Thursday, October 17, 2013

The Sacrament of the Pumpkin Offload

Forgive me in advance.  I was taught about the seriousness of sacraments, an "outward and visible sign of an inward and invisible Grace" as the Anglican Book of Common Prayer describes a sacrament.  I was taught that Lutherans have 2, baptism and communion.   In Confirmation classes, we talked about the need for something from the physical world (bread, water, wine).  We didn't talk about all the ways we could approach the physical world with a more sacramental attitude, seeing evidence of God's grace everywhere.  Perhaps that was too ancient Celtic Christian an idea for my Confirmation teachers.

Last night's pumpkin experience made me think of that sacramental idea again, in new and vegetative ways.

Yesterday evening, at 5:30, I headed over to my church to help with the pumpkin offload.  Every year in October, my church sells pumpkins, lots of pumpkins.  And before we can do that, we need to get them off the truck, an 18 wheeler.  That takes lots of people.  In the past, I've been out of town when the truck arrives.

This year, we're not travelling as much this fall.  So I volunteered to help.  I wasn't sure what to expect.

Early on, the pace was slow.  But then we realized we'd be losing daylight, and so more of us scrambled into the trailer to help.  Three hours later, we were still there, carrying the last pumpkins to the front of the trailer.  A group was on the ground, carrying pumpkins into the patch we'd created out of the front lawn of the church.

As I worked, I thought about the benefits of this pumpkin patch to the church.  We provide a community service, of sorts, although that wouldn't be enough reason to do it.  After all, plenty of other markets sell pumpkins. 

The sight of a pumpkin patch in front of a church does provide some visibility in the time of year when most motorists aren't noticing us.  We have lots of people stopping by who would ordinarily never give us a second thought.  We have brochures that tell people about our church.  But I doubt that pumpkin purchasers ever come back for worship.

We do it primarily for the money, of course.  In past years, the pumpkin patch money has funded various Christian Ed projects.  This year, we'll add that money to what it will take to fix the roof.

But it's also useful for the ways it brings us together as a congregation.  Once we offload the pumpkins, we're not done.  We still need to sell them.  And that takes lots of volunteer help.

I had never thought of the educational opportunities that a pumpkin offload provides.  One of the children asked, "Why are they so dirty?"

I said, "Because last week, they were growing in a field."

I could see the child looking at me.  I could tell that he thought I might be joking; after all, he's never seen pumpkins growing in a field.  He may never have seen anything growing in a field.  We are in an urban area, after all.  I wondered if I should do more to explain.  But there were more pumpkins coming, and we continued our work of arranging them.

As I carried pumpkin after pumpkin, I thought about the miracle of a seed that turns into a huge pumpkin.  I thought about this Wendell Berry quote:  "Whoever really has considered the lilies of the field or the birds of the air and pondered the improbability of their existence in this warm world within the cold and empty stellar distances will hardly balk at the turning of water into wine--which was, after all, a very small miracle. We forget the greater and still continuing miracle by which water (with soil and sunlight) is turned into grapes" (from his essay, "Christianity and the Survival of Creation," which appears in his wonderful book Sex, Economy, Freedom and Community).

I thought about all the ways I was surrounded by evidence of God's grace:  an abundance of pumpkins, a great group of fellow workers, the beautiful sunset, the almost full moon, the exuberant children, blessing after blessing.  I felt gratitude for my healthy body that could carry all those pumpkins.  I said a prayer for those who had grown and harvested the pumpkins in a distant field in New Mexico.  I went home to wash the pumpkin gunk and soil off of me, and I felt additional gratitude for warm water and a cold swimming pool in which to soak my sore feet.  I felt more appreciation than usual for my soft bed and clean sheets.

And then I had a dream.  I dreamed I was back on that pumpkin truck, and that a woman wanted to be baptized.  She said, "You can do that, right?"
I knew that all we would need would be water and the words.  In my dream, a group of us tried to locate some water.  I wasn't sure I remembered the words, so I looked for a hymnal.  As the dream ended, we headed towards the woman with a bottle of water and the words, but I woke up before we baptized.  Would I have changed the words to be more inclusive, or would I have stuck with the more traditional "I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost"?

And so I woke up this morning, with very sore arms and a soul singing with gratitude.  I woke up thinking about pumpkins and sacraments.  I said hello to the pumpkins I brought home, pumpkins which won't be here very long.

We will none of us be here very long.  I want to adopt a more sacramental approach to life.  I want to see evidence of God's grace all around me, in the lowliest gourd, in the greatest pumpkin, in every human who crosses my path.

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