched her join the ranks of those who having grown in strength and experience at St. James go out to serve the wider church. We are good at training and preparing priests. This has been part of what we do as a church. It is a responsibility, and a gift for which we can give thanks.
Last Sunday the church was electric with joy and energy as a 16 voice choir sang praise to God. Marty, Jeanne, the choir and our guest conductor, Michael Morgan, gave us a foretaste of what is possible when we work together as a body to celebrate the ministry of Christ. Let us give thanks and look forward in hope as we hear two more candidates in early December. Pray for the Search Committee as they select our new Choir Director next month. If you are a singer -and yes I am talking to you too dear horse riding friends - consider coming to sing with the choir. You know how good it feels to soar over a jump, come feel the joy of soaring through a 4-part harmony. A good choir is a joy to be in as well as to hear. Ask any of the multitudes of young musicians and singers we have welcomed in our music program this year. Then let us give thanks for singing, and for good music.
This Wednesday we announced the calling of a new Head of School, the culmination of an 18-month long process. The decision was unanimous. Ask any member of the search committee about the transforming power of spending 18 months in discernment, without politics or agenda. You'll hear some amazing testimonies.
Do we fully realize how unusual it is to not only have had the kind of leadership we've experienced under Dr. Legenhausen for the past 25 years but to have the gracious transition we will experience between now and next July 1st? Let us give thanks for Dr. Legenhausen, Dr. Karl Adler, the Head Search and Advisory committees, and the Board of Trustees.
New programs have blossomed at St. James for the care and feeding of long-term members and new people have come. The Out of the Box Committee has delighted us with a plethora of fund raising ideas that have all been financially successful, and a lot of fun. Art is a greater part of our common life as we continue to find new ways to "worship the Lord in the beauty of Holiness. We have an ever-growing cadre of artist and media in our art shows and next summer will mark our second annual Art Summer Camp for Adults. Come this Sunday to see the latest and give thanks for the vision and skill of artists who choose to support the work of the church.
The Men's Organization continues to serve thousands, raise hundreds and support ministry of all kinds. The Academy Christmas Shoppe was a huge success, especially the food. The Children's Dinner Theatre continues to raise funds and draw families to the Academy and the Church. Ushers and Acolytes serve and lead us in worship with cheerfulness and compassion. Our latest class of Confirmands is being raised up and the Bishop is coming soon. The Altar guild seems to grow grace and ability each year as flowers, bare branches, palms, fruits and vegetables all but sing in praise to God. Guest preachers grace us once a month with news and view from places far from our rolling hills. We've had Dr. Andrew Goddard from England and in February we'll have Dr. William Brosend from the Episcopal Preaching Foundation. The Daughters of the King and our Sunday school have taken on new life and new direction. Coffee hour teams continue to delight and amaze. We have a new Child Care coordinator in the Cribbery to encourage parents to partake of worship and Christian Formation opportunities. We have all this, and so much more, for which to give thanks.
So is everything perfect? Of course not, there is still plenty that needs to be done and life has ups and down. But we choose that upon which we will focus. We choose the cup we will drink. Soon Victor will raise the chalice. All who are thirsty for righteousness -all who are hungry for grace -come to the table, and give thanks. Amen