The Old Vicar’s Last Sermon

The Old Vicar’s Last Sermon
November 21, 2021
The Rev. Lisa G. Fischbeck

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

The time came when we needed a sign.
Not a sign from God telling us what we needed to do,
But rather a sign by the road, telling folks that The Advocate was here.
It was 2014.
We finally had land on which to worship.
And a building in which to worship.
We needed a sign.

A member of the vestry contacted the appropriate staff in the Town of Chapel Hill
to find out the rules and regulations.
Turns out, there are plenty.

The sign can only have the name of the business or organization on it.
No website or phone number, no street address.
No “The Rev. Lisa G. Fischbeck, Vicar”!
Just the name.

And the sign can’t be more than 16 ft2

The Vestry member reported: “According to the planning office, the town regulations do not allow pole signs. Signs in must be of a monument type with the base contiguous with the ground” (no daylight under the sign).
And the ratio of height to width can’t be more than 1:2.
So, 2ft x 4 ft.                             Or max: 2.82ft x 5.64ft

You start looking around town and you see it.
Most signs for businesses, organizations, churches,
Are set atop a stone or brick foundation.
And they are rectangular.

The vestry member talked to a local sign maker,
Who came up with some possibilities.
Very nice looking, for sure.
But, a few of us here at the Advocate
Wanted something…. Different.
Why not have the Advocate Cross itself be the sign?

And, since it was going to be by the tracks,
Why not have the sign made of metal?
Give it a little industrial, edgy look.
Help folks to know that we were more than the traditional 19th century chapel.

Turns out Celisa Steele knew of a local artist.
A sculptor named Callie Warner.
Turns out Caliie was just anti-establishment enough that she really relished the idea of something different.
We want the sign to be 8 ft. tall, I said.
And to have the Jesus part of the cross be cut out and clear.
Symbolically calling us to see the world through Jesus.

She went to work.
And created a drawing that I could run by the Town staff.
I found the email this week:
Dear Kay —              Thanks for your time and patience in meeting with me this afternoon.
Here is a scan of our proposed sign.
It is cut out of metal and stands 8 ft tall.
At the widest point in is 4 ft wide.
Hence it meets the 1:2 ratio requirement and the height requirement.
The sign itself is less than 16 square feet of material.
I do hope this can be approved as a sign for the Advocate.
I look forward to hearing from you.                   Lisa

You see, even though the sign was 8 ft tall,
And 4 ft wide at the widest.
If you use geometry and cut out the cross and the circle,
It isn’t 32 ft2.
It’s 8 inches by 8 feet = 6 ft2
Plus 8 inches by 4 ft = 3 ft2
Plus the circle, 8 inches wide and 4 ft in diameter….
You do the math!
It isn’t even 16 ft2.

And the base is most definitely contiguous with the ground
No air between the ground and the bottom of the cross.
The word came back from the Town office:
        We’ve never had a request like this before.
        But it does meet the requirements.

So, guess what?!
The Advocate has the tallest sign in Chapel Hill!

I tell this story, not to boast at our cleverness,
Though I confess some pride in it, for sure.
But to use it as an example of being….
Rooted in the tradition, but not bound by it.
In this case, following the rules, but pushing the envelope.
We did it with the move of the chapel,
We did it with the construction of the Pee Wee Homes.
We did it with the blessing of the unions of same sex partners
Notably, we do it with our liturgy,
Time and again.
That’s Advocate.
God willing and with the Bishop’s consent, of course.

Back to the sign.
There’s more to it, of course.
We had to debate just what name to put on the sign:
Some felt strongly that we needed to include the word Episcopal.
Others, that we needed to say Church.
But the design had limited space.
Episcopal is a long word!
And we figured the building clearly visible beyond the sign says “church”
pretty clearly.

And then there is that…. Jesus.
From the beginning,
The Advocate has led
And been led by,
The Advocate Jesus.
We made the decision early on to have Jesus on our processional cross
And then to have our processional cross be our logo,
Our sign and symbol of who and whose we are.
The way Jesus is depicted on our cross
Is not the way Jesus is usually depicted, either.

The Advocate Jesus is neither the suffering Jesus nor the Christ the King,
Crowned with many crowns and robed in splendor.
Our Advocate Jesus was inspired by this little carved cross out of Africa.
The Advocate Jesus is on the cross, but not bound by it.
Has conquered death, but still reaches out from the cross.
The Advocate Jesus is inviting, welcoming.
Simply and minimally attired
His wounds are plentiful,
Thanks to our blunders and the wind through the years,
But the broken bits have been restored,
Thanks to numerous repairs,
(Most spectacular the ones done by Marisa Sifontes, Holy Week 2018.)
Jesus’ arm is twisted a bit, though
Kind of like Jem Finch in To Kill A Mockingbird.

Wherever you are on the journey of life and faith and doubt,
The Advocate Jesus compelling –
Kind and forgiving,
Gentle and strong.
That’s Advocate.
At our best.
God willing.

There’s more, of course.
The Advocate is the Holy Spirit too.
Indeed, when we first got our name,
That’s what the Bishop assumed we were talking about.
That Pentecost would be out festival Day.
Jesus says, I will not leave you comfortless,
I will send you the Advocate.
The Spirit of truth.

We capture that in the Esser Tapestry,
The Seed and the Flame.
It’s hard to realize the progression and the movement of that tapestry as it hangs sideways in the bell tower.
(we don’t have a long enough horizontal space here to hang it as it is meant to be hung….).
The point of the tapestry is that
as we plant and cultivate the seed,
The flame emerges, shows itself.

To be the church of the Advocate, then,
To be a People of the Advocate,
Is a pretty high calling,
Firey and blustery,
Gentle comfort and mighty wind.
Stirring up justice, enfolded with compassion.
Talk about unbounded!
And if ever there was a time when the Spirit of Truth was needed in our world,
This is such a time.

I don’t know what people think or imagine when they drive by and see that sign:
An industrial metal cross
With a sinuous cut out Jesus.
The words The Advocate across the top.
Behind it a cute little storybook chapel.
But I hope they come in and have a closer look.

The chapel is cute and sweet,
It’s also worn and unpolished.
The wood has some splinters and the doors don’t shut all the way.
Like the Jesus on the Advocate Cross,
It’s been broken and restored,
And it invites all.
That’s Advocate.
At our best.
God willing

Yes, the sign and the tapestry and the Chapel are rich metaphors.
But what they point to is richer far.
Ever since we got our name,
I’ve spoken of the Advocate triptych,
The three in one:
The Advocate Jesus. Who has ascended and “sits at the [left] hand of God.”
(just checking to see if you’re paying attention)
The Advocate the Holy Spirit. Whom Jesus sends to breath and gust,
To nudge and prod.
And the Advocate that’s the people.
Inspired by the Christ, empowered by the Spirit,
The people of the Advocate go forth in the Name of Christ as the Body of Christ
And do God’s work in the world.
I’ve witnessed it time and time again in the last 18 years.
Y’all have inspired and humbled me.
Challenged me and warmed my heart.
Inviting, embracing, marching, praying,
Persevering, sacrificing,
Marinading in and making manifest
The compassion, justice and transformation of our God.

When people ask me what I love about my life as Vicar of the Advocate,
I tell of many things.
The people, the land, the pond, the Pee Wee Homes,
the authenticity, the liturgical freedom, the willingness to try new things,
the genuine care, the generosity of spirit.
I love watching people come to church on a Sunday morning,
Walking in from parked cars,
And, in 2020, popping up on the Zoom screen.
I love gathering in a circle for the distribution of communion,
I love walking our infinity processions,
Being encircled by the Christ made known in cross and Gospel,
seeing people reach out to touch the book as it passes by.
I love our offertory procession,
As all, each in our own way,
Offer ourselves to God,
I love chanting the Creed together.
I love the robust singing.
I love the robust singing a lot.
I love our baptisms by immersion.
And, as is probably abundantly clear to those who have witnessed it,
I love an enthusiastic asperges,
Declaring, with water flying through the air,
Remember that you are baptized!
Remember that you are the Body of Christ,
One with God, one with one another.

Well, we did that last week as we celebrated the Feast of All Saints.
So we won’t do that today.
Instead, today, I want to remind you of that Holy Spirit Advocate,
The wind, the flame.
And no, I’m not going to get out a big fan or a flame thrower,
Or even pass out candles.

But I have had some matchboxes made,
Each with the image of a panel from our Esser tapestry,
Because really,
Corny or mischievous or alliterative as it may sound,
truth be told
In part because it is corny, mischievous, and alliterative
My prayer for y’all as I move on,
Is that you will…..

Stay lit, Advocate.                                                     Amen!