To be Shattered…

Women and the Word

March 18,1988

Rosemary Brown



Reflect upon the shards of glass that you will be holding throughout the service.  Their broken edges ragged and sharp.  Reflect upon the brokenness in your life, ragged and sharp.  As you sing out of the depths, carry this brokenness, ragged and sharp in procession, and we will show you a way to turn in a transforming way what is broken and ragged and sharp in your life, into something in the strength of community that is beautiful.



Oh God, you are my God, whom I eagerly seek, for you my flesh longs and my soul thirsts.  Like the earth, parched, lifeless and without water, I have gazed towards you in the sanctuary to see your power and your glory.  For your love is better than life.  My lips shall glorify you.  Thus, I will praise you while I live.   Lifting up my hands, I will call upon your name as with the riches of a banquet, so shall my soul be filled.  And with exalting lips, my mouth shall praise you.  On my bed I will remember you, and through the night watches, I will meditate on you, because you are my help and in the shadow of your wings, I sing for joy.



Grace and peace in Jesus Christ.

                                           Thanks be to God.

Let us pray.

                                    -Group prayer-


The first reading for today is from the book of Jeremiah, Chapter 18, verses 5-10.

“Then the Word of Yahweh came to me.  Oh house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter has done, says Yahweh?  Behold, like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, oh house of Israel.  If at any time I declare, concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will pluck up, and break down, and will destroy it, and if that nation concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will turn from the evil I have intended to do to it.  And if at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will build and plant it, and if it does evil in my sight, not listening to my voice, then I will repent of the good which I had intended to do to it.”

The Second reading is from the Gospel of Luke, Chapter 15, Verses 11-32.

And he said, there was a man who had two sons.  And the younger of him said to his father, “Father, give me the share of the property that falls to me.”  And he divided his living between them. Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had, and took his journey into a far country.  And there he squandered his property in loose living.  And when he had spent everything, a great famine arose in that country, and he began to be in want.  So he went and joined himself to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him off into his fields to feed swine.  And he would gladly have set on the pod that the swine ate, and no one gave him anything.  And when he came to himself, he said, “How many of my Father’s hired servants have bread enough and to spare, but I perish here with hunger.  I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.  I am no longer worthy to be called your son.  Treat me as one of your hired servants.’”  And he arose and came to his Father.  And while he was yet at a distance, his Father saw him, and had compassion and ran and embraced him and kissed him.  And the son said to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you.  I am no longer worthy to be called your son.”  But the Father said to his servants, “Quickly bring the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and shoes on his feet, and bring the fatted calf and let us kill it.  And let us eat and make merry, for this my son was dead and is alive again.  He was lost, and is found.”  And they began to make merry.  Now his elder son was in the field, and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing.  And he called one of the servants, and asked what this meant.  And he said to him, “Your brother has come, and your Father has killed the fatted calf because he has received him safe and sound.”  But he was angry and refused to go in.  His Father came out and entreated him.  But he answered his Father, “Lo, these many years I have served you, and I have never disobeyed your command.  Yet you never gave me a kid that I might make merry with my friends.  But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your living with harlots, you killed for him the fatted calf.”  And he said to him, “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.  It was fitting to make merry and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive.  He was lost, and is found.”

Rosemary Brown:

Let us pray together.  God, for the privilege of life on this, another day, we give you thanks.  For the rest that came during the night that has refreshed our spirits, and our minds, and our bodies, we give you thanks.  And now for this holy moment when we will try with all of our spirits to break the word of life, as if it were bread baked in an oven, and shared with us out of love.  We give you thanks.  Let this be for each one of us, a moment of genuine communion with you, and with one another.  In the name of the Christ who is our Lord, we pray this prayer.  Amen.

We were in First United Methodist Church in downtown Atlanta.  It was one of those times when the Methodist Student Movement of my day was gathered in that church to worship.  That first moment when we were gathering as black and white students, standing up in the face of talmage, and people that were carrying axe handles.  It was one of those moments where we were determined that we would worship God together, no matter what the odds.  We were seated in that huge sanctuary; the organ had begun the call to worship; we had sung that first song; we had prayed that first prayer.  When suddenly out in the streets of Atlanta, we heard a noise that was astounding.  It wasn’t coming from just one direction, it was coming from all directions, and converging close to where we were.  The sound of sirens, many sirens, and horns blowing.  Without even saying a word, because we were college age and curious, we began to stand up and move towards the door, almost as if someone had given us permission.  And as we went, we became a congregation leaving the church.  And when we got out into the street, we saw a truck go by us.  One of those kind that have a large generator on the back, and one of these big flood lights, like you throw around in the heavens when you’re trying to sell cars.  It went right past us, and it was followed by a police car.  We began to move in the direction of the truck and the police car and the sounds.  The group was growing as we walked the streets.  And as we hung a right and went down two blocks, we realized we had become a mob.  And as we turned left, again following that truck, we realized that it had suddenly come to a stop.  It had stopped right next to a building under construction, tall raw girders against that Atlanta skyline.  The man in the truck jumped out and he ran around to the back of the truck, climbed up on it, and turned on that flood light.  As he did, we could see that police man, and ambulance drivers were in front of us, trying to assemble a gigantic trampoline.  The people now are coming from all directions, the sirens still sounding.  And as he turns that light on, we realize he begins to sweep it back and forth across that building under construction.  And somebody right next to me said, “There’s a woman up there, and she’s gonna jump. There’s a woman up there, and she’s gonna jump.”  And then the crowd began to count.  4-5-6-7.  By the time they got to the 17th floor with that awful flood light, where we could see police man scurrying up ladders and those steps under construction inside that hole of a building, we saw her.  She was standing there holding on a raw girder with her arm, and every few seconds, she’d lean out over us, as if to tease us.  She would take her foot and swing it out over our heads from that awful high space.  And as people continued to try to get into positions to help her, the strangest thing happened.  Somebody in that mob, there in the darkness beneath the floodlight, began to chant, “Jump.  Jump.  Jump. Jump.”  I couldn’t’ believe what I was hearing!  Those of us who had been in the church trying to worship God began to chant, “Don’t jump.  Don’t jump.  Don’t do that!”  And soon it was like being at a football game and my side was losing.  “Jump! Jump! Jump!” “Don’t jump, don’t jump, don’t jump!”  We were in the darkness screaming at this unknown woman, hanging by that awful steel girder so high in the air.  I never will forget what happened next.  She turned loose.  It was kind of like watching a rag doll float through the air.  I’d never seen anything like that in my 20 years of life.  She came floating down, and the man on the back of the truck followed her with that awful floodlight.  And she came to rest just almost in from of me, not five feet away, just face down on that pavement.  While people moved back to give her room.  She lay so still, and she looked so broken.  Those men that had driven that ambulance came over, and they never did flip her over.  They just kind of scooted her up onto that god-awful white stretcher, and they put her in that ambulance, and they turned on that blue light.  But they left off the siren.  And they disappeared into that Atlanta night.  And that man on the back of that truck turned that light around, and he threw it back and forth across our faces.  And for the sake of me, I could not tell who had hollered ‘jump’ and who had hollered ‘don’t jump.’

In a little while from now, if I’m not feeling any less sour, I promise myself to take myself for a visit to a nearby tower.  And climbing to the top, I’ll throw myself right off in an effort to make it clear to you what it’s like when you’re shattered.  Left standing in the lurch, with the people of the church saying, “My God, that’s tough. Life stood her up.  No point in us remaining.  Might as well go home.”  As I did on my own.  Alone again.  Naturally.

Oh, there’s nothing natural about being alone. There’s nothing natural about some human being on this earth of ours climbing up into a building under construction in the middle of a city full of strangers and turning loose.There’s nothing on this earth that’s natural about a person being that alone, that hurt, that shattered.

The number two reason for death among teenagers in the United States of America, is suicide. Our elderly people are overdosing on their medication.  They save it up.  They put it under the pillow.  They hide it under the cloth on the bedside table, and they overdose on medication.

 What’s it like to be that alone? 

What’s it like to be that shattered? 

What’s it like to live in a world where this morning I have on a stole from Guatemala while we drops troops out of parachutes into that land?

What’s it like to live in a world where people are so shattered that it’s preferable to simply climb up and turn loose, and like Humpty Dumpty not worry whether all the King’s horses and all the King’s men can put us back together again?

In our story today from the text, Israel has reached a moment where in its unfaithfulness, after being so beautifully loved and created, and molded by God, and given such tremendous promise for a future, that in their unfaithfulness, they have brought about a moment for themselves where they are shattered.  Like a pot made down in that potter’s shed, taken and crashed to the ground by the circumstances of their own decisions, their own ability to truly follow.  Their own inability to truly understand who they are and what they might become.  For each one of us seated in this sanctuary today must ask ourselves again and again, “Oh God, when I made a commitment to you, when I answered yes to your ‘come follow me,’ when I made a promise, Lord, take me, mold me, make me become.  What is it that’s going to happen to us, that’s going to cause us to feel so shattered and so alone, that whether we ever consider turning loose or not, we will stand there, unable to move and be what he would have us be because of this life that surrounds us and constantly hounds at us.

When I left Nashville, Tennessee day before yesterday, I’d been in a home until midnight with a man in my church who is dying of cancer.  In our congregation, everybody is kin to him.  In our community, they all belong to each other, and I’m the only outsider, because I wasn’t born there, I don’t understand them, etc. etc.  I’ve been listening to it for three years (Amen.)  I’m the outsider.  I don’t have the same last name.  I didn’t know great-grandmother.  And I really don’t understand what it took to build that church.  But I was at his house until midnight waiting for him to take that last breath, as we all do.  I got on the plane early the next morning to be here with you.  I called home at 12:30 and he had died.  This morning, I called the Nashville Tennessean to ask them what does the obituary say.  The obituary says that the male pastor before me will come back to do the services.

What the hell is it like to be shattered?

What’s it like to spend your life hanging on and trying to do what you feel God has asked you to do, and again and again, some circumstance in your life in the midst of your ministry says to you, ‘you really don’t matter, but be sure you’re here at 11:00 on Sunday morning, for worship will take place, and we will tolerate you until the cabinet makes the decision?’  In the New Testament gospel, there comes a moment when a young man goes to his father and says to him, “Daddy, I’m tired of your rules.  I’m tired of living in this house with you.  I’m tired of the way you conduct your life and mine.  I want you to have a yard sale, get rid of all my heirlooms, and give me the money.”  And daddy, being a good daddy, has a yard sale and gives him the money.  And all of those family remembrances are gone now- no clock handed down from grandmother, no knife from grandpa.  It’s all gone now.  And he takes that money, and he goes away, and he spends it foolishly.

I was a deputy sheriff for ten years.  I cruised every Friday and Saturday night with the police department.  I went out to the shooting range at the Tennessee State Prison, and I learned to fire a gun knowing I’d never be able to use it.  I got into that squad car at sometimes 11 and sometimes 12 o’clock at night after having a teen-town that went on for five years, where we kept 500 young people involved and off the streets.  One night, we had a phone call about a young woman who was a runaway.  We’d had 187,000 reported across this country in that first six months of that year.  I went to visit with her mother and father to find some details.  And they told me that it was the strangest thing about that woman, that every time she ran away, she always left the other end of the bus stub on her dresser.  That she would save up her allowance, she would babysit, she would do all these kinds of things, and then she would pack this ridiculous little backpack and she would head out somewhere, and they didn’t understand why.  And they wanted to know if I’d go get her.  (laughs.)

She was in Atlanta, Georgia- that’s a three-hour drive from Nashville.  But I went.  I found her in the bus station.  She hadn’t moved an inch.  She’d gotten off the bus, sat down in that seat and had been sitting there waiting for somebody to come get her.  I walked in, I tapped her on the shoulder, I told her who I was, I showed her my badge, and I said, “Let’s go home.”  All the way back the Nashville, I tried deeply to understand why did she keep running away from home.  You know she didn’t know?  And when I got her home, she stayed for two weeks before her mother called me and said, “Rosemary, there’s another ticket stub on her dresser, and she’s in St. Louis. If we pay your way, will you go?”  And I said, “Yes.”  And I went to St. Louis, and I found her in the bus station.  She hadn’t moved an inch!  Sitting there with that dirty little backpack, looking so pathetic.  She hadn’t bathed in two days, she hadn’t had anything to eat.  I brought her home to Nashville again.  This time, almost two months passed.  She was in Louisville this time.  Her parents called and said, “Will you go to Louisville and bring her home?”  I said, “One more time. That’s it.”  I drove to Louisville.  I found her in the bus station.  The only thing she’d done that was different was that she’d gone from Greyhound to Trailway (laughter.)  There she sat with her dirty little backpack.  I walked over to her, I tapped her on the shoulder, and I said, “Get up!”  She looked at me so funny, for I had changed.  And I said to her, “Go get in the car.”  And she walked like a little whipped puppy out to the car, and she got in.  I got in, and I didn’t say a word to her all the way back to Nashville.  We got three blocks from her house, and I did something that I never dreamed in my life I’d have the courage to do.  I pulled over to the curb, I reached across her, I opened the door, and I pushed her out of my car, and I threw that backpack at her.  And I said, “You are three blocks from home.  Make it the best you can.”  I parked half a block on down the street (laughter.) I looked so stupid running behind those houses (laughter.) I was like some kind of little animal flitting from flower to flower, behind the shrub, behind the house, down the block, I watched her.  And I prayed and I cried.  You know she looked so pitiful.  Dragging that god-awful sleeping bag and that awful old backpack.  But she went toward home.  And just as she rounded the corner, and started toward the house, her mom and dad were on the front porch.  And I could see them trying to control themselves.  I could see them trying to let her make it on her own.  I could see them understanding what I had done without me being able to truly understand what I had done.  But I watched her as she approached that yard,

and finally, her father couldn’t stand it any longer.

           And he ran off that porch, and he swooped that child up in his arms,

                               and he kissed her all over. 

                                     And then her mother came,

                              and they made the most gorgeous trinity. 

           Standing there in that yard, holding that child. 

You know what, she never ran away again.  Oh, I don’t pretend to understand this.

I tell you that Christ tells us the story in the depth of its meaning that sometimes when our lives are shattered and we don’t know how to put them back together again, sometimes when we don’t understand ourselves, there must come a moment where we can say within our beings, “Oh God, I need to come home to you. I need to come home to you, because I don’t understand this world.  I don’t understand what’s going on in South Africa.  I don’t understand how people in Ireland can celebrate St. Patty’s day one moment, and throw hand grenades at each other in a cemetery the next.  God I don’t understand this world.  Where I can pastor somebody for three years, and love them, and sneak in to the hospital with fried chicken, and when they die, they ask somebody else to do the funeral.  God, I don’t understand this world.  But I feel so shattered.  I feel so shattered.  And there are times when I feel I must have done something to deserve it, for it would not have happened weren’t my fault.” 

And then I look up and I see God standing there, and his arms are stretched out, and he’s running toward me.  And he’s grabbing me, and holding me against his heart, and kissing away my excuses, and my reasons.  Oh beloved.  To be able to come home to God, truly in commitment to come home to God, and to know that God has enough intelligence within the being of that sacred one that God waits for us to come home.  Oh, he doesn’t come after us.  She doesn’t pursue us.

It is in a moment where that (tape cuts out.)  of Appalachia.  I’ve been there the last 19 summers of my life.  I have 19 outhouses dedicated to me (laughter.)  I’m always there on my birthday, and the kids always build an outhouse.  You know, you need some place to go potty.  So we build outhouses.  I was doing a work project out of Lindsey Wilson College, fairly near Bowling Green.  And I looked up on Sunday morning when the new work teams were coming in, and coming into the drive way was the longest Cadillac I’d ever seen in my life.  And I thought to myself, “Are we in trouble.”  It was followed by two other very large expensive cars and that Cadillac was pulling a horse trailer, and I thought to myself, Dear goodness, they’ve brought a horse trailer to a work project. Probably got their horse in it.  I looked and when the car had stopped, this gorgeous young woman got out of it.  She kind of leaned against that front fender and checked out her fingernails and looked around.  Every hair was in place.  She had on a gorgeous t-shirt with one of those little dead alligators on it (laughter.)  She had on a pair of shorts that I had priced at Casual Corner and couldn’t afford (laughter.)  Darling little clean tennis shoes and socks.  She looked like she had just stepped out of 17 Magazine.  And I thought to myself, Oh am I in trouble.  I went over and met her.  Her name was Carol, and she was from Oshkosh.  And she had driven all the way across the United States to be there for a work project.  Her mother and father were driving the Cadillac, and they got out and they were equally gorgeous.  The rest of the youth group got out, and they looked very nice.  In that horse trailer they had paints and ladders, and brushes and hammers and nails.  Those kids had raised 6,000 dollars that year having Rock-a-Thons, and Walk-a-Thons, and Thons everything.  And brought all that money to buy new supplies to work on people’s homes.  And all afternoon I pondered what should I do with a group from Oshkosh, especially with Carol.  Late that afternoon, I decided I’d send them to the Bailey’s house.

Mr. Bailey was an elderly man, who had to sell kindling to support himself and his wife because his social security check was not enough.  Mr. Bailey needed a wood shed built for his kindling, needed their roof repaired, needed the front porch put back on the house, needed the dry wall pulled down in the kitchen and some repair work done there, and some painting.  I thought I’d send them to the Bailey’s.  Monday morning came, and down we went in that Cadillac, pulling that horse trailer.  Boy did we look funny in that little rural town!  We got to the Bailey’s and the kids jumped out and met Mr. and Mrs. Bailey, and lit right into that work project.  Up on the roof when part of that team.  Out tearing off that front porch and repairing was the rest of the team.  And the other part began on the shed.  Everybody but Carol.  Carol kind of leaned against the car, checked her fingernails (laughter,) looked around as if to say, ‘sweat never.’  She just kind of stood there.  One or two times, I did notice she went over to check out the painting that was going on.

Mid-morning I looked up and coming up through the holler were three little kids just-a-running as hard as they come.  The two older ones came right up into the yard, welcomed Mr. and Mrs. Bailey with a kiss, and lit right into that project.  Pretty soon the little girl had paint all over her, the little boy was up on the roof slipping and sliding around in the tar.  But the youngest child stood off on the edge of the yard.  He didn’t smile, he didn’t speak, he didn’t interact with anyone.  The kids would walk by and say hello, and he’d look the other way.  And all morning long, he just kind of stood there.  Finally, I looked at Mr. Bailey, and I said, “Mr. Bailey, what’s wrong with your youngest grandchild?”  He said, “Well Ms. Brown, I don’t rightly know.”  He says, “You know, it’s the funniest thing.  When little John was born, said my daughter and her husband, they already had 9 youngins and they said, you know, they didn’t want him.”  And he said, “It was the funniest thing.  When that little feller’d cry, they’d spank him.”  He said every night they’d put him to bed frustrated and whining.  And the other youngins took everything out on little John.  Every time he opened his mouth, said somebody in the family would come down on that little baby.  He said, “You know Ms. Brown, I noticed about three years ago, little John just stopped talking. Little John never cries and never laughs.  It’s kind of like it’s just easier to pretend you don’t exist.”  He was five years old and he was autistic.

He was five years old and it was easier to pretend that he didn’t really matter, and so he would pretend he wasn’t there. 

By noon that day, I noticed that the only young person in that entire youth group that had really noticed Little John was Carol.  Carol took her sack lunch and she got that little boy by the hand, and they went over and sat on the wood pile, and she fed him her lunch.  After lunch, they disappeared into the woods, and we didn’t see them again until quitting time, along about 5, and they reappeared.  Next morning when we got there, Little John was already waiting on the edge of the yard. Carol jumped out of that Cadillac, fingernails perfect, hair in place, dead alligator (laughter), and she headed toward that child.  The other teenagers looked at me and they said, “Aren’t you going to make her work?”  And I said, “Let’s leave her alone.”  “You mean, she’s not going to have to do anything?”  I said, “Please, let’s leave her alone.”  Late that afternoon, I looked and she was sitting out on that woodpile with that precious little child up on her lap, she had his little head between her breasts, and she was rocking back and forth.  She was singing to him.  And then she would tell him a story.  And never one time did John’s expression change.  Nobody had explained that child to Carol.  But Tuesday became Wednesday, and Wednesday became Thursday, and Thursday became Friday, and everybody hates Friday on a work project, because it’s the day you try to say goodbye to people you’ve learned to love in such a short time.

Oh the house looked wonderful, the roof was great, the porch was back on, the shed was built, part of the wood had been put in.  The kids were all standing around trying to tell Mr. and Mrs. Bailey goodbye.  Hugging and kissing and snotting everywhere.  I looked around and Carol was sitting out on the woodpile.  She had Little John up on her lap, and she had his little head between her breasts, and she was rocking back and forth, telling him a story.  I turned to Carol’s mother, and said, “Go tell her it’s time to go.”  She said, “You tell her, you’re in charge (laughter.)”  I said, “You tell her.  You’re her mother!”  I lost.  I went over to the woodpile, and I looked over that little boy’s head, and I said, “Carol, darling, it’s time to go back to the college.”  She went, (silence-assume a shake of the head.)  I said, “Carol, we’re all finished.  Everything’s done; we’ve packed the car.  It’s really time to go.”  And she went, (silence).  I said, “’I’ll tell you what Carol, you tell Little John goodbye, and I’ll go on, and you come on.”  I started up the hill toward that Cadillac, and I looked back over my shoulder, and Carol, that beautiful young woman out of 17 Magazine with the perfect fingernails, had picked that little boy up and stood him on that woodpile, and she kissed him flat on his face, and she plopped him down on his fanny, and she ran as hard as she could go toward that car.  Half way up the hill, Little John caught her by the hand, and he jerked her around.  For the first time in three years, he cried.  I don’t know what happened to Little John.  I’ve been back in those mountains on work projects a number of times.   The old house is boarded up, and I think Mr. and Mrs. Bailey have either died or are in a nursing home.  And I can’t find Little John anywhere.  Oh, but dear ones, I can tell you what happened to Carol.  That beautiful young woman who was so frightened of breaking her fingernails was made whole by that child.  And she is spending her life as a college graduate with honors dealing with autistic children.  For there in the mountains of that work project, an area where people’s lives are shattered and caught in poverty that they can’t seem to get out of, where in this land of the wealthiest people’s on earth, we still have persons who are malnourished, Carol had discovered a child who could not speak because he had been so shattered by the circumstances of his birth.

And Carol gave up fingernails and dead alligators and 40 dollar shorts to become a woman who is whole and knows she has something to give to others.

Old Carol, when you came home and realized who you were, and who you could become, it was God who celebrated your moment of being found.

I lived in a house that was so close to the one next door that you could reach out across the driveway and see in the house.  You came out on my porch, and you were looking in their bedroom- I saw a lot of things I didn’t want to see (laughter.)  One day, after the house had been sitting there empty for three weeks, I looked up, and backing into the driveway was a moving van.  And I thought, ‘here comes another one.’  A woman came in, in a car, and she got out of that car and she kind of leaned back against it and just stood there with her elbow on the roof.  Another car came and a man got out.  Another car came and two young adults got out. And all those people except the woman spent the day moving stuff into the house next door.  Late in the afternoon as I watched through my den window, I saw the man come over to the woman, and he kind of shook her by the shoulders and said something, and he got in his car and he left.  The two young adults came over, and they kind of shook her by the shoulders, and they got in their car and left.  And the moving van pulled off. There she stood. Arm on the car, sun going down.  And I thought, ‘well, you might as well go for it.’  So I went over to her, and I said, “Hello, I’m Rosemary Brown, and I want to welcome you to our neighborhood.”  She said, “My name’s Vicki.”  Oh I could tell.  The smell of her breath.  The white of the eye that had already turned brown.  The dark roots where she had bleached her hair.  The thinness of her body.  And I thought to myself, ‘dear God, I had too many this week, why another one?’  I’d been working with a teenage boy on drugs.  I had a teenager in my MYF who was pregnant out of wedlock.  Why another one?  Why now?

There she was, living next door.  I got to know her.  That man who had left was her ex-husband.  She asked for the divorce.  He was a man who wanted to climb the ladder of success, and so he kept having parties at the house, and she mixed the drinks.  He was gone all the time; he was never there.  And those two young adults were her children.  They never knew as children if they could bring people home of not, for they never knew what shape mom was going to be in.  Oh she admitted to me that her husband had tried.  He had her in every hospital in this country.  He had spent a fortune trying to help her.  Nothing had worked, and she had asked for the divorce.  I’m the one that when the letters came from her daughter explaining why she could not come and bring her only child, Vicki would bring the letters to me unopened, and she would say, “I cannot read it, will you read it to me?”  And I lied my head off.  I’d read between the lines.  I’d do almost anything to try to reach out and touch that emptiness and that pain.  I’m the one who opened the door the night she was banging on it.  And she staggered into my den and sat down on the hassock and looked up at me and said, “Rosemary, I have a friend that I’m worried about.  I think she’s a drunk.”  And she went on to explain how much she loved this friend, and how good a person she really was.  And finally she looked at me and she said, “I guess I can’t give what I don’t have.”

Oh, that’ll preach.  That’ll preach.

I’m the one who in October of that year, after we had planted daffodil bulbs all the way around her house, the two of us down on our knees digging in the dirt, I’m the one who looked out through my den window just to check on her, and realized that she had dressed up like a witch and that she was sitting on the porch with a little bowl of candy in her lap, waiting for the trick-or-treaters.  I’m the one who watched my neighbors come down the street, knock on my door, and then make a wide arc around the drunk’s house.  I’m the one who went in the bedroom, got dressed up, climbed out the window, and then went over and trick-or-treated because I couldn’t stand for her to sit there all night by herself.  I’m the one who the night when she came flying into the driveway, rounded the house, went through the fence in the backyard, got out of the car, got into the house, and got into her nightgown before the police arrived.  I’m the one who went over and wiped up the vomit, and tried to comb her hair and get her dressed again.  And I’m the one she reached for and kept crying, “If I’m under arrest, why can’t you go with me?”

December of that year, two weeks before Christmas, I was asleep in my bedroom, and a knock came on the back door.  It was 3am.  I jumped up, and I went running through the house, and as I did, through that big bay window in my living room, it looked like daylight outside.  And as I opened the backdoor, the doctor from Vanderbilt hospital who lived down the street was screaming, “Does anybody live in that house?”  As I stepped out in pajamas that she had given me, the top just blew off and the flames licked up at the heavens.  I ran and grabbed a brick out of that flower bed the two of us had planted and I ran to that window as hard as I could go, and I hurled that brick through that glass.  And when I did, it broke away that burned curtain, and I could see her through the mirror on the dresser.  “Oh God, Vicki.  I asked you a thousand times not to smoke in bed.  I kept explaining to you how dangerous it was.”  Have you ever watched them put somebody you really love into one of those awful black bags and zip it up?  The house burned in a circle. And in the center of the house, she’d already put up a Christmas tree. And under the Christmas tree was one gift.



ROSEMARY BROWN: (laughter.)  And under that tree there was, already wrapped, a little silver goblet, and a little silver tray, because I collect communion sets.  And on the bottom of the goblet is engraved,

“Merry Christmas, to my Priestess.” 

In the spring of that year, a member of my church came to me, and she said, “Rosemary, my mother is dying of cancer down in Mississippi.” And she said, “You know, she’s been an alcoholic all my life, and I hate that woman’s guts.”  She said, “When I was a little girl I never knew if I could bring friends home. And the only time she was ever affectionate with me was when she was drunk.  I had despised her all my life, but now that she’s dying, I love her so. Would you pray for my mother?”  I said, “Oh, I’ll do better than that.”  I said, “give me her phone number and I’ll give her a ring.”  I called her that afternoon, and I said, “Camille, this is Rosemary Brown, and I’m your daughter’s pastor.  I wanted to just see how you’re feeling today.”  And that first conversation lasted an hour.  I went to the treasurer of the church and told him I wouldn’t be tithing for a while.  I controlled myself really well at first, I was only calling her every other day, and suddenly I realized I was calling her every day.  “Hello Camille, this is Rosemary.”  One Sunday morning, her daughter came to me at church and she said to me, “Rosemary, Momma hasn’t been to church in over 30 years.  And she wants to know if she sent you an airline ticket, would you come down to Jackson, Mississippi before she dies?”  Oh would I!  I got my little attaché case, put my pajamas and toothbrush in it, and I got my goblet and tray from Vicki.  And I put them in that attaché case, and I went out at 9 o’clock on Monday morning to catch the flight to Jackson, Mississippi.  And as I started to get into line, there was a man standing behind me.  He was the best looking thing I had seen in my entire life (laughter.)  He was one of those fellows that had a 30-dollar haircut, where every little hair flows into place.  He had on a 400-dollar suit, with a little vest, and a chain hanging here.  And I tell you, he was a hunk (laughter.)  Believe me, he was a hunk.  I was just getting ready to go through that piece of equipment that the staves in my mother’s girdle always sets off (laughter).  And I had just laid my attaché case up to slide it through that other piece of x-ray equipment, when he looked at the screen, and he looked back at me, and he said, “What was that?”  I said, “Where are you going?”  He said, “I’m going to Jackson, Mississippi.”  I said, “Get next to me on the plane, and I’ll tell you what it was.”  (laughter.)  I may have white hair, but I ain’t dead yet.  (laughter)

We got on the plane, and I could see him wheeling and dealing, and pretty soon he was sitting next to me.  And after we had lifted up, and gotten that altitude, he turned, and he said, “Now what was that in your briefcase?”  I told him all about Vicki, just like I’ve told you.  I told him about Camille, and I told him where I was going, and how I wanted to be with her and serve her communion.  I noticed a couple of times he had to wipe his face.  Then finally, I said, “Now, tell me about yourself?”  And it turned out that he works for Hospital Corporation of America.  He lives on Bellme Boulevard.  He owns two Jaguars, and one Mercedes Benz.  He had two teenagers that go to private school.  He had a wife that was totally lovely, and he showed me her picture.  And then he said to me, “And I am 42 years old, and I intend to be a millionaire by the time I’m 50.”  We got to Jackson, he kissed me goodbye.

I went out to Camille’s house, and when I got there, I found this frail little woman who was down to 87 pounds, not a hair left on her precious head.  That look of death all around her eyes.  She was so grateful to see me, that voice that had been coming over the phone for so long.  I got down on my knees, and I took out that goblet from Vicki, and I put that wine into it, and I got that bread, and in her presence, I broke it.  And I explained, “Oh Camille, on the night that he was betrayed, he loved us so much- Oh Camille, so much.  I had to mix the bread and the juice, and she just kind of laid there and sucked on it.  And when I had finished that prayer of confession, I crawled into bed with her, and I held her until she went to sleep.  The next morning, I flew back to Nashville.  And three weeks to the day, her daughter called me on the phone, and she said, “Rosemary, Momma died last night. And on the beside table there was another airline ticket.  And Momma had left a note wanting to know if Rosemary would come and say the words.”  Oh would I!  I got my little attaché case, and I went back out to catch the 9 o’clock flight to Jackson, Mississippi.  And as I started through that piece of equipment, he reached out and touched me on the shoulder.  And I looked around, and there was my man from HCA.  He already had big tears in his eyes, and he looked at me and he said, “She died, didn’t she?”  And I said, “Yes.”  He said, “And you’re going to do the funeral aren’t you?”  And I said, “Yes.” And he said, “I want to tell you something lady.  Because of you and that damn goblet, I started going to church. (laughter.)”  And he said, “I got back to Nashville, and I realized I had all of my priorities out of order, that I kept lying to myself and saying I wanted to be a millionaire because I wanted my wife and children to have everything.”  He said, “I don’t even know my children.  And I’ve been worried about my wife, for I am never there.”  He said, “I went to the head of HCA and I told him I can’t do it anymore.  I just can’t do it anymore.”  He said, “My wife and two children and I are going to church now,” and he said, “You know what’s even worse- I volunteered to lead the Boy Scouts and I don’t even like boys (laughter.)”

Oh God. 

I know you told Vicki and Camille about the man from HCA. 

I know you explained to them that as they walked this earth and experienced such a shattering in their own lives, something they never could get quite hold of, something they never could quite understand- those two beautiful wonderful women, who had spent 30 years of their life shattered, torn, unfulfilled. 

Oh God, I know you told them, that when they arrived in your house where they would spend eternity being made whole by your love, God I know you told them about the man from HCA. 

Let us pray. 

Dear God, there are things that happen to us in our lives that make us feel so shattered.  And Lord, we must confess to you sometimes that we feel like taking the pieces, sweeping them up, and throwing them in a trashcan.

And then we look around Lord and there stands a beautiful young woman with perfect fingernails, so afraid she might break them, only to discover in the brokenness of another, that she can be your loving spirit that brings wholeness.

And God, there are people that we will encounter every day of our lives who will find it easier to just overdose, or climb up in a building and turn loose, who can never quite grab hold of what this gift of life is all about, so they cop out Lord. And we stand around wringing our hands because we don’t know if we want to holler ‘jump’ or ‘don’t jump.’

And God, there are people living right next door, and there are days when we’re so tired and we wish they’d move some place else- but there they are.

And they cry out of their need Lord- out of their shattered lives they reach out for the pieces of that pot in their hand and we’re terrified of the glue we have in ours.  And sometimes Lord, it’d just be easier for us to move.  Help us Lord, in an act of faith to pack our little attaché cases, and to go ye therefore.  And to know that when we least expect it Lord, you will be there.  And through our meager effort to be like the Christ, you will reach out and touch the man from HCA.

In the name of Christ who makes us whole, we pray this prayer. 


                        Our vision of wholeness now, is one that will help us with the help of our dance company to imagine what it’s like to be put back together again by the love of God.


ROSEMARY BROWN: Epilogue to the sermon.  In the spring of that year, just before Easter, the daffodils did come up.  Let us stand now for our blessing.  Together let us share, may the blessing of God, fountain of living water flow within us as a river of life, may we drink deep of her wisdom.  May we never thirst again.  May we go through life refreshing many as a sign of healing for all through the one who is life eternal.  Amen.



…And Made Whole