St. Matthew.jpg

Cloth of Gold

Matthew 11: 2-11

The Rev. Jon Roberts

12 December


Good Shepherd Episcopal Church

Venice, FL

2 Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples 3 and said to him, “Are you he who is to come, or shall we look for another?” 4 And Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: 5 the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. 6 And blessed is he who takes no offense at me.” 7 As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds concerning John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to behold? A reed shaken by the wind? 8 Why then did you go out? To see a man clothed in soft raiment? Behold, those who wear soft raiment are in kings’ houses. 9 Why then did you go out? To see a prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 10 This is he of whom it is written, ‘Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, who shall prepare thy way before thee.’ 11 Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has risen no one greater than John the Baptist; yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.

Crocus angustifolius (Cloth of gold) from Curtis's Botanical Magazine, 1803

Advent is a wilderness;
A time for the blind and the blurry,
whose souls become cleansed,
from all their stress and worry;

Advent is a desert;
A place for the dead and the old,
whose reeds are shaken by the wind,
from touching God's Cloth of Gold.[1]

In our Gospel today, did you hear? The blind will see, the lame will walk, the leper will be healed and the dead will rise up. These are God's signs of his miraculous hand and they are ongoing today. Miracles come in many different shapes and sizes. Whether they are big or small, they are all "great." It's easy to take miracles for granted.

Once upon a time there was a man named Edward and he too discovered that there was a miracle in his life, one that he considered small, for granted. On the outside everything looked good. He was in his midlife career. His marriage was intact. His children had grown and were now out on their own. But if you took a closer look you would find a different story. Edward went right out of college into a good paying job with a good solid company. He worked there for ten years when the company decided they would be more profitable by exporting their jobs out of the country, to places like Mexico, the Philippines and China. His boss came to him one day and told him that his services were no longer needed and he was fired. Heartbroken and confused he went and worked just about every job he could. He worked in hotels and hospitals. He worked in restaurants and even slung a hammer to make a living for his family. Truth be told, he was miserable and depressed. His wife warned him, that if he didn't get his act together she would divorce him. The children were going their separate ways and falling away from their faith and going to church. Edward felt there wasn't much to cling onto anymore. When he felt times couldn't get worse, the bank foreclosed on the house. They had a few yard sales to make some extra money and jettisoned many of their things to lighten their load before moving into an apartment for a while. During his packing, he went up into the attic. In the back he discovered a box and he blew the dust off the top. He carefully opened it and was amazed by what he found. Opening the delicate paper inside, he revealed a delicately folded, cloth of gold. It had seen better days. It was now a little tattered on the edges and a few holes peeked out. It was made of silk and he rubbed it between his fingers. His thumb, he nudged up from an old habit to touch his lips. It was his baby blanket. With it in hand, he knew what he had to do. He marched downstairs, retrieved his cell phone and dialed up his mother. "Ma", he said, "we need to talk." "OK", she responded, "give me about an hour and we can meet at that coffee shop you like so much."

He called his mother because he knew she would understand more than anybody else what he was going through. She was the quintessential worrier of all time. When he was a teen and stayed out late, she didn't worry about where he was or what kept him from his commitment. Her mind raced ahead and began to fathom the worst. She wondered whether or not to have his funeral in Philadelphia, where they had the family plot, or in Detroit, where he grew up. He dumped his entire struggle on the only person he knew could handle it. When it was all over, he looked at her and said, "Well?" "Aren't you worried for me", he asked further. Seeing that she looked reasonably calm, she said, "Son you can't worry about your worries." He always had an appreciation for his mother's faith, but it puzzled him that a woman who believed so deeply could still worry so much. Didn't her faith protect her from such anguish? She looked at him and answered, "Heaven's no!" "I believe God worries, too, about us, even with us.

Jesus worried. He wept. When I worry, I feel closer to Him, like we're working on the problem together. Isn't that why you're here, calling me to share the things that blind you and make you blurry?" He thought about this awhile and then took the box out from under the table. He pulled out the blanket, the cloth of gold and showed it to her. "You still kept it", she said; "What a miracle."[2] Some things are worth keeping and the miracle of all is that we keep our faith. Our faith is sometimes taken for granted. Out in the wilderness there is another miracle. In the late winter and into early spring everything is barren but once and awhile there is a reminder of life. It's in the form of a flower, the Crocus. One in particular can be found in the driest soil and it is called "The Cloth of Gold." When one sees it, they are reminded that life returns. On the banks of the Nile in Egypt there are reeds that grow down by the water. The wind shakes them to and fro. They are recipients of the waters that can flow out of the desert. It is here where the Egyptians believed heaven existed. From the wilderness where the Cloth of Gold lives to the current of the Nile where the reeds are shaken there is an important connection.

On a similar river, that runs through a similar desert, John the Baptist is making this connection as well. He tells the people of the Messiah, the one who is to visit us in the winter of our soul. He tells the people of the Holy Spirit the one who can flow out of the desert. Does John do so with great conviction or do we find him searching his own attic? Was it not interesting that the other week John is saying, "Here is the Messiah. Prepare the Way for Jesus", but this week we hear doubt in his message? He sends a messenger to Jesus, "Are you sure you're the one?"[3] Is there doubt in his voice? Who can blame him? His neck is literally on the line and all he has is his faith. But faith needs assurance. It's the one thing we hold onto when the wind becomes violent and blows us like the reeds on the river from one place to the other.

Every one of you are God's creation. He has sent his Son to bring you hope in your desert. He has sent his Holy Spirit to spring up in you and take you to a heavenly place. For now, prepare the way. Touch what is familiar and be drawn to the manger. For we are the blind, we are the lame and the dumb. We are the ones who were dead and raised up. Hold on to your faith. That in itself is a miracle. Don't take it for granted.

Advent is a wilderness;
A time for the blind and the blurry,
whose souls become cleansed,
from all their stress and worry;

​Advent is a desert;
A place for the dead and the old,
whose reeds are shaken by the wind,
from touching God's Cloth of Gold.

[1] The Rev. Jon Roberts
[2] Edward Grinnan, Daily Guideposts 2007, p.130.
[3] Matthew 11:2-11

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