Sunday, June 27, 2010

Sermon: Gleaning

from Sit and Eat:

Lydia's congregant Jennifer Goodnow preached this sermon at St. Lydia's on Sunday, June 20 as part of our exploration of the book of Ruth.  Jennifer is a teacher and life long Episcopalian.  You can read the text for her sermon here.

There are women who come to my neighborhood on a regular basis to go through the garbage bags that the supers leave out for sanitation pick-up the next day. These women are well-known by the supers, always work in a tidy and organized fashion, and clean up after themselves, tying up bags when they have collected what they need. The women collect cans but also go through the black garbage bags and collect clothing that Upper East Siders deem unworthy of the many local thrift stores. 

I have often wanted to talk with them but I don’t speak Spanish very well and I don’t want to scare them. I’m guessing they are undocumented and suspicious and fearful of being turned over to La Migra. I’d rather smile and say good morning and leave it at that instead of frightening them with the many questions I have.

They are foreigners. They speak Spanish and I believe are from South America. They may not speak English. They may have little education, little opportunity other than collecting cans and clothes. They are modern day gleaners, sweeping up the remainders of people who live n the wealthiest, highest educated zip code in the United States. They are the Ruths of the 21st century.

It’s easy for me to look at these disenfranchised women and compare them to Ruth. Ruth has chosen the life of a foreigner in a foreign land, just like them. Women during Ruth’s time had little power. Childless widows had no power. The gleaners on my block – if they are undocumented – are, technically speaking, against the law. If they were caught they could be deported, even though NY is not exactly Arizona. The gleaners I see on my block are poor. They are in a desperate situation, like Ruth.

However, I am gleaning as well. I’m a spiritual gleaner. God has laid out a huge feast for me … and I am eating crumbs off the corner of the table. I believe God sees more in me than I can see for myself. I think that God’s perfect paradise, enlightenment, full communion with God is just over my shoulder. But I am looking for it in the wrong place. I’m looking straight ahead and can only see a glimpse of it out of my peripheral vision. I’m standing and eating the crumbs that have fallen on the edge of a table and that’s all I can see. If I would shift my gaze a bit more, I would see an enormous banquet with dish after dish laid out on an endless table.  But, I seem to suffer from a myopia that does not allow me to realize what is present. The Hindus call it Maya – the mistaken belief that the world we are living in now is all that is real which leaves no room for the other-worldly or divine.

I used to go to another church, an Episcopal church, here in Manhattan. Dogs are allowed in the church and I would bring my golden retriever, Music with me to the service. A few years ago, we decided to switch the Eucharist from the wafer to homemade bread baked by different congregants. It’s a honey-infused, whole-wheat crumbly cake. Connor, my godson, hated it when he was younger. He would receive and then palm his communion bread and try to sneak feed it to my dog! I used to tell him that dogs don’t need communion because they are already in full communion with God. My dog, Music is pure love. We humans are the ones who need the help! We need the communion with each other and God. When I come to St. Lydia’s every week, I eat a piece of baguette and I drink three buck chuck from Trader Joe’s – but that’s not my communion. My experience of communion is being in community with everyone here. I have small moments in life when I’m not simply gleaning. When I’m not eating crumbs off the edge of the table, moments when I get a clearer sense of the feast that is laid out for me and everyone else in common union.

We share the sermon at St. Lydia’s and I invite you to reflect on your own experience of spiritual gleaning, communion, or anything else that resonates with you from the text or my words tonight.

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