A happy Domhnach Curran to you all – Carrot Sunday. In Scottish tradition on the Sunday afternoon before the feast of St Michael, women and girls would go out into the fields and dig up wild carrots. They would tie them into bunches with red thread, and give them to their beloved on the night of St Michael’s Day, a symbol of fertility. You never thought of a carrot that way, did you? now you always will!* Tomorrow is technically the feast of Michael on the church calendar, so this afternoon is your time, ladies – go dig those carrots, in honor of St Michael! But don’t forget to sing the special song as you present the carrots tomorrow night:
It is I myself that have the carrots,
Whoever he be that would win them from me.
It is I myself that have the treasure,
Whoso the hero could take them from me.
(John is working to set this to music for you.)
Men, if you’re wishing you too could do something fun today, you can go out and steal horses tonight – another Michaelmas tradition. Don’t worry – everyone knows you’ll return them the day after tomorrow, after you finish joyriding them in tomorrow’s races.
Ah, the glories of a tradition that so beautifully harmonizes the elemental pagan emphases on life and death, with the teaching of the church on – well, life and death. Religion old and new is always about what is truly important, our essential questions of life – even though we usually find ourselves living it out in more everyday ways.
Even without the carrots and the horses, we are blessed in our church to tell again every year the wild story of St Michael, the story of the war in heaven and the ultimate triumph of good over evil, the dragon cast down from heaven to earth. It’s a vivid, glorious story, worthy of great windows and art – because it’s not just a story, but a portrayal of the deepest undercurrents of our existence. We are always in the midst of that ultimate conflict of good and evil. And I don’t mean the little angel on one shoulder and the little devil on the other as you decide whether to eat the danish. It’s far subtler than that. We are part of God’s work here on earth. And there is much to do.
Over the next several weeks at St Michael’s we’ll be spending time with each of our Core Values, sifting through and understanding how we live them out here, and in our own lives. Our core values are, in case you’ve forgotten: Following Jesus Christ, Spiritual Growth, Community, Diversity, Joy, and Stewardship – all strong positive words to say what we believe and what we stand for in this world. We are following Jesus as we seek to grow spiritually, build real community where everyone belongs, steward the gifts we’ve been given, and do it all with joy. And all of that we each do individually as well – if God is calling us to it, it’s not just reserved for our church selves. It’s for the whole of our lives. Every moment of our lives has God at work in it – in every moment, heaven and earth are intertwined.
Our spiritual ancestor Jacob is one who experienced that intersection of heaven and earth. The reading from Genesis for this feast day tells of Jacob’s night vision of the ladder of angels. It’s a delightful story, and there’s a great spiritual that goes along with it – we are climbing Jacob’s ladder, etc. – but we shouldn’t forget the context. Jacob, it’s important to remember, is no sweet-faced innocent having a dream of angels. He’s just been expelled from his father’s house after cheating his twin brother Esau out of his blessing. He and his mother Rebekah connived against Esau and their senile father Isaac, and now Esau wants to kill him. So off Jacob goes, fleeing to his mother’s relatives in another land – his uncle Laban, who himself will trick Jacob and cheat him out of years of labor in order to marry his wife Rachel. These are the good people who are our ancestors in the faith, mind you, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, Sarah, Rebekah, Leah and Rachel, those names we recite so often. Always reassuring to recall when we get to our own confession of sins: we’re in good company.
Eventually the scoundrel Jacob experiences the amazing grace of his brother Esau’s forgiveness. The Bible study group can tell you that story. But this story of the ladder of angels is a long time before that. Morally compromised and in fear for his life, Jacob sees the angels of heaven and hears the voice of God. Transfixed with the vision, he declares, ‘This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.’ Even self-serving Jacob, with all his flaws and all his cruel tricks, comprehends the greatness of the story he is a part of. Even he can see what is true.
Even here now, even at St Michael’s today, in the midst of our compromised, ordinary lives, we can see it too. This is the gate of heaven.
We see that conflict of good and evil in our world today on stages great and small. The changes to our climate and our inability to productively address solutions together – called out increasingly by the youngest generations among us. The crumbling of old myths we have told ourselves about the founding of our country, and about the nature of the land we inherited – all proving to be stories white people told that obscured the truth of what was really so. The dramatic erosion of common understanding about what is admirable or even legal in our government leaders. Anxiety, uncertainty, and fear are running high, even for those who try to hide from the news until it all blows over.
Because then there’s all the other conflict, the kind that is at large in each and every age. The loneliness and isolation that makes us treat each other as less than human. The fear of difference that makes us band together only with like-minded people. The resource scarcity that makes us hoard money for ourselves alone. The overwhelm of getting by in the day to day that makes us too short-sighted to care about those who will come after us. Disease and illness, injury and death. And crowning it all, the great fear of losing control.
The Franciscan writer Richard Rohr wrote some time ago,
Those who agree to carry and love what God loves, which is both the good and the bad of human history, and to pay the price for its reconciliation within themselves – these are the followers of Jesus…that God can use to transform the world.
The good and bad of human history. The good and bad of each one of us, living a life far less than what God would have us live. And yet all of it loved and held by God – all of it ours to carry as well.
Of course none of the bad is fixed by coming to church. None of it is resolved by drafting a series of words, core values that sum up our opposition to all that binds us. None of it ends because we beg God to change things and wait to see if God will act. Healing takes more than that.
We carry and love what God loves, paying the price for its reconciliation within ourselves. It hurts, the agony of this world. It is painful to be human. It is hard not to be numb, it is easy to choose distraction instead. But here at the gate of heaven, there is a lot of going to and fro. Angels ascending and descending, back and forth, because there is much to be done. And we’re part of the doing; part of the healing. It’s what we’re here for.
Our pledge drive starts today, and in a few moments Kyle Okimoto will say more about that. The title of the drive this year is Where Everyone Belongs. And again, it’s not just words. Everyone does belong, with God. Every one of us is needed – every child of God is part of the family, and part of the transformation of the world. We’re not just here today to grow a church and feel good about ourselves – we’re here to remind ourselves of God at work in the world around us – to see the angels coming and going and to witness again to the gate of heaven in every part of the world. This earth is none other than the house of God. May we open our eyes to see it all.