January 23

Snow Day

By Marsh Chapel

Click here to hear the sermon only.

Matthew 4:12-23

It is perhaps unfortunate that over time we in the frozen north have not allowed a powerfully central feature of our existence to teach us, more, about God. We have shoveled snow. We have groveled before storms. We have muffled our pleas for warmth. We have stifled our spouse’s prayer, “take me to San Diego”. We have trifled with the gruesome details of the weather channel. Shovel, grovel, muffle, stifle, trifle as we may, however, we have not fully considered the gracious presence of snow, and it is high time we did, thank you very much. James Sanders, OT teacher in Rochester and NYC, taught us to theologize first, then moralize. So before in moral indignation we lift another shovel, let us reason together about the gracious presence of snow.

I have only one category A complaint about Boston. There are not enough snow days here. The schools rarely close, and the city rarely stops its commerce. There is a strength in this abstinence from snow days, but there also is a weakness.

On the eastern end of Lake Ontario, whence cometh some wisdom, there is more snow and there are more snow days, in Watertown and Pulaski and Syracuse. Sandy Creek took on 54 inches of snow a few weeks ago, that town on Route 11, which we call “a little bit of heaven on Route 11”.

Grace Prevenient

That was a snow day, on the Tug Hill plateau. And a snow day is one day within in the Day of God on which all our strivings cease. A day that takes from our souls strain and stress and lets our ordered lives confess the beauty of God’s peace. A day of preventive interruption, a day of personal reckoning, a day of cleansing health—a day of grace, within the one Day of God.

Amazing Grace! How sweet the sound…of downy flakes…

At 5am on a snow day, teachers pray for a day with family. Children implore the ivory goddess to wait upon their needs. Dads look forward to canceling class (though never church), calling in for messages, unbundling the toboggan, digging out that old ‘tuke’, and living, for once, in the interrupted preventive grace of God that says, flake by flake: you are not God.

One of the great anticipated moments of life in our home, a home of teachers and students over some generations, has been the rapt 5am televiewing of school closings, for which all fervently pray, as, in other places, people light votive candles or clutch rosary beads or place prayer slips in temple walls. Please, oh please, please let this be a SNOW DAY. A Snow Day is a day of grace.

At judgment day you will not regret having spent a little time away from the office..

Come Sunday, Come Sundown, you will forget the many ordinary days, but the Snow day—the day of Dad’s chili bean soup, the day of igloos cut with precision, the day of chipping the ice together from the roof, the day of grace—this you will take with you into God’s presence, as a foretaste of heaven.

God knows, we need prevenient interruption. Otherwise, we think too much of our own doing, and too little of God.

What counts in life is the love of God.
What matters in existence is the grace of God.
What needs doing most, God has already done.
What costs most, God has given.
What we can trust, God has offered.

So, says St Paul, we do not preach ourselves—what we might do, what we might be, what we might accomplish—we preach Jesus Christ, and him crucified. Listen again to 1 Cor.11…

If we are not careful, if we do not accept the Snow Day, the day of prevenient grace, then we end up demanding Godly things of our spouse, expecting Godly achievement of ourselves, requiring Godly performance of our church, worshipping the creature and not the Creator, sculpting golden calves, and doing what most humans most of the time do—practicing idolatry.

There is one God and you are not God, nor is your husband, nor is your pastor, nor is your boss, nor is your parent, nor is your friend. Camus said, rightly, that culture is meant mainly as a setting wherein we remind each other that none of us is God. “They shall understand how they correct one another, and that a limit, under the sun, shall curb them. Each tells the other that he is not God.” Says Dorothy Day to Wall Street, “You are not God.” Says Julian Bond to white America, “You are not God.” Says Betty Friedan to the old boy network, “You are not God.” Says the Republican congress to the Democratic President, “You are not God.” And what does the President say? And in the new millenium, John Doe will remind women that they are not God either, and Jane Smith will remind children that they are not God either, and, if we can muster a little humility, we will all get by together, singing, “I am not God and you are not God, and we are not God together.”

But it takes a Snow Day, the interrupting, preventing grace of God.

One Snow Day, fifteen years ago, when I was dyingly anxious to finish my PhD, resurrect Methodism, become financially independent, and win “father of the year” awards—all by the close of business that Tuesday–ASAP, I happened to stop, in the late afternoon, for a pastoral call, another important interruptive. An elderly botany professor, known for her guided tours of nature and popular courses at Syracuse University, and once seen in her mid-seventies, swinging from the limb of a sycamore tree which she partly climbed in order to make some now forgotten scholarly point, recited this little charmer to me on a brilliantly snowy day, as we drank tea in the later afternoon. Cold it was that day, and snowy, a day for limericks, and laughter and love:

There once was a parson named Fiddle
Who refused to accept a degree
For he said, “’Tis enough to be Fiddle
“Without being Fiddle, DD”

She included the poem, in a card, a few years later, at graduation, to make sure I did not miss the point. Do you get it?

Says the Snow to you and me, “Fiddle de de, Fiddle DD”

Grace Liberative

When St Augustine in the fourth century was asked to teach his people about the Triune God, he offered this analogy: God the Father is like the Sun in the sky which lights and illumines and warms and gives life; God the Son is like the ray of sunlight that carries life and light and illumination and love to us; God the Spirit is like the touch of that sunray upon our cheek, which sustains and helps us, and which personally we feel.

But Augustine in sun and sand, like the young Camus. He preached with an African swing in his rhetoric: “bona bona, dona dona”—good gifts, good gifts. Had Augustine lived in Boston, and not along the sunny beaches of North Africa, had he lived in the cold Northern climate, and not amid blue sky and ocean view and warmth in February—I mean, hello?, what kind of life is that?—had he your perspective on reality, he might rather have offered this analogy: God the Father is like a great cumulonimbus cloud moving over the earth, ready to cover and cleanse and beautify; God the Son is like snow, lovely snow, falling upon us to cover and cleanse and beautify; God the Spirit is like the touch of each unique flake upon our tongues and cheeks as we skate on the Frog Pond (especially on Ground Hog Day at 1pm), and feel personally a power that does cover and cleanse and beautify.

Think how the Scripture would be different if it had co
me from New England, and not the warm climate of Palestine…

And God separated the snow banks from the snow banks, those from under the firmament, from those over the firmament, and God called the firmament heaven. And there was evening and morning, a second day.

And Abraham took his huskies to drink by the frozen lake, and there met Rebecca, who came to break the ice and draw water. And he said, “Pray, put down your pick ax and let me drink from the icy flow”.

And Pharaoh’s daughter saw a sled come by downhill, in which there was wrapped in a snowsuit, a little boy, named Moses. Pharaoh’s daughter took him home, and warmed him by the fire.

After the children of Israel had skated across the frozen Blue Sea, and Pharaoh’s army was in close pursuit, the Lord God sent a heat wave that melted the ice and Pharaoh, and his chariots and his army plunged down into the briney deep.

By the icicles of Babylon we sat down and wept as our tormentors said to us, sing to us one of the songs of Zion.

Save me O God! For the avalanche has cascaded upon me…I have fallen into deep drifts and the snow sweeps over me.

Many snow drifts cannot bury love, neither can blizzards smother it.

Let Justice roll down like an avalanche, and righteousness as an unending blizzard.

I baptize you with snow, but One is coming who will baptize you with fire

Except a man be born of snow and the spirit, he will not enter the kingdom of heaven.

God sends his snow upon the just and the unjust alike

The wise man built his house upon the rock. The snow fell, and the blizzard came and the lake effect wind blew and beat upon that house, but it did not fall, because it was built upon the rock.

In the winter of 1966 there fell a tremendous snow. Our little village, 1100 feet above sea level on the northern edge of the Allegheny plateau, received a sudden interruption. Schools closed. Programs were cancelled. Trips were postponed. For two weeks the town just stopped in its tracks. After a while, the supplies of milk and bread were running low. Danehy’s market sported bare shelves and empty aisles.

There was a gracious and liberating pause. Looking back, I can see the stresses of that year—all of them resounding around the little Colgate campus—racial attacks by town kids, the first 13 undergraduate women living in the Colgate Inn, Carson Veache’s father teaching English and burning draft cards and losing his job for it. Down came the snow, freeing us, freeing us from the role of Almighty God, and liberating our souls for an open future in the one Day of God.

That week, someone in Hamilton probably sat by the fire and read Josiah Royce: “Our world is the object of an all-inclusive and divine insight, which is thus the supreme reality.” Or Unamuno: “Cuidate solo de la idea que de ti Dios tenga”

Grace is not something you do, it is something that happens to you. Love is not something you own, it is something you receive and return. And sin is not taking what is offered.

I thought about this again, reading the Boston Globe on Thursday. I love to read the Globe. I love the occasional stories from the seacoast about fishing and scrimshaw and seafaring and lighthouses. I also love the long, detailed, personal obituaries, like the one beautifully written for Rev. Wells Grogan, formerly of First Church Cambridge. There was grace upon grace:

I have my greatest sense of well being while flying, he said.

His friends and parishioners remembered his preaching (‘When the sermon was about to start I settled in with great anticipation’), they remembered his courage (‘he showed us how to examine ourselves and to be honest, brutally honest’), they remembered his pastoral conversation (‘he knew how to have you over to the house and pour a glass of sherry and relax and have informal conversations’).

But it was the conclusion of the obituary that stood out: ‘One story he told was about his time as a prisoner of war, when the bread of life was more than metaphorical. ‘He was elected by the other prisoners to slice the bread; they had a half a loaf for 50 men. They trusted him to be fair. And when we went to his home he would slice the bread and tell us the story of when he was a prisoner, when he sliced so evenly that every slice was the same thickness as the others’.

When the 10 commandments proved not enough on their own—true and utterly on point as they are–God came to us, human to human, to free us from idolatry and settle a Snow Day on all our pride.

Grace Cleansing

Snow interrupts. Snow invades and liberates. Snow falls from on high, heaven sent. Snow falls as friendly presence, freeing its recipients of study, of work, of routine, and allowing, even forcing, a moment of conviviality, and community, and time and space for family and exercise and unexpected pause. Snow is unpredictable, uncontrollable, varied, dangerous, seasonal, cleansing, soothing, quieting and disquieting, cool, comforting, friendly and free. Snow falls upon us like grace, or grace falls upon us like snow.

Here is a trusting voice, like one joyfully remembered in the Boston Globe this past week:

Our Scripture today, a declaration of Grace, puts all this very simply, all this about grace preventive and grace liberative and grace cleansing: he cured many.

This is personal! I had my own first snow day Friday! Our dean heard and preached the gospel:

“Luxuriate in the beauty…” she wrote. Yes!

I wonder about you this week. Will you accept a Snow Day if it is offered? Can you accept the white blanket of grace falling around your shoulders? Could you relax a bit a rely a bit on the Grace of God?


Would you accept the grace that gave you life?
That is Baptism.

Would you accept the grace that gives you the faith of
Jesus Christ?
That is Confirmation.

Would you accept the grace that gives you salvation?
That is Holy Communion.

Would you accept the grace that gives you
That is Marriage.

Would you accept the grace that gives you forgiveness?
That is prayer and counsel.

Would you accept the grace that gives you a calling?
That is ordination.

Would you accept the grace that calls you home?
That is blessing in the extreme and at the last.

So we will recite with Paul,

It is no longer I who live
But Christ who lives in me
And the life I now live in the flesh
I live by the faith of the Son of God
Who loved me and gave himself up for me.

~ The Reverend Dr. Robert Allan Hill,
Dean of Marsh Chapel.

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