The Day We Became One Body: Happy Pentecost Church! REV. JODI L. BARON – May 24, 2015 – Pentecost, Year B: Ezekiel 37: 1-14; Psalm 104: 25-35, 37; Romans 8:
The Day We Became One Body: Happy Pentecost Church! REV. JODI L. BARON – May 24, 2015 – Pentecost, Year B: Ezekiel 37: 1-14; Psalm 104: 25-35, 37; Romans 8:
Sermon preached at the Celebration of
The Rev. William Fleener’s 60th Anniversary of Ordination to the Priesthood
Thank you Bill for the honor of preaching today. You have been a special person in my life for over twenty-five years and so the opportunity to get to say “Thank You, Bill Fleener” comes as gift to me. You were on the Commission on Ministry when I began the ordination process helping take the edges off those first steps and giving me and many others a challenging, but safe and supportive place to land. You served at Grace, Holland for several years as a “sort-of-retired” (what does that even mean, Bill?) Assistant Clergy person when I was beginning as Rector. And you presided at Beth and my blessing over ten years ago, before it was even marginally cool to do so. And so this “Thank You, Bill Fleener” is something that comes from the heart today.
All of our hearts, actually. Safe bet for me to say, everyone? We’re all here because you, Bill, are a part of our stories; we’re here today because of the experiences of family and church and prayer and conversation and justice seeking through which you showed us something of our God and gave us something of ourselves too. And we are grateful.
Now sixty years is a very long time! That’s is one of the deep and profound conclusions at which I arrived this week. Sixty years is a long time, Bill! And Judy! That’s three thousand, one hundred and twenty Sundays, if anyone was curious or simply in need of some hard facts in all of this. Now I’d subtract some of those for the Sundays you took off, Bill, but I’m not sure there have been any! You seem to always be somewhere, Bill Fleener. You are always somewhere preaching about forgiveness, or inclusion, or unconditional love, or life-long learning, or the humanity of Jesus and the love and power of God, or how or how not to read Scripture. (I think I’ve covered at least most of the main themes there.) Recently you were rumored to have asked as an opener to your sermon with the Order of Julian whether or not they still burned heretics at the stake, which indicates to me that even given all of those years, you’re not done yet. So we’ll say three thousand, one hundred twenty . . . and counting.
And we all know that you don’t only work on Sundays, so the numbers of days served are even higher. You have worked tirelessly, Bill, visiting shut-ins, upgrading data bases (thank God there are people who do that!), literally feeding the hungry, granting absolution, marrying and blessing and teaching (mostly non-heretical things,) basically holding on to what is right and standing up for what is wrong in our church and in our lives. And if I had to summarize your ministry, Bill, it would sound something like that. You have helped us hold on to what is good and right, sacramentally, lovingly, and consistently — and you have stood up for what is wrong, passionately, faithfully, stubbornly (in a good way) in our church systems, in this world and in our lives.
You, straight-white-ordained- guy (which is not revealing anything people don’t already know and I’ve actually heard you use that phrase from the pulpit so I know it’s OK) you had options in terms of how much to get involved in the work that is change in the church and in the world. And you knew early on as far as I can tell, that there were sheep of all kinds who were hungry and deserved a place at the table. And you knew early on that there were disciples of all kinds, shapes and sizes and genders and orientations and ages who were called to minister in this church. And so you did the work that was your own work, and then you helped the church do the work that is our work: hours that have added up to weeks and months and years given to congregations, this diocese, the Episcopal Women’s Caucus, Cursillo, Total Ministry, Integrity, and more – to local groups and efforts for whom extending a broader reach and embracing a broader flock was priestly, holy work of the people.
I think of it this way: you used your priesthood to make room for ours, Bill, all of our priesthoods lay and ordained together. You have used your priesthood to remind us all that we have one, a baptismal call to holy ministry in service to God and neighbor. And we’re grateful. You have these whole sixty plus years been living into the gospel story we heard proclaimed today.
Does Bill Fleener love, Jesus? I’d say yep –without a doubt. And I say it three times, loudly with exclamation points! Because I’ve been watching you Bill respond with your life. Does Bill Fleener feed the sheep? Yep on that too. Three times again loudly! Or better three thousand one hundred twenty times and perhaps that times about one million.
Now I want to close with a story. Last Wednesday I was telling the Grace folks at our mid-week Eucharist about this service today. This Wednesday gathering is a group of three to five regulars that ranges in ages from forty-something to seventy-something and they are there every week and they have been for years. And so when I told them about this anniversary celebration, one of them said without hesitation, “I think of Bill every Wednesday when we say the AMEN.”
Now I had no idea what she was talking about but she explained that when Bill was at Grace on Wednesdays he would hold a place of silence at the great AMEN in the Eucharistic prayer because he refused to say it by himself, or even to lead in that moment of proclamation. And so he’d wait for the people, that beautiful little flock, to jump in and claim that moment as theirs, as all or ours. And because we’re a pretty quick learn down there at Grace, it was very soon that the AMEN was loud and proud and it was theirs.
And so, Bill Fleener, to close, I will say that our “AMEN!” is stronger because of you. Our Amen is more humble, more honest, more real, more broadly, inclusively proclaimed because of you. And we are grateful. Thank you for holding on and for standing up. Thank you for feeding the sheep with all that you are.
The Rev. Jennifer L. Adams – April 19, 2015 – Easter3, Year B: Luke 24: 36b-48
The gospel we just heard is part of the Emmaus resurrection narrative in the gospel of Luke which means that it fits into a larger picture of Jesus appearing to the disciples in varieties of settings. First, two disciples were walking on the road to Emmaus and a “stranger” met them on that road and asked them about what had been going on in the city of Jerusalem. Not recognizing this stranger to be Jesus, they questioned how he could be so out of it. The stranger then opened their hearts and minds to understand the Scriptures and when the three settled in for the evening in Emmaus, the “stranger” blessed and broke the bread the shared it with them. It was at that point that they knew the stranger was the resurrected Christ.
And so then came the story we heard today. The disciples (who had met Jesus in the breaking of the bread,) returned immediately to Jerusalem to tell the other disciples what had happened. And again Jesus came among them. And AGAIN they didn’t understand what was going on until Jesus opened their hearts and their minds (which helped a little, but apparently not much). He then asked them for food and ate and shared some broiled fish and told them that the spirit would soon come among them to give them what they needed to witness to the good news of new life.
And hearing these stories and all that preceded them in the gospels, I often wonder how they managed, these disciples. Even given all of their first hand experience with Jesus they were barely getting it, struggling at every turn. And yet there was bread when they needed it. There was fish when they were hungry. Beyond the miracles which were obviously God’s doing, how did these disciples manage to hold it together as well as they did? There were rooms in which to meet whenever they needed space to get together for study or for meals They were able somehow to communicate with each other, had Scripture readings on hand when the needed them and apparently there was some sort of shared calendar that let them know where each other happened to be when they came back into or left town.
I’ve wondered this for a LONG time, but just week, I figured it out. Not only was God with the disciples, but the disciples managed because they must have had a fantastic church secretary. Perhaps this is when Church Ladies first came to be.
Today we celebrate and thank Gail Westherhof, known fondly in this place as “Church Lady.” Gail has served Grace for twenty-three years as secretary, administrator, building coordinator of sorts, and right-hand person for just about all of us in the many, many ministries that are Grace Church. We’re saying “Thank You” all morning, and as we do this I want to make clear some of what we’re thankful for.
Over the past twenty-three years Gail has:
Unlocked and opened Grace’s doors approximately 4680 times. (And locked them at least a couple.)
She’s walked through 23 Advents, 23 Christmases, Epiphanies, Lents, Easters and Pentecosts with us – learning hymns and other fun Episcopalia along the way. It might not be well-known but should be that shortly after Gail arrived at Grace she bought a book titled, “Words of Our Worship: A Liturgical Dictionary,” compiled by Charles Mortimer Guilbert and published by The Church Hymnal Corporation It runs from “Aaronic Benediction” to “Zuchetto” (a small skull cap worn by clerics.) This dictionary and Gail’s use of it is why I know (among other things) that the wall behind me is called the “reredos.” Thank you, Church Lady.
(And just FYI – this book has been officially, ceremonially handed down to Mary Miller, our new office person.)
Over 23 years, Gail has prepared 1586 service bulletins, put together 220 newsletters and brought in at least 2880 donuts to support the folding teams. She filled in the data for 23 Parochial Reports for the Episcopal Church and collated 23 Annual Reports for Grace, Holland.
Gail unjammed the copier (of which their have been many over 23 years) about 1150 times, assuming an average of about one per week, which might be low, especially in the early years.
Gail transitioned Grace through the computerizing of the office and the many hardware, software and web updates since that first big step. She answered the phones about 46,000 times and received at least 23,000 people through the office door. (Some of them repeats.)
Gail prepared at least 552 mailings. Which means she applied more stamps than I can possibly figure out. (Not a surprise to Gail, given my postal challenges.)
Gail carried infants and little kids out of the building during approximately 27 Grace Christian Child Care Center fire drills. She also turned off the elevator alarm and called it in for repair at least 17 times.
Gail helped us relocate the office during floods and remodels and she hung in there just long enough to experience her first church property fire. (Many of us fully expected flames to emerge every time that Gail was lighting the old ovens which she did approximately 57 times, but apparently, she and we have angels.)
Gail has trained and/or retrained about ten priests in all things church office, perhaps the hardest and most demanding pieces of her job. And she welcomed about six puppies that one of those priests brought in along the way so that those little creatures could get to know church offices too.
Gail has sat in that central office and been the one who first picked up the phone or received that person who walked through the door because they needed to plan for a funeral at Grace, and she did that about 156 times. She also helped plan about 7 1 weddings, and 92 baptisms through which we welcomed new folks into the household of God.
And I could go on and on. And you could too.
Which is why when I hear stories like this gospel story I picture an amazing church secretary behind it all, and maybe you all do too. Gail, Church Lady, we offer you our deepest thanks for supporting the ministries of Grace Church for twenty-three years. And we thank you not only for the numbers behind those years, but for the personality, the humor, the love, the care. We pray for blessings all around as you take these steps into the next phase of your life, and as you have very gracefully helped us prepare for us take ours. We’re also glad that you’ll be around occasionally to help with some summer projects and a few other things too, and so this can be a ‘thank you’ without having to be a final ‘good bye’.
Now (to get on with things,) we have more meals to share, Church People! More miracles to help happen because behind all of this there has been not only a wonderful secretary, but an incredibly loving God.
We have hearts and minds yet to open, ours included, Grace Church. We have roads to travel, doors to unlock, and good news to proclaim! We have hands and feet of the risen Christ to be and a Spirit to look forward to welcoming among us. So, let’s, get to it.
Alleluia, Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed, Alleluia!
If it looks like love… and if it smells like love…
“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…
I spent time this week downtown at Tulip Time. People came by the busload to try Ollie Bolen and pea soup. They were desperate for Dutch cuisine. Desperate enough that they were willing to pay $2.00 for a water. We dressed up in silly clothes and wore silly hats. I watched a mess of Klompen dancers on stage at the civic and was reminded about my heritage and how much Dutch people like to par-tay.
Though I am 100 percent Dutch, since moving back to Holland, I haven’t fully been able to recall, until this past week, the language of my people, “Passive aggressiveness”. And this week was like a language immersion course in passive aggression. Teasing… It was a great week.
I saw many of you down at the Civic Center. We washed dishes and and worked in tents with several deep fryers. Some of you ran to the store for emergency supplies or to pick up pop or pastries from DeBoers. We laughed… we got into each others personal space. We worked in harmony with the United Methodists and I watched the veterans work circles around me. And, we made a lot of money. We made a lot of money. And that money will help pay for the group of us going to the United Kingdom next summer on Pilgrimage. And lives will be changed. Lives of the youth in this parish will be changed. Our youth will become more connected to the vine that nourishes them. They will be more connected to the Church and they will return with a fuller understanding of the world on which they must abide.
But what was most memorable for me this week, was watching the members of Grace show hospitality. We were hospitable to the guests, to the United Methodists, to the other Hollanders who came and looked for a taste of the Netherlands. I can’t count the times I saw Jen Wolfe advise a tourist about where they should eat dinner or find a bathroom. The times I saw Doug Zylstra read a nametag of a tourist and call them by name and surprise them. The times I saw Prescott Slee smile and shake it off when he had to give direction to the new curate or repeat it to a new volunteer. This kindness, It is something I have grown accustomed to since my arrival 11 months ago, but spending a week in close quarters with you folks, reminded me of how special this place truly is.
Because when that is visible… When people see those things, they see resurrection. They see that Grace is a group of people abiding in the resurrection. They see a group of people connected to the vine. People at the Civic Center could tell… they could see the love…
I’ll be unable to go back to the Civic without seeing the faces of our Grace folks. And it will not be easy to forget the smells that came from the kitchen and from the food we served. Made with love by our folks and the United Methodists. Made with our hands and our prayers. And though I won’t need to eat anything fried for a while, I’ll miss those smells. The smells of the pig in the blankets and the potatoes and kale. And the smells of the sweat and hard work of those working closest to me.. Those smells mixed and made a fervent offering up to God. People at the Civic could tell… they could smell the love.
And if it looks like love… and smells like love… it must be Jesus.
Anybody who has ever experienced authentic love knows that you can’t fake it. The kind of love that John is talking about in the gospel, is unmistakable. That is why this story… the story of Jesus is so remarkable… that’s why it has lasted this long… That’s why the story is so compelling and why it changes life. It models for us a way to live for something other than for ourselves. Jesus models a way of being and living that is completely counter intuitive to the self centered human condition. But I saw a bunch of Hollanders (and some Hamiltonians) who were living a life of resurrection this week. Donating time and talent to feed hungry people. Just like we do on the 2nd Thursday of each month, and when we feed college students at Hope… and when we feed youth and families at Family Chow… and when we invite one another over for Holy Chow… and when we are fed at the altar… at God’s table…
So be on the lookout for love… Be on the lookout for those sacrificing their time and sacrificing their talents for others. This is the sign of Christ. This is the sign of the Church. This is the sign of Grace. And if it looks like love… and smells like love and tastes like love… it must be Jesus.