Quilting Joy

Rev. Mona Denton, Westworth United Church, December 14, 2014

Isaiah 61:1-4,8-11; John1:6-8,19-28

I will greatly rejoice in the LORD, my whole being shall exult in my God. (Isaiah 61:10)

Today is all about “joy.” It is the Sunday of the year we light the candle of joy on our Advent wreath. It is also the Sunday we set aside to look at the Christmas message through the eyes of our children. This year, we have chosen a unique way of looking at how a child sees joy in our Advent celebrations. The child whose eyes we will use as a lens is a child no longer, but her story of seeing the joy of Advent has shaped us all.

This week when we dig into our Advent toolbox, we find a sewing box filled with quilting supplies. It has needles, thimbles and quilting thread; rulers and rotary cutters; quilting pencils and markers; pins, fat quarters and scraps of fabric that have yet to find their way into a quilt. There is no pattern anywhere to be seen. Quilt patterns are found in books or in the mind’s eye of the quilter. Both tell a story through the handiwork of the quilter that sews them into banners, quilts or art.

It really is a gift to be able to look at scraps and lengths of cloth and imagine the picture they could become if sewn into a quilt. Westworth has been blessed over the years to have many quilters in the congregation who have expressed their faith through the medium of banners and lectern antependia. By now you know that Sandra Shaw is the creator of many of them – including the beautiful banners that hang in our church each Advent. They portray each verse of the Advent Hymn, “Hope Is a Star.”

This hymn is without a doubt, the favorite Advent hymn of our children. They wait each week to see the banners appear, and if they cannot yet read, the pictures remind them of the words they need to sing.

Today, I want to tell you something about the history behind these banners that I learned when I interviewed Sandra in preparation for this sermon. You see, these quilts aren’t only a reflection of the hymn we love; they are a reflection of Sandra’s faith and art and her story as a part of this congregation.

Do you ever wonder what young children think about when they sit in church, especially when they are too young to follow some of the liturgy or the sermon? I have often observed them staring intently at the Leo Mol windows. Sandra tells me that she would often do this as a child of this congregation. She was mesmerized by their beauty and by the vibrant colours they reflected – especially the blues and the purples. Sandra gazed at our front window for a lot of years before she ever began making quilts for the congregation.

Quilting and stained glass art aren’t all that different. Fragments of fabric or stained glass, when they are melded together, have the power to form a beautiful picture. They also have the power to tell a faith story.

Quilters usually have a very good eye for colour. They understand that light and dark and the progression of colour will make the form of the quilt come to life. In these quilts Sandra used colour progression and the contrast between light and dark to make the quilt come to life and to direct our eyes toward the Leo Mol window. This technique is called colourwash. The layers of colour and the interplay between light and darkness have created for us an expression of the themes of Advent – hope, peace, joy – and next Sunday, love.

Sandra tells me that hundreds of two inch squares make up the background of these quilts. Onto this wash of colour, she has appliqued images that reflect the hymn – a star, angels, two children – to name a few. To frame these banners she has used those vibrant blues and purples from the window that first caught her eye so many years ago.

The children sitting in our pews at Advent have a new memory that Sandra never knew as a child. They have the memory of these beautiful banners that draw their eye to the window each week of Advent. They also have the visual message that someone in their church cared enough about the hymn they love to dedicate hours of handiwork to bring it to life for us all.

As they grow in faith, I hope that our children will remember these banners vividly. I hope they will remember the tiny squares that together make up a whole cloth. I hope they will come to realize that they, like those tiny squares, are being woven into a fabric of God’s own imagining. I hope that they will feel called to connect their light to the darkness around them and weave a fabric of justice.

I also hope that they will be collaborative quilters, simply for the joy of working alongside others to change the world. Sandra tells me that a few of these angels we see today were a collaborative effort – a joy shared with friends at a quilting retreat. Pressured by the timeline of getting the banners done, Sandra collaborated with a friend who shared her love of quilting. May we too teach our children to collaborate with others who are weaving a fabric of hope and joy in the world – together, we may just get the job done!

Quilters appreciate a deadline. It helps to balance their love of perfection with the need to bring the work to completion on time. When the time came for Sandra to applique the two children onto her banner, only two of her three children were at home. There is a hidden message in this banner – you snooze, you lose. Not a bad message for the church as it shapes its vision for the future. Sometimes we have to get on with the picture, even if all the people aren’t around to be sketched into the foreground. Sometimes we just have to jump in and remember there will be other quilts to weave together as we live into God’s vision. Everyone cannot be featured in the quilts we create, but there will be a place for all.

I for one am so thankful that Sandra created these beautiful quilted banners for our church. They have reminded me how important it is to see my discipleship in colours and shades of contrast. They display how each small square has its place in the bigger picture. I am reminded that our children dream when they sit in church and look for glimpses of God’s wonder and joy.

This week of Advent, when joy is to be our song and theme, I pray we will all begin to create our own light quilt – placing joy and justice, side by side with the darkness that must be overcome. I pray also that we will look closely at our children and the joy they see in places that to us have become too familiar. This Advent, together with our children, may the wonder of angels singing, ribbons of peace circling the earth and stars shining come to life in us in a new way, as we wait for the arrival of Jesus, our joy and our song. Amen.

Let us pray. God of our joy, today we thank you for all who gifts of weaving pictures of what your arrival might look like and accomplish. We are thankful for prophets like Isiah, who wove a quilt of expectation, hope and jubilee. We give thanks for John whose ministry of light pointed us to the one who was yet to come – Jesus. Weave us, O God, into new quilts of light for our generation. May others see in us, and in our church, banners of hope, peace, joy and love that lead us into collaborative ministries of love and justice in your name. Amen.