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    Jun 08, 2014

    Balancing Points

    Balancing Points

    Passage: John 14:15

    Series: All

    Category: Summer 2014

    Keywords: commandments, love

    I will not leave you orphaned.

              Have you heard the one about the man who was selling tickets to a charity benefit performance by a popular singer? He approached his neighbor about buying some tickets and the man said: “I’m sorry, I’m busy that night but, I will be with you in spirit.”  Where upon the ticket seller replied. “Good.  Where would your spirit like to sit?  In a $10 seat, or a $25.00 seat?”

              While we smile at this joke there is a serious principle running underneath this story.  A theme throughout the Gospel of John is “What it means to love God?” When the word love appears in John in the same sentence are words like: “do” or “obey.”  Over and over we read that God so loves us and that God does all these things for us AND in return we can love God by being obedient and doing for God for others what has been done for us.  Raymond Brown wrote in his commentary of the Gospel of John: “If claims of love do not show themselves in action and commitment, they are not valid.”

    Jesus said:  “If you love me, you will keep my commandments –period!”  How are we to keep them?  By living them every day in all we say and do. In order to help us – to guide us – we are given the gift of the third part of the Holy Trinity – the Advocate Holy Spirit. 

    Let me pause and note that the word “Advocate” in the text was a legal term.  It is an easy translation for us in our system of justice.  Think defense attorney – the lawyer that is on our side. That must be hard to do because we are sometimes guilty of a variety of sins and yet we have an advocate.  It is also more properly used in this context as one that sends us forth into the world to use our God given gifts for community.  Our catechism says that The Holy Spirit is revealed to us as the giver of life that leads us into all truth and enables us to grow in the likeness of Christ.

    This past Thursday at the Burial Office of Marva McCoy I used as an illustration a painting hanging at Crystal Bridges, The Model by Thomas Eakins and early impressionist and a teacher at an arts academy.

    What first caught my eye about the painting was the fact that Eakins left along the edges of the painting, in plain view, what artist call “balancing points.”

    “Balancing points” are those lines or dots or other symbols that help the artist keep the painting balanced, even.  This is important considering a painting may take many days and weeks to complete. Almost always balance points are covered up by paint past the framing edges but not The Model.

    You can clear see carefully measured vertical and horizontal lines on the borders of the painting.  Before the first brush stroke the canvas would have looked like graft paper.

    I wondered why this late nineteenth century painter left the balancing points visible until one day when I was thinking about how Marva lived each day in plain sight and I realized that Eakins wanted us to see his method of painting – he was teaching us an “artist secret.” In the same way Marva’s spiritual practices were out in plain view in order to teach her family and friends about spiritual balancing points.  She had a daily routine of prayer and study before she began her day. There was a way to cook by getting out a recipe, making sure you had what was needed, putting out the food and the cooking utensils, and careful orderly preparing the food.

    That is what we mean in our church about the work of the Holy Spirit we Invoke at the beginning of every day to be with us and to keep us balanced in our helter skelter lives.

    One of the hallmarks of our Episcopal Church is that we have a lot of balancing points available to use in the Book of Common Prayer. It was intentionally ordered and written with balancing points.  Have you read it and most important are you using it?  This becomes even more important when sometimes you feel what Jesus knew we feel and sometimes experience – being orphans.

    That sometimes occurs when those we had counted on all our lives, our parents, die and we feel cut off –out in the cold. Maybe it was when a trusted friend dies and we are left with no one to call and go shopping or maybe when members of the foursome move away, or that steady job changes and you are left out. The tragic occurs in many different ways. You can fill in this blank in your lives.  It is a sound spiritual exercise that helps remember. (To remember is to bring the past to the present and to take a look at those balancing points.)

    In a few weeks during the Sunday morning Adult Sunday School time, I will be offering classes to prepare those who want to be confirmed or received or to renew their confirmations vows in time for Bishop’s visit at the end of July. If you don’t remember the balancing points in The Book of Common Prayer, please join us even if you are already a confirmed Episcopalian.

    Jesus also said that he would abide along the Advocate and teacher Holy Spirit was with us he was in spirit also living with us.  We are not orphans when we have someone to talk to (prayer) to eat with (the Holy Eucharist) to live with us every moment of every day in a spiritual way. This is The Holy One “to whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid.”

    On this Memorial Day weekend there was a critical balancing point in our history that has become so distorted, forgotten, or maybe never taught. 

    How did Memorial Day begin?  What was the significant precipitating event?  It began and still is a solemn occasion and a time of deep grief and a profound commitment to end our fascination with violence and war. It is a soul searching day and not a time for parades, partisan speeches, and shallow patriotism.  Congress created a special flag waving day in September called Veterans Day let’s not get the two confused.

    Memorial Day began during the last days of the War Between the States.  It began in several southern churches seeking their balance and also doing the right moral thing.  It grew out of what is still practiced in rural America known as Decoration Day. 

    In those days often cemeteries were attached to a church. In late April or May Parishioners would bring bouquets of flowers with them to church. At the end of the church services the parishioners would leave in procession and decorate the graves of all those buried in their cemetery. In those days both Confederate and Union soldiers were buried in those cemeteries sometimes side by side.  But those southern women bravely placed flowers on ALL the graves.  And then the congregation moved on to other cemeteries in the town, many of them divided up by armies and decorated union and confederate graves. And then they prayed over those graves and remembered all those families both North and South devastated by that great and terrible war.

    So deeply moved by this simple act of Christian inclusivity, the occupying union soldiers took the practice home and placed flowers of all the soldiers’ graves.  Some of them became members of congress and they passed legislation of healing remembrance vowing in the act to never study war again.  That terrible war cut deep into the hearts and souls of all Americans.

    My oldest brother died this past week. His military funeral will be at Arlington National Cemetery at later date where he will be buried in that special called American heroes.

    General LeMay called Allan the most decorated Air Force pilot of the Viet Nam War Era. As noted in his obituary my fighter pilot brother flew 437 combat missions and received four purple hearts, four silver stars, six bronze stars and 59 air medals.  He was the commander of the top secret C.I.A. squadron known as The Ravens.  For political considerations his Medal of Honor had to given to him by the Laotian Government.

    However, when Allan was graduating from Auburn University I was graduating from the first grade at Dueling Elementary school. Therefore we never lived together nor had any really in depth conversation until ten years ago.  It was on a very special fishing trip to Alaska. At the end of the day we sat on the porch and started a conversation that never ended.  There were pauses but we would pick it back up right where we left off.

    He told me a story about a balancing point in his life as a fighter pilot, that I have never seen on television, in movie, a photograph or even in a painting the scene he described. He said that before every combat mission  the pilots would gather together just before they went to their planes and formed a circle and held hands and offered to God their prayers. They knew all of them were about to takeoff and head into harm’s way and that not all of them might return to land their planes and fly another mission. After their debriefing they again join together in a circle and prayed for their absent comrades and their families. Sometimes they ended with the poem High Flight by John D. Magee the young American pilot that joined the R.A.F. and was killed in World War II.  In their own way all of them that day had reached out and touched the face of God.

    It was also in Southeast Asia that my hero brother became addicted to the soap opera “Days of our Lives.” that he never wanted to miss!

    Last night as I stood with some of you present and we interred the moral remains of Bill and Lucy Pengelly. I wondered how many men and women interred in our cemetery are veterans of one of our 30 wars starting with World War II. Bob Tittle was at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 and Jim Gore was a P.O.W. in a German P.O.W.  Bud Wrede was all over the Pacific and not just as a quartermaster. Let us prayer remember all of them tomorrow.

    We all need balance points and God assures us we have an advocate and teacher and we have the Son who abides with us in our times of great sorrow and in our times of great joy. It is all in the lessons we read every day from the Bible, in our Hymnal and Prayer Book. As St. John reminded us to love is to do.  Amen