Holy Trinity Episcopal Church

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    Jul 26, 2020

    The 8th Sunday of Pentecost

    Preacher: The Rev. Canon Patricia Grace

    Series: Year A 2020-2021

    Category: Pentecost

    Detail:

    According to Jesus,

    at least in these words we hear today from the Gospel of Matthew,

    the kingdom of heaven,

    or put another way, the reign of God,

    is like when you are looking at something quite large,

    valuable or impressive,

    and you come upon something small,

    maybe even insignificant at first glance,

    but ends up being of infinite greater value. 

     

    Something like the preposterous idea,    

    that a mustard seed –

     which looks more like a speck of dust than anything else,

    could grow into a great tree large enough to house birds,

    and squirrels and all manner of wild life; while providing shade

    and coolness over a wide range.

    Or maybe something like yeast,

    a nondescript single cell fungus

    that when mixed with flour

    produces the basis for fantastic bread, rolls, and pastry;

    or an incredible treasure hidden in a field you bought for a song;

    or a pearl of great value

    discovered in a sea of just plain white beads;

    or the wisdom to understand the tremendous treasure

    of remembering what has gone before

    and appreciating the greatness of the unknown…

    of what is yet to come.

     

    This notion of the reign of God being like

    that to be a perfect jumping off place to me –

    perfect for the theme of my last sermon among you.

     

    In those last sermons, it is customary for a priest to do a couple of things:

    • to say thank you, of course
    • maybe to offer a piece of advice or two
    • to exhort you one last time
    • and to say good bye

     

    I’m going to try to do all that in about twelve minutes up here. 

    Let’s see how that goes.

    I can remember just about a year or so ago,

    when my sister, Beth, and I came sneaking into Greensboro

    to check out this church called Holy Trinity.

     

    As we drove down Greene Street,

    turned left onto Fisher,

    then left again onto Simpson,

    then finally, left again onto Smith –

    we realized, that the whole block, it seemed, belonged to that church. 

    (I didn’t know then about the lawyer’s office on the corner).

     

    I remember coming for my interview and being given a tour –

    up the elevator, across long hallways,

     down some stairs –

    over to Fisher House and the Bookstore,

    back across the parking lot to the Music School and the Youth House – and noticing all the space there was for parking, parking, parking

    with a playground to boot. 

    I remember telling Bill and Terri, Amy and John,

    that I would have to have the stamina of a mountain goat

    to be successful in this large and impressive place.

     

    I wondered if I was up to the task to lead as a priest

    in this vast physical plant, with this large company of saints.

     

    I wondered where, how and when

    I would encounter the reign of God breaking in –

    and how hard it might be to notice,

    surrounded by the activity and industry

    of such a large and seemingly busy  place.

     

    Not to worry…

    in countless ways, at the most unexpected times,

    the presence of God would be felt often in my time here –

    in moments of quiet,

    in the midst of frenetic activity,

    embodied in the people

    and the worship

    and the work

    and the play of this place. 

    And in some favorite spots that I would find, I visited often and regularly.  This chapel is one of them. 

    I loved celebrating the Eucharist in this space  –

    it is intimate, personal;

    preaching here you can reach out and touch someone – literally. 

    I also loved coming up here alone some days,

    to sit in the pews and ponder. 

    These magnificent wood carvings

    have provided so many moments of inspiration –

    as I contemplated the many, small and varied strokes of the lathe,

    or wood working tool,

    which created such minute and delicate detail –

    truly a work that spoke of faithfulness and love. 

    The baptistery is another such place –

    warm and cozy when no one is around…

    and a sweet haven during the rush of Sundays –

    as people hurried into church,

    joyfully greeting each other in love,

    through the narthex that is way too small

    to accommodate the ushers, the choir, the acolytes,

    the faithful of all kinds. 

    So many sweet encounters there with parishioners

    and brief but always important chats

    with my fellow clergy and altar party members. 

    I have also often taken a moment and walked around the labyrinth –

    to clear my head and stretch my legs,

    stiffened by hours at my desk or in the parlor in meetings.

    And then there were Wednesday afternoons…

    a very special time for the reign of God to make itself known –

    as the monastic-like quiet of the undercroft near the music room

    was transformed by the sound of happy voices –

    LOTS of happy voices –

    kids and moms, choir members of all sorts. 

     

    I loved to sit in my office and listen to the kids practicing down the hall…

    angelic tones rising in song which was really a prayer.

     

    I loved the murmur of the voices of mothers and the babies

    (and also Nathan and Oliver)

    who waited for the older kids in the parlor next to my office.

    But especially, the reign of God for me was like

    when a tiny face would peer around the door jamb –

    and I would hear another little voice say,

    “go ahead, you can go in there – she’ll talk to you.” 

    And then the smaller ones would come in

    and we would have chats about some very important things,

    like why some balloons floated

    and had to be held down with a string;

    while others just dropped to the floor. 

     

    Many reign of God moments happened for me

    in Haywood Duke on Wednesday nights,

    with lots of laughter over Walter’s barbecue chicken or meatloaf. 

    And so many glimpses of the reign of God

    in Roe Library and Broome Hall during the Sunday school hours; greeting the small but mighty band of Prayers in the Park ministers

    on Sunday afternoons,

    as they pulled their wagon filled with lunches, water, hats, gloves

    and sometimes even tents,

    out of the parking lot to meet up with our neighbors who live outside. 

     

    Fun moments with the book club that meets on Monday nights –

    who read murder mysteries, as long as there is a priest in the book!

     

    So many holy moments of laughter, insight, friendship and learning

    spent with my clergy colleagues and the program staff. 

    I will miss my weekly meetings with Greg, Sarah, and Nathan –

    and with Mark, Marjorie, Meredith, Maureen,

    Ben, Walter, Walt, Eric, Savanah, Annie,

    Glenda, Katie, Jackie and Sean and Kathleen. 

    I will miss the vestry,

    the many commission members,

    the sound of worship in the sanctuary,

    and the generous friendliness of the congregation  -

    I will miss all of that and all of you.

      There are really only two words to say about all that –

    and those words are thank you.

     I thank you for inviting me in,

    for listening and being so willing to work together;

    for meeting the challenges of this crazy time,

    for your faithful examples of love and integrity;

     of endurance and charity.

    I thank you for your willingness to allow me to try new things with you – and your graciousness when I misunderstood,

    or lacked in patience or wisdom, or when I made mistakes.

     

    The reign of God was like that, too.  

     

    In terms of advice,

    well, maybe you have had

    just about enough good counsel from me to last a while. 

    I will forego any parting words of instruction…

    and trust that we all have learned

    what God hoped to teach us during these days of transition.

    During one of my first sermons with you,

    I offered you the extent of most of my wisdom –

    sharing that I really had only three things to tell you

    that were of significance and importance. 

    It has pleased me that you have often quoted me back to myself…

    reminding me of those three pieces of wisdom: 

    “God is with us; God is with us; God is with us.” 

    So my last word of exhortation then, is this:

    don’t forget those three simple ideas:

    …don’t forget how Pau says the same thing, so eloquently in today’s Epistle:

    “If God is for us, who is against us?  Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?  No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.  …neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

     

    If we all can remember that,

    there is little else that is needed for success

    in this pilgrim journey we are on. 

     

    So finally, there seems to be nothing else to add,

    except to say good bye…

    a contraction for the wish that God will be with you –

    that is, that the presence of God, or the kingdom of heaven,

    or the reign of God – however you want to describe it:

    will always be apparent to you, in you and through you

     – in all your days ahead. 

    So I leave you with deep affection,

    constant thanks,

    and, of course, since I am Irish,

    a Celtic blessing, borrowed from my countryman, John O’Donohue:

    May you have the courage to befriend your eternal longing.
    May you enjoy the critical and creative companionship of the question

    "Who Am I?" and may it brighten your longing.
    May a secret Providence guide your thought and shelter your feeling.
    May your mind inhabit your life with the same sureness with which your

    body belongs to the world.

    May the sense of something absent enlarge your life.
    May your soul be as free as the ever-new waves of the sea.
    May you succumb to the danger of growth.
    May you live in the neighborhood of wonder.
    May you belong to love with the wildness of Dance.
    May you know that you are ever embraced in the kind circle of God.

     

    Amen.