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Church Lilies

Here is an essay I wrote several years ago and which comes to mind each year at this time, now with summertime arriving.

The first lily in the lily patch bloomed sometime in the night. Now it is morning and I sit on the step in front of the house, still in pajamas, having my coffee. I lean forward, stretching my back contentedly, elbows on knees, coffee cup resting in the larger cup of my facing palms, fingers near its rim, thumbs meeting below my chin. I take small sips of hot sweet coffee more desirable because outdoors.

The darkness of the coffee in the cup might reflect what I see looking up: the bright cloud, slender moon and, in the shadow of our pine hedge to the left of the sidewalk, the first lily, open–the first, that is, of the church lilies.

After last year’s Easter services were over and the lilies given in memory of loved ones had finished their blooming and been quietly removed from the sanctuary, I brought them home. Here I took them from their pots wrapped in purple foil, some pots adorned with bows of satin ribbon. I planted them just this side of the hedge. Nearby, in fact, just across the walk and clustered around the lamp post is a stand of daylilies. They have been blooming now for a week–lively orange and red and gold freely tangled with brome grass. I call them my wild unchurched lilies.

By contrast, this chaste white bloom on its upright stalk is rather staid. Later I will go to it and stoop to breathe the fragrance of Easter once again as in the old church. The church has only a small congregation; this very lily likely was brought there in memory of someone I loved, too. In memory, we say, as though but for our remembering they would not be near. They are near even if,  and even as,  we ourselves go on–working in our garden, or tasting the day’s first goodness. At least, that is what I think, here on the front step watching the moonlight give way to sunlight in my cup.

Nicodemus

Yesterday, unexpectedly, I was given the task–the privilege–of preaching and leading the worship service at two churches. This was because of a last-minute but wise decision on the part of their regular pastor, my guy, whose inner rumblings had troubled him greatly all Saturday night.

The Scripture reading for the day was from the third chapter of John’s Gospel, the story of Nicodemus, who comes under cover of darkness to see for himself what it’s all about, the talk he has heard about one Jesus of Nazareth. Ah, yes, I knew where to find a sermon about Nicodemus; it turned out to be one I had preached in these very churches, back in 1991. Away I went, Bible and old sermon in hand.

This is not the way I like to do things, you understand. Spontaneity is not my thing. Once in church, before my congregation, I found the pages of my written-out sermon to be only a dim record of a long-ago effort on my part. You would not have called it an inspired sermon, exactly!

So I talked to the folks about Nicodemus and the “teaching” he received from our Lord, that God’s Spirit is something like…the wind that blows where it will. Nicodemus could be the patron saint of all seekers and respectful inquirers, those who value dialogue and open-mindedness, those who are able to lay aside for the moment what they have heretofore believed to be true.

He will in fact show up later in John’s Gospel, twice–and there are hints that eventually he became  a disciple of Jesus. These are the Christian Scriptures, after all. Even if he did not, his life was changed by that late-night conversation with the wandering preacher and healer.

We are given such an appealing picture, here, of two spiritual seekers seated comfortably by a campfire, musing  over the ways of God. There is even some typically male banter (as I interpret it) “You’re a great teacher in Israel–how come you don’t know this?” Since yesterday, therefore, I have been thinking about John’s Gospel, the third chapter, out of which is taken, ironically, a verse often used to exclude those who have not accepted Christ, John 3:16. I think of gracious hospitality and of a learned and respected teacher who was not yet finished with learning, and who seldom, if ever, referred to his old notes.

Going Back

Two of our grandchildren, Maddie and Aiden, stayed at our house this past week, and their mother Jenny came on Wednesday. They are going home today, they and their mostly Silky Terrier, Jack. It is time. “I miss my dad,” Maddie said, a day ago. But oh, it has been such a good week!

One of our favorite things to do was to visit our neighbor’s two tall horses, a matched team, Kate and Dolly, in the large yard at another edge of our little town. We just only stood at the wood fence railing and waited for the horses to come over to us. The children gave them handfuls of green sweet grass. For my part, with my arms around Katie’s neck, breathing the fragrance of “horse” and resting against her massive stolid self, I pretended for a whole minute that I was a ten-year-old on a farm on the south edge of Mira Valley in the middle of Nebraska.

She could have been Bessie. She isn’t, of course. Animals are no more replaceable than people are, in our lives. But it was more than that. Because my daughter and her children lingered there with me to enjoy these two very beautiful creatures, the flooding contentment I felt was not in the past but the present. These things I will think of as Jenny and the kids wave goodbye to us from their car, a few hours from now.