On Trains and Church — a sermon by the vicar

On Trains and Faith
Blue Grass Mass
September 13, 2015


As you roll across the trestle
Spanning Jordan’s swelling tide
You will reach the Union Depot
Into which your train will ride

In the Name of the creating, redeeming and transforming God,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

There is something about trains and train tracks the stirs both psyche and soul.
Something iconic,
something mythic.
Somehow trains seem to inspire stories, songs,
hearts, minds, and souls,
young and old alike.

It’s been said that the perfect country and western song needs to include one of five subjects:
mama, trucks, prison, getting drunk,
or trains.

“Ridin’ on the City of New Orleans”
comes to mind.
Or even The Little Engine That Could
“I think I can , I think I can.”

What is it about trains….?
It has something to do with strength and size,
something to do with the sound.
More than anything, I think,
it has something to do with a journey,
a track,
a distance.

It is different from a car or a truck or a plane.
A car journey is self contained and self propelled.
Trucks are just too plentiful.
In a plane, you can’t really see where you’ve been or where you are going.

But a train….
A train rumbles along a track,
a track that seems to extend endlessly in one direction,
then in another.
You hear it first, then it creeps into view,
well, at least if there is a crossing nearby it creeps.
Out in wide open spaces, a train surges.

But when it comes near to a crossing or a town
the whistle blows.
And the sound of the whistle carries across miles.

We hear it like the call of a pileated woodpecker.
It’s exotic, but strangely familiar, too.
Hear that lonesome whistle blow….

If we are in town we see the gate go down and we start to count the cars despite ourselves,
If it’s only four cars, we are a little disappointed.
More than 20 and we might start to feel a bit impatient.
Still, there is something about those cars,
each distinct,
varying in shape and size and age,
varying a bit in what it carries,
in how it was designed,
in the graffiti on its side.
But all the cars connected together,
Moving together down the track.

Freight trains feel somehow more mythic than passenger trains.
Boxcars carrying cargo and,
in song and story
carrying people who have hitched a ride.

I love the fact that we have a train track running right along side the Advocate Chapel here.
The train doesn’t run on Sundays,
but it runs Monday to Friday.
It’s only cargo is coal,
coal to the university.
Even so, it stirs the imagination and the soul.
When it passes by,
whatever we are doing,
we stop.
And the inner child emerges in any who are here.
We watch it lumber by
we hear it creek and moan,
we feel the ground vibrate just a bit.
And a part of us rides with it,
if even for a moment.

I think that’s part of the mystique.
The train is us,
or life,
or something.
It isn’t clean and shiny and new.
It is rough, hard-working,
It is each of us,
on our journey
passing through life:

As you roll across the trestle
Spanning Jordan’s swelling tide
You will reach the Union Depot
Into which your train will ride.

It is each of us,
But it is more than us.
It is big and strong and exciting.
in your face sometimes
and sometimes distant, far away,

It is,
I will venture here to say,
it is like Church.
train comingMaybe it’s because we have a train track running right along side the Advocate Chapel here.
Maybe it’s because the Chapel itself came here from somewhere else.

But visually it is as though the Chapel itself
were another boxcar on the train.
Moved here over country roads,
planted on blocks of brick,
this chapel is set,
But still it rides the rails.
Still it rumbles and it moves.
And by God’s grace,
God’s yearning,
this boxcar that is chapel is transformed by those of us it carries,
As those of us it carries
Are transformed by God’s grace.

Or so we hope

This boxcar that is chapel
has its whistle,
or at least a bell,
Calling out its presence,
bidding people to take note, take heed,
to get on board.

But the cargo in this boxcar
is not just each and every one of us who gathers here.
It is all who went before.
All who’ve ridden the rails of faith and doubt
Of love and loss
Of sorrow and of joy.
And more.

It is the Church –
known and unknown,
tradition and innovation,
infant and elder
metaphorical and actual,
set and moving,
this boxcar of a chapel has a cargo indeed.

But the car ain’t full.
there’s room for more.
And who then, shall it be?

Jesus, through the prophetic voice of Bruce Springsteen calls:
Grab your ticket and your suitcase
Thunder’s rollin’ down this track
Well, you don’t know where you’re goin’ now
But you know you won’t be back
Well, darlin’ if you’re weary
Lay your head upon my chest
We’ll take what we can carry
Yeah, and we’ll leave the rest

Big wheels roll through fields
Where sunlight streams
Meet me in a land of hope and dreams

Well, I will provide for you
And I’ll stand by your side
You’ll need a good companion now
For this part of the ride
Leave behind your sorrows
Let this day be the last
Tomorrow there’ll be sunshine
And all this darkness past

Big wheels roll through fields
Where sunlight streams
Oh meet me in a land of hope and dreams

This train…
Carries saints and sinners
This train…
Carries losers and winners
This train…
Carries whores and gamblers
This train…
Carries lost souls.

I said this train…
carries broken-hearted
this train
thieves and sweet souls departed
this train
Dreams will not be thwarted
This train…                                                                                                           
Faith will be rewarded

This train…?you don’t need no ticket
This train….
just get on board
on board this train…..
people get ready
this train
you just get on board
this train
And just thank the Lord.
people get ready.
people get ready.
come on this train….

It is good that we are here.