May 15, 2022
May 15, 2022
Let us pray: Enduring Creator, life is not easy. You are our refuge and strength in times of trouble. We ask you to guide us as we make decisions, resolve problems, and seek to help others. Amen
If you are a Harry Potter fan, you know about Fawkes, Professor Dumbledore’s phoenix, who comes swooping into the basement of Hogwarts and weeps onto Harry’s stab wound, the tears healing him. If you remember some of your mythology from school, you know the story of the amazingly beautiful large bird, who lived a very long life. Ultimately, as he bird’s plumage faded, his feathers falling out, the aging creature built a large nest. This extraordinary nest was made of the finest of herbs and spices, especially cinnamon. The phoenix ascends the nest and waits for the sun to rise. It sings out a haunting melody. This song is so beautiful, the sun stops in the sky to listen. When the music ends, the sun starts its journey again, creating a spark, which lands on the phoenix’ s nest, burning the bird. All that is left is a tiny worm, which transforms over the next three days into a new fabulous brightly colored orange, red, and purple phoenix.
When I was young, I remember reading a book about a phoenix, something I had never heard about before. The story was about a young boy, who was troubled and having problems. I don’t remember all the details now, but he met this phoenix in the rural mountainous area where he lived. The phoenix became a mentor to him and helped him resolve some of his issues. Eventually, the bird told him he had to go away soon. The boy climbed up to where he usually met him and saw the nest going up in flames. While grief-stricken, the young man remembered that the phoenix said he would be back. The boy used the knowledge shared by the phoenix to lead a productive life. While I’ve forgotten the specifics, image of the wise beautiful bird who died and came to life again has always stayed with me.
This story of decline and resurrection has played a role in many cultures throughout the years. The Egyptians used it as a symbol for the renewed fertility and subsequent wealth when the Nile flooded. The Greeks and Romans equated it with immortality, the Chinese with grace, virtue, and power, and before the symbolism was used by the early Christians, the story of Milcham is part of Jewish mythology. Milcham, a phoenix-like bird was one of the animals in the Garden of Eden. Eve, supposedly offered the apple not only to the serpent, but other animals as well, including Milcham. He refused the temptation and was rewarded for his faithfulness with a special place to live, where every 1000 years his life cycle would end and he would be reborn.
The earliest Christians saw the phoenix story as a symbol of the life and resurrection of Christ, symbolism that remains today. Yes, the ancient tale of the phoenix has stayed with humanity throughout its history, all the way up to Harry Potter. One of its mythical ancient homes was aptly named Phoenicia in the Middle East, an area now known as Lebanon. Today, we have a city in Arizona called Phoenix.
That brings us to 2022 and, here at Maryland Presbyterian Church. Three years ago, we had a positive spirit and energy that portended some wonderful accomplishments to come. Then there was this bump in the road, that turned into a giant pothole, called COVID! We couldn’t meet together and had to learn how to worship on Zoom or Facebook or the phone. The school was closed, the bridge ladies were gone, our connections were challenged. Meanwhile our building was carrying on our mission. It turned into a satellite food bank. It became a Meals on Wheels depot. Then the school returned, using extra space to provide care and instruction for the children of essential workers. Meanwhile, our population aged and some grew more disabled. A few people moved away. Others were drawn to various activities that were available when church wasn’t. Our leadership was dealing with some problems and was rather burnt out. He moved on. Our sense of family is difficult to maintain when people are worshipping in person and online. Good Grief—even the computer in the office died, the printer quit working, and the coffee pot is dying! Is it possible our colors have faded, are our feathers drooping? Are we sitting on the nest, waiting for a spark to consume us?
But wait, as we heard from Isha Judd–when our foundations are rocked, when we lose our external security, we feel very fragile. In that moment, we have a choice. Am I the Phoenix and rise from the ashes or do I just keep wallowing in the ashes?”
Well, let me tell you, I’m not prepared to wallow in the ashes and I don’t think this congregation is either! One indication of that is how we have all pulled together admirably to move through this time of transition. We have an enviable foundation–65 years of wonderful work, the work of many mission projects, ministering to the hungry, the sick, and those leaving jail. We have lobbied and planted and supported numerous green projects. We have meditated, and marched and consumed an abundance of pot luck dinners. We have studied and prayed and hugged everyone as our family. We must accept the challenges that now lie before us and emerge stronger and better. We will be the phoenix’s tears that heal MPC’s wounds. There is work in the world for us to do; godchildren to care for, the hungry to feed, an ecological disaster to reverse, abortion rights and social justice issues to demand. No, let us not wallow in the ashes!
We welcome a new minister next month. She is excited and eager to be here! Let us meet her using the words of Isaiah knowing with faith that God does not faint or grow weary, and neither shall we. That He increases our strength, we shall not be exhausted, we will be renewed and mount up with wings like eagles. The MPC phoenix is rising.
Pray with me.
Holy Creator, we are at a crossroads in the life of the church. A new minister is coming, renewal is needed after a battering by COVID. We have faith that you will support and guide us in all our new endeavors. We ask you for patience, wisdom, perseverance, and a sense of humor. Thank you for your blessings. Amen