Thursday, November 01, 2007

For All Saints

Here's the sermon I preached today for Creative Preaching. It's not going to come across well over writing, because it's basically a monologue and was done with lots of "acting" and blocking. I'm quite pleased to be using my acting training again (and my prof thinks it's great to hear a preaching student say that!). I hated this piece by the time I performed it, but then doing it for the people who'd never heard it, it came alive again and I was so pleased with it. They were too - and I think I really got them Evangelicals thinking about our brothers and sisters from times past and present! My teacher said I have "uncommon gifts" for this (meant positively), and lots of people said I should do it in church. Well I don't know what church wants a crazy character lady showing up on All Saints Day, but I guess I managed to pull it off. I am a slight bit concerned to let my Jewish friends know that I don't mean to imply that you are somehow less "perfect" without Jesus. It's a message for Christians, that we need to be in touch with our forebears in the faith, and that definitely includes the Jews. My character just happened to hail from the Maccabean era because that was referenced in my text (Hebrews 11:32-12:3). All the stories are true. Anyway, enough chatter, here's the text. Enjoy.

Fear Not!
A Sermon for All Saints’ Day

(sitting, center stage)

It was dark and cold in the cave, and I was afraid. You could hear water dripping quietly somewhere deep inside. We hadn’t been there long; we just came out on the Sabbath so that we could worship Adonai without fear.

I didn’t want to be involved in politics. I was busy with my son, my first child. But I knew I must have him circumcised even though it was against the new laws. I could not neglect the teachings of Adonai. He is our God and we are his people. And so, Joshua was circumcised, and I had to hide him in public.

But on Sabbath, our family – from my grandmother on down to my son – would join the other Hasidim and leave the city, traveling north through the hill country, and find a cave or a grassy rise, where we would rest and pray and enjoy food and company. This particular Sabbath, there were rumblings of a revolution among our group. I didn’t want to think about what could happen if these rumors were true. I’d seen what our leaders were capable of. The week before, two of our women were thrown from the walls of the city – babies at the breast! – for circumcising them.

As I said, it was dark, and cold, in the cave, and I was afraid. I sensed something in the air – a tension, anxiousness. And then I smelled it…a sickly sweet smell like meat burning…and I could hear popping and crackling…and then, the screams began washing over me. Suddenly the cave was full of light, and I could see orange flames dancing at the entrance, blocking our only way out. I began to rise, but grandmother grabbed my hand and pulled me down.

“Fear not,” she said. She held my hand all through it – as Joshua began to cry, and I muffled his mouth until he lay still. As I coughed and my eyes stung. As the men around us, unwilling to fight on our holy day, frantically prayed for deliverance. Grandmother held my hand and kept telling me, “Fear not, my child, fear not…”

With her words in my ears, I closed my eyes.

When I opened them, it was dark again.

(look around, still seated)

Where are we, Grandmother?
“This is our time to wait, my child. Are you afraid?”
No. What should we do, Grandmother?
“Do? There is nothing for us to do,” she smiled. “We are not the ones who will do this.”

I don’t know how long I was in that place. It never changed. There was no indication of day or night, or of time passing. We simply waited. And then…then…

(stand, loudly)

“Fear not!”

A man’s voice filled the space. We were nearly blinded by the light. When I could see again, I squinted up, into the kindest eyes I had ever seen. I reached forward and grasped his hand. I remember thinking it was odd, that this man was radiating light, but he was hurt. His wounds seemed so fresh.

I knew this was him – our deliverer, who would lead us to the new Jerusalem. He gathered us – all of us. He took us to a place that I cannot describe to you – even if there were words, you wouldn’t be able to imagine it.

And then I saw Grandmother, and she had that look on her face like she knew something. I asked what, and she told me, “I know what we are to do, my child.” I thought, "Do? Aren’t we finished doing? What could we possibly have left to do?!"

She didn’t answer, she simply pointed, and I noticed a group of people standing and looking at something. I walked over to join them.

(walk to upstage right)

Everything around me dissolved, and suddenly I was in a sort of gymnasium, but much larger than the one in Jerusalem. There were thousands of people around me. The air was heavy with human stink and the heat of the afternoon. I looked and I saw a woman behind one of the gates leading into the arena. She was about my age, and holding a baby. I instantly felt a rush of love for her.

She handed her baby to a man standing near her – a man who was pleading with her, wailing at her. But she was quiet and resolute, and walked forward into the arena surrounded by her maids. The crowd leapt to its feet, jeering and hurling insults at her. She closed her eyes, and despite all the noise, I could hear her praying to Adonai.

When she opened her eyes, the crowd around her had more than doubled. She could see us – cheering for her, crying out, “Fear not, Perpetua! Fear not! We are with you! We are here!”

She smiled that knowing smile that I’d seen on Grandmother’s face so many times, and I knew that no matter what they did to her body, she was with us now.

(walk to downstage left)

Another time, I saw a young man. He was standing in front of his father, and he was removing the rich clothing he wore, piece by piece, dropping it on the marble floor. A cool breeze from the palatial windows gave him a shiver as he stood unclothed. A servant was nearby, holding a simple brown cloak and sandals. The young man looked into his father’s eyes – the eyes of a man whom he loved and whom he had severely disappointed.

“Father, I won’t be going into your business, I…I…”

He faltered. One of my companions whispered in his ear: “Fear not, Francis. Fear not. The Lord is with you. We are with you too.”

And Francis took a deep breath, and explained to his father that he did not need the villa or the fancy clothes, that he desired nothing but his Brother Sun and his Sister Moon and his companions in God’s creation. He put on his cloak and sandals, turned on his heel, and walked out of that death, and into his life.

(back up to upstage left)

Years passed, and I found myself again with a jeering crowd, this time in a very cold and grey city. Ringing bells filled the air, mingling with the slurping noises made by feet in the mud, as people jostled for a spot close to the platform ahead. It was loaded with wood.

A man was shoved up there, and stood in the midst of the pile. Blackened teeth bared as the excitement of the crowd grew to a fever pitch. Then I smelled that familiar smell – the sickly sweet aroma of meat burning. And I heard crackling and popping, and I looked up and saw that the man had been set on fire. As the flames lapped at his feet, though, he was staring at his hand.

“Fear not, Thomas!” cried our group. “God’s people are here with you!”

Cranmer raised his eyes, and looked directly at us. I knew he could sense or even see us. Then he looked again at his hand…

“With this hand, I wrote the recantation of my beliefs. My hand wrote contrary to my heart.”

(make a fist, then plunge it into the “flames” below. Rise, move to downstage right)

One day, it was just me. Just me and the little woman, writing in her diary…

She wrote, “In my soul I feel just that terrible pain of loss, of God not wanting me — of God not being God — of God not existing.”

Oh…fear not, Teresa. I am here. God loves you. God is in those people that you serve. Don’t be afraid. Don’t give up.

She closed her eyes, breathing deeply the spicy air, and opened them with new determination on her face. She rose, put on her simple white habit, and headed back out into the colorful bustle of Calcutta.

(back to center stage)

There are so many more stories to tell. I haven’t time for them all. But we want you to know them – they are yours. Our lives belong to Adonai, it’s true – but they also belong to you. There is something about my salvation and yours that is wrapped up in you knowing us, and us knowing you. We are not, apart from you, made perfect.

Of course the ultimate story is that of the pioneer and perfecter of our faith. All any of us wanted was to be like him. If our stories help you be like him, then our lives were worth the price.

Remember, Fear Not. We are with you. We want only what Adonai wants, and he wants you to join his kingdom of saints.

So lay aside every weight, and the sin that clings so closely, and surround yourself instead with the great cloud of witnesses. We will be here for you. We will be cheering for you.



Keyframegirl said...

Sam pointed out last night (once we got home from Matt & Dan's) that you in fact were the author of this blog I had been reading and enjoying for some time.

You are very talented, gifted and a keen sense of humor!!

We had also met a few years ago at one of the Whitworth's Halloween bash. So I look forward to seeing you on Halloween again in a few years. Next time I won't be so shy.

Natalie Ebnet

Brenda said...

Wonderful, superb. Very creative imagination. You will one day make a congregation very happy (or very challenged!)


Hugo Schwyzer said...

Our lives belong to Adonai, it’s true – but they also belong to you. There is something about my salvation and yours that is wrapped up in you knowing us, and us knowing you.

Loved that, and really, the whole sermon. Well done!