“Who am I to speak you on this day? As a Canadian, it is an honor to preach today,” said the Rev. Dr. J. Peter Holmes at the 9:15 a.m. Tuesday morning worship service. His sermon title was “In the Beauty of the Lilies,” and the Scripture texts were Isaiah 35:1-10 and Matthew 6:25-34.
“I think I will do as Jesus did, as he walked: reflected on the land and his parables grew out of the landscape,” he said.
Holmes then shared several vignettes of his family’s travels across the United States.
“I want to share the things that have been spoken to me on the roads in your country, like Jesus spoke about the roads he walked,” he said.
He said that the family would travel from Toronto to Vancouver and back, one way through Canada and the other way through the United States. One time they stopped at Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota. It was the middle of the week and their car was the only one in the parking lot.
A park ranger came by and told them if they waited and were very still, they would have an experience. First they would feel it, then they would hear it and then they would see it: a buffalo herd was coming. Their car started to shake, then they heard the thunder of the hooves and then the herd was all around them.
When the herd was gone, the family all took a deep breath.
“The experience spoke to me of Psalm 46, ‘God is our refuge and strength … therefore we will not fear, though the mountains tremble with its tumult … be still and know that I am God!’ ” Holmes said.
Roosevelt, he said, had retreated to that part of North Dakota after his mother and wife died within days of each other. Holmes wondered if Roosevelt heard the hooves of the buffalo and the echo of the still, small voice that came to Elijah not through the earthquake, wind or fire, but in the silence.
On another trip the family stopped in Gillette, Wyoming, for dinner after visiting Mount Rushmore. A man came to the table and asked the children if they had seen the sunflowers by the side of the road. He asked if they had noticed that the flowers faced east in the morning and west at the end of the day. The flowers are following the light, the man told them. Then he was gone.
“I needed to hear that,” Holmes said. “Was that church? Consider the flowers of the field, follow the light and in it we will find our life.”
Once the family stopped for the night in Madison, Wisconsin, home of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. They did not know that it was the night of a national marching band competition. There were bands marching everywhere, and Holmes’ children thought it was heaven.
“Then the mysterious and magic happened,” he said. “I was aware that the fireflies were dancing with the music. It was church. Live in the light, march in the light, dance in the light. You (Americans) are good at that.”
When the family had been on vacation in Maine, they drove back to Montreal, where they were living at the time, by way of New Hampshire. They stopped at a Shaker village near Canterbury. They had not made hotel reservations but assumed that they could find somewhere to stay for the night. But there was a NASCAR race at the speedway near Canterbury and there were no rooms. People told them there were no rooms in town, or even in the state because of the NASCAR race.
The family finally stopped in Bethlehem, New Hampshire. His son reminded him that there was no room at the inn in Bethlehem for Jesus. The sign said “no vacancy” but Holmes went in to ask if they had a room. A vacancy had just opened up, just for them. The next morning they saw the sign for a woodworking shop in the barn and met the carpenter who had helped them the night before.
“America, you are so good at welcoming people,” he said. “This is what it means to dance in the light. You have given hospitality, peace and rest. As you did it for a carpenter born in a barn in Bethlehem, you did it to me. Then you will hear the voice, move to the music. He is with you always. Thank you for your welcome to me. Thanks be to God.”
The Rev. Dan McKee presided. Maddison Williams, 2017 Chautauqua Scholars coordinator for the International Order of the King’s Daughters and Sons, read the Scripture. Maddison was a member of the 2013 Class of Chautauqua Scholars and was a staff member for this program in 2016. The Motet Choir sang “America the Beautiful,” arranged by Mark Hayes; J. Paul Burkhart served as narrator. Jared Jacobsen, organist and coordinator of worship and sacred music, directed the choir. The Alison and Craig Marthinsen Endowment for the Department of Religion and the John William Tyrrell Endowment for Religion provide support for this week’s services.