For Abigail and in Memory of Zachary Davis
St. Paul's Episcopal Church - Bakersfield
Alison Montgomery Fischer
July 17, 2016
Lectionary Readings - Amos 8:1-12, Psalm 52, Colossians 1:15-28, Luke 10:38-42
Reacting To The Storm
Please join me in prayer. O Creator, I pray the words from my heart may be pleasing to you and that they may be productive vessels to minister the hearts of your flock. Our Rock and Redeemer.
Good morning Family, it is good to be home. I have been in Texas the past week and a half supporting my youngest sister, Abigail, as our community mourned the unanticipated and tragic death of her boyfriend, Zach. Zach was a beloved and tremendous man who played many roles in the lives of his loved ones and although we had not formally met yet, I feel fortunate to have witnessed the legacy of his life at such an intimate level.
Unfortunately, there has been tremendous mourning throughout the world, our nation, the Church, and our community. During the past two weeks, we have witnessed tragedy in Nice, Dallas, Bakersfield, St. Paul, Baton Rouge, west Texas, Pakistan, and Turkey through senseless acts of death, hate, anger, fear, illness, and violence. I know that I am in good company of having cried out to God "What in the world is going on?" while forcing ourselves to seek God through our heartache and weariness and trusting in the Christ's healing presence. I imagine God is holding us and weeping the same response, mourning these behaviors caused by the free will of man.
Time was of the essence for my mother and me as we rushed to be with Abigail in west Texas. Part of our journey included a small 4 seater plane for some 130 miles. The pilot approached us as we collected our luggage and said, "Ladies, we must hurry. A large storm is coming and we have to beat it." To the south, the skies were black, the West Texas winds were powerful, and the rain was pouring. To the north where we were heading, the skies were clear and peaceful. Mom and I felt our only choice was to trust the pilot and God. Entering the plane, I crossed myself praying "One death at a time, God. I am trusting you will keep us safe." The take off was choppy and wet but God was faithful and the pilot rose to his highly regarded reputation. To distract myself from the turbulence, I read the encouraging and prayerful texts of our family of believers that I had already turned to and once we entered the peaceful skies, I started taking pictures.
While reviewing these pictures, two points took my attention. Texas is in their rainy season after a decade long drought and I was astounded with the lush and green landscape. I also noticed a bright light present in all of the pictures outside my passenger window, a bright light that was only evident on film and similar to other pictures documenting an unexplained light in many photos since the passing of our sister Amy in Jan. 2015. This light was encouraging to me, as it represented the presence of the unseen side of our faith and the Divine that is active in our daily lives.
This trip was the first time I had been to Texas since Amy's passing. I was heartbroken for Abigail and Zach's loved ones, some of whom were my friends, because the lives of small towns are always interconnected like that. I prayed for wisdom to be able to support those who needed it and be able to help Abby see God's presence. It has been a surreal experience of which I am still processing the various emotions. Faithfully, our Holy Trinity's presence was in abundance during this tragedy and the enlightenment received has been a humbling as we trusted in God's unfailing love as instructed in Psalm 52, "I am like an olive tree flourishing in the house of God; I trust in God's unfailing love for ever and ever. For what you have done I will praise you in the presence of your faithful people. And I will hope in your name, for your name is good."
The symbolism of our flight out of the storm into the calm skies and and light was easy to recognize. In preparation for this sermon, Jason wisely described the holiness of tragedy in that with sorrow and struggle comes wisdom and peace. Zach's loved ones honored his life through choosing organ donation. Through Zach's death, at least three people were given life and one person was given sight. The Davis Family's faith and devotion to Christ's kingdom was evident in this selfless gift of life. Death and sorrow are integral factors for our faith in that the Divinity of Jesus Christ is represented in his death and resurrection. Our relationship with and in a new life in Christ provides us an existence free from our past chains and with a hope that is greater than our sorrows. Our faith in the existence of a Divine being with magnitude beyond our comprehension allows for us to be confident in being healed through a continued existence once we leave this earthly life and we can rejoice when we or our loved ones cross over.
Paul wrote his letter to the Colossians to instruct them how to live their lives through their faith and why it is worth it. We are taught that through Christ's death, we are provided Grace and perfect redemption. However, this certainty of divine promise offers no grounds for human complacency; this is not a one sided relationship. We are to hold steadfast in our faith during all of life's storms and trust in God's presence.
Our Gospel lesson from Luke also teaches us of the holiness of meditation and participation in ministry of Mary. Let us learn from Jesus'; example in that he did not condemn Martha in comparison to Mary, but did explain why Mary's choice of not being distracted by the over preparation that Martha felt necessary to be the better choice of behavior. He respectfully taught her that there is no need for pomp and circumstance in our faith. We are worthy of God's love just as we are. We are assured of our calling to serve as holy instruments of Christ, just as we are.
As followers of Christ, we are called to actively participate in the Body of Christ through engaging in Christ's teaching of love, acceptance, justice, and equality. Living in the Body of Christ assures us that even in our sorrows and that even in tragedy, we may rejoice that God is working in bringing out the light and healing through Christ. Less than a month ago, in support of members who are weathering their own storms in life, a small group of Millennials gathered right here at the altar and held a recovery meeting. We cried, we prayed, we taught, and we rejoiced in our love and support for one another through the hearings of our pasts and struggle. It was one of the most holy moments I have experienced in this church and I hope we may facilitate more meetings with the same intention.
I was reminded of the transformative journey that Jason and I have experienced with the Grace and now St. Paul's community in the process of acknowledging and answering our calling as ministers. Six years ago, I came to California a very broken person who was sick in mind, body, and spirit. Christ met me at my rock bottom and slowly pieced me back together. It was almost two years after Jason and I met that we found the Grace community and immediately knew we were home. As my health improved and I was able to go back to work, Jay and I were praying for God to guide me to the work I was called to do. Father Tim called to ask if we would be willing to lead the food outreach, youth, and Millennial ministries. Although we were the last people we thought to be capable of leadership, we said yes. It was in our ministries opportunities that God's answer to our prayers was quite clear and I answered my calling to serve as an Episcopal Priest. In a few weeks from now, Jason and I will move to Berkeley so that I may attend the Church Divinity School of the Pacific and we are trusting that God will continue leading us to where we may serve as effective ministers to God's flock. To us, our life is better than either of us ever hoped or dreamed and we humbled of the validation that we are on the right path by recognizing that this bountiful life began with a simple "yes" when asked to serve.
Every single person is called to serve in some capacity with our God given talents. Our callings may differ in capacities, tasks, required time, or ordained activity; but we are all called to better God's kingdom by working together. The Holy Spirit communicates these callings and needs to us through various capacities, experiences, and opportunities. I encourage you to be prayerful and mindful of the Holy presence and communication in your life. I assure you that when you do answer God's calling for how you are to participate in the Body and serve; God's blessing and peace will envelope you through validation beyond your expectation, especially during life's storms.
Through this human life of ours, we will continue to experience storms that are capable of destroying us. Each of us will or have already encountered our own personal experiences that require us to cry out to God out of sorrow and frustration. We all experience some type of physical and or emotional pain that we carry as our own personal crosses to bear. As the Body of Christ, we are called to lift up our crosses together and move as a collective. We are called to acknowledge that we are responsible for choosing healthy reaction to these storms in life. Sometimes we have no choice but to be enveloped by the chaos and destruction while we remain focused on heading towards the Light and safety within Christ. Sometimes in order to not be enveloped, we have to stay ahead of the turbulence and dive into activity in the life of faith and living within the Body of Christ.
These storms call us to trust in and seek for God's presence during both the stability and the turbulence. We are to trust that Sunday is always coming and just as Paul urges the Colossians, it is well worth the effort. It is well worth the effort indeed.
All Rights Reserved