“They are all going to die one day…help them with that.”
What does a preacher do when this is what rings in his ears as he stands before the evening Wilderness service to preach on a sunday night? I had written a fine sermon and yet, in that split second between adjusting my sermon on the preacher’s desk and looking up to the congregation, God seemed to clear his throat. I hate it when that happens. It always means more work. Invariably it means I am going to have to make adjustments and do more work. But we preachers need to ask ourselves if we really do believe in a God who speaks or if we are secretly deists like our founding fathers – believing in a distant God who winds us up and sits in a distant library with cigars and scotch and a big-screen tv watching the world plod along with popcorn and a notepad for sins noticed. No. That is not the God I work for. I believe that God is very present, sometimes too present for my liking.
At St. John’s Cathedral there are these wonderful armies. There is an army of altar guild workers who make holy things appear and disappear. There is an army of acolytes who move fire and army of vergers whose efficiency and effectiveness would win the heart of any priest. One of the things the army of altar guild members accomplish, without fail, is the placement of water near the pulpit for the clergy. Speaking requires a wet throat and the desert air here is still something to which I am still getting acquainted. But for me, the cup at the pulpit is an icon. It sits there gleaming, silver, sparkling as a reminder that the people are thirsty and I am there to offer a real cup of water. Not a smoothie. Not a milkshake. Not a a scotch. A glass of clean, cool water for a parched body.
Last night I departed from my text for much of my sermon and the Holy Spirit showed up just in time, as usual. (God is never late; but never early either!) The sermon was edgier than I had expected and dealt with death and our need to let go of life, money and posessions one day. It was a planned giving sermon really. We talk often about stewardship of time and stewardship of talent and stewardship of money all the time. But last night was faced with the stewardship of vulnerability. That gleaming silver preacher’s cup was there to invite me to risk stepping off script and into the mystery of God’s seduction of me – of us. Central to the sermon was this excerpt from Rilke’s majestic poem:
I live my life in widening circles
That reach out across the world.
I may not ever complete the last one,
But I give myself to it.
I circle around God, that primordial tower.
I have been circling for thousands of years,
And I still don’t know: am I a falcon,
A storm, or a great song?
Rainer Maria Rilke [I, 2]