The Seventh Sunday of Easter: May 8, 2016
Preacher: The Rev. Katharine Flexer, Rector of St. Michael’s Church
Today I take for my text a portion of the book of 2 Chronicles, chapter 6, verses 12-14.
And [Solomon] stood before the altar of the Lord in the presence of all the congregation of Israel, and spread forth his hands:
For Solomon had made a brasen scaffold of five cubits long, and five cubits broad, and three cubits high, and had set it in the midst of the court: and upon it he stood, and kneeled down upon his knees before all the congregation of Israel, and spread forth his hands toward heaven.
So, as you can see, the work on the church has begun. And oh, how much of it there is.
We knew we had various spots in the church to work on – places here and there where leaks had happened and new plaster and paint had to be done, besides, of course, the north wall. And we knew that a scaffolding company had been contracted with to come and put up scaffolding to help the painters do their jobs. But it wasn’t until late on Friday afternoon that we realized…just. how. much. scaffolding. there. was. Looking back I should have realized when I had to step over the workman who was rolling out the paper covering for the floor, on my way through the chapel door on Thursday, that something might happen in that area to affect our traffic. Hindsight, as my mom always likes to say, is 20-20. But the scaffolding workers were nearly out the door on Friday before the penny dropped for all of us.
So here we are. Surrounded by scaffolding. For some of you, your favorite pew has been removed. For many of you, your normal flow of entry and exit into the church is blocked. For all of us, the altar looks kind of weird sitting down there. And the pulpit, well, it’s just too much work to get over there.
Scaffolding. A fact of life in New York City. I have never been a fan. Clearly it’s a good business to be in, because there is always, always, scaffolding being put up or taken down on one block or other in this town. Jim and I used to joke that there must be a required amount of scaffolding up at all times, that when they take it down from one building they are obligated to put it up on another. We used to joke that, except now I think it’s true. Then there’s the old line, New York would be a great city if they could ever get it finished. Scaffolding reminds us that this city will never be finished, that it is always and for ever under construction.
So it’s a fact of life, always and eternally present, and now, here it is, invading even our sacred space. So like I always say, if you can’t ignore it, you might as well preach on it.
(Ok, I don’t always say that. But I’m going to start.)
I really hate scaffolding. But I understand its purpose. It’s there for support and to strengthen and protect, when something is being worked on that might crumble or fall. It’s there to provide a means for restoration and repair. It gives workers something to stand on and pedestrians something to shelter under. It makes it plain that work is being done. And we all have to walk a little closer to each other down the sidewalk, and sit a little closer to each other here in church, because of it.
It’s kind of like love, isn’t it?
In today’s gospel, Jesus prays for his followers, knowing that he is soon to leave them – and us – to live without his physical presence among them. He prays many things, but most of all, he prays, “that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.” He prays for us all an abiding, deep love – the love with which God loves Jesus and with which we are to love one another. This being Mothers’ Day, it’s not too far off to say that Jesus prays for us to have a mother’s love, in the best possible sense of that – better than any of us human mothers can actually achieve. He prays that we will know love that provides for and protects, that restores and heals, that supports and shelters, that brings us all closer to one another. He prays for love to be our scaffolding, in us and all around us, tangible and present.
That’s the love that Jesus knows he has from his Father, his Mother. That’s the love we have from God as well, abiding and perfect and unconditional love. It’s love that makes all things possible, it’s the scaffolding there holding us up. And that love of the perfect Mother for us is the same love Jesus prays for us to have in our own selves, and for each other. Sometimes it can be hard to squint and see the scaffolding of God’s love around us in our lives. But in those times, perhaps it’s easier to see the love we have from others, and the love we show them. Because that’s our scaffolding too.
This scaffolding could help make it all clearer. We have all of this up because we have to care for this place. When we walked into the church and saw all of this, we couldn’t pretend anymore that the walls were as they always had been and that everything was fine. We could see quite clearly that there is work to be done – once the scraping gets started we’ll see it even more clearly, as the ugliness is laid bare. The building is making its needs known, if you will. We can’t just take it for granted – we have to take this action to be good stewards and caretakers of this place. And the scaffolding has the happy side effect of clustering us a little closer together, shifting our positions and moving us from our accustomed places and rhythms. We can’t just go through the motions of worship as usual, make the same conversations with the same people as always. And as we move through the space, and as the work progresses over the next few weeks, this scaffolding will protect us, and the rest of the building, and the workers who come here, from falls and drops and damage. It’s double-reinforced to be sure it’s stable.
Likewise, we are scaffolding for each other. We are given each other to care for, we’re called to be stewards and caretakers of each other. We are precious gifts put into each other’s hands. Many years ago when I was a youth leader, I was about to take a rented van full of teenage girls off on a mission trip. As I prepared to go, one of the mothers looked at me sternly and said, Drive carefully – you have precious cargo in there. And she was right, because we are all precious cargo, meant to be carried gently and carefully. Each of us has work that needs to be done, healing that we need, gentle words, or maybe truth spoken to lay bare some wounds. Each of us needs the love of others to scaffold that work for us. And to protect and shelter us, support and strengthen us. It’s important to stop and notice it and name it. It doesn’t just happen by accident or by magic.
We’ll be great people, when we’re finally finished. But until then, we need the scaffolding.
So we could look at all of this and sigh heavily and grumble under our breath at the inconvenience of it all or how we would have set up the scaffolding differently if we’d been in charge. (C’mon, I know some of you are thinking that way.) But I invite you instead to look at it and see love. A tangible sign, a sacrament even, of the love of this community – for this place, our beautiful church that we want to care for well; for each other, for the lives of every one of us placed into each other’s hands to care for and hold; and the love of God, who supports and strengthens us, protects and shields us, makes possible our healing and draws us closer to one another.
When Solomon stands on the scaffold in the temple and prays to God, he prays “O Lord God of Israel, there is no God like thee in the heaven, nor in the earth; which keepest covenant, and shewest mercy unto thy servants, that walk before thee with all their hearts…”
And so we’re going to pray as well on our scaffolding, because it’s doing good work, and it’s reminding us of our work too. Let us pray:
God, we bless you for the gift of this scaffolding, for the work that it signifies, the healing and restoration of this building. We pray that it may hold and be sturdy, that you will protect and guide all those who come to work upon it, and that the work done will be successful and hold for decades to come. We thank you for what this shows us of your love for us, the way you support and strengthen and heal; and of the love we are to have for one another. Bless us all as this work continues on the building, in our souls, and in our community, that we may all grow further and further in your love. In your Name we pray this. Amen.