Pastor B. Thrall
In the name of God, Creator, Redeemer, Sanctifier. Amen.
Well, good morning to you on this Sunday of many possibilities. Happy Mothers’ Day to those of you who are mothers, those of you who act as mothers to folks around you, and all of you who had mothers. May we be blessed in the mothering that is happening to, in, through and all around us.
Today is also Rogation Sunday, a church-celebration which falls on the Sunday before Ascension Thursday, a cue that the season of Easter is winding down. Rogation days are observances that began in Europe centuries ago and involved the Faithful gathering to ask God’s blessings on the planting and harvests of the fields. The scope has widened in modern times to include our asking, (for that is where the word rogation/rogare/interrogation comes from), asking for God to look favorably on the fields, the orchards, the forests, the seas, and all that comes from the earth for our good use.
The traditional Rogation procession would take place outdoors, and if we were meeting in person we would make that procession around our church property. For now, let’s take a moment to make an imaginary Rogation Sunday walk around 758 Main Street. The crucifer in his or her white robe would lead us as we gather behind, walking two by two or single file, first from the corner of the parking lot, past the bench and flower garden by the side of the church. We would proceed along our property line, past the cars parked for Rice’s Fruit Farm and past the oak tree that was planted in memory of Pastor Karen last fall. We would continue on the grass up toward Main Street, then turn left to walk on our property alongside the road to the end of our lot, stopping to say a prayer for Christ the King-Epiphany Church and all who are part of it. We would again turn left, and go past a beautiful fir tree planted by grateful Methodist helpers who slept at our church when they came to the area to volunteer after the tornado ten years ago (can you believe that?). We would keep walking past some rough grass, shrubs and brambles on the right, past the vegetable garden and the pollinator garden on the left, planted recently to help our neighbors and the bees and butterflies. From there we would arrive at the parking lot, saying more prayers, asking God’s blessing on us and those who will visit us. We would process on the gray pavement to the edge of the woods, turn left and go past the storage shed, the large overhead lights and the basketball hoop. We would turn again and finally end up at the St. Pauly shed for used clothing, the rent-proceeds of which pay for our monthly meal for the Open Pantry. We’d have walked in a great rectangle, asking for God’s care, and dedicating our congregation, our space, and all that happens within it, for God. We will have set a boundary, for faith within and protection around, with Christ and us and our church building at the center.
Boundaries. The purpose of a boundary is to set a clear delineation around something, to make it evident about what is in and what is out, and often that boundary is meant to be helpful. Think of the awakenings we have had around personal boundaries in the MeToo Movement and with our new awareness of micro (and macro) aggressions in racial encounters of all kinds. There are limits, we know that, and some are best not crossed.
If you ask a mother, she might tell you about setting boundaries for her children, so that they and others are safe. “Come home when the street lights go on. You may not bite your sister.” One time I ran into a little boy and his mom, people I knew from our son’s daycare. The little boy’s hand was wrapped in a thick bandage. “What happened to Jamie?” I wondered. His mother replied, “Ah, he was playing in the kitchen garbage and cut himself on a tin can lid. Had to get stitches for that one.” Playing in the garbage can??? Time for some boundaries, like the word, “No”, wouldn’t you say?
And yet, boundaries are not always as clear as the property lines we walk on Main Street in Wilbraham, MA or when our Mother tells us to play where she can see us. I recently watched a little video about how to work with oil pastel crayons and how you can make a beautiful picture by coloring a series of blocks, let’s say, yellow, orange, red and maroon on a piece of paper. Then you take a little piece of tissue or paper towel and rub the various stripes, blurring and intensifying the color, then moving along the borders between colors, if you will, and allowing the shades to blend in with one another. Voila, a sunset, from what had once been four solid blocks of afternoon light.
Something like that blurring was going on in the book of Acts, which we heard as our first lesson today. It’s a clear case of the Holy Spirit throwing the boundaries and limitations out the window. I encourage you to read chapter 10 of the Book of Acts for the story of how Peter and the disciples were led by the Spirit to visit the home of Cornelius the Centurion, a non-Jew who was interested in Jesus and wanted to know more. Peter and those who traveled with him arrived in Caesarea and engaged Cornelius and his family in teaching, conversation, prayer, really wondering what to do, and then Peter made that wonderful proclamation. “OK, let’s do this. Let’s baptize these people right here, right now. Who cares that they are Gentiles? God has taken this new faith to the Jews, God has taken it to the hated Samaritans and now it seems God is taking it to the rest of the non-Jewish world. Who are we to stand in the way of the power of the Risen Christ?”
What seems really clear is that when it came to Christ’ resurrection and claiming for us everlasting life, the boundaries that the people of Jesus’ time lived within were too tight, too confining, and were meant to be pushed through, broken, for the good of all. God’s Easter miracle would not, could not be contained within the confines of a strict, all male, all ethnic circle. God’s plan meant his love must extend further, must go out beyond the upper room, and the brotherhood of the apostles, and city of Jerusalem to the entire world, beginning in Jerusalem and in Caesarea at Cornelius’ house and with his entire household.
Now this happened long ago, and don’t think it didn’t cause a stir. This outreach to the Gentiles was not in the playbook and not everyone was on board. But the Holy Spirit is in the stirring-up business, and She so often surprises us with her activities. Think about us – calling two churches in Wilbraham to join together to witness to Jesus’s love and power from one united congregation. Calling a retired Episcopal priest to serve as Bridge Pastor for a season, a new thing among the churches of this area. The work of the Profile and Search committees to pray, think, and really, really listen to what God is saying to this worshipping community about its future ministries and leadership. The interest here at CTKE in racial justice and climate change, in feeding the hungry and engaging with our neighbors. God is saying, “I mean for my love to go further than just the building at 758 Main Street. I give you this commandment, love one another, so that my work may continue through you.”
Jesus’ commandment. Not a Rogation Sunday “ask”, but a commandment – an imperative. Could Jesus have possibly known what that would really mean? We’re all aware of the 10 commandments, the thou shalts, and thou shalt nots. We are aware of the commandments we have been getting from our civil and religious authorities – wear a mask, keep socially distanced, get vaccinated. But “Love one another, as I have loved you”? As Jesus is close to the Father, bonded and one even from before the beginning of the world, so we should love our fellow human beings as one humanity: the sick and well/ black and white, Asian and Latino/ gay, straight, trans, queer/ rich, poor and in the middle/ young, old and in the middle. This is sometimes really hard to do, to love others as Jesus does, but it is his clear direction. There’s really no negotiating.
We are here on Main Street not to be a Jesus museum for a savior enshrined in a glass case, to take good care of our own exclusively, to circle the wagons and drawing the line against a wicked world that is guided by evil forces. Believe me, there are churches and Christians who think that way. No, rather it is our tradition to be open witnesses on Main Street to worship a living Lord, to take care of our own and our neighbors as ourselves, to reach out to a world that knows evil and suffering, yes, and needs God’s redeeming love and the help we can give.
So may we march into the next chapter of this church’s life with confidence, knowing that we are blessed in our asking, and blessed in our responding in love, knowing what needs to be done and knowing who is directing it all. Knowing there are sometimes good reasons for boundaries, and good reasons to move beyond boundaries. Knowing we are safe here in the love of Jesus, and knowing that we are sent out beyond this place, to be signs of his love for everyone we meet on the road. Amen.