December 1, 2016
I have a little tray of safety pins on the table between the chairs in the Pastor’s Study, here in the Church. No, I don’t pull clothing seams apart regularly, nor am I a worrier about “a catastrophic failure” (or even a “wardrobe malfunction!”) happening in a public setting that might require an emergency repair of some article of clothing. In some ways, the Pins are an Advent symbol, kind of like those on the Chrismon and Christmas trees in our sanctuary. You’ve had a look at them, along the way, I expect.... there are lots of musical instruments, Greek letters, fish, anchors, crosses, and white, twinkling lights a’plenty! Not any safety pins, though.
In their present state, these safety pins are both a reminder and an invitation. The simple, curly, stainless steel bits are a reminder that sometimes things need to be repaired, at least temporarily, until more substantive arrangements can be made. Zippers get stuck, shirt buttons pop off, seams come apart.... and a safety pin is just the right thing to temporarily fix them.... or at least to compensate for their failure. Theologically, the pins are a reminder of the relationship of faith which we share with God. He puts it in place, expressing confidence in our covenant.... namely that He will be Our God and we will be His People. Nothing will happen to us that will escape His notice, His concern, and His protective covering. Remember Jesus’ poetic turn in His lament over Jerusalem? “How often would I have gathered you under my wings, as a hen gathers her brood....!” Perhaps, to wear a safety pin on one’s lapel is to express confidence in a relationship with God which never fails, never gets taken for granted, and is never found wanting. Again, it’s Jesus who offers, “Remember, I am with you always, even to the end of time!” In a transient, mobile time such as ours, in which movements happen voluntarily and involuntarily, it’s comforting for me to be reminded that where-ever I am, He is also.
In the Hebrew Scripture texts from which I am preaching throughout Advent, there is the frequent reminder of God to Israel - and subsequently to us - that God is present, even in the calamities and traumas of life. When “the unimaginable” comes to pass, taking up residence on the doorstep of our hearts and lives, Isaiah says, our God is not shaken loose, nor is He “away, or perhaps taking a nap,” like Elijah taunted the prophets of Ba’al on the slopes of Mount Carmel. Instead, He comforts us in our times of tears and pain, and asks us to look forward to a “peaceable kingdom” to come, with all the attributes of Eden before Adam and Eve’s Fall - lions and lambs at peace with each other, children safe while in “harm’s way” around snakes, and predators and their prey at one in each other’s company. Here’s God’s intended arrangement, His vision for the world.... we live together at peace with each other and in His companionship. I need to be reminded of that, too, at times.... especially when the “wheels are falling off the wagon,” personally and in the world! I need to be reminded that God’s intentions are good and trustworthy and sound. So, I put on that safety pin, and it’s somewhat like a “curious” night-light, reminding me that the darkness and alone-ness I may currently feel is not all there is. God is present. And that’s enough to get me through one more “dark night of the soul,” and one more tempest in which I long to hear that “still, small voice” of grace.
The little box of curly, safety pins is all that.... and more. I noted earlier that it is also an invitation.... certainly to proximity with, and even into the core of the heart of God! It is an invitation to all who see it to consider their relationship with the One from whom we’ve come, and to whom we shall (sooner or later) return.... and there find “rest for their soul.”
But perhaps there’s another kind of invitation being made to us. There are a great many folks “out there” in our day-to-day world who feel harassed, bullied, unacceptable, and alone, thinking - like the old spiritual says - that “nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen! Nobody knows my sorrow!” While on the interstates last week as we went to spend Thanksgiving Day with our daughter and son-in-law in eastern Ohio, I found myself looking for the little green mileage markers on the side of the road. They helped me mark our location, and at the same time, assured me that we were making progress toward our destination (either in West Austintown or Poquoson). They were comforting, in that they helped me find a way forward, like a sailing ship’s “lookout” who was posted high atop the vessel’s rigging, searching the horizon for a lighthouse, the sails of another vessels, or an opportunity to cry out “Land, Ho!”
I think we all look for markers along the way in life, inviting us to be at peace, even though all around us seems to be changing at a blinding rate. I put that Safety Pin on my collar or pocket as a sign to anyone in peril on life’s journey that I am one who can be seen as safe and trustworthy and in whom risks are few and grace abounds. Like looking for a cross as a sign for a gathering of Christians when you’re in a new setting on a Sunday morning and wanting to find a group with which to worship or sing or pray, seeing a safety pin on someone’s lapel might be an indicator that “Here’s someone ‘safe’ for me to be with, who will hold my confidences inviolate, and with whom I can trust the tenderness and fears of my heart. Here’s someone with whom I can lay down my burdens for a while; they will be Christ to me.”
I have a couple of small trays of safety pins, and I’d be glad to share one - or more - with you, if you feel called to quietly assert that you’re a “safe person” with whom struggling travelers can be who they really are. Get one from the tray in my study; I’ll also bring them to the Chancel on Sunday, so that you can take a step out on faith by wearing one, and offer the hospitality of God’s household - quietly, unobtrusively, gently, graciously to all who happen to come by you and see it. What could it hurt? After all, it’s only a safety pin.....
Grace and peace,
Jim Earley, Pastor
PS - Responses? Send to my e-address: RevsRUs@Cox.net Thanks.