St. Thomas During Interesting Times

Date preached: 
May-21-2017

Dear Gracious and Loving God, we pray that we hear what you need for us to hear.  Amen.

Last October Patti and I took a cruise in the Mediterranean.  We visited the Holy Land and that alone was a very spiritual and emotional experience… we walked and we prayed where he walked and he prayed. We will never forget that.  But today I want to talk to you about another place that we visited; the city of Valleta in Malta.

The city of Valleta was build in the 16th century by the Knights of the Order of St. John.  It guards a beautiful naturally deep water harbor.  When our ship entered the harbor, canons on the Fort overlooking the entrance, gave us a 10 gun salute.  It is obvious that no enemy ship could attempt to enter that harbor and survive.  Those canons looked big way up high on that fort. Valleta was never breached by an enemy ship.

Valleta is a beautiful city to this day. We visited the Saint John Cathedral.  It was built by the knights and when you walk in, it takes your breath away.

After visiting the cathedral, we took a stroll through the quaint and meandering medieval streets around the Cathedral. There was one shop that attracted a lot of attention, so we went in.  And then we saw why.

Since the 18th century Malta has been known for its Venetian Glass which is reputed to be as good as that found in Venice. The glass is manufactured using medieval methods to this day, and we saw two vases that fit colors found in our home.  We bought them and brought them back with us.

One of them is here now.  Liz will show it to us. Perhaps it does not look like much to you, but it fits perfectly in a particular location in our home and it reminds us of Valleta, its Cathedral, the knights of St. John, and that part of our trip.

If you look carefully, it was damaged after we got it home, quite by accident.  We wanted to get it fixed and after a lot of work and research, we have found a place here in Richmond that does “museum quality” repairs.  We contacted them and made an appointment to take the vase there.

We will have to take it there on a particular day; make a down payment; give them access to the few broken pieces we were lucky enough to salvage and give them permission to fill any voids left open after they attach those broken pieces.

To bring this vase back to its original condition, it takes work from an expert and it took work and patience on our part to find that expert and to feel comfortable in what the expert would do.

Now indulge me for a minute and let me tell you a story about a little girl.

Imagine yourself in the kitchen of a house.  There is a little girl there playing while her mother is doing the things that mothers do in the kitchen.

Those of you that have or have had children of a certain age, know that small children have a way of asking simple questions that some time take us by surprise.  Those of you of a certain age can remember the Art Linkletter show titled “Kids Say the Darndest Things”.

Anyway, in the midst of whatever the mother was doing, the little girl asked her: “Mommy, what does God do all day long?”

We can have a great theological discussion about potential answers to that question, but let’s just hear what this particular mother’s answer was.

Of course, for a moment, the mother was stumped. Oh My God what is it that you do all day long?  And then all of a sudden, clarity came, and she answered:

“Darling, I will tell you what God does all day long:  He spends his whole day mending broken things”.

Mending broken things…

When I first heard that story, I thought “cute answer, but is it theologically correct?

God created all things and judged them to be good, according to the creation story in Genesis.  So in that sense ”good” things do not need to be mended.  If that is the case, God must do something else all day long, because “mending” things that are created “good” does not seem to make sense.

Then I remember my uncle in Cuba that fixed clocks.  I mean CLOCKS… the big ones that are installed in buildings. And I remember him telling me that clocks tended to work very well for a while, but eventually, because of exposure to weather or time, they needed to be cleaned and oiled and tuned. They were “good” to begin with, but from time to time they needed to be set “right”… to be put back to what they were meant to be.

What is the answer to that question:  “What does God do all day long?”

I believe that indeed he spends his time mending broken things.

But he is a great and wise God.  He is like the mother hen that puts her wings over her chickens and guards them from harm… but only when the chickens come running to her.  God mends broken things when the broken things realize that they need mending.

He stands at the door and knocks.  But you must open the door and let Him in. It takes courage and humility and faith to open that door.  We tend to do it only when we are unsettled and not seeing the way forward.   Some call that “living in interesting times”.

Remember the old Chinese curse “May you live in interesting times”?

Here at St. Thomas we are living in interesting times.

Some think of recent events as a curse.  Some think of it as a liberation.  Some are waiting to see.

Whatever you are thinking, however you feel, you realize that something is broken and needs to be mended.

The vestry has recently decided to bring an Interim priest here to help.  I think that is the right and proper decision. 

But that is only part of the solution.  It is a necessary part, but not a sufficient part.

We as individuals and as a congregation are, and must be, part of the solution.  We are a necessary and sufficient part. The interim will leave us eventually.  We will be left behind when the interim goes.  

We need to deal with present feelings. We need to deal with residual issues from previous years when all of our clergy left within months of each other.  We need to deal with the recent departure of our rector.

We need to help the interim priest deal with internal conflicts and to heal any divisions within the congregation.

And we will need to help the vestry and other lay leaders bring about change, and to embrace that change, where and when change is needed.

Remember the broken vase?

St. Thomas is a beautiful vase that holds grace and love. But we are not perfect.  There is an anomaly; and it needs to be mended.

The only way to mend it is for each and every one of us, with no exceptions, to agree that there is an anomaly; that the broken pieces need to be put together to make things whole again; and that we need “museum quality” work.

God will send us a person to help guide us in the interim.

The vestry will do all it can to name and address all of the lingering issues.  That is not an easy job.  You need to name issues before they can be addressed.  Let’s give thanks that we are blessed with good and faithful people in this vestry of ours.

Clocks need to be oiled and cleaned and set right… vases need to be mended… Silver needs to be polished, just ask our Altar Guild… but polishing silver and setting clocks right and mending vases… takes effort and patience and time.

God stands at the door and knocks.  We need to open the door, not only individually, also collectively as a congregation.

I am asking each and every one of us here today to commit to making St. Thomas a more beautiful vessel… to make St. Thomas a family gathered together full of godly love and acceptance for each other and for those not as fortunate as we are.

I am asking each of us here today to make a commitment to each other that we will do just that.

We are gathered here today as a family. We do that every time we gather together.

In a little bit of time, we will be asked to come to that altar...  When we go to that altar, we go as individuals… but we also go as a family gathered together to do what families do… to take care of each other.  That is what “Church” is all about!

As you approach that altar try to leave doubts and whatever… behind.  Come in faith.

At the altar, extend your hands to receive Jesus the Christ… extending your hands is asking to receive his Grace… it is asking to have the fortitude to do what we are now called to do…it is asking for the patience to help God mend broken things.

I am making that commitment. I will be here with you.  I am asking you to make the same commitment.

Mending broken things is good.  That is what God does all day long.  That is why Jesus came and died on the cross… He will make us beautiful in the broken places.

Please, Please make that commitment.  It is not only sufficient, but it is necessary.  Without that commitment, the mending will not be “museum quality”.

Amen.

Frank Castellon

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