Good morning. The Cubbies winning last night got me thinking about miracles.
I’ve been a member of New York Avenue for twelve years. I arrived an eager, ambitious young professional, focused on achievement and making my way, and I can tell you that this church has transformed me by the miracles I have witnessed in these walls and in the way its people move in the world. Miracles of extending the community of Christ across national and cultural boundaries. Miracles of homeless high school seniors who go to college. The miracle of the comfort that a loving congregation provides after the death of a child. The miracle of beautiful people falling in love with each other. And the miracle of the children who sometimes join those families.
I have watched the miracle of opening. Opening hearts, opening minds, thinking through the Scripture we were taught as children, wrestling over it until it becomes the Scripture that is new. The miracle of people leaving for a while, for State department posts, or mission work or partnership visits, and then coming back to this place that feels like home, where we can feel the connection to God and to each other as the world swirls around us.
I have watched Angela, a Young Adult Volunteer, transform and renew us. I have watched the miracle of impressive, whip-smart children of this church step into the pulpit and school us on theology and race as only young people can. I’ve seen the restorative, thoughtful work of the diaconal ministers. I watched Representative John Lewis conduct a miracle in this very spot, holding a hundred high school kids in the palm of his hand, describing chickens in his childhood in Alabama.
These are the everyday, every-week miracles of New York Avenue.
After about 11 1/2 years of attending, for some reason I decided it was time to help in the Radcliffe Room. My second week, I was still awkward and uncomfortable and got in the way of the people, like Spence and Barry, who really knew what they were doing.
It was March, and it was cold, and I was standing over by the bagels when one of the guests tapped me on the shoulder and said, “There is a lady with no shoes.” He came to me, as though I had some kind of authority, or would know what to do, and then he walked away to get his coffee.
It didn’t take long to find her. She was distraught, nearly crying, and her clothes were disheveled. She was talking, loudly, but was so upset she wasn’t making much sense. She seemed like she was about my mother’s age, and that took my breath away, that someone who was likely someone’s mother could walk around DC in March without shoes. How easily this could have been someone I love, how easily my mom.
I introduced myself, and asked if it was OK if we looked for some shoes. And, from nowhere, I asked for her size, like I was the shoe clerk at Macy’s, like I knew what I was doing. I helped her sit down, and then walked over to the bin of women’s shoes that sits on the stage. If you’ve ever seen this bin, you know that it is one of those full-sized, giant tupperware bins, that we likely all have in some storage or in our basement somewhere, an incarnation of the second rule of thermodynamics, which is that everything tends toward entropy. And often it contains shoes of the wrong season — strappy sandals in winter, high top hiking boots in summer.
But there, on this day, sitting at the top, were beautiful, nearly new, lug-soled, waterproof, lightweight, lined, perfect, cozy boots. Before I even picked them up I knew they would be her size, and sure enough, they were. I asked the men in the coat closet for a new pair of socks, which they produced, beautiful and clean, and I went back to our guest. I asked if these would work, and she said that they were just fine, so I knelt down to help her put them on.
But now she was talking again. She was upset about a trip to the doctor. I looked up. There were tears in her eyes. She talked about them poking and prodding her, asking questions, giving her a shot. When was this visit? What was it for? I couldn’t know, and didn’t ask. She was getting more and more upset. Somehow, not knowing what else to do, her new shoes on, I sat down next to her and held her hand, and said, “They were trying to help. Deep breath.” I didn’t, for a second, think she would do it, take this kind of suggestion from me, but she got quiet, and looked at me, and together we inhaled. We sat there and breathed deep, in and out, like the breath prayer Roger taught us just a couple weeks ago. The din of the room stilled, at least to me. We were there together. And after a little while, she calmly stood up, and went to get her breakfast.
What is the miracle of that? That miracle is that the shoes somehow show up, yes, but that also each week we have the opportunity, like this woman, to be open to the peace that God has in mind for us, in a place where we can breathe deeply, where we get to see what the kingdom of God looks like, where we can be totally focused on love and forgiveness, on people around us whom we want to emulate and lift up.
I feel new things coming here, because God is in a process of transforming us, and I don’t mean just New York Avenue, but the church in general, and that transformation is difficult and sometimes scary. But we can trust God to do God’s work, and we can trust God to guide us through it. What God asks is that we bring our whole selves, all that we are, and more specifically, all that we have. This building is a physical place, that has physical needs, and these needs cost money. Salaries and healthcare for pastors and staff cost money. The HVAC costs money. Office supplies and internet connections cost money.
This is what is required to create and preserve this space that brings to life of the kingdom of God that Jesus described. And it has been entrusted to our care for this time, and we want to leave it even better than we found it, for those high school kids and child prophets and diaconal ministers and homeless people and eager, ambitious young professionals who are yet to come. Please join me in making your pledge for our 2017 year, and please be generous when you do. Thank you.
Rebecca Davis 10/23/16