Proper 11C - Confirmation and Reception
I went to a farmer’s market last week, and found it filled with fruit, greens, and root vegetables of both expected varieties and unusual ones. I bought a basket of tiny sweet raspberries and some greens of a sort I’d never tried before, and several other things, and enjoyed their bounty through the next few days. Much of the summer produce is fragile and doesn’t keep well – think about that fresh basil, peaches, and raspberries. If you want to keep something longer, it has to be preserved in some way – canned, made into jam or pesto, or frozen – which always changes the flavor and character.
I think that’s what Amos is saying about a basket of summer fruit. It’s at the peak of ripeness, and must be enjoyed now. If you try to save it for later, it will rot.
We started out by praying that God, who is the source of every good thing, will give us what we really need – and help us not to pine for what we don’t need. Don’t ignore or waste the good and precious thing in front of you right now – like those succulent peaches, or the invitation to find God in this person right here. The opportunity won’t come again, at least not in the same way. There’s a corollary, too – don’t waste the present by using it only as a place-holder, something to be “got through” in order to get to what you’re hankering after down the road. That can turn to rot, as well, particularly in the case of what Amos is ranting about, plotting how to exploit those neighbors rather than seeing them as God’s gift right here and right now.
That’s what is going on in the gospel as well. Martha has all these chores to get through, and she’s resentful and distracted and worried. Mary has seized the moment and its gift and is enjoying and appreciating it to the utmost. It’s not a matter of which activity is more useful or blessed – it’s how you approach it. There’s a famous piece by a monk named Brother Lawrence, who talks about the glory of God to be found in doing the dishes: “The time of business does not with me differ from the time of prayer; and in the noise and clatter of my kitchen, while several persons are at the same time calling for different things, I possess God in as great tranquility as if I were upon my knees at the blessed sacrament.”
How do we meet the gift of the present moment? Do we come looking for an experience of the holy? Summer raspberries can usually elicit that awareness in me, or wonder at the magnificent otherness of sea creatures, or the palpable shimmer of the presence of God as the whole congregation stops to pray before we lay hands on the one who will be the next bishop. Each can be remembered in other seasons, but it’s never as sweet or powerful or immediate as in the present experience. The pictures we take so vigorously are attempts to preserve the encounter, yet they can never reproduce it, only call it to mind.
We all struggle with being fully present to the moment, and we bring different attitudes and reactions to each encounter. Jesus tells us to travel light and be radically open to encountering God, who is present and active all around us, if we will only notice.
That’s part of the tragedy of Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman. The Bishop of Central Florida saw a piece of it when he tweeted, “I want to live in a world where George Zimmerman offered Trayvon Martin a ride home to get him out of the rain that night…” That encounter offered an opportunity to taste the summer fruit, but whatever happened in the midst of it – racial prejudice or the inability to see anything except threat in the other – turned a God-given opportunity into death and destruction. Rotten fruit, indeed.
Rotten fruit and a famine of hearing the word of the Lord. A famine that is so filled with worry and distraction that it keeps us from seeing the image of God or the action of God right in front of us. We spurn God and waste the goodness of creation when we ignore the infinitely precious human being before us. How would the world be different if we approached surprising or startling encounters with an expectation that we are going to find God at work? The intractable political situation in so many parts of this country right now is largely the result of steadfast unwillingness to find anything creative or good or hopeful in people who disagree with us. That’s what has kept the strife in the Middle East boiling for so many years. There is some new hope in the willingness of leaders to sit down together and search for some possibility of summer fruit in their old enemies.
Where is the common good? We are not made to live alone, or only for ourselves. That’s what Amos is railing against. We have an opportunity to enjoy the summer fruit if we’re willing to share it, and if we refuse – it will rot. It’s another version of the manna in the wilderness. Moses and his troupe of unhappy people got fed out there, but only enough for one day at a time – manna doesn’t keep, except for the sabbath.
God gives us abundance, but we’re only going to know the sweetness of that basket of fruit if it’s shared. Anybody who tries to hoard it might be able to enjoy one piece, but not the whole pile. That person is going to spend his energy protecting what he has from somebody who might come and ask for a piece. Our neighbors in North Carolina are wrestling with that reality right now. The legislature is passing bill after bill trying to turn back the clock on the fruit of several decades of justice-making that had helped to create a more enlightened society – education for as many as possible, just working conditions, care for those who can’t care for themselves. At the moment the folks in the state house are undoing piece after piece of that just community. The fruit is being squashed and thrown in the rubbish bin, in a fit of pique. The most surprising element is that most of the legislature is unwilling to engage in dialogue.
Some of our fellow Episcopalians, together with other people of faith, are doing something about that famine of hearing the word of the Lord. They’re going up to the state house on Mondays to preach about God’s basket of summer fruit and the justice of the Lord. Some people are hearing that the word of the Lord is about justice, not hoarding. Loving God and our neighbors means that nobody should go hungry – either for the word of the Lord or the fruits of the earth.
There are opportunities here, too, for addressing both kinds of famine. The young people of this diocese spent Friday night packing 16,000 meals for the hungry. More than 1000 people gathered yesterday to hear the Bishop of Kentucky challenge us to build bridges to address all kinds of hunger. He reminded everyone that all that’s needed is courage and boldness – the willingness to risk and the willingness to be vulnerable. The Trayvon Martin-George Zimmerman tragedy is the result of fear. Political me-first attitudes are the result of fear. The walls that divide us are built by fear. If we trust that God is at work in our lives, we can put aside our fear. We’re only going to taste that sweet summer fruit if we do.
Are you loved beyond all imagining? Turn and tell your neighbor that ‘God loves you and I will, too, with God’s help.’ That is the love that will put down the fear of famine. We can love in the face of fear. Let the church say Amen.
 The Practice of the Presence of God