It was 1971. I was a senior in HS. I had applied to two colleges. My draft number however was six. Which meant that was a fairy certain chance I was going to be drafted. So I enlisted.
Back then, during the Vietnam era, if you enlisted you got to pick your MOS – military occupational specialty – but you had to serve 3years, one more than if drafted.
I went to basic training at Fort Dix NJ, Chaplain Assistant Training at Fort Hamilton, NY, and served my entire tour of duty at WRAMC, Washington DC.
I didn’t like the experience very much. Primarily, because Vietnam was an unpopular war. If fact, I never talked about it all that much until the first year I was here at Trinity and “Bish” Reig’s, ask if Trinity would host the Hometown Hero Walk.
At the first walk all veterans wore T-shirts that symbolizes what war or conflict or time period they served. That day, some 36 years after my discharge was the first time anyone had ever said to me, “Thanks for you service.”
I cried. I had never realize how important that recognition was to me until that moment. That was an experience of the kingdom of God. Where have you experienced the kingdom of God?
Yette Gieser was a homebound member of my first congregation, RLC, Lawrence MA.
The day after I had visited with her and brought communion, I got a call from the chaplain at the local hospital. Yette is in ICU. She’s not looking good. Get here as soon as you can.
Although I was caught off guard by the events that unfolded over the next 16 hours, Yette was not. For as long as I’d known her, she had taken seriously Jesus’ command in this week’s Gospel reading: Keep awake, for you do not know the day or the hour. Always a planner, she had been preparing for most of her life. Everybody dies, after all, and she intended to be ready.
She was at the hospital that day on account of a fall at home. When tests indicated a massive, systemic infection, including the beginning of organ failure, she did not hesitate in her instructions to the doctors. There would be no heroic measures.
When I visited with her she said, Yes, I’m dying. It’s okay.
The remaining hours of her life proved to be an embodiment of those things that mattered most to her—God and family—and a fitting expression of her identity and her faith. As her children and their families gathered at her bedside, for as long as she still had the strength, her words expressed unwavering love for them. She was sorry to leave, she said, but she was eager to be reunited with her husband and to be, finally, in the nearer presence of Jesus.1
This was to be the first of many experiences for me of the Kingdom of God around a death bed. Where have you experienced the kingdom of God?
The fading light of evening streaked through the stained-glass windows at St. Richard’s Episcopal Church in Round Rock, Texas, as about a dozen military veterans knelt at the altar rail.
The veterans, including men who had seen combat in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan, had come to the suburban Austin sanctuary that August night seeking reconciliation and healing.
The priest, a slim 41-year-old former U.S. Army chaplain, invited them to write down and offer up to God any transgressions they may have committed while in the military that now plague their consciences.
“Maybe you killed someone,” the Rev. David Peters told them. “Maybe you don’t know who you killed. … Maybe you sat back when someone was suffering.”
Silently, each person wrote a few words on a yellow Post-it, then deposited the note in a thurible used for incense.
“It will burn up,” Peters said. “God will hear it and see it. And God will forgive you.”2
This was experiences of the Kingdom of God for Veterans. Where have you experienced the kingdom of God?
Sally is in fourth grade. Her best friend is Shelly. But she is mad at Shelly right now because last night Shelly broke her favorite ceramic doll; a doll given to her by her grandmother.
You see Shelly was bouncing on Sally’s bed – which is a no, no to begin with – and as she was bouncing she knocked the doll off the shelf above Sally’s bed. It broke in to a million pieces when it hit the floor, way too many to put it all together again.
When it happened Sally yelled at Shelly. Called her names and told her to go home. She did go home, in tears.
And today Sally is feeling badly about how she treated her BFF. She is wishing there was a way to be friends again.
Then she remembered there is. It’s call communion. Sally is going to communion to receive God’s forgiveness for what she did and said. Then she will forgive Shelly.
This is experiences of the Kingdom of God for Sally. Where have you experienced the kingdom of God?
Today’s parable about silly and wise bridesmaids is an invitation to keep looking for the Kingdom of God. It’s a parable about what it means to remain alert and in the moment; about how the Kingdom of God is breaking in all around us and we may be too busy to even notice.
So, I invite you to take your pink insert out and begin to make a list of where the Kingdom is visible in your life. The Kingdom of God has been known to show up …in the tear of a veteran thanked after so many years, in the preparations you make for death, in the sorrow you feel after fighting with your best friend, in the sins you confess and healing you seek.
The Kingdom of God is found, my friends, wherever there is weeping over pain and alienation, and rejoicing over wholeness and love.
So start your list and be sure to look in your home, the face of a child, the hands worn from work, in the sunset, in daily food, at the pub, in the sharing of food, in the dance, is sexuality, in the financial gifts you make to the church, in a walk in the woods, on retreat at the Junior Youth Gathering, in all your acts of generosity.
Start here at this table where bread and wine are served to all seeking the Kingdom, silly or wise, and keep looking. Stay alert. And when you feel you’re running low on oil, hope, love, patience, trust or joy. Come back to this table, where all are welcome and Jesus reigns as the king of the Kingdom.
Let all Kingdom seekers say. Amen.
1Hope in the face of death, Audrey West, The Christian Century, 2017