Is that REALLY you, God? It’s me, Margaret*

July 27, 2013

Hosea 1: 2—10; Luke 11: 1-13; Colossians 2:6-19

First Baptist Church, Worcester, MA

July 28, 2013

Her name was Yafna Garcia, but known on the streets as Millie. In a heartbreaking blog post, the photographer Chris Arnade describes Millie, a prostitute that he came to know as he photographed her and others in Hunts Point, in the Bronx, in New York City. Millie died on January 6 of this year, a few days after collapsing on a bench at the Tub and Tumble laundromat. She was 41 years old.

Arnade tells us that no one claimed her body from the morgue. Not her mother, nor the man who may have been her father. Not any of her 13 siblings. Not her street husband, nor any one of her 4 children. None of her friends. No one who knew her from Hunts Point.

According to the medical examiner’s report, Millie died of bacterial endocarditis of the tricuspid valve, the result of intravenous drug abuse. In other words, some bacterial infection entered her body via a heroin injection that she gave herself, likely using a dirty needle. It migrated to her heart and killed her.

Credit: Bryan Costin, used with permission

Credit: Bryan Costin, used with permission

Several months later, her body, still unclaimed, was sent from the morgue to City Cemetery on Hart Island. As Arnade writes, “Inmates from Rikers Island placed her body in a wooden box made by other inmates. She was placed in a massive trench (70’ x 20’ x 6’) joining roughly one million others that lay beneath an empty field on a small island two miles from the shores of the Bronx.”

It seemed that no one even knew that Millie had died and so Arnade took it upon himself to share the news with those who maybe – just maybe – might want to know. He recounts the fears expressed by others who live as Millie lived. “Pepsi cried, not just for the death, but because, ‘they buried her like a stray dog. I hope to God and pray that I don’t get treated that way.” Michael cried, too. “Honestly? I know she is in a much better place than we are.”

During a visit last summer, Millie, after some prodding, told Arnade her dreams. She wanted her kids back, because in order for that to happen, it would mean that she would be free of the heroin that had such a grasp of her. “I am tired of this life,” she told him. “Tired. You can only do this so long. We say it doesn’t hurt. It does.”

Millie’s is the story of whoredom. The real one, not the one so metaphorically and/or glossily given to us in what is supposedly the word of God to Hosea:

The Lord said to Hosea, “Go take for yourself a wife of whoredom and have children of whoredom, for the land commits great whoredom by forsaking the Lord.” (Hosea 2:1)

Some man from the street took Millie as a wife. Some man did the same of her mother. Between the two of them, they bore 18 children. Eighteen children of whoredom. Twenty-odd people trapped in a horrid world of drugs and prostitution; a world where your dead body goes unclaimed by a single soul; a life that surely – when it finally ends – finds some mercy, even if that mercy is nothing more than the end of that life.

Now I don’t know about you, but me, I find it virtually impossible to believe that God could or would ever utter such words to anyone, regardless of the bigger message that’s perhaps being conveyed. Biblical scholars tell us that the story of Hosea’s marriage to the prostitute Gomer, her subsequent infidelity, his discipline against her and her children (some his, some fathered by other men), well this is all supposed to show us how God deals with Israel when Israel turns to harlots – whores – in other words, other gods. The vengeance that follows, the bloodbaths described, is reminiscent of the worst kind of blockbuster zombie movie or worse, of the very real godforsaken existence that Millie and others on the streets of so many streets all over this world live.

God forsaken.

These are the passages of scripture, the records of our faiths, and the history of our Judeo-Christian background that surely make it pretty darned easy to claim that religion has to be one of the most pathological institutions that humanity has ever dreamed up.  These stories are the kinds that any loving parent would never let his or her children read, let alone believe in. This vengeful, wrathful, callous, and despicable God is hardly anything we would ever wish to worship.

Fortunately, of course, we Christians can always opt for that easy jump over to the New Testament, where we can wrap our theology around that loving god, the one who sent us Jesus as a demonstration of love for us; Jesus to be executed on a cross on our behalf, but as a sign of redemption and grace and … well … love. The sacrifices of love.

The problem, of course, is that our jump isn’t really all that easy. There supposedly aren’t two gods, but just one. Jesus doesn’t even exist as Jesus without the connections to the story of the God of Israel. They’re all tied together, folks. And what… what are we to ever do with that?

It’s a conundrum, a quagmire the likes of which General Petraeus could probably never even imagine. There is no one answer and there is no right answer. And there is hardly any sweet sounding, sound bite theology that can be spouted by anyone standing behind any pulpit, be he a bestselling preacher/author speaking from a televised megachurch pulpit or be she me, a one-time ordained minister turned librarian, speaking from behind this simple lectern in this warm fellowship hall this morning.

When I shared this passage from Hosea on my Facebook page the other day, accompanied by a few editorial comments, I received some pretty funny replies regarding the challenge of making a sermon out of it. Landy reminded me that I was not bound to preach on the lectionary reading. Tom did the same when I joked with him that he purposefully opted out of preaching this week, just to avoid this text. But to me, there’s something to be said for the lectionary – there’s something to be said for working your way through the entire Bible over several years. And when you’re called upon to preach, there’s something to be said for stepping up to the challenge of finding a message of God in one of the most godless passages.

And so I did. You may or may not agree with me, but here’s the message I find in this Scripture:

It is not the word of God.

Not even metaphorically. It is a story made up by some men, some long time ago, to explain both the history they were a part of, as well as to solidify a code of beliefs that they held.

Now before you run me off as a blasphemous heretic, let me share a bit more. PLUS, remember that I came upon my theological education and my ordination in a tradition and a time when women were not exactly welcomed with open arms by the overwhelming majority of church folks. I was raised and educated and ordained a Southern Baptist minister. In other words, I’ve been called those names, and worse, before. So give me a few more minutes and then … well, you can take what I say for whatever you think it’s worth.

Let’s do a jump over to the New Testament now, not so much to talk about the loving god versus the vengeful one, but rather to listen to the words of Paul to a young church in the town of Colossae:

“Therefore do not let anyone condemn you in matters of food and drink or of observing festivals, new moons, or Sabbaths. These are only a shadow of what is to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.” (Colossians 2: 16-17)

The substance belongs to Christ.

Paul’s letter was a warning against false teachings. The church at that time, much like every other time in its history, sat squarely in the midst of countless traditions, beliefs, philosophies, and understandings of earth and heaven, life and death, and what it meant to be a person of faith. Paul the human, just like we humans, just like the humans that made up this church in Colossae, was trying to reconcile all of these differences and what I hear him saying is this, “The substance belongs to Christ.”

At the heart of Jesus’ teachings, we all agree, is that when we act out of love, real love, then we become really the best that we can ever be. We become our best and most true selves. And most importantly, we demonstrate the truth of God.

If you subscribe to the belief that Jesus represented – or represents – God’s message to humanity, then you surely believe that God is, first and foremost, love. Personally, I believe that God is only love. Nothing else. Well, perhaps Love with a capital “L”.

I hope that you don’t hear me proclaiming a simplified message, one that reduces our faith to a pop song or a Coca Cola commercial. What I’m saying couldn’t be further from that. We often hear that we live in a world of information overload and when it comes to religious belief and faith, well, there is no exception. When it comes to faith, when it comes to church, we are at no shortage whatsoever for rules and tenets, doctrines and dogmas, opinions and attitudes, and people of every walk of life to tell us which of these are real and true and most important to believe and follow. Heck, I’m standing here right now doing that very thing!

But in the midst of all of that noise, let us at least hear that one sentence that Paul wrote to the Colossians: The substance belongs to Christ. Argue if you must over which festivals to celebrate and how to celebrate them. Argue over which rituals are most important. Argue over which music is best. Argue over how to spend – or not spend – an endowment. Claim whatever you wish along these lines, but despite whatever we claim, the substance of our faith belongs to Christ.

Our church is currently going through a period of purposeful transition. We have people committed and teams in place to help us figure out who we are now and who we want to be in the days ahead. We’ve got opinions aplenty. We’ve got people in lots of different camps. We’ve got people who feel that our decisions are absolutely critical to our continued existence and we’ve got people who couldn’t give a wit about what happens next. And for all of us, for each of us, what matters most? Bottom line? The message of Jesus. The substance belongs to Christ and the message of Jesus, the heart of our Christian faith, is love. Nothing else.

In his book, “What’s Right With the Church?” written some 25+ years ago now (back in my seminary days), William Willimon writes:

The church is simply one more example of God’s extravagant, creative involvement in this world. … For reasons we can’t explain, God wants the church. … From time to time we get the erroneous impression that God wants us to be builders of the church rather than custodians of what God builds. (But) in our better moments we know better. (p. 44)

So I ask you, and myself, what would God build? What is at the very essence? What is the very substance of the thing? Paul says it is Christ. I say that it is love. Maybe we’re saying the same thing.

How does this tie back to the passage in Hosea? For me, such passages are reminders of the times, those not so better moments, when we forget what is better. They represent our miserable and failing attempts to explain our own behavior by ascribing it to God. We do it all of the time. We can see examples of it every day; from the psychotic ramblings of a serial killer who murders because god told him to do so, to a nation’s organized bombing of another country because it believes to be on the side of right. From flag-waving Christianity to Israel’s unwavering claim to a God-given piece of land, we’re together in this behavior. And I dare say that it is not our best behavior. Not by a long shot.

Neither is our society’s turned-back towards failing schools and hungry children, homeless people on our streets, money made on the backs of others, and health care that is available to some, but not all. A nice house, a good job, a bank account and investments for retirement; filled pews, large buildings, busy church staffs and committees with waiting lists of people wanting to join them; none of these are signs, in and of themselves, that we live with Christ as the substance of our lives.

So what is?

Kate Braestrup is a chaplain with the Warden Service in Maine. You may have read her memoir, “Here If You Need Me.” It’s a difficult book to read, not just because it presents cases of death and murder in the woods of Maine, but because it doesn’t tip-toe around or gloss over the very difficult question of “Where is God?” in the moments of our lives when it seems love is nowhere to be found. The story of Millie that I shared earlier is tragic because she died without love. None. Where there is no love, there is no God.

Since Braestrup is a chaplain, you might assume that she brings God’s presence into the haunting stories of parents being told that their lost child was found, but sadly too late; to the wife of a man who simply went fishing being told that he won’t be coming home; or even to the miraculous stories of children found sleeping in the woods, awakened by the cold nose of the four-legged half of a trained K-9 unit, and brought safely back to the loving arms of parents who had almost lost hope.

She does see her role for victims, families, and the wardens themselves as significant – and it is – but she also humbly steps aside when recounting how much more often it is the members of the Warden Service, of the other arms of law enforcement she crosses paths, who bring true compassion to the scene. They are the ones, in their actions, who exemplify the truth of God. Love.

In one particularly moving account, she tells the story of a young female college student who was abducted, raped and murdered by another young man from the area. She writes:

For me, Christina’s restoration did not come in the arrest or in what happened in the courts to the man who committed this crime, however important and even grimly satisfying those things were in themselves. Instead, it was in the image of those dear and decent men – Rob, for example, with his quiet walk, his quiet way – moving with swift and loving purpose toward her body where it lay between the trees, bearing with them parenthood and friendship, grief and anger, order and care, and bearing beneath their badges their undefended hearts.

‘We are Legion,’ the demon sneers.

No. We are legion. (p. 180)

In this story, I’m reminded that justice is found in courtrooms. Love is found in the field. I don’t imply that we discount the need for justice, or even suggest that it isn’t sometimes also in our courts, but I do believe it’s important that we remember it is in the stories of love that we find God. The substance of all that we seek and all that we do in God’s name must be love, or else whatever stories we choose to share, preserve, sanctify, and pass down for thousands of years are stories of something else. They are not of God.

And so that is how I consider the Hosea passage. It is also how I consider any and all stories that I hear or read or believe in, when I’m trying to understand if, when, how, or where God is in them. If at all. God gets credit for an awful lot of things that, I’m quite sure, God would just as soon be left out of. In the same way, countless acts of love go unseen as the acts of truth that they are. The truth of the message of Jesus, the substance that belongs to Christ, and the very presence of God in our lives, is Love. May we always strive to act in ways that bring God into this world.


*The title for this sermon was inspired by the book, “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret,” a classic of young adult fiction by one of the best authors of the genre we have ever had, Judy Blume.

Far from the Madding Crowd

July 23, 2012

A Quiet Place: Our sailboat, Grace, moored in Brickyard Cove, Freeport, Maine

Mark 6:30-34; 53-56

First Baptist Church, Worcester

July 22, 2012

It is not a special morning. It is fairly routine. It’s the kind of morning that happens once every couple of weeks or so. It’s the morning when I have some meeting scheduled for 9:00 and I stay late in bed reading and then my dog, Zeb, takes a little longer to do his business during our walk; and then I can’t decide what to wear and I absentmindedly pick out a linen shirt that takes an extra 10 minutes to iron. I finally get ready and get in my car only to realize that I don’t have my ID badge. I can’t get into the parking lot without it, so I climb the three flights back up the triple-decker to our apartment and frantically look for it on my dresser, on my desk, in my jacket pocket from the day before.

Back in the car I have to wait for a line of cars to pass before I can pull out onto Pleasant Street. Then I miss the green light at Park; and then again at Main, and at McGrath, at Franklin, at Plantation, at Route 9. Every light turns red before me. Every pedestrian who can, steps out in front of me. Every driver who can, pulls out in front of me. The parking lot at work is full by now and I’m forced to park on the far reaches of campus.

And so now I’m angry. I’ve sworn at people on foot and people in cars. I’ve called them names. I’ve cursed the traffic light gods. As I pull into a parking space, I notice the time on my dashboard clock – not the time of day, but the time elapsed since I pulled out of my driveway. 14 minutes.

Now here’s the thing… on the days when I remember my ID badge, when I pull right out onto Pleasant, when I make all of the lights, when I pause to let pedestrians or other drivers go in front of me, when I pull into a parking space in the second row… on those mornings which are also not special, but fairly routine, when I note the time elapsed from when I pulled out of my driveway to when I pulled into the parking space, it is – wanna guess? – 13 minutes. Maybe 12.

The point is that it takes me, under any quote-unquote “normal” circumstances, between 12 and 15 minutes to travel by car from my driveway to the University Campus of UMass Medical School where I work. That’s a mean of 13.5 minutes, +/- 90 seconds.

It’s a funny thing, isn’t it, time? It dictates our lives like few other things and we collectively suffer the insatiable need to fill it – every cotton picking single last minute of it – with something. From meetings to errands to phone calls and surfing the Internet. To texting to gossiping to driving kids here and there, to planning menus and grocery lists and cooking meals; from eating at our desks to eating in our cars; to Zumba classes and detailed training schedules for road races, to watching talent shows on TV to doing homework begrudgingly to finding the right summer camp; talking while we’re walking, on the phone while we’re ordering coffee, reading emails while we wait in line…

It is GO! GO! GO! Go dog, Go! Because the difference between 12 minutes and 15 minutes is…

3 minutes.

Jesus said to his disciples, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest awhile. For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat.” Crowds followed them everywhere, sun up to sun down; always wanting something of them – of Jesus – fix this, heal that, tell us again that story about the shepherd. They had a lot of demands upon them. They had no time for themselves.

And so Jesus said to them, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest awhile.” Perhaps he says to us, “Put down your smartphone and follow me. Follow me up here to a quiet place for a while. Disconnect. Go offline.”

I fear that this message from the Gospel reading too often gets overlooked. It comes, after all, as a prelude to the story of the feeding of the 5,000. It’s just a couple of lines and we hardly see the period of the sentence before reading, “Now many saw them and recognized them” and chased after them and formed the great crowd that eventually had to be fed and had to be healed. It’s this great crowd that we focus upon, the crowd that Jesus looks upon with compassion; the crowd that he sees as lost, as sheep without a shepherd.

If you read this same story in John’s gospel, you’ll see it’s presented much more clearly as a metaphor – Jesus is the shepherd and it’s much less about feeding people with real loaves of bread, and more about feeding them with Jesus, the bread of life. Either way, it’s a great message – whether we’re called to feed people literally or to let Jesus feed our spirits – likely, both – it’s a message to give some attention to.

But rather than rush right over those first verses while preparing this sermon, I settled in on them, because I think that there is something very important in them, a message that you can’t do the latter; you can’t take care of others, teach one another, help one another; you can’t look upon others and the world with compassion without regularly going away to a quiet place, a deserted place, an un-harried place where you can think and meditate and pray; for it’s in the thinking and the meditating and the prayer that we find the energy we need to then return to the world and do all that it requires of us. As Henri Nouwen, the French cleric, wrote, it is “In solitude we discover that our life is not a possession to be defended, but a gift to be shared. It’s where we recognize that the healing words we speak are not just our own, but are given to us; and that the love we can express is part of a greater love.”

Yet, we live in a world that praises busyness much more than quiet solitude. Work makes us busy and being busy makes us important. The cartoonist and author, Tim Kreider, wrote an opinion piece in the NY Times last month that went viral on the Internet. It was called “The Busy Trap” (June 30, 2012) and in it he didn’t hold back when describing his beliefs about how and why we’ve come to cling to this mantle, this “Badge of Honor” of busyness:

“Busyness serves as a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness (he writes); obviously your life cannot possibly be silly or trivial or meaningless if you are so busy, completely booked, in demand every hour of the day.” He calls it “institutional self-delusion. More and more people in this country no longer make or do anything tangible; if your job wasn’t performed by a cat or a boa constrictor in a Richard Scary book, I’m not sure I believe it’s necessary. I can’t help but wonder whether all this histrionic exhaustion isn’t a way of covering up the fact that most of what we do doesn’t matter.”

His thoughts struck a chord. Funny, I heard him interviewed by Tom Ashbrook on “On Point” last week and Kreider said that he wrote the piece mostly because he was mad at his friends who couldn’t seem to find the time to have a cup of coffee with him. Maybe the reason the piece resonated with so many people is because we’re all a little put off by the busyness of our friends. Maybe we don’t always see it in ourselves, or we don’t hear ourselves saying it, but when someone else says to us that they’re too busy, we think, “Well yes, my feelings are a bit hurt, too. Why won’t anybody come out and play with me today?”

The title of this sermon comes from a novel by the British author, Thomas Hardy that he originally wrote as a series of stories for a newspaper in 1874. Hardy borrowed the line from a poem by Thomas Gray, published more than a century earlier, in 1751, called “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard”:

Far from the madding crowd’s ignoble strife
Their sober wishes never learned to stray;
Along the cool sequestered vale of life
They kept the noiseless tenor of their way.

Gray was writing to a friend who had died, reminding him that there is a place beyond the busy, frenzied, madding crowds and their tendency towards meanness and bitterness and violence; it is that place, the quiet place, that helps us stay on course. Perhaps that place for Gray was the country churchyard where he wrote the poem. For Jesus it was “a deserted place.” For Jesus it was also 40 days in the wilderness after his baptism by John. It was the Garden of Gethsemane the night before he was crucified. Quiet places, far from the crowds. Without them, we cannot do all that we are called to do in our lives.

But where are they? Where are our quiet places? We seem to want them so much, we want to get away, but we just don’t know how. We don’t know where? Or do we?

Have you noticed the rise in international movements devoted towards slow living? They’re out there. Have you seen more and more stories of yoga classes booming, mindfulness seminars being sold out, stress reduction classes offered, life coaches all around? You know what these things have in common – besides their popularity? They all promote time out. In our society that leads the industrialized world in lack of vacation time, we’re scrambling to find other ways to get what we intuitively know that we need. Whether we’ve heard Jesus’ message before or not, we do seem to know that we absolutely must have some time to ourselves, some time away in that deserted place to rest a while. “A life without a quiet center easily becomes destructive.” Henri Nouwen

When I first thought of this topic and started to put the pieces together for this morning, I thought of the horrible spate of incidents in the 1980s that garnered the phrase “going postal.” Several workers, most notably for the US Postal Service, went on violent rampages in their respective workplaces, killing managers and colleagues. The thought was that their work – the never ending, day after day after day nature of mail – drove them literally insane. When I heard on Friday the horrible story of the young man in Aurora, Colorado, a med school student earning his PhD in neuroscience, so much like a bunch of young people I see every day, I couldn’t help but wonder what drove him to this break of sanity. And knowing nowhere near enough details to even begin to factually state anything, I can only think of this world that we live in – this society that we’ve created – a non-stop pressure cooker to do and to be; to constantly push towards measures of success that are either realistically unattainable OR completely beyond our reach under our current circumstances. We cannot help but become sick.

What happened to that young man, we do not know, but we do know – we empirically know – what happens to each and every one of us when we neglect and/or refuse that quiet place. We get high blood pressure. We gain weight. We develop heart disease. We develop clinical depression. “A life without a quiet center easily becomes destructive” to itself and to others.

It hardly comes across as a warning like some of the other teachings of Jesus, but maybe these words to his disciples were just that. Maybe “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves” was Jesus way of saying, “You are NEVER going to make it in this disciple business unless you take care of yourselves, too.”

You’re not going to make it – not as a teacher or a student, not as a doctor, an accountant, a salesperson, a social worker, a librarian or a minister. You’re not going to make it as a parent, a spouse, a friend, a caregiver or a coworker. Unless you take that time away, says Jesus, you simply cannot do those jobs or fill those roles – not to your best.

Along with being a librarian at the Medical School, I also work as an exercise physiologist on some research with one of the obesity docs there. A couple of years ago, I worked with her on a study where I led some exercise groups for women who were both overweight and depressed. You’re probably not surprised if I tell you that the number one reason people give for not exercising is lack of time. Across the board. You ask anyone if they exercise regularly and for 9 out of the 10 who tell you no, they’ll say the reason is that they can’t find and/or don’t have the time. Time. There it is again.

Where that time goes, for women in particular, is interesting. So many women will tell you – as many in that particular study told me – they don’t have the time to exercise because their time is given to others; to their children, to their parents, to their husbands or partners. They also give time to work, as do men, but it’s this other piece where they leave guys behind. Women, far more, give up their time to others.

The sad thing – the damaging thing – about this trend for women (and men, too, of course) is that same irony that Jesus himself was telling the disciples. If you don’t give yourself the time you need to take care of yourself, eventually you won’t find the time to give to anyone else, either – in the saddest and harshest way – because you’ll be too unhealthy and/or too sick to do so. Maybe Jesus hadn’t read all of the writings of Jon Kabat-Zinn, our resident guru of mindfulness, or have the years of data the Mindfulness Clinic at UMMS has to prove the point, but he surely knew as much – stress will kill you and before it does that, it will keep you from doing so many of the things that you want or need to do for others, and for yourself.

And so I go back to time and the fact that the difference between 15 minutes and 12 minutes is … 3 minutes. Again, it’s a funny thing. Sometimes that 3 minutes seems like forever. Sometimes it’s just 3 minutes. And as we rush through all of those 3-minute segments of our days, what are we doing with them? Do we even notice?

Maybe noticing is where we start. Jesus reminded his disciples to take a break. We can remind ourselves. Some of our young folks and their chaperones are heading off to DC this week. They’re going to immerse themselves, figuratively and literally, in a different environment. Think about it – they might not be going off to that deserted place for quiet – it’s a youth gathering after all – but they are purposefully stepping away from a life that they know, one filled with so much – to something with a different focus. And I do bet that there will be time set aside for them during their stay when they can be quiet. When they can stop and think and reflect and listen. And I say to you now, those of you going, Lindsay gave you journals this morning to take with you. Take them and use them. Write down the things you notice and the things you’re thinking and the feelings you’re feeling.

Fill up every page with words and pictures – I say pictures, too, because I started drawing in my own journals a couple of years ago and it’s an amazing thing to do. It doesn’t matter if you can draw or not. The purpose is to give yourself another way to express yourself. And that’s the goal. Express yourself in your journals so that when you come back home, when you find yourself back in the every day busy life of classes and practices, of church and sports and music and art and volunteering and friends and family and all of the things that fill you up until you about can’t take it any more… you see that journal on your shelf or the table by your bed. And then you can pick it up and you can find your quiet place in it, because you will have to stop in order to look at it. You’ll have to pause.  And then hopefully you’ll see in those pages something that gives you the boost you need; you’ll remember something of the days at IMMERSE that means something special to you. And it will stay with you. And you’ll be better for it.

For those of us who will go to work this week – or errands or meetings or retirement or vacation or doctor’s appointments or whatever fills our lives – we can do the same thing. Maybe we’re not going to an event structured to help us focus on our spiritual lives, but we can make such for ourselves. We can go away for those few minutes here and there as we find them. We can carry a journal. We can take notes. We can take a walk to that place where we, too, can rest awhile.

“Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off – then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can.”

~ Herman Melville, Moby Dick

Whether we are Melville’s Ishmael the sailor or Thomas Gray in a church courtyard; whether we are a young person or adult off for a spiritual immersion, or we’re running late for a meeting that may or may not make any real difference in the grand scheme of things; wherever we find ourselves today in our lives, may we each hear the words of Jesus to “Come away to a deserted place, to rest for a while.” And may we do just that.


(Audio for this sermon will be available soon on the website of First Baptist Church, Worcester, Massachusetts.)