Posted by: crosspeace | November 25, 2012

Betty’s Diner


Song by Carrie Newcomer

Today’s gospel lesson says, “Jesus went about proclaiming the good news of the Kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness. “ That is a curious statement for us today. In an agricultural society of Jesus’ time, I am sure someone might  have said “hey, it’s winter, there are no crops. What do you mean? You’re crazy.” Or others, starving and desperate to work might have said “where? I will go right now. Put me to work asap.”

For us today few would mistake this as an agricultural job opportunity presenting itself even though, in our own way, we may reject Jesus’ words as foolish or desperately wish to follow them for our own needs, but do not know where to look for this harvest in which to work.

As Jesus talks about a Kingdom which he sees as being present and bearing fruit all around, his disciples and others see only the same old world of suffering, powerlessness, sin and death. This, by the way is THE question of the New Testament “when will your Kingdom come? When will we see these things that are promised of a world of righteousness, justice, and God’s rule?” We pray that same statement and ask that same question when we say the Lord’s Prayer- Thy Kingdom Come, Thy Will be done.. 

Well, we stand dumbfounded as the disciples when we hear that line. For too long we have been overwhelmed by a terrible psychological disorder that affects church people- it is called an “edifice complex.” An edifice complex is characterized by the whining sound of petulant voices that decry “I wish we had a BIG church like the ones on TV or that one up the road in New Bern. God blesses them because they are Bible Based.  God makes them big because they are doing such a good job harvesting souls. Just look at all of them! I could be so much a better Christian if only…” Or, “If we just had a new pipe organ, then we could put on performances and draw people (and money) in.” Or “if we just had a better preacher, or a younger preacher, or a woman preacher, or a ….fill in the blank.” And then there is “If we just had a better congregation, more young ones, more married ones, more generous one,  less screwed up ones….” Ediface complex- the belief that Church happens in a building or with a program or some bit of technology, or furniture, or perfect personality mix.’

But none of this answers the question that is implied in Jesus’ words. Where is this harvest and what is the crop and how do I harvest it?  From the passage we know that it has something to do with the sick and the hurting but who are they? How do we know we are sent? Lord, I am not able to do such a thing. I neither have the faith nor ability, nor the time. Frankly, I am not sure I even want to. It is impossible.

To tell you the truth, I am plain Lord. I am not one of those who can drop everything and run off to some mission field. Yes, I have troubles but they are not too bad. I am in control. Things are fine. There are people worse off than me. What have I got to say to them? Besides, they don’t want anything I have to offer. It would just make us both uncomfortable.

Miranda works the late night counter in a joint called Betty’s Diner. Chrome and checkered tablecloths; one steamy windowpane.  She got the job that shaky fall
and after hours she’ll write till dawn.

Miranda was in a tight spot and needed a few bucks to tide her over. Her dream was to write, you see, and it is tough to get a start. The night shift is slow, plenty of time to write a line or two. Maybe a few interesting people to come in. Regulars. Nothing special. Maybe even pick up a story for the book she was writing. We have all been there-something temporary. A fling. No commitment. Just a job to fill in the space until my life can begin.

When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd

But with a nod and smile she serves them all.

Like the folks in the painting Nighthawks they are drawn, like moths to the light perhaps, to the warmth, to the smell of coffee, someone to talk to, maybe a little something to eat before returning to the darkness, their darkness….. They can’t help it. They come in the door. She says, “Welcome. Sit down. Coffee? Cream?  Want to see a menu? How are you tonight? My name is Miranda (Juan, Jeri, Mike, Steve, Kathi, Russ, Alex). Let me know if I can get you anything.”

Keep watch over yourselves and over all the flock, of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church…

Here we are all in one place
The wants and wounds of the human race. Despair and hope sit face to face when you come in from the cold.

Is this not a sign of the kingdom “curing and healing every disease”?  Does not the light draw them from their darkness? Do they not seek healing and wholeness and to have their hunger fed? You are getting the idea now aren’t you? Miranda somehow is a transformed person. She may not even be aware of it but she is faithful to its call. It is the transforming call of the Holy Spirit. She is a harvester isn’t she? She has gone to the field and now is standing in the middle of a great abundance. But it is not an abundance of success, wealth and power. It is an abundance of those who hang on to hope by a thread. The abundance is those who have been ravaged by the “savage wolves of life.”

Let her fill your cup with something kind, eggs and toast like bread and wine She’s heard it all, so she don’t mind.

Miranda has eyes to see that which others cannot. Miranda harvests souls by her welcome, her nod and smile, her light, her warmth, her coffee, a simple offering of eggs and toast- the very food of heaven, the elements of communion. “Take eat this is the body of Christ given for you.” “Fill that cup? Drink this, it is the blood of New Covenant shed for you. ”She hears confessions muttered quietly in the sacred space of the diner. She hears the pain and the hopelessness and the shame of “things done and things left undone.” She grants absolution with each “Joe, Mary, Tim…welcome, sit down, stay awhile.” “I am happy to see you.” “How are you tonight?” You see Miranda is a priest and her counter is the finest altar on earth. Upon it the Lamb is slain in the Eucharist of broken souls and lives shed in hope and love. And the elements of broken bread and broken hearts are combined in a blessing cup over which which God  breathes his life giving breath, his Ruarch, upon the shattered and scattered bones and turns brokenness and death into life and love, and Christ is present, and moving resurrected among his redeemed people. Miranda’s is not simple eggs and toast but indeed the body of Christ, the bread of heaven and, not coffee but His blood, the cup of salvation.

Arthur lets his Earl Gray steep; since April it’s been hard to sleep. You know they tried most everything, yet it took her in the end.

Ultimately, it is in facing the inevitable that our faith does battle. The principalities and powers deal sickness and death. It may be death of the spirit, death of hope, death of the body-an unavoidable reality. If you live long enough you have heard the sentence. “We have done all we can-there is nothing more.” “I am sorry but you are not needed any more-your last day will be today. Pick up your check as your leave.” “I hate you, I never should have married you. I want a divorce.” “You are the biggest mistake I ever made.” Miranda is the face of an accepting Christ who in her simple way offers His life and hope. She listens and will listen again and again even if it’s to the same story chanted over and over in a litany of desperation until the story no longer has power over them and no longer deals death.  And it is Miranda who hears that confession and loves them through the darkness until the morning light.

Kevin tests new saxophones
but swears he’s leaving Quality Control for the Chicago scene, or New Orleans where they still play righteous horns

Kevin serves his time in a meaningless job, perhaps imprisoned by a paycheck and bills. It takes care of his obligations but at the cost of his dreams and spirit. On the outside he looks fine. He has a job. He is young. What more could he want? His dreams pull him along and yet at the same time cause him pain in their lack of fulfillment. His light flickers dimly with each note he blows into a horn played for no one as it echoes in the empty room. A dream can be a heavy burden if it chokes and stutters to a halt. Kevin seeks righteousness of a different sort. It is the freedom of melody and harmony and soaring musical scales, unconfined quality, not controlled by anything but spirit and soul. “Sing for him a new song; sound a fanfare with all your skill upon the trumpet,” says the psalmist.

Here we are all in one place
The wants and wounds of the human race. Despair and hope sit face to face when you come in from the cold.  Let her fill your cup with something kind, eggs and toast like bread and wine. She’s heard it all so she don’t mind

Jack studies here after work
to get past high school he’s the first. And his large hands seem just as comfortable with a hammer or a pen. Emma leaned and kissed his cheek and when she did his knees got weak Miranda smiles at them and winks.

Jack and Emma are hope and new life borne in love. All the while breaking with a confining past of “it’s always been this way.” But their love has spoken to them the “message that is able to build you up and give you an inheritance among all who are sanctified.”  You see their faith is in the love between them that is sometimes overwhelming and even frightening. They will be redeemed and set apart, sanctified that love.  By hammers and pencils their lives are being worked out in fear and trembling” ordered by hope and good work. Their hopes are not ends but means by which their lives will be lived as one, maybe in the strength of hammers and nails and maybe with weak knees, at times overpowered by deep and abiding love. You see, it is in their marriage and relationship that the Spirit most evidently does its work. Jack and Emma are that sign- they are the icons on the wall of this steamy little Cathedral that breaths hope to all who enter. Marriage is a holy thing. The light shines in them and through them. They are married in the sacramental smile of Miranda as she acknowledges Heaven within them.

Here we are all in one place.The wants and wounds of the human race, Despair and hope sit face to face when you come in from the cold.  Let her fill your cup with something kind, eggs and toast like bread and wine She’s heard it all so she don’t mind  You never know who’ll be your witness. You never know who grants forgiveness Look to heaven or sit with us

That’s right you never know who grants forgiveness or who cries out for it. It is that kingdom that is invisible most of the time and yet is there as surely as God is in his heaven. For the word of the Lord is right and all of his works are sure.” We may not know who will be that witness. It may be a stranger. It may be one we have rejected. It may be one so close that we cannot believe because, after all “is He not just the carpenter’s son?” But if we have faith enough to come into the diner, faith enough just to come in from the dark and cold and sit a spell, the Spirit will be faithful and will join us there. Someone present among those assembled in faith will surely attest to it. It is in those spinning barstool pews of changing life that someone can speak an honest and heartfelt Amen. Where two or three are gathered….you know the rest. But you see the diner is where faith lives The diner is a place where hearts rejoice and folks put their trust in Him- maybe they don’t even know it but God is faithful and He heals and makes them whole. The diner is sanctified space and they are a sanctified people, set apart by God for his favor. Set apart from loneliness, despair, broken dreams, darkness and cold.

Deidra bites her lip and frowns
She works the Stop and Go downtown. She’s pretty good at the crossword page and she paints her eyes blue black.  Tristan comes along sometimes. Small for his age and he’s barely five But she loves him like a mama lion.

Deidra and Tristan- a single mom doing the best she can. Perhaps the wolves of condemnation snarl at Tristan’s not having a father and nip at the fringes of Deidra’s edgy life and unconventional ways and “how can she be a decent mother working in that gas station half the night?” She looks like a tramp in that getup she’s wearing. Some people just deserve what they get…but that poor kid. I feel sorry for him….But in the refining light of the diner Deidra is a good mother who sacrifices her own self for her child. It is the sanctuary of the diner that provides a family of security and warmth. It is a place where she is welcome and Tristan has uncles and aunts in abundance as he plays in the corner by cash register and newspaper stand, watched and admired and encouraged by that loving nightly nocturnal village gathered to lovingly raise him. It is the loving-kindness of Christ that fills the night spaces of this, the grandest of basilicas, that is Betty’s Diner and the soulful congregation, which helps Deidra and Tristan to live and love and grow into fullness.

Veda used to drink a lot. Almost lost it all before she stopped. Comes in at night with her friend Mike who runs the crisis line. Michael toured Saigon and back  Hair the color of smoke and ash, their heads are bowed and hands are clasped.  One more storm has passed

Finally it is Veda and Michael who have mailboxes in the Valley of the Shadow of Death. Veda who lives day to day with that spectre facing her as she looks in the mirror each morning and Michael who perhaps has been a dealer in death himself who spends the nights awake out of fear of the dreams that haunt him. You cannot kill another without dying a bit yourself. It takes its toll. One cannot see the things he has seen without their stealing innocence and hope and yet this odd self-dooming pair have found each other. Veda, a dying soul reaching out to Michael, formerly a man with a gun who now is the voice of life on an nighttime telephone line, and she grabs his hand and sinks no more into the waves of addiction that try to swallow her. Indeed it is her faith that saves her- her faith in a voice on the phone, the thinnest of handholds, a final desperate movement that is enough. I read today a quote that said, “It is faith alone that saves and sometimes those words are only a desperate “help me.” No long speaches of contrition. “Help me, I am drowning” is all needing to be said. One more storm has passed. No guarantees. Tomorrow is another day. It is only the faith in that hand that has been there before and who they believe will be there once again. That is enough sometimes. It is the prayer of thanksgiving and “lead us not into temptation” with hands clasped tightly they both fervently pray.

Here we are all in one place. The wants and wounds of the human race. Despair and hope sit face to face when you come in from the cold.  Let her fill your cup with something kind, eggs and toast like bread and wine She’s heard it all so she don’t mind

Well, the harvest is ready. Do you see it? You don’t? Look harder. The Kingdom is always and only where the work of the Kingdom is being done. It is NOT up in the sky or in some future time far away. It starts here. I is here within you hearing…today.   It is where life abounds; it is where forgiveness is tendered; it is where justice reigns; it is where the blind see and the lame walk; it is where peace is lived; it is where prisoners with pasts no long languish in lonely desperation. It is all that and so much more. You see the Kingdom is where God is and is working through the Holy Spirit. It is where you live and where you work. Those places you are drawn to and those places you scrupulously avoid. It is where people are crying out. It may be that difficult person you try to slip away from because they bore you. It could be that kid who call himself a punk who needs help with his homework and who hangs out on the corner across from your house. It could even be the person with the new Mercedes you envy that he uses in order to fill the hole in his heart only to find that his emptiness swallows up that trinket like sinkhole opened in the earth. You see the field of harvest can only be seen “with eyes to see” and heard “with ears to hear.” Let our prayer be today only that we desire to see God’s Kingdom today here in our midst, that our ears are sufficiently open to hearing God’s voice, that we not be blinded by unforgiveness, and bitterness; that we not be led by things that are not of God but rather are strengthened to see Christ where He really appears, in the brokenness of others and in the glory of light and redemption. Let us see God in the kindness of Miranda and those whom each of us serve and, in turn serve us.  There are many. The harvest is rich. See it. Go, reap it. Bring it in in to the Kings table and offer it up for the feast. Do it now. It shall be the grandest of feasts. There has never been one like it. It is better than you expect. Your pictures of it are paltry- don’t waste time wishing. Go! Gather! Hurry, It is nearly time. I heard the feast is about to begin! Go.

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