We moved from Boston to Carmel about two years ago, and were so excited about living here. John had been called to be the interim minister of the local Unitarian Universalist Church and I was recovering from two cancer surgeries.
Father Rick was most welcoming and agreed that it would be wise for me to take time to get my energy back. So, in December, I felt recovered enough and came to the 10:30 service wearing my clerical collar.
Bonnie Bufkin was the greeter at the information table and when she saw me exclaimed, “Oh, I love seeing a woman in a collar! And my mother felt even more strongly than I did. But we were living in a diocese that was so conservative; it would never let such a thing happen. But then, I remember sitting in our Sunday School class and the teacher said that a woman was actually going to be ordained to the priesthood in our diocese. We were thrilled. And then, we were told that it was going to take place in our very own parish. Amazing!”
“What parish was that?”
“Transfiguration in the Diocese of Dallas.”
“Oh, I replied,” then said, “guess what—that was in 1985 and I was that woman!”
What a wonderful coincidence. At that time, almost 30 years ago, I had been so overwhelmed by being approved in such an unwelcoming diocese that I never even thought it might have an impact in the wider church.
So here we are together today, two years later, as John and I are about to move to San Francisco, where he will be the senior minister at the UU church there. I hate to leave All Saints, but just as you hope that I’ll be back, do I hope that you will come to “the City” to visit and to have time together.
Now let’s turn our attention to the gospel message for today. There Jesus is, in a boat. Everyone on the shore can hear him, but do they understand him? For that matter, do we get what he’s saying?
He is speaking of four different kinds of soil and their receptiveness to the love of God. Jesus is represented as the sower, and people’s hearts as various local locations where seeds may fall.
When the sower drops a seed on a path, it is exposed and quickly smashed by trodding feet. The person whose heart is like rocky ground receives the word with joy, but without proper roots, his or her faith cannot withstand the challenges of life.
The person who is like a thorny bed yields nothing because the cares of the world are more important than the love of God. But the seeds that are sown in good soil, that is, in people who have understanding and are open to God’s love, produce a tremendous harvest.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve been all four of these places at various times in my life. I’ve been the path, where I was so wrapped up in where I wanted to go that I never even attempted to understand what God was putting right I front of me. I’ve been the rocky ground, when I neglected to nourish the things that were most important in my life so that they withered and sometimes died. At other times, I’ve allowed my daily anxieties, like thorns, to choke out the truly wonderful things God has given me. And yet God, with loving persistence, never ceases to broadcast his unlimited bounty of love. God knows that there will be times when I am a rich loam and his love takes root and grows.
When have your heart felt like a well-trodden path, or rocky ground, or a bed of thorns, and or good, rich soil? What were the circumstances in your life at those times? What might have made a difference in how receptive you were to God’s love?
The idea of “rockiness” made me think about the time I was serving as a chaplain in a women’s recovery program. In addition to giving talks on spirituality, I also heard their “fifth steps.” In a 12-step recovery program, the fourth step is to make a fearless written moral inventory of oneself, –the feelings, history, pain and suffering received and given, times of guilt, times of shame, etc. It is a hard thing to do, and very necessary in the healing process.
Each woman would meet with me privately. It was always completely confidential. She would hesitantly, painfully share her list. I would listen closely, reflecting, loving. As she came to the end, we would hold hands and I would offer a prayer of healing and gratitude that she was able to share her life in such a courageous way.
Then I would have her tear up the sheet of paper, leaving the pieces in the room. We’d hug, and she would leave, seeming to float on air.
I always felt that when a woman came in, it was as though she were carrying a huge boulder on her back. Together, we were able to turn that boulder, that huge rock, that stumbling block, into tiny pebbles. Its heavy weight had been lifted from her soul.
In our own lives, we can find ourselves growing in faith and caring because
God’s love is helping us to blossom. This, in turn, helps us be more aware of those around us. Helping, listening, and being attuned to the lives of others. With tongue in check, here’s an example.
A dear friend in Wellesley, in memory of my grandmother, made a beautiful, white, raw silk chasuable for me. When she presented it, I was delighted and touched. She also gave me this little teddy bear who is wearing a tiny version of the bigger chasuable. She said it was “the Rev. Gwen Bearens…”
One day, I took it with me to the church office. Seeing that Father Rick was at his desk working, I stuck my hand holding the bear around the corner into his study.
“Father, Rick, Father Rick, yoo-hoo, I bet you didn’t know that the Episcopal Church is now ordaining bears. Well, may I introduce myself. I am the Rev. T. Bear, that stands for Teddy Bear. Well, now, I just happened to have a very dear friend with me, the Rev. S.T. bear – that stands for Smoky the Bear. Actually, we went to the same seminary as you.
“Well, now, Smoky and I have put our little bear heads together because we have heard that these days your plate is very, very full, and there is some stress in the air.
“Someone once told us that when a person is under stress, one’s blood sugar goes way down, too down. Well, we didn’t want that.
“So, guess what, Father Rick, Smokey and I have a solution. We just happen to know where the best, most restorative honey can be found right here in Carmel. Here’s the address.
“Well, I guess it is time for us to leave. Always remember that we will watch your back. May God’s blessings and peace be yours. Ta Dah, … ’Bye.”
The look on Fr. Rick’s face was worth it all.
As I leave you, I would like to make a couple of suggestions. To strengthen and enliven the All Saints family, consider joining a small group—for example, the book club, scripture study, outreach.
I have so enjoyed singing in the choir and invite you to consider being a part of it in the fall. We have had a great time and have risen to the challenge of every new piece. Todd, Kathy, and Peter have been true, loving leaders. And may I make a big shout out to Richard, our truly gifted organist.
Or perhaps you might be interested in joining the altar guild or becoming an usher. There’s a story about a family in church. They had two kids, 7 and 4. The 4 year old was restless and a bit noisy. His older sister told him to calm down, to which he replied, “why should I?” She looked at him sternly and said, “turn around. See those two men standing the back? They’re ‘hushers.’”
To have been among you has truly been a blessing. I am deeply grateful for the many friendships made, the joy of serving together, and for knowing that God indeed has many good things in store for All Saints.
In the name of all that is loving, challenging and forgiving…
And in the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
The Rev. Gwen Buehrens preached at All Saints’ Episcopal Church, Carmel