Sunday, July 30, 2017

The Tree

St. Paul’s Church in Bergen, Jersey City NJ
July 30, 2017

Year A, Proper 12: The Eighth Sunday after Pentecost
1 Kings 3:5-12
Psalm 119:129-136
Romans 8:26-39
Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52

The Tree
            I’ve mentioned to you before that one of my most favorite things is to show off St. Paul’s to people who are here for the first time.
            As you may remember from when you first walked through our front doors, people almost invariably ooh and ah when they first walk in here, marveling at the magnificent woodwork and how beautiful and well-preserved it all is.
            And, it’s not just the church building.
            This year especially we’ve been getting a lot of compliments on the garden, and a few neighbors have even been so inspired that they’ve offered help with planting, and tilling, and watering.
            As you know, last week we were joined by the wonderful choristers from Trinity Church in Los Alamos, who were last here four summers ago – a lot of water under the bridge for them, and for us here at St. Paul’s.
            In fact, their visit got me thinking of all the changes that have happened here since their last visit.
            First of all, we were a lot smaller back then – many of you weren’t even part of our community the last time they were here.
            And, yes, at the same time, there were people here then who are gone now – people who have died, or become too frail, or moved away, or decided this wasn’t the place for them, or who just drifted away from the church.
            Four years ago, there was no choir and there was no Gail (at least not here at St. Paul’s!).
            There was no Sunday School and no air conditioning in the church (the choristers, not used to our humidity, were particularly happy about that improvement!).
            We still had the old, worn red carpet and the dangerously broken front stairs.
            It’s a lot of growth and change in a small time.
            We’ve been blessed.
            At one point during the choir’s visit last weekend, after having been out walking the streets for a while, their director, John Singleton, observed that St. Paul’s is a wonderful oasis in the city.
            And so it is, right?
            That having been said, these old buildings and the grounds require a lot of effort, a lot of sweat and, yes, a lot of money, to keep them looking good and serving our parish and the community so well.
            And, sometimes things go wrong.
            For example, on Wednesday afternoon I went downstairs into the rectory basement and discovered a pond covering about a quarter of the floor: water was spurting from a leaky pipe.
            The plumber arrived and painted a bleak picture, saying it might be necessary to dig up the yard in front of the rectory as well as part of the sidewalk and even the street, which would then need to be re-paved.
            My heart sank, but we had no choice to proceed.
            But, sometimes things work out and by Thursday afternoon the plumber announced that he had been able to solve the problem and that he had saved us “ten thousand dollars.”
            I don’t know if that’s true, but I’ll take it!
            Let the people say, “Amen.”
            And then there were the raccoons.
            As some of you know, a while back a group of raccoons (a group of raccoons is called “a gaze,” by the way. I looked it up!), a gaze of raccoons managed to gnaw their way into the crawlspace at the top of our church tower, where they settled into their own private Duncan Avenue condo, making themselves at home, and making a very big mess.
            And, as you might guess, it turns out that it’s no so easy to dislodge a gaze of raccoons from such prime real estate.
            In fact, because raccoons are not only cute but really smart and clever, it requires experts and a lot of time and effort and, yes, money to get them out and keep them out – and to clean up after them.
            You know, in a natural environment, raccoons often live in the hollows of trees – and so, to the raccoons, our beautiful, old, and wooden, St. Paul’s was just another tree – bigger than some but certainly not the biggest.
            To the raccoons, St. Paul’s was simply a tree, standing ready to offer them shelter from the hard life of the city.
            Well, of course, we’re not raccoons or birds, for that matter, but our church, with all of its many branches, offers us shelter, too – offers us a safe place to make our spiritual nest – a safe place to discover and cherish and nurture the treasure that is God’s kingdom.
            Yes, like a gaze of raccoons, some of us will sometimes make a mess here in our tree – sometimes a literal mess like what the kitchen occasionally looks like after coffee hour or some other event, but more often a spiritual mess caused by us not being as welcoming or as loving or as forgiving as we ought to be, as we know we should be.
            But, unlike how we had to deal with the adorable but destructive raccoons, we don’t drive away our brothers and sisters from our tree – no matter how much of a mess they – or we – make.
            Just the opposite, actually.
            No, we’re called to slide over a bit, to make a little more room in our tree, to even make a little more room on our own individual branch, to make a little more room for whoever shows up, messy or not.
            We’re called to make a little more room for the people out there who are still looking for a beautiful oasis in an often hard city, the people who still seek the treasure that is God’s kingdom, the treasure that can be found right here, in our tree.