The Overburdened Albatross

Laysan_Albatross_RWD2There are creatures in the world who love to collect things. Lots of things.

There’s the bowerbird of Australia and New Guinea, who assembles a collection of brightly colored objects (from shells to flowers) to impress a potential mate. There’s the pack rat of the Americas, who will use anything and everything to construct a nest.

And then there’s people. We might be the greatest collectors of all. We are amazing.

If there’s one creature who shouldn’t, and doesn’t, collect a lot of things, it’s the albatross. They spend most of their time far out at sea, gliding on the trade winds over the ocean, landing on the water’s surface from time to time to snatch a meal. Sometimes it’s fish, sometimes it’s squid. They like squid.

You don’t think squid sounds very tasty? Some people like it better if you call it calamari.

Did that help?

Whether you like squid or calamari (or neither), it’s a difficult life for a collector. Nevertheless, there was once a young albatross who set out to do precisely that. I have no idea why.

He started with pebbles he found along the shoreline near the nest where he’d been hatched and grown to become a young adult. I guess he found the colors or the shapes interesting, and they made a nice addition to the nest. Then he added different kinds of grasses that he found. When the old ones blew away, he brought new ones.

Soon there were sea shells piled around his nesting spot, and inevitably the trash that humans leave behind. Some albatrosses get very sick by eating these things, but he just picked them up and put them down again. There were bits of plastic, and shreds of cloth, and his grandest prize of all: the better part of a beach blanket that had floated away from somebody one day.

That wasn’t any of yours, was it? Oh, good.

As his collection got bigger, his circle of friends got smaller. Not because they objected to his hobby, no: but because the season was passing, and they started leaving the nesting site. They were riding the winds out over the Pacific Ocean, with an occasional descent to the surface to catch calamari.

Or squid, if you prefer.

But this young albatross didn’t want to leave his collection. Oh, he tried to take it with him. He wanted to soar over the ocean, too. But when he tried to carry everything on his back, between his wings, he couldn’t manage to take off. When the load was light enough to fly, everything tumbled off. He tried gripping things in his beak, but he quickly realized that he couldn’t eat that way. It’s hard to hold things in a webbed foot, and when he wanted to use two feet to carry things, well, he found that it didn’t work.

And it was also painful.

Finally, it was hunger that made him see the true worth of his piles of pebbles and shells and even the magnificent beach towel. However lovely they might appear to his eyes, they didn’t feed him. No, they didn’t feed him.

Not the way that the skies of the Pacific fed him. Not the way that the waters of the Pacific fed him. And certainly not the way that the squid (or the calamari) of the Pacific fed him.

So he stepped carefully away from his collection, gave it one last look, spread his broad wings, leaped into the air: and flew.

Photo credit: By DickDaniels (http://carolinabirds.org/) – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=18611723

“Breakfast” – Sermon for Apr. 10, 2016

Preached at
Church of the Holy Cross UCC
Hilo, Hawai’i
April 10, 2016

Text: John 21:1-19

Some of you have, I suspect, had a question on your mind for half hour or so:

Is he really going to wear a tie every Sunday?

Some of you may have followed this question with another, more personal one:

Is he going to expect me to wear a tie every Sunday?

I can answer the second question immediately: No. I have no intention of introducing a new dress code for worship at Church of the Holy Cross. That’s a mistake the early missionaries to Hawai’i made, and I don’t care to repeat it. The important thing is to worship God, and clothes should not be a barrier to that. Wear what makes you worshipful. That might be what makes you comfortable, but it might not. Wear what helps you focus on the love of God.

As for myself: that’s one of the things I’ll be learning as time goes on. I’ve worshiped wearing a jacket and tie, or a pastor’s robe and tie, for over forty years. I’m pretty sure that’s going to change now, but I’ll be frank: I don’t know what I’m going to look like in worship next week, let alone next year.

Which brings us to the disciples. Jesus had been crucified, which left them terrified and paralyzed. Then Jesus had been raised, which left them exalted and amazed. They hardly knew what to believe.

This week finds them not knowing what to do. When Jesus appeared to all his disciples, including Thomas, who must really have regretted missing that earlier gathering, he’s startlingly vague about what they’re to do next. They’re joyful, they’re exultant, they’ve renewed their courage – but they’re not committed to any particular direction. So they return to Galilee, which had been home for many of them, and the fishermen among them take up fishing again, with no great success until Jesus appears. This time he’s got a commission, and they won’t use nets to fish ever again.

Gathered for Thanksgiving in 2014

Gathered for Thanksgiving in 2014

They’re on the road to change.

So are we. You and I, the faith community of the Church of the Holy Cross in Hilo, and Eric Anderson born in Middletown, Connecticut. We have met, and we have committed to follow the leadership of Christ together. Christ will change us, and we will change each other. Just what we will look like, and how it will all happen, is still ahead. God knows, but I do not.

I do know that there are more of you than there are of me, and that means I’ll change more than you.

But this is where I come from:

Shirley Anderson

Rev. Shirley Anderson

Lynn Anderson

Rev. Lynn Anderson

This is my family gathered for Thanksgiving a couple years ago at my brother’s house in New Haven. My father, Lynn Anderson, worked as a public school educator for over 30 years, retired early, and entered the ministry. My mother died quite some time ago, and around twenty years ago, while in seminary, my father met and married Shirley Anderson. Both of them have served churches in New England, and they’ve both reached their second retirement. So there are three ordained ministers in my immediate family. I’m the youngest, and I’ve also been ordained the longest.

Rebekah and Brendan Anderson

Rebekah and Brendan Anderson

It was my cousins who bought this tie for me, in celebration of my call to Hawai’i. They made the selection for the bright colors, of course, which can be found in the aloha style, but I don’t think that a large paisley pattern is really Hawaiian – and, of course, it’s a tie. We don’t really know a great deal about Hawai’i back east. I come to this ministry aware that I have a lot to learn!

Incidentally, one of those things is how often to water the plants in the parsonage. They’re all new varieties to me, and I’d value some pointers!

These are my adult children. Brendan on the right is twenty-three, a graduate of the University of Vermont, and has been volunteering in a 3rd grade classroom in Boston this school year. Rebekah is in her third year at Hampshire College, and she wants to be a writer. They are simply two of the most wonderful people I know.

Glastonbury Choir

The choir at First Church in Glastonbury

Rev. Kate VanDerzee-Glidden and Rev. David Taylor

Rev. Kate VanDerzee-Glidden and Rev. David Taylor

David Taylor and Kate VanDerzee-Glidden are the pastors of First Church of Christ Congregational UCC in Glastonbury, Connecticut, where I’ve worshiped for the last ten years or so. They gathered people together to present me with this stole, which celebrates both New England and Hawai’i. On the back, church members and friends wrote their blessings and best wishes for me, and I’ve been reading them with tears in my eyes.

This is the choir at First Church in Glastonbury singing at the service the Connecticut Conference held to celebrate my ministry. You’ll notice that they all donned leis for the occasion – and had one for me. What you can’t see in the photo is the gift certificate they gave me for a music shop here in Hilo, to purchase an ukulele and start to learn to play it.

And I’ve even gone out to buy it!

Eric and Paul Bryant-Smith

Eric and Paul Bryant-Smith

And this is my friend Paul Bryant-Smith. He’s pastor of a church in Danbury, Connecticut, and also a hospital chaplain. The two of us have made music together for twenty years. In this picture, also from that farewell service, I’m playing him wearing heavy winter clothing, and he’s being me, playing ukulele. We are, of course, singing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”

And then there’s this photo. I took it at the Hilo airport. Because my flight was early, which I gather isn’t common, some of you who came to greet me hadn’t arrived yet when I took this picture. I think I was also wearing at least two more leis when I left the airport.

This picture has been liked 235 times on Facebook. I’m pretty sure that’s the most affection any photo has ever received on my Facebook account.

I’m showing you all this to make sure you know something very important about me: I know what it is to be loved. I have been blessed to live among loving people. In these smiles and waves and leis, I know that I am blessed to live among loving people again.

Church of the Holy Cross members welcome Eric Anderson to Hilo.

Church of the Holy Cross members welcome Eric Anderson to Hilo.

Jesus asked the impulsive, jump-into-the-water Peter this question: “Do you love me?”

It’s a tough question for him, and in fact Peter does some linguistic gymnastics with words for “love” that don’t translate from Greek to English.

That’s for another time. It doesn’t matter what kind of love Jesus asks about, and it doesn’t matter what kind of love Peter declares, because every time Jesus insists: “Feed my sheep.”

“Do you love me? You do? Feed my sheep.”

Or he might have put it this way: “Do you love me? You do? Love those around you.”

Feed my sheep.

There are a lot of ways to be hungry in the world: the hunger of the stomach, the hunger of the mind, the hunger of the soul.

The hunger of the stomach seems simple, doesn’t it? I get hungry. I eat. Problem solved. But the hunger of the stomach is not so simple, not by half. For one thing, food alone won’t do. I need to drink water as well, and my officemates back at the Connecticut Conference are still telling stories about my need for coffee.

Yet there’s another important question to ask: When people are hungry, why are they hungry? Why don’t they have access to food, or water, or work, or support? How can we prevent today’s hunger from becoming a pattern, or an apparently permanent condition?

Feed my sheep.

The hunger of the mind, likewise, may not be satisfied by the delivery of books or the establishment of schools. People learn differently, and techniques that work well for vast numbers of people may be utter failures with some others. You can see the frustration build when someone’s trying to learn in a way that doesn’t work well for them. If you’re trying to learn something from me, and it’s not working, let’s try it again, but this time, let’s try something different. And if I’m trying to learn something from you, and it’s not working, let’s try it again, and this time, we’ll try something different.

Pastor Eric in his tie and stole - and first Sunday lei.

Pastor Eric in his tie and stole – and first Sunday lei.

And there’s the hunger of the soul. When it comes right down to it, confronting this human need is my calling. My place among you is to help you satisfy the hungers of your soul.

Most of the time, I will not be able to meet that need myself. It would be lovely if I could do it in a sermon, but no. Not in one sermon, and most likely not in twenty years of sermons either. If I’m doing well, from time to time I’ll say something that feeds you just a little, and on the days when I don’t, hopefully I’ve said something to feed someone else.

The sermon isn’t the only source of spiritual food, however, and it’s my role to help you try things that might feed you. There are many different approaches to prayer, and some might bring you closer to God than others. Music has astonishing power to fill the soul. I’ll do my best, and work with the leadership, to lead worship that is authentic and engaged. We can study the Bible and other spiritual works. We can take retreats. We can engage in public service and public witness. We can sit together and talk about baseball, or your grandchildren, or your job. If your soul hungers, let’s work together, and find ways to fill your spirit.

The risk of having a satisfied soul is that Jesus summons them. He says, “Feed my sheep.” We’re not the only ones who hunger in body, mind, or spirit. There are others, near and far.

Our work together as the Church of the Holy Cross United Church of Christ in Hilo, Hawai’i, is to answer the call of Jesus, and labor to see that those who hunger – in body, mind, or spirit – are fed.