Sunday, December 5, 2010

Beauty Ranch

2010 December 5, Second Sunday of Advent, Isaiah 11:1-10, Psalm 72:1-7 & 18-19, Romans 15:4-13, Matthew 3:1-12,

In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit: source of all being, eternal word and holy breath of God: Amen.

About a hundred years ago a man rode into a valley - and looked around him. It was a beautiful place with views of majestic mountains and hills covered with that tawny grass we know in summers in much of the West. He saw that things could grow here - with nurture and water - this would be a good place for a ranch, and grape vines, and fruit trees.

There was a farm house and he built a barn. He planted an orchard and a vineyard. On the porch and in the study of the house (and probably on his walks and rides around the ranch and its environs) he carried on the profession he'd brought with him. The ranch prospered, the vines and trees bore fruit.

Other people moved into the valley and followed his example.

He built his dream house - with a good architect, solid rock and great hewn timbers. It was to be a place for friends and family to gather - to enjoy the good green earth - and when you rode up the hill to it you would get an impressive view, of the house and the orchards and fields around it, through the tall trees guarding the road, and once you got up to the house itself, the magnificent vista looking out over the hills and towards the mountains beyond and around it.

Fruit still grows to ripeness there.

Descendants still take an interest in the old place - people come to see it from time to time.

Jack London lived to see his dream house built - but he did not get to live in it.

It's no longer there - what is there are some of the trees he planted, the fields he cleared, some of the outbuildings, and oddly enough the little old house that was there when he started. Jack died on the porch of that house of uremic poisoning - after a full life lived well and passionately, his kidneys failed.

He left behind him a legacy not only for family and friends, for the readers of his words, but for the community. The people who came into the valley with him and before him - he acknowledged the primeval people of the place - and new people who come into the Valley of the Moon to this day - all benefit from what he did.

It's not so much what he built or how long it lasted - it has a lot to do with what he grew and harvested - it has even more to do with what he planted - and how he carried others along in his mission.

His mission was to establish a peaceful growing place - a place to live, a place to grow, a place to share in the abundance of the earth. It fostered his own creativity - he wrote every day, on that porch, five hundred words - it fostered a growing, creative life-sharing community - a tradition of how to live a good, generous, big life.

Of course he is gone now: the descendants of John Griffith London are not the big men in the valley (though they are still around and still keep an eye on the orchards and fields). What you see is new and old: continuity-in-change and change-in-continuity.

Remember the best of the past and look forward to the future - bring into the present moment the freedom God has given you - and go forth from this place, a place of God's abundance, in abiding love, strengthened, renewed, refreshed, and ready.

Preserving the past or its memories alone won't preserve it. Won't keep it alive. Won't nurture new growth. Won't bring life.

Another John, Lennon, found that out: life is what happens while you are making other plans.

The legacy is not in the building - the life of the community, the church - does not stay in the building - it reaches out. It has to do, yes, with what you have grown and harvested - in thanksgiving time we celebrate that. It has even more to do with what you have planted - and what the people coming new into this part of the world make of it - of what you have planted - and even more of how.

Whether the old place still stands or not, in the valley, it lingers in our memory: a sturdy place of shelter, of welcome and of beauty; an achievement and a monument of achievements past, but more than that a guidepost and landmark to guide our feet into the paths of peace.

Where will you go now, O people of God - how will you serve and what will you grow? What will you nurture? What fruit will you bear and what seeds will you sow?

Are you preparing the ground for new growth? Have you given thanks for the harvest, cleared the ground, and nurtured the soil? Will you be ready for spring?

New growth is coming - a new season on the old ranch - what will it look like? Familiar or foreign, will it be nurtured by remembrance of things past or captured in nostalgia? Will this present moment become a moment of freedom grasped - or forgotten?

What we know is this: God is our guide, our creator, sustainer, and redeemer. God will be there ahead of us as he was before us - planting, sowing, harvesting, cultivating, beginning and beginning again; his legacy is his calling forth into the future his people that true beauty and the fruits of the Spirit come forth and be known upon this earth.

We proclaim the mystery of faith, the mystery of Christ. We remember his death, we proclaim his resurrection, we await his coming in glory We await actively - by seeking strength and renewal; by going forth in peace to love and serve the Lord; by carrying forward his mission in the world; by bearing the fruit of the Spirit - peace, joy, gentleness, and hope; - and by nurturing in others the Word newly planted in their hearts; by seeing in the stranger a newcomer to the valley, a new partner in the work, to welcome.

May we go forward in hope
in the abundance of love
in the renewal of grace
in the strength of faith. Amen.


Jack London, "The Acorn Planters" (play)

Sermon for the second Sunday of Advent 2010
St Alban's Episcopal Church, Edmonds, Wash.


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