October in Northern Virginia is an explosion of color: the trees are red, gold, orange, yellow, with a cerulean blue sky above. Our schedules are also more active with business trips, meetings, school functions, and sports of all sorts and varieties at the forefront of almost everyone’s life. It is no wonder that amid all of this activity and transition from one season to the next, life can feel more vibrant and more intense than at other times of the year. In fact, it may be especially surprising that while life seems to be intensifying on one level, with each falling leaf, with each completed sports event, with each passing day we move closer to a season of dormancy and stillness. This weekend we will once more “Fall Back” as our clocks return to what some would call normal time. For some of us this is a welcome event, for others the shortened days, and the gentle yet persistent journey toward winter is more of a challenge. Where, in the natural seasons of life, do we find meaning or peace?
God has chosen to create with seasons; seasons in nature and seasons within our human experience. We may be familiar with this passage from the book of Ecclesiastes in the Bible:
For everything there is a season, and a
time for every matter under heaven:
² a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up
what is planted;
³ a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build
⁴ a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
⁵ a time to throw away stones, and a time
to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain
⁶ a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to throw away;
⁷ a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
⁸ a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.
What may be less familiar is a passage a few verses later:
God has done this, so that all should stand in awe before him.
¹⁵ That which is, already has been; that which is to
be, already is; and God seeks out what has
There is an inherent collapse of time in this passage; an understanding that all that was, is, or will be…already is in God. No doubt such an understanding might be troubling as a feeling of inevitability creeps in! However, in saying “whatever is to be, already is…” there is also a hopefulness, an encouragement that we need not worry or fret that things will turn out as planned. As St. Julian would tell us, in God “all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well.” Within each season of life, within each moment, we have an assurance that God, the God of eternal love, has already enfolded us in love, and our baptismal vows affirm, “We are sealed by the Holy Spirit in baptism and marked as Christ’s own forever.”
Are we afraid of loss? Of failure? Of change or of insecurity? Whatever we may believe about God, all of creation surrounds us, inviting us into a bigger celebration of what life can mean. Humans, whose days are measured in sunrises and sunsets, tend to measure life in numbers: the length of our days, the amount of our paycheck, the number of times we feel successful. And yet our lives are happening within a much wider, more vibrant relationship to the whole of God’s divine work, we are but one thread in God’s divine tapestry. So regardless of the numbers or our human perspective, there is a peace in knowing that all, the cumulative of all existence, is held within God’s eternal love and grace. Each sunrise, each moonrise, each light, each dark, our days are numbered as moments of all that was, all that is, and all that will be in God’s divine dance of eternal love…and so we dance with joy!
The fall is traditionally, and agriculturally, a time of harvest, and in our faith tradition images of harvest are often associated with the mission of the church. When we think of ministry as the planting of seeds, the tending of spiritual growth and eventually of harvest, in what ways do we see God already at work in the community of St. Peter’s in the Woods? Are there seeds that need planting? Are there places where we are called to focus our ministry, ‘pruning’ out distractions that are keeping us from deeper meaning and spiritual growth? And are there fields ripe for harvest? Over the next month I will be blogging each week a reflection on one of our ministries as related to this understanding of God’s work as sowing, tending, and gathering God’s harvest.
This weekend’s Fall Festival is clearly a time of harvest; many people have devoted their days, evenings, and weekends to plant seeds and tend the growth of this program. Their preparation has been an act of service, of stewardship, as they have given generously of their time, talent, and treasure. There are also those who have not been called to participate in the planning but who will attend the festival and offer their own stewardship of time and talent in supporting this ministry. They will arrive willing to support, to join in an ongoing work. And then what of those in our community who will attend, the ones without any connection to our parish whose presence at the festival is an act of joining in, of becoming part of our parish mission and outreach? It would be easy to overlook those who attend from our wider community as merely recipients without an understanding that they are also active participants. In Northern Virginia there are a myriad of possible activities on a Saturday. Those who attend have responded to our invitation, they have chosen to make our festival a priority. It will be their own stewardship, their own treasure, whether or not they realize it that will nurture our parish ministry of mission and outreach. When we use these funds to serve others, they will have played a vital part. And what of those in our community who have not been able to support this ministry? I, myself, will be absent on Saturday as I am in South Carolina to celebrate the marriage of Kelley Fennessey and Gavin McDuff. Each year I have found the Fall Festival to be a joyous occasion for meeting new people, and enjoying the fellowship of our welcoming and vibrant community. It is at times like this that I am most aware of God’s blessings, for we share in ministry together regardless of geography or time. You and I are part of God’s Kingdom, part of an expansive act of divine love and reconciliation. When we are apart we pray for one another, supporting one another through the power of God’s Holy and life-giving Spirit. So, what part will you play in the harvest that is the Fall Festival? In all of our ministries as a parish? This weekend your attendance at the Fall Festival, even if for a short time, would be a blessing to you as well as to others. And for those who will attend, I pray you will greet all people, known and unknown, in the name of Christ, knowing that those of us who cannot attend will be holding you in prayer, inviting God’s Holy Spirit to create in you a good work. In keeping with this week’s lectionary, let us not forget that we are created by God, called by God, and empowered by God to serve others. May we be faithful in our call, sharing the Good news of Christ’s redeeming love that heals and renews our broken and hurting world.
Godspeed, Rev.. DeDe+