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Our Many Gendered God

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Saturday, October 31, 2009

November 1st 2009

Hear again the vision of John:
He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them;
4he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more.

All Saints Sunday can be so perfunctory sometimes. The list of names of those deceased in the past twelve months within the congregation is solemnly read. Perhaps a chime is rung after each name. There is something true about that. Solemn. Holy.

But my guess is that many of us this day are remembering others who are lost to us except for pictures and memories. Some have lost loved ones this past year – while others may still be grieving loved ones lost many years ago. This day is for them, too. A day to remember. To acknowledge. To thank. To bless. To grieve.

Grandpa Spencer owned a greenhouse – it was attached to his garage, down the driveway past the giant mums the size of Nerf footballs in the blooming season, row after row neatly nestled in their raised beds. One would walk into the garage; breathe deeply the midday sun-warmed plywood and two by fours and special wood for this project or that that settled above one’s head in the attic’s upper reaches, then turn to the left. A glass paneled door led one into the hum of florescent lights and the smell of dark earth and geraniums (if the Methodist church’s rummage and garden sale was coming soon.) If one were tall, one might be wary of the fly tapes, sticky and yellow vines smudged with unhappy visitors, wings buzzing to no avail. If winter had come, a Christmas cactus might be in bloom, pink and red flowers cascading down from a hanging basket. Other things grew here in pots or from the earth, itself. Catalogues from seed companies like Park and Burpee lay strewn about a small table, next to Grandpa’s chair, the one with the cushion, that he sat in when doing his greenhouse work. When we went for a visit, a holiday or even just for Sunday dinner, I would sit in that chair, grab a seed catalogue, and as the fluorescents hummed and flies buzzed and the warmth enfolded me, I would dream of the garden that I would grow someday.

Later, they would send one of my sisters to come fetch me, since the smell of Grandma’s Sunday ham, as good as it was, could not penetrate the greenhouse glass.

Reluctantly, with a catalogue in hand, I would race up the steps, making a pit stop in the kitchen bathroom and grab the bar of Lava soap; running the water with gusto before grandma could see the dirt. Just before dinner, that moment when the rolls came out of the oven wrapped in a terry cloth towel and placed just so in a basket, I almost always could find Grandpa in his easy chair, a soft leather one, big enough to swallow me whole. And in the few moments before Grandma summoned him to his carving duties, a couple of things happened. “Hey, Butch,” he’d say, hand patting the buzz cut I sported for most of my early years, “What do you have there?” And I would show him what I thought could have been the Seven Wonders of the World: pansies every color of the rainbow, and Asters and Cosmos and Daises and Marigolds of every shade of orange and yellow I could imagine. And he would tell me about each of them. How to grow them. What he thought about them. Once he even ordered some seeds for us to plant together. Showing me how to prepare the soil, pouring burning hot water over it to kill anything bad and allowing it to dry a bit, before sowing the seeds. He taught me about the dangers of overwatering and how and when to transplant the seedlings. And when those first seeds began to poke up through the soil, it was miraculous to be, like birth.

Grandpa was 64 years old when I was born.
They sold the house while I was away at college and moved into a retirement community of doublewides. Grandpa didn’t last long there – after 50+ years in the house in Rockville Center and raising those Nerf football-sized mums long into his retirement, after bidding goodbye to the greenhouse and his basement full of tools and his perfect lawn and the giant Maples and Oaks that towered three or four stories into the sky, I guess part of him began to die the day that he handed over the keys.

I walked by the house just a few years ago. The driveway was paved and the sleeping porch closed in and the green house long gone. The house had shrunk, lost its character as well as a bit of its many Azalea bushes. A few shingles needed replacing, too. The huge maple (or was it an oak – I still get confused in my memory) beckoned me to climb its branches one last time, but I just couldn’t. It all seemed terribly wrong.

Was grandpa a saint?
If saints like their butter real, an afternoon drink to unwind, and Lawrence Welk Sunday nights either in black and white or color, than Grandpa was one of the best of them. He was as real as they come. He was flawed to be sure and would much rather spend an afternoon talking baseball then five seconds talking about Jesus, but he passed on a love of creation to me – a joy for gardening – the wonder of a seed becoming a plant – the care of something so fragile that too much water or too much sun could wipe it out. He was a saint in my life for these things and a saint in his life because the Lord had claimed him from the moment of his baptism and wash him clean. Christ’s righteousness became his righteousness just like it did for you and for me and just this morning for little Sarah Suzanne Gray.. As the saying goes: saints aren’t perfect, just forgiven.

I miss Grandpa Spencer because I am old enough now to have many more questions to ask about so many things. I want to show him the gardens that you and I have made and assure him that at least one of his many gifts actually passed on beyond the first generation of his children. I want him to meet the great grandchildren that he never met. I want to thank him for never locking the greenhouse door when I came to visit.
John writes
He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them;
he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more.

In Christ, we who were no people have become God’s people and God’s people live as people of promise, as people of hope that cannot be taken away. Of a Kingdom in which all of the saint of God will be gathered. In that place the last tear is shed outside of the gates and God wipes it away. Mourning and crying and pain will be no more. A place, as we prayed earlier, to know the inexpressible joys that God has prepared for those who love Him. Some my questions for grandpa will have to wait, but not forever. Whether or not he will still have to cut the corn off the cob so his dentures won’t pose a problem – that remains to be seen.

The saints who have gone on to heaven before us are not lost, but are in fact in Christ and with Christ as they have been since that promise was written in their hearts at their baptism. And so we may grieve our loses, yet be comforted by the very hope born of God’s Son, Jesus Christ, through whom grace pours out like a river to a thirsty land.
Though the burden of grief may be great in our lives, the gift of grace is greater still and always.

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