God likes dirt.
The creation story, right there at the beginning of it, God plays in the dust of the earth, shapes a human form and breathes life into it.
The first thing almost, God playing in the dirt, and making dirt people, earthlings, that is what the word Adam means.
It is a very childlike image of God, one of the first images we are given.
Jesus speaks of earth today.
Falling into it and rising from it, dying into it, returning to the dust and rising from it, lifting from it, drawing and dragging all people to himself.
It is a powerful image this earth play that we are given, a deadly serious game in the dirt.
Taking it back, a deathly game that brings back life to a barren and dead patch of ground.
The ruler of this world cast out, the dead raised up, life returning, creation becomes alive again.
It is the story of the Gospel, God re-inhabiting what was lost and stolen.
It is a tenacious image, stubborn as all hell and then some, literally more determined than death and hell, to reclaim, to restore, to bring back to life.
We cling to our deathliness, and God draws us up from our graveness kicking and screaming like newborn babes, born again from a new earth that lives again.
Have you ever had a dead patch of ground that you decided to bring back to life? It takes years, determination, attention.
God is like that.
Jesus is that stubborn as all hell and then some determination to bring back to life what has withered away.
Love is stronger than death and hell. That is a great line from the Song of Songs, the great love song of the Bible. That love falling into the earth that we may live again.
Salvation in John’s Gospel has immediacy to it, not a someday thing, it is life now that carries us forward into the new age of creation turning green again.
The judgment is whether we choose to share in that life or not. Do we cling to death or do we cling to the one who lifts us up, drags us up, drawing us up out of the hell that poisons this earth.
Those dead patches of dirt, sometimes it seems like they will never grow something again. Like all those old houses with dead spots from leaky heating oil tanks, some above ground some buried deep.
Sometimes I feel like one of those dead patches of earth. I imagine most of us do. Then someone comes along and brings life back if we let them. And I learn to give love rather than just take love.
We are made for relationships, for connections. When we lose those connections deadliness takes over, addictions, violence. It is interesting the new research that societies and communities that are full of connections between people have a much lower incidence of addiction and violence, dramatically lower. The cause seems to be the loss of connection, everything falls apart from there. Social disruptions cause the addiction and violence, not the other way around. A surprising shift in direction.
The cure then becomes not addiction recovery or the therapeutic rehabilitation of our pent-up violence but rather the restoration of significant and meaningful connections and relationships.
In John’s Gospel God’s playing in the dirt makes the earth flourish anew, vanquishing that force that erodes what connects us to one another.
In John’s Gospel, the precious community of connection is the Church.
This patch of earth is the place of significant connections that casts out that which isolates us from one another.
Grace Church is a good place of lively earth, where we play in God’s dirt and find life again.
Lift one another up and bring life back to what has withered and died.
Play in the dirt.
One time we opened a kitchen cabinet and a snake fell out. Well, looky there!
A sight to see!
A little thing. It had a diamond pattern. It rattled its tail. I thought it was a baby rattler, turns out it was just a juvenile black rat snake.
They imitate rattlesnakes, pretty good at it too. I found it a good home…somewhere else.
Then there was that gianormous King Snake caught in the netting around the blueberry bush.
A sight to see!
That one didn’t go so well.
We all have snake stories.
So does the Bible.
Some of the stories turn out fine, others not so much.
Now the serpent was craftier than any other wild animal…sound familiar? Genesis chapter three, that’s where it first shows up, tempting Eve to eat of the forbidden fruit. That one didn’t turn out so well for anybody, especially the snake.
Then Moses had his staff that he would throw down and it would turn into a serpent, the beginning of his face off with Pharaoh. That one was a good one, the beginning of deliverance from the house of bondage.
Then there is today: the poisonous serpents. Earlier English translations called them fiery serpents.
The people of Israel despaired of ever getting out of the wilderness and they spoke against God and Moses, so a plague of serpents afflicted them.
They prayed for deliverance and God commanded Moses to make his own serpent out of bronze, to lift it up, to exalt it, for all to see and live.
Look and live, visual anti-venom, like the ocular reception of the sacrament, feasting our eyes. Well, looky there!
A sight to see!
That one started out bad but ended up pretty good.
Jesus calls himself a snake, like Moses’ serpent, to be lifted up, exalted, that all who believe will live. I guess that makes us snake handlers, lifting up Jesus for all to see, to look and live.
God’s snake stories: taking a bad situation and making something good out of it.
That says something important about who God is and who we are to be.
Turning a plague of snakes into deliverance from evil.
Turning the cross into the tree of life.
Darkness into light.
Curse into blessing.
Venom into anti-venom.
Death into life.
The dark secrets of the night into the bright clarity of the day.
I suppose the whole of the Bible could be looked at as one long slithery snake story, bringing something good out of something bad.
We all have that choice, don’t we? Every moment and every breath. Do we disarm the bomb or throw more gas on the fire?
For some God is all about hurting people, sending poisonous serpents.
I think they miss the whole point of the story.
God brings deliverance. That is what God is all about.
We all have snake stories.
Do we bring something good out of it?
That is the supreme act faith, of living faith, of believing, of looking and living, of looking at Jesus and being brought back to life.
There is nothing really new or interesting about snake bites, passing the bite and the poison along, again and again, and…again…
What is interesting and where we find God is when the bite is answered with blessing.
It is Lent, it is all about sin, and how boring, predictable and repetitive sin is.
It is Lent, it is really all about something new happening, about bringing good out of bad, something strange, surprising and wonderful. Well, looky there!
That is God’s snake story. A sight to see!
Feast your eyes.
Look and live.
Lately I’ve been thinking about the human body.
How we honor it and treat it.
I recently watched as a friend was carefully and tenderly washed as they prepared to die.
It was beautiful.
I’ve been thinking of the tradition of the Pieta in painting and sculpture, of Mary tenderly caring for the body of Jesus. Pieta is an interesting word, with several layers of meaning. I think at its root it means making an offering to God, the offering, of Jesus’ body and of Mary tending that body.
The human body is a sacred thing.
It isn’t a mere mortal coil to be shuffled off as Shakespeare’s Hamlet soliloquizes.
It is holy.
Even in death our mortal remains are treated differently, set apart, like the sacraments, like the blessed bread and wine, like the blessed water of baptism.
Once blessed they are set apart, to be used or disposed of reverently.
We reserve the sacrament in the ambry up behind the altar.
The human body is like that, a reserve sacrament, revealing God’s image, even in death.
Our remains go into hallowed earth.
The Bishop recently reminded the clergy that the bodily remains of the dead are to be present at their burial liturgies if at all possible. Our culture has been sliding into burial liturgies where the body is sometimes absent for the sake of convenience. The Bishop has reminded us otherwise.
The body counts.
Some people say that the burial liturgy is for the living, for the family, but it is more than that, it is to honor the bodies of the dead as they are set apart. The mortal remains are holy. Not empty shells. A remainder and reminder of the breath of God.
We honor the bodies of our dead, not just their memory.
It isn’t a memorial, it honors the body of the dead, for what it was and for what it will be again.
The temple of Jesus body. In John’s Gospel, it is the epicenter of God’s presence in the history of creation, it ripples out from this body.
Destroy that temple and it will rise up again in three days.
The body is holy, it is the temple of God.
The big questions are asked in Lent. Will the Messiah suffer? He is tempted to not suffer.
And why? Why must Jesus suffer and die?
We try to make it make sense, or we try to dismiss it, explain it away as an unfortunate and unnecessary consequence of human evil.
All our attempts to explain or dismiss the death of Jesus, they have the feel of throwing lots of words around in desperation, sort of the theological equivalent of man-splaining.
Paul says it best, it is simply God’s foolishness, which is wiser than our wisdom.
Why suffer? Why die? Why does the Messiah have to suffer and die? It is foolishness. But it is God’s foolishness.
The body will be dishonored and shamed and discarded. But that body will bring back honor and life to humanity.
The temple will be desecrated.
And the temple will be raised up.
Suffering and death are not the end.
But they are also inevitable.
Both the suffering of the daily decline of being mortal and the suffering of evil with which we afflict one another, they are unavoidable.
Jesus was tempted to simply fix things, to avoid the indignity and invasiveness of pain and death.
The messiah chose rather the path of the cross.
Of the body being torn down and raised up.
It is a hard gospel to live with and to proclaim, not the Jesus of the quick fix, but the Jesus of the cross.
The Pieta, the offering up of tenderness for The Body of Jesus and for these bodies which find honor and dignity especially in decline and pain.
May we wash one another in that honor.
Deepest apologies for the connection issue (frequent loss of signal) during the live broadcast of the Memorial Service for Bill Albergotti.
Posted by Grace Episcopal Church on Thursday, March 1, 2018
Deepest apologies for the connection issue (frequent loss of signal) during our live broadcast of the Memorial Service for Bill Albergotti.
Posted by Grace Episcopal Church on Thursday, March 1, 2018
(Due to technical difficulties, these comprise a partial video feed of Bill Albergotti’s service)
Burial: Bill Albergotti
1 March 2018
I have this very vivid memory of first meeting Bill.
I was being interviewed for the Rector position here at Grace and Bill and Donnie Roberts gave me the driving tour of Anderson.
I was in the back seat so I couldn’t really see much, so I mostly just watched Bill and Donnie. It was a great show.
The drive went on quite awhile. It involved all the neighborhoods, driving the wrong way on several one way streets, lots of zig zagging, “this way, no that way” and frequent stops at homes for me to convince various people to come back to Church.
It was a wonderfully bewildering drive with two men for whom I soon came to have great affection and admiration.
I’ve heard Bill called many things over the years. As far as I can tell they are all true.
A stubborn jackass.
The conscience of Grace Church.
A consummate gentleman.
Only John Edwards spoke more slowly.
He had a particular way of making peanut butter and jelly for the children of the Church, mixing them together first then spreading them on the bread.
Welcoming people to his Church was important to him, it was more than being polite, it was that holy calling that some feel so deeply to offer true hospitality.
Honoring all the ties that bind us together, from generation to generation, finding and making the connections that hold us together, that was how Bill saw the world and his place in it.
In other words a true gentleman indeed.
God is gentle.
God is considerate.
God is deeply and truly hospitable.
God is stubborn and relentless in loving us.
If Bill was our only scripture revealing God, that is who we would know God to be.
The human vocation is to reveal God’s image to the world.
What do we reveal?
How do we break that image?
How do we restore that image of God as gentle?
The bad theology of our culture has lost the gentleness God.
The idea that God is considerate sounds strange to our ears.
Today we give God thanks for Bill Albergotti and for those like Bill, who show us the true history of God as the tie that binds.
Today we let go.
Today may we honor the divine image by being gentle with each other.
Bill Ducworth Celebration of Life
Posted by Grace Episcopal Church on Tuesday, February 20, 2018
Burial William O. Ducworth Jr.
21 August 1961-16 February 2018
To know Bill Ducworth is to be simultaneously in love and infuriated pretty much all the time.
He had this manic vitality that was catching, always on the verge of tipping over the edge into neurotic distraction, well maybe a little over that edge, especially sometimes.
Bill was always recruiting people for the cause, inviting, encouraging, training.
The cause was much bigger than the adult or children’s choir, or how to decorate and design, or make music.
Those were all outward and visible signs of an inner and spiritual calling.
The cause was the glory of God, the beauty of God, to attend to that singular Beauty, to praise that beauty that brings vitality to all living things and to in turn make beauty ourselves.
The cause of the beauty of God shaped and moved his life.
It was a sort of a spiritual obsessive-compulsive disorder for him, and for the rest of us it was a lot fun and frustration to be caught up in his wake.
That kind of vitality, it’s so easy to fool ourselves into thinking it can’t end, it can’t run out, it can’t die. It is always a shock when such liveliness ends.
Death, that thief in the night, it really caught us all off guard this time.
There was so much more to do, and say, and talk about, to give and forgive, to finish and begin. And that time is past. It is now time to let go.
So as Southerners, we tend to elevate our dead to the point of worship, to cling to them. It is a habit that we have that is hard to break.
The challenge of Christian faith is to step that adoration down to veneration, to letting go and finding in this particular, unique human image the image of God.
Our faith requires us to do more than remember, more than grieve, more than celebrate and give thanks. We do all those things, but we also find God and how God was made known to us in this person.
The Gospel according to Bill.
The beauty of God, it just dances, for the sake of being. There is no utility about it. It just is.
In beholding the beauty of God we are all made more alive.
Bill reminded us of that cause that brings life, that is vivacious.
The vitality of God, it is shown through Bill.
The beauty of God- it dances us all into life- it wakes us from our sleep
Bill is dancing into that life, the dance of resurrection that is the fullness of the Beauty of God, that Beauty that is Jesus the Risen Lord.
Join the cause.