A Sermon for the First Sunday after Pentecost

So, while I have you – because some of you are going to need to scoot off right after the service – before you go, before I go, I just want to say, thank you! Thank you.
Last year, our Rector Emeritus, John Miller, was our preacher here for the 30th anniversary of the dedication and consecration of New St. Mary’s. During his sermon, John told the story of how the ceiling of this church came to be painted blue. And then he said, “Look up and take a look.”

I had seen that coming and had I thought, “No, John, no! Don’t tell them to look up. No!” Because, you see, we have this patch of mildew right up there in the middle where the ridgelines of the nave and transepts meet.

So, you can go ahead and look up now if you want. There it is. A patch of mildew. Yep, there it is. Some of the finest minds you can imagine are working on remedying the problem that caused this and then repairing and repainting it all. You have no idea how many experts have been contracted to provide an evaluation and assessment of this and remediations for the problem. You have no idea how many emails have filled inboxes of members of the building committee and Elizabeth Starling (whose birthday it is today – happy birthday, Elizabeth!); so many meetings and conversations; so much head-scratching. Yep, there it is. Will the Kingdom come with Christ in his glory before that gets fixed? Maybe.

After a funeral several months ago, I was greeting people as they left. And towards the end of the line, a man stepped up, shook my hand and said, “I need to show you a place on the ceiling of the church where it appears that mildew is growing. You may not know about it, so I thought I had better draw your attention to it. Can we go look at it right now?’ I was polite, but I said, “No, I don’t want to go into the church and look at it with you. No sir. Trust me. I do know about the mildew. It is ever before me. As are my sins. No.”

So why in the world am I – on Trinity Sunday and also my concluding Sunday as the rector of this parish – why am I talking about the mildew on the ceiling? Well, I will tell you. It was on my list of things to finish before retiring. And here I am, retiring today. And there it is. Still there. Gonna be there when I’m gone.

Also on that before-I-retire list is a new rope bell pull for the bell tower. New fair linens. Two staff positions to be filled. And most recently because of all the rain, new potholes to fill. Which we know about. So, if you find yourself thinking, “I should tell Elizabeth about the potholes,” please don’t. She knows. And besides, it’s her birthday.

So, there’s a lot that’s unfinished. Someone I wanted to take home communion to, someone I wanted to say goodbye to in person.

When I was just getting ready to graduate from seminary, I was sitting with Sam Lloyd, who had been my spiritual director for a couple of years, and a classmate, Bam Taylor, who went on to be the Bishop of Western North Carolina. If you don’t know, Sam and Bam are two of the great rockstars of the Episcopal Church of the last couple of generations. I felt like I was sitting with Taylor Swift and Beyonce; feeling pretty full of myself, I must say. I had just turned in my last paper and had said something about how good it was to be finished. Sam said, “You know, I figure you graduate from seminary with about 25 percent of what you need to know to be a good parish priest.”

I said, “That can’t be right.”

Sam said, “Maybe not. I mean the percentage could be lower.” And then he added, “For example, you’re getting ready to go to Harold Hallock’s church; how are you feeling about your conflict-avoidance issues?” Thanks, Sam. Maybe I wasn’t finished.

Well, when is something finished? I remember asking Emmy’s mother Mary about this once. She was such a wonderful, wonderful, gifted painter – like Mary Cassatt to me. I was sitting with her in her home studio as she was working on a painting and I said, “Hey Mary, when do you know that a painting is finished?”

And she said, “I don’t know. I just know. Or I just stop and say it’s finished whether it is or not.” So that didn’t help.

And finally, my pastoral theology professor, the great Charles DuBois, said to us one day, “Remember, everyone dies with unfinished business. The sooner you can get over that the better. None of us is ever finished. That’s an eschatological truth. That is the is-ness of life. God is never finished with us, and you shouldn’t be either.”

And maybe that’s the point of this day. Maybe not being finished isn’t an obstacle to life lived by faith but something closer to the very nature of faith. We come from the love of the Father ever bringing forth the Son in a communion of love which is the Spirit given to complete Christ’s work in the world. God’s ever-expressing, ever new love is always leading us out from where we have been to complete the work of love. Faith is the always unfinished work of the love of God.

With one exception. Faith shows us there is one finished work of God. Remember Jesus’s last words before giving up his spirit to the Father from the cross. He said, “It is finished.” The work of God in Christ to overcome this sinful and broken world is complete. So, for you, in your own life, whatever it was; maybe even if it was really awful. The Lord has put away your sins by his sacrifice on the cross. So, forget it. And move on. God is so much more interested in our future than our past.

His finished work on the cross for us gives us eyes to see the work he has for us to finish in this world for him. That’s what love does. And for us that is never finished, thanks be to God. So, rejoice in that. And again, I say, rejoice.

Even with the mildew still on the ceiling? Is it still there? Yes, then, even with the mildew still there. Amen.

The Rev. David H. May

A Sermon for the Fourth Sunday of Easter

There is probably not a better known or better loved image of Jesus than the one he gives us himself today when he says, “I am the Good Shepherd.” When I read this passage the week before last a memory buried in me for at least 60 years came into view. I remembered walking down the hallway of the Sunday-school wing of the church my family went to. I was on the way to our Sunday-school room. The walls of the classroom were painted canary yellow. The room sort of permanently had the smell of kids in it, which was a mixture of milk and construction paper and that white paste glue that I remember a kid in our class ate one Sunday. There was a hand-lettered sign on the door that read ‘Little Lambs Room.’ Just below the sign on the door was a big picture of Jesus with a lamb flung across his shoulders.

How do memories like that stay in us after – in my case – 60 years of accumulating memories of the good, the bad, and the truly awful? I don’t know, but there it was suddenly: Jesus, our Good Shepherd on the door of the ‘Little Lambs Room’; and yes, with the faint whiff of white paste glue, construction paper and milk along for the ride with that memory.

This image of Jesus as our Good Shepherd is one of the first things we teach children in the Church: whether that church is a Pentecostal church in Guatemala, or a Methodist church in the Democratic Republic of Congo, or old time Lutherans in Sweden, or a non-denominational charismatic church in Kyoto, or a Roman Catholic parish in Mumbi, or an Orthodox community in Azerbaijan or Damascus, Syria, or right here told to your children by Amelia McDaniel or Brantley Holmes. All of us learn as soon as we can the thing that if you forget everything else (or even learn everything else) remember first that you are lamb of his flock, a sheep of his fold, he knows you by name, you can hear his voice calling you and come running when you hear it, he will find you when you get lost, he will watch over you and care for you. And in his company is the love that shakes the universe and changes this world. These are some of the first things we want to teach our children about who Jesus is and how he shows us that God is just like this too.

It’s also true that this ‘Little Lamb’s Room’ of my memory is a highly idealized image of Jesus and probably especially of ourselves – spotless, little fresh lambs that we all are. But, of course, also aren’t. I can’t be the only one here whose children were beautiful little lambs, yes, of course – especially in my heavily edited, airbrushed memory. But mine at least were also wild animals, feral, unreasonable, and also, somehow always sticky and dirty even moments after a bath.

We are the Lord’s lambs. But things change. We grow and learn about the kind of world we live in, and we learn about the world that lives inside us too. That the world out there is a dangerous, uncertain place is not news to children however much we try to shelter them. They know. Things go wrong: a pet gets hit by a car, someone makes fun of you for no reason, you make fun of someone else for no reason, someone gets sick and doesn’t get better, notes come from schools about active shooter drills. It’s hard. Things go wrong. Things get confusing. We get lost.

But this story of the Good Shepherd can help us know, little by little, that goodness abides, that we are not alone, that forgiveness can be given and received, that life can begin again and go on, and that whatever happens, hope is always worth having.

Which may have been as much as the first followers of Jesus could piece together as they tried to understand the world they found themselves in the days following Jesus’s death on the cross. Because first one, then another, then another heard his voice calling them still. Unmistakably, it was him. It was his voice. Which is all sheep really need: the sound of their shepherd’s voice. For all the things that can rightly be said about sheep (and maybe us too) – that they’re terribly not bright sometimes, that they tend to be short-sighted and reactionary, that they can follow their nose from the next batch of green grass to the next and the next till suddenly they finally look up and think, ‘uh oh, where am I?’, for being prone to panic and run headlong in the wrong direction, for on their own not really having what it takes to fend for themselves. For all of that, they are really good at one thing. Unlike cattle that you have to get behind and scream and holler and crack a whip and force them to go forward, sheep will follow their shepherd wherever they go. If you tried to get behind them and push them forward, they would just run around your and get behind you and stand there. And stay put till their shepherd goes. Because he is their shepherd.

Jesus says, I am not a hired hand who’s just in it for the paycheck or who will be literally unfindable if the going gets rough. In fact, there’s nothing, not even death – not his and not ours – that can separate him from his flock. So, with all of our shortcomings and flaws, with our inability at any given moment to know our right hand from our left, with our tendency to panic and head in the wrong direction, with our sins both grave and great, and simple and common, grace remains to hear his voice and come behind to follow where he leads us.

I have to admit, I hesitated to use my memory of the Little Lambs Room for this sermon. Because, well, it’s too sentimental, too rosy and too unrealistic. But what is not mere sentiment or fantasy is the longing to hear his voice clearly, speaking into our truest selves, and to come behind him with the flock and follow where he leads, and know that we are his, here and wherever his flock are gathered to hear him say, ‘I am the Good Shepherd,’ and hear our own lamb’s hearts say, ‘and I am yours.’ Amen.


A Sermon for the Second Sunday in Lent

One of the great themes of the season of Lent is discipleship. Discipleship is one of those “churchy” words that sometimes no one bothers to explain, and you’d rather not ask about because you think you’re already supposed to know what it means. At its simplest, discipleship just means learning from someone who knows how to do something that you don’t know how to do but you’d like to. It’s like being an apprentice to a plumber or taking piano lessons from someone who knows how to play and how to teach, or even being a young resident under the wing of an accomplished cardiac surgeon. Being a disciple just means putting yourself under the direction of someone who knows what they’re doing and who is willing to teach you how to do it too.

Being a disciple also means trusting your teacher. I took piano lessons as a kid for eight or nine years. Part of being a disciple to my teacher Mrs. Holland meant trusting her when she said that playing those scales, over and over again, hour after boring hour, month after month, year after year, would be the way that one day I could play a Beethoven sonata that would bring beauty and truth into the world. Those were her words – “beauty and truth.” I trusted her, so I kept playing scales over and over even when I wasn’t quite sure it would work or if I’d ever get there. But Mrs. Holland said I would, and I trusted her. Eventually, after years, I found that I could make music too.

Being a disciple of Jesus in some ways is no different. He knows what it is to live with one heart with God. He sees the world with the same heart that God does. He knows the power of the eternal love that shakes the universe. He knows what it looks like to live as God’s child in this world and is willing to teach us. One of the scales we’re supposed to practice is summed up in his words “whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.” These are words that will come up again and again in his instruction to his disciples – like scales he wants us to play over and over till we come to his beauty and truth.

As a young man, I loved those words about losing your life to gain it. They sounded to me like a trumpet call to live a heroic life on a solitary quest like Icarus to steal fire from the gods. Of course, you know that didn’t end well for Icarus. He flew too near the sun and crashed. It’s like Fred Craddock, the great teacher of preachers, says: we think the call to lose your life for Jesus is something you do in one dramatic, fell swoop. Like slamming $1,000 on the table and giving it all for Jesus. What Jesus is calling us too, more likely, is to take that thousand dollars down to the bank and turn it all into quarters that we pay out a 25-cents act of mercy here, a 50-cents act of love there, another time, 25 cents worth of faith, practicing the scales of Jesus holy life.

In the mid-1990s I served at St. Andrew’s on Oregon Hill. That’s a neighborhood on the other side of the expressway from VCU. We had two services on Sunday mornings, one at 8 a.m. and one at 10 a.m. On a good Sunday, there were 15 or so people for the early service seated in a nave that seats as many as New St. Mary’s. One of the people who was there every Sunday at the early service was Mrs. Florence McMullen – a character from my life who’s come up more than once. Mrs. McMullen (who at the time was about 82 years old) was an Oregon Hill girl who grew up on the Hill around the First World War and into the 1920s when it was a neat, tidy neighborhood for those working at the Tredegar Iron Works. Something tells me that she ended up marrying a banker and moving out into the much nicer neighborhoods to the west. Still, she was baptized in St. Andrew’s, went to the school, was confirmed, married and buried from there. She was there every Sunday, her whole life, basically – from the day she was carried in as a baby till the day she was carried out after she’d died.

Mrs. McMullen always came to church put together – do you know what I mean? The outfits she wore were smashing, perfectly cut, her hair exquisitely coiffed, make-up on point, fully accessorized, all of it. She wouldn’t dream of going out, certainly of coming to church, if she wasn’t perfectly put together. I’d been told that she was one of the best givers to the church and a woman of significant capacity, as they say. What was unsaid was “Keep her happy!” She always greeted me formally after church, saying simply, “Good morning, Mr. May.”

In some ways, she was a real mystery to me, and to others too. She was there at church at the early service every Sunday. But that was it really. She came and left. One of her matronly peers who’d grown up in that church too thought that after she’d married and moved off the Hill, she’d gotten too big for her britches and looked down on her humble beginnings. I called her once to see if she’d like for me to come by for a visit and she said, simply, “No.”

One Sunday morning at the early service, I was in the pulpit preaching to the flock of 10 or 12 in that vast space. I saw a man come in from the back, staggering around a little. I saw him and the usher in conversation and heard the man say a little too loudly, “I’m here for church, that OK with you?” He found a seat and sat down. A little while later, he stood up and started shouting at me, with really colorful language. All the words. I saw Mrs. McMullen in her pew. It looked like she was grimacing at his awful language and how unseemly it all was. I’d better do something, I thought. So, I climbed down from the pulpit and walked down the aisle to the man. I said, “Sir, you are welcomed to be here, but you have got to hush, OK?” He said he would, apologized, and sat down. I went back to the pulpit and was trying to pick up where I’d left off. Before I knew it, the man was back on his feet cussing a blue streak at me. Mrs. McMullen sat there grimacing, shaking her head. I had to put a stop to this. So, I climbed back down, went to the man and said, “You gotta get out of here, that’s enough” or something like that and he got up and walked out of the church cussing as he went.

After church, I went up to Mrs. McMullen, not waiting for her to greet me as she was leaving as usual. I said, “Mrs. McMullen, I am so sorry for that man and his awful language. It probably felt scary and I’m so sorry for that. We’ll be sure to get the ushers to be a little better in handling these things. Really, I’m so sorry. You looked upset.”

Mrs. McMullen looked at me and said, “I wasn’t upset. I was praying for that poor man. David, this is God’s church. That man has every right to be here too, don’t you think?”

That was 25 cents from her of grace, paid out by a disciple for love, with the hope that I could lose a part of myself, my life that it was long past time to lose.

She shook my hand and said, “I’ll see you next Sunday.”

What I heard and what I still hear from that is Jesus saying, clearly, “Follow me.” For his disciples that is the scale we practice more than any other. Follow me, especially when we’ve been following something that it’s long past time to lose. Trust that. Trust him. We disciples of Jesus practice those scales through which – please God, some day – he will show forth his own beauty and truth. Amen.

The Rev. David H. May

A Sermon for the Last Sunday after the Epiphany

We have a mischievous expression in my family. It’s a phrase we use when one of us says or does something completely surprising—and you see something in someone that you never knew was there. The expression is: “Well, you don’t know everything, do you?” It’s a playful protest that while we think we know each other like a book—there are and always will be a few pages we somehow missed. There’s more to know about each other and this world we live in than we thought.

The Christian doctrine of revelation—in a more thoughtful way—says much the same thing. It’s a teaching that says, “You don’t know everything, do you?” The world around us, the people in our lives, even the God we worship and serve, we sometimes speak of and act as if we know like a book. Well, surprise. We don’t know everything!

Revelation means that something which was formerly hidden, and something we couldn’t have figured out on our own has been unveiled. A curtain has been drawn back to reveal something which was there all along, and something we can’t have known unless God himself shows us.

Let’s say that you know a man (let me interject to say that the man I’m going to tell you about is a real person but it’s no one here; at least not that I know of because I don’t know everything). So, there is a man who you know is a surly, grouchy curmudgeon. And to the human eye and ear he is. He doesn’t seem to have much good to say about anyone. He’s suspicious of what makes people tick and thinks by and large people are no darn good. He never gives money to any charitable organization because he thinks they’re all run by pie-in-the-sky do-gooders and that the recipients of charity usually only have themselves to blame for their misfortune. He opposes flowers on the altar as frivolous, and he doesn’t like expressions of affection.

One evening, you go to visit a friend in the hospital. On the way to her room, you stop in front of the large windows to look into the nursery at the newborns. Through the glass, you see the door at the back of the nursery open and a nurse comes in. The door remains open for a while. And looking through the door she’s just opened, you see into the room beyond. And there seated in a rocking chair, you are startled to see, is the old curmudgeon himself, gowned, with a newborn baby in his arms. You see the old man’s lips moving, his eyebrows arched, his whole face an open door of wonder. You can see that the man and the newborn only have eyes for each other.

A nurse stops beside you, sees what you are looking at and says, “Do you know Mr. Smith?” Yes, you do, you say, realizing in the same instant that maybe you don’t know him as well as you had thought. “That man is a saint,” the nurse says. “Do you know that he has been coming here every week if we need him for the past six years. He’s one of our nursery daddies. He holds the babies born to moms suffering from addiction. He helps them get through their first days and nights.” And then the door closes.

“Well, you don’t know everything, do you?”

When Jesus was transfigured on the Holy Mount, the door of God’s heart is opened, and the veil drawn aside. And we see that the love with which the Father holds his Son, is the same love that holds us like him too, the same love, like a shining light that the dark can never overcome. This light is God’s word of love that says, “we don’t know everything.”

Because when we get afraid, what we think we know is that we are all alone in this world. What we think we know is that if we don’t look out for ourselves, that no one else will. What we think we know is that ‘might makes right’ – always has, always will. What we think we know is that we’re not good enough for God’s loving kindness. What we think we know is that there is some darkness that the love of Christ cannot pierce.

The moment of God’s transfiguring love is his no! to all these propositions. Revelation is God’s light crashing into our darkness.

Recent scenes of the devastation and suffering in Gaza brought to mind a PBS special from many years ago about the life of Mother Theresa. During the worst fighting in the Lebanon of three decades ago, Mother Theresa came to Beirut to visit one of the Missionaries of Charity homes located there. But the convent was in a no-man’s zone where fierce fighting was taking place. In one of the scenes in this documentary, Mother Theresa is seen meeting with the American diplomatic envoy, Philip Habib. She is explaining through a translator that she will be visiting this particular convent the next day. Habib says with all due respect that she may not go as it’s too dangerous. Mother Theresa responds by saying that she had already prayed to the Lord Jesus for a ceasefire and so not to worry, she will be fine. Habib protests that this cannot be. It is too dangerous. We think we know what will happen if you try to go there.

The next day, there is an eerie quiet throughout much of Beirut, including the no-man’s zone where Mother Theresa will visit. And she does. A convoy of cars makes its way through cratered streets to the convent. Inside, Mother Theresa makes a tour and greets the sisters. She takes each sister’s head into her hands and touches her forehead to their forehead, and lingers like that, unhurried, going from sister to sister.

Upstairs is a large room set up like a hospital. We see the sisters going about their rounds, caring for the patients, who are the sickest of the sick, the poorest of the poor. They have been discarded as unsavable in the harsh triage of scarce resources which is a war zone. Some will live. Some will die. All will be cared for.

In one of the beds, which is really more of a large crib, is a full-grown man—at least in terms of his age. But his body failed to grow properly, and he resembles one caught halfway between a child’s body and an adult’s body, with nothing in proportion. In the background, you can hear gunfire returning and distant explosions. The camera shows him reacting with a wild, terrified expression, unfocused in blind terror. His body trembles uncontrollably. His head thrashes from side to side as if looking for an escape. One of the sisters comes to his crib-side and puts her hand on the man’s heaving, bony chest. She leans towards the man, her lips moving with words we cannot hear. Her eyes are intent on the man’s eyes. She rubs his chest to calm him. She is trying to call him back from the dark place he is lost in. Gradually the man’s tremors subside, and his terrified eyes soften and begin to focus till he finds the sisters eyes looking at him. He locks onto her eyes, and as the gunfire increases in intensity in the streets, coming nearer, they continue to gaze into each other’s eyes, as the man breaths easier and easier and easier.

In the midst of a crazy frightening world, he only sees her. They only have eyes for each other. Can you see them? What we think we know is that here are two more ‘little ones’ swept into the dark. But as the veil is drawn aside, we see that the Father’s heart is open still, embracing that moment with the love he has for his Son.

The light that comes in that dark place cannot be overcome.

On the Holy Mount of the Transfiguration, Jesus stands as the door opens between heaven and earth. Standing between Elijah and Moses, he will shortly hang dying between two unnamed thieves—drawing the dark of all we think we know into his redeeming light. When the moment of revelation has passed, Peter and James and John look up and see only Jesus. Only Jesus. God-with-us who only has eyes for you and for this world he loves. Amen.

The Rev. David H. May

A Sermon for the Third Sunday after the Epiphany

Did you notice that the Collect for the Day we just prayed includes a pretty bold assumption? The prayer assumes that Christ himself will call you. When? How? For what purpose? Well, who knows? But he will. And probably already has for each of us here, and not for the last time, I pray. What we ask God for is not the grace to be called, but the grace to say yes.

The Bible among other things is a treasure trove of stories of God calling to us. Actually, if you think about it, most of the Bible bears witness to all those times and places where God calls to one of us and we hear it, and something happens. The details of what God is calling us to do or say is usually a little fuzzy: go to the place I will show you, God says to Abraham; tell Pharoah to let my people go, God says to Moses; you’re going to conceive and bear within you the Holy One of God, God says to Mary. And in one way or another, every time God calls one of us, our hearts are broken by how big the love is that calls us: a love that calls us out of our world and into his, from our way of seeing things, to God’s ways of seeing things, and what God cares for become our cares, too.

For the Prayers of the People today, we’ll use a set of prayers that remember and thank God for all the great families in the household of Christian faith that started somehow, some way with God calling someone, and the breaking open of a heart by love. And I promise you, not one of them set out to create a new denomination. Luther did not set out to make Lutherans. Calvin did not answer a call to create Presbyterians. Wesley’s call was not to form the Methodists. William Seymour was not called to create the Pentecostal movement out of a warehouse revival on Azusa Street in Los Angeles in April of 1906. An Albanian girl named Anjezë Gonxhe Bojaxhiu never planned to become a saint named Mother Teresa when God called her. For all of them, there was a day and a place when God called them to love what he loves, to care for what he cares for, to heal and mend something precious to God, and their hearts were broken open.

And because it’s easy to think that God only calls these big important people, remember Moses at the time God called was on the run from the law, and Mary was a country girl in first-century Palestine whose unwed pregnancy was as hard to explain as you can imagine, and William Seymour’s father lived in slavery. So just in case you think God only calls the big important people, I want to tell you a story. It’s possible you’ve heard it before or some version of it. Most of us have a few stories like this that God has given us that are our spiritual North Stars, experiences of grace through which God is still speaking, still healing, still strengthening us, still picking us up when we’ve fallen. They are like the Holy Scriptures written on our lives that God gives us to read again and again. This is one of mine.

Over spring break in 1993, I went with a group of kids from The University of the South in Sewanee on a mission trip to Kingston, Jamaica. These kids were the best and the brightest. They came from the first families of Savannah and Memphis and Dallas and Charleston. They were smart, faithful, and were probably bound for careers in medicine or law or finance. They sang in the All Saints Chapel choir or did community work down the mountain or mentored underclassmen. They were really good kids. I was a seminarian at Sewanee and went as their chaplain. We’d been meeting twice a month for months to get ourselves prepared and to learn how to work as a team. There were three different communities we were going to serve while we were there. One was a school, one was the Missionaries of Charity house, and one was a community in nearby Riverton City.

Riverton City is just outside Kingston. It’s not actually a city. What it is is the city dump. And it’s a place where at that time about 5,000 people lived. Somehow, in the middle of the trash heaps they’d cleared out a large open space and built a school and a community center. We went there to lead a vacation Bible school for four or five days. We taught Bible stories and sang songs; we did artwork and played games. But mostly each of us walked around with little kids draped all over us, carrying little ones on our hips and slightly bigger ones piggy-back or on our shoulders. I don’t know how it was possible in that place, but those children were filled with as much joy and mischief, as much wonder and silliness as any other kids anywhere.

One of the kids from Sewanee, a young woman named Sarah, is the point of this story. She was a part of the group but not really. She hung around the edges, and I only really remember her talking one time. She was with us, but she kept herself to herself mostly. She was one of the kids who went to Riverton City. Something happened to her there. She came alive. Literally she came alive.

One afternoon after lunch, we were all laying around in the community center. It was nap time and there were these clusters of children and our kids just flopped out on the ground. Sarah was sitting on the ground, leaned against a plywood wall. There were three little girls lying on her asleep, on her legs on her lap on her chest. A fourth girl was combing Sarah’s hair and whispering in her ear from time to time. Sarah saw me looking at them. And she looked at the girl on her legs and the one on her lap and the one on her chest and the one beside her combing her hair. And then she looked up and mouthed the words, Thank you! And then she smiled such a smile and I thought, ‘Oh, there you are!’ She had found herself. It’s like it was the first time I’d ever really seen her. Where before she’d stayed back, kept her cards closer to her vest, there she was, fully present, alive as alive can be.

We came home maybe a week later, back to school, back to our regular lives. Maybe a week after we’d gotten back I was crossing the grounds near All Saints Chapel and I heard someone shouting, Hey! really loudly. I looked around and saw Sarah storming towards me. She was furious. Her shouting made other people stop and look to see what was going on. She stormed up to me and shouted, “You have got to tell me something!”

I said, “Sarah, what’s going on?”

“What’s going on?! I want you to tell me when I will stop hurting! All I can think about is those little girls who I left behind living in a dump, a literal garbage dump, and look at us here! When am I going to stop hurting? All I want to do is sell all my clothes and shoes and my stupid BMW that my dad just bought for me one day and everything else and give it all to those girls! Like Sessee who is smarter and better than any of us but lives in a dump. When am I going to stop hurting?!”

The thank you she had whispered at Riverton City for those girls where she found herself and the breaking heart always go together, because that’s what God’s holy love does for us.

The Lord had called to her in Riverton City, and without quite knowing what she was signing up for, she had already been given grace to say yes, and yes with her whole heart. She had been taken out of her world and into God’s where what God cares for were now hers to care for.

When Jesus calls us, because that’s what he does, he calls us to a life like his. Which even when it breaks your heart is still your heart’s desire. Follow me, Jesus says. When he calls, Lord, give us grace to say yes. Amen.

The Rev. David H. May