did some growing up in dairy farm country in upstate
N.Y., in a little town which had a sign posted near
the house which read "Fayetteville, population 3,656."
And then my father was transferred to the big city.
Now, we were in a metropolis- Binghamton, N.Y. I was
overwhelmed as my parents walked me up to the old
brick Congregational church that was to become my
Buildings five stories tall. One side
of the street had a hobby shop full of electric trains
running in the front window. On the other side was a
store selling salted nuts, which had put a fan up in
the transom window to blow the smell of roasted nuts
across your path. And if that didn't somehow lure you,
there was a person on the sidewalk dressed up like a
large peanut wearing a tuxedo with a top hat, monocle,
and spats, who beckoned you to enter. When I saw this,
I knew then and there that this was all of the bright
lights and big city sophistication I would ever need.
We got to the old church with its tall bell tower, and
went in. It had a wood ceiling, and beautiful stained
glass and wooden adornment all throughout. Every
Sunday in the years since that first time there, just
for a moment-- when I come into this church, I have a
moment when I smell that old oiled wood, that sense of
permanence, tradition and acceptance, and I know that
I am home.
I made friends pretty quickly with the kids in church
and we combed every inch of that old building. I was
the first to dare to go up to the bell tower, and soon
I was leading tours of kids up there. As soon as the
parents were at coffee hour, we would gather in the
empty sanctuary's balcony at the foot of those tall 27
stairs. --Up to the top, flip the trap door, climb
into a dark room. --Shaft of light coming down the
next stairs. --Up the stairs into a square room with
big opaque stained glass. -- Grab the ladder, climb to
the trap door and knock, to warn the pigeons whose
wings you would hear a moment after; because I quickly
learned that there is nothing worse than a small
unfamiliar room full of frightened adolescents who are
suddenly descended upon by equally frightened poultry.
Then, open the trap door and look up at the big bell
over your head. --Wait till all the kids were
assembled around the bell, then up the last iron
ladder, open the trap door, and you were on the roof.
And there it was--all of Binghamton, New York
stretched out before us. And we would stand and look
out over the city in awe, like so many junior
We were trying to find God-- standing there imagining
that the Holy Spirit was welling up in the Sanctuary
below, and moving up through that tower to find us in
its secret places as we came down, so that by the time
we reached the sanctuary floor, we would feel full of
God's mystery. It was our secret. I was a guest at my
home church, and after service I was told that we had
fooled no one. It was pretty clear to most folks where
a bunch of adolescents had been when they arrived half
an hour late for coffee hour looking wild and
wind-blown, and covered in soot and pigeon feathers.
Seems that those parents had done some time in that
tower when they were younger, and had passed it on to
We sat with our youth group in the balcony on Sundays.
We made parachutes out of handkerchiefs tied to notes
that said things like "Boring Sermon, Send Oxygen," or
"Mildred Pierce lives," and dropped them off the
balcony. That didn't last long, because the choir
started watching us like hawks. But it did give the
choir the impressive appearance of glancing heavenward
during the sermon, but they were just checking on us.
But something important happened there for me. I sat
in one of these pews like you are right now, and a
seed was planted. I knew who I was when I knew I was a
part of God.
Back then our minister's name was Dr.
Gambell, and I admired him very much. I wanted to be
like him, so I tried to find out what it was that I
needed to do. What made him a great man? I kept a
scrapbook which I still have with every church
bulletin in it from the mid sixties. But my scrapbook
became very sad, because Dr. Gambell suddenly died in
an accident. In losing him, it was clearer to me what
it was that the church had lost, and who he was.
He was someone who used his spiritual gifts, and who
behaved like a Christian. He used his great gifts in
giving his gracious presence to others.
from Romans outlined what my task was, what all of our
tasks are in order to behave like a real Christian. To
love without being phony, really hold on to what is
good, be affectionate to each other, serve God, be
glad to be able to have hope, be patient in trouble,
pray, give to others, bless those who give you a hard
time, be happy with those who are happy, and don't be
afraid to cry with those who are sad. Live peacefully
with each other, and let God worry about who should be
judged. Don't be overcome by evil, but overcome evil
All right, good enough-- that's a great plan. But when
does it happen? When do we feel complete, like we're
whole with God? Some of us don't know how to start,
because we don't even know who we are yet. I
certainly didn't, sitting in church 30 years ago. Or
perhaps some of you were hurt by the church, and
didn't have the loving experience so many who grew up
here experienced. But the question is: how do we open
up and become who we were meant to be?
I want to tell you a true story.
There was an artist in Paris who loved his work, and
he built a studio on the outskirts of the city. It had
a high central room with a balcony around it off a
little kitchen, where he could sit and look down on
his work while he ate. He had a gift for painting as
well as sculpture, and he was lucky to be able to work
with the gifts God had given him.
Then came the Second World War, and he became a member
of the French Resistance and fought underground for
France. His studio became a secret sanctuary, and a
gathering place where the seeds were planted in people
like him in order that they might do what they felt
was right even at the risk of their own lives. But in
the summer of 1945, he was shot and killed, just weeks
before the war ended.
His oldest son came to the studio and cleaned it up.
He covered all his father's bright and beautiful
artwork. The statues on the main floor were shrouded
from top to bottom. The paintings, whether on easels
or hanging on the walls, were also covered tight. Then
he set a place at the table on the balcony for his
father, left the studio and locked it from the
outside, and shuttered all of the windows. Over the
next 45 years, he would return to this studio to check
on it, dust it, and make sure everything was covered
and hidden from the world. He kept this shrine to
himself, he claimed it as his; never letting the rest
of his family, let alone the art world of Paris who
remembered this well-regarded artist closer than the
shuttered windows on the street.
Only through the reluctance of death, did his father's
studio pass on to his niece.
In October of 1991, I boarded a non-stop flight from
Los Angeles to Paris to meet a close friend from
Manhattan there. Jeff had picked the hotel, which had
worried me a little, and my fears were very well
founded. It didn't matter. We were in Paris, it was a
beautiful day, and jet-lagged as I was, we walked and
stopped for deep black espressos. Our artist friends
Edmonde and Christine were very excited that we were
both here at the same time, and wanted to have us over
that night for a gathering in a place no-one had ever
We called her. She knew I was probably tired, but
could we come right over? There was going to be a
special dinner with several guests in honor of her
grandfather. I had been up for 24 hours, but I said
I'd give it a try, just because it sounded mysterious.
You see, her uncle had passed away, and she had
inherited her grandfather's art studio.
We took the Metro to what looked more like a medieval
village than the limits of the bustling Paris I knew.
We wound up and down old stone streets until we came
to an alleyway. A two-story house with barn doors,
looking like a carriage house, stuck out as fitting
the description, and we knocked. I remember how
ridiculous it felt to knock on barn doors, when a
smaller door cut into these doors opened, and our
friends spilled out onto the sidewalk. We hugged and
kissed, and made a fuss over their beautiful young
daughter, and then they invited us in. We became
hushed, and in awe. We were in her grandfather's
studio as he had left it in 1945. His art lay shrouded
like ghosts. You could sense the life that was under
those coverings, as well as the sadness of the person
who had covered them over. The room felt gray.
We went up to the balcony to meet other family members
and everyone felt the same anticipation-- something
was going to come to life tonight.
As they told us the
story of her grandfather, and her uncle's decision to
shut it all away, a wonderful French meal was
prepared, and brought out to the table on the balcony
where one table setting had already been placed, and
we sat down. The story came alive to me as I broke
bread with them, looked down at the shrouded art, and
glanced at the empty place setting.
In their broken
English and our terrible French, we understood that
tonight, we were going to uncover art. In silence
there was a grace, then Edmonde walked downstairs to
the center of the room, and pulled the shroud off the
tallest piece in the middle. It was an arm, with a
beautiful hand, and it pointed upward. We looked at it
reaching up to us on the balcony, and then almost too
soon, a vivid painting lost its covering and color
filled the room. Then one after another, the artwork
was exposed to us who looked down on it; statues big
and small, canvasses of swirling colors, some finished
and some unfinished, it didn't matter-- the direction
the unfinished pieces took was more interesting than
some of the finished ones. But one thing was sure.
When Edmonde had finished uncovering the art, the room
had changed from a dark gray to a brilliance of light
and color, feeling and balance, and above all, life
and spirit. Each piece caught our eye, and we shouted
out our feelings and observations in our different
tongues, trying to be understood, yet knowing that how
we felt at that moment needed no common language.
And in the midst of it all, we were silenced by the
sight of the empty place at the table. Truly, the
artist was with us. Our eyes filled. His place seemed
so forgotten and neglected, while we had been admiring
his creation. None of us had ever seen him, yet how
could he not be with us when his art had been
uncovered after so long a time, and had filled us with
its beauty. We sat in silence. We ate bread, and we
drank from his cups.
Today I'm back in God's studio on the corner of
Prospect and Rodney. A room full of beautiful works of
art. Some are statuesque, some abstract. Some are of
the realist school, others are impressionistic. Some
have been here a long time, and some are new to their
easels. Some look pretty much like God is satisfied
with the effort, and some are still being molded. Some
will need constant molding. Some have raised families,
many will, and some will never marry, and they will
learn to love their difference. Many are standing
ready for all to see, and some are still under their
I remember feeling like that. Like I was covered up
somehow, that I wanted to be ready, but wasn't. Didn't
know if I ever would be. I wanted to know God. Church
seemed like the place to find God. There was a mystery
here in the building, and I had to find it out, as
those of you who grew up here have had to search for
mystery in all of the corners of this old original
church. That's why I climbed through every inch of it.
If I could become a part of it, be in the places no one went, play the organ loud to let the spirit
know I was alive, know it in a way that no-one else
did, maybe then I would know God, maybe then I would
be ready to be more complete. What I didn't know then,
is what perhaps some of you have already learned.
In this room, seeds are planted. Many take root and
grow, many do not.
Over thirty years ago a seed was
planted in me within my church family, that I would
know how to follow the paths I now walk. Each week
that you come here and spend time with this church
family, seeds will be planted. In worship, in
acceptance, by the music... by being works of art in
progress in God's studio. Receive the gift that is
here at Mt. Hollywood for you. If you have ears to
hear, then listen.
Because nothing is hidden unless it is to be revealed,
nor has anything been kept a secret except that it be
brought to light. The more you have, the more you will
be given. If you decide that you don't have anything,
even that will be taken away from you. Even for so
many years were precious artworks hidden in a
back street in Paris, they came to light. Come home. We
are all artworks of God waiting for the moment to be
uncovered. It may not happen when we want it to. For
some it happens early, for some like myself, later,
and for others, including many churches, not at all.
As a young person, I searched for God all over the
building, and I've come home to tell you where the
kingdom is. It's presumptuous of me, but I am new
enough to still feel that I can make large sweeping
statements. Seven words. The gospel of Luke, chapter
17, verse 21: "The Kingdom of God is within you." It
isn't hidden in the building-- it won't come from the
organ pipes or the tower. It will make itself known in
the gifts you have been given to use, and in the way
you choose to live your lives through your faith. The
seed has been planted, as it has throughout the
centuries. It has been nurtured in so many souls not
with us here today-- the saints who have gone before
us, patient and brave and true. Right here in this
room it has happened over and over again throughout
the history of this church and its astounding
ministry. Come home, and see what I see.
Folks come in here feeling lost, and this is where
they are found, in the Amazing Grace of God at work in
a community where the works of art that we are get
fashioned from clay. Just like God said to Jeremiah:
"I am as a potter at the wheel who will remake you and
make you whole if that is your desire."
Come Home. No matter where you come from, no matter
what your experience has been, you who are weary of a
world that is unjust and uncaring, come home. Home is
the place where they have to take you when no one else
will. In this home, we call upon the Holy Spirit in
each other to do the uncovering and the bringing of
the light of God into the world through our caring,
our gifts, and who we are. This is God's Studio, and I
see you as most beautiful and welcome works of art.
And to that I say "Amen," and let the whole church say