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The Rev. Martha Sterne The Rev. Martha Sterne

The Rev. Martha Sterne is associate rector of Holy Innocents' Episcopal Church in Atlanta, GA.

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Lamar Amburn's and the Reign of God

November 13, 2011

The center of the universe in Maryville, Tennessee, as far as I am concerned, is Lamar Amburn's vegetable market which is one block over from my former parish church. I thought about Lamar's this week because the gospel is all about people using and not using talents. I wish Jesus had dropped by Lamar's before he went negative on the man who buried his talent in the ground; it might have given our Savior a whole different perspective.

Lamar's is open to the breezes except in winter when plastic flaps come down, and it is always chock full of talented people. Take the cashiers. One of the ladies at the cash register is a retired piano teacher and when you get in her line you know that you will be there for a while and that's fine. She has the talent of appreciating chatting with just about anybody that comes through that line, surely having honed that skill encouraging her little pupils with stubby fingers stumbling, tumbling over the piano keys. Another cashier has the talent of telling me, kind of quietly, whether to get the North Carolina white peaches or the Georgia freestones or the South Carolina yellows and whether the cantaloupes are Really good or not. Another knows the jellies as deeply and evocatively as any fancy sommelier.

Shag, the stock man, whose real name is Noah, has many, many talents, chief of which is biblical action figures drawings with a kind of Incredible Hulk vibe. Seriously, you definitely have to be there to appreciate the complexity, so stop in.

Always there is somebody checking the produce. Usually you see Jill, Lamar's wife, thin and blonde with arthritic knots on her hands that make you catch your breath when you think of the repetitions and bravery and nimbleness of her twisted fingers. She is constantly moving among the vegetable bins, straightening the squash, turning the pears, picking off the extra paper skin off the onions, pulling anything that looks sad and past its best.

Lamar himself - in a wheelchair since a bad car accident when he was very young - presides from the back corner, nodding to customers and quietly talking over the weather and the prices with whatever farmer is dropping off his crop for this week's bounty. He stays pretty much in one place, but his talent is somehow to cast his vision everywhere. He leads from that wheelchair like a general sitting on his horse on a hill.

I love Lamar's for many reasons but mainly because it is a living picture of the abundance of the talents in the kingdom of heaven which is of course always very near to us.

I love the talents of self-respect and neighborliness in merchants offering goods at their prime and not a day past. I love the market's continuity. Lamar's daddy had a produce stand so between the two of them and other Amburn family members, they have been feeding people in Blount County for eighty years.

I love the community of the staff who are just plain showoffs in the talents of kindness and respect for the dignity of every human being. I love the customers' talents of gratitude and appreciation for the finest things in life. You hear it and you sense it. And I love the quiet gentle miracle workers, the truck farmers. They dig holes and put their money in them, and God gives the growth. Mr. Thompson's tomatoes are so take-you-back-to-your-childhood-tomatoes-wondrous that one day I asked him to autograph my paper bag.

Kind of like in a vibrant church, most of the people recognize some giftedness and worth in each other and even more important, they know they need each other. And that mutuality, dear friends, is worth about fifteen thousand talents, to know that we need each other. What would happen in this world if everybody knew how talented we all are and that we need each other?

There are all kinds of talents in the world. And God asks us to use them and trade ‘em around and build people up with them. So to me Lamar is church - altar guild, choir, preachers, priests, congregation, priests - all doing the liturgy, the "work of the talents of the people."

One last talent story from Lamar's. I will never forget the day when I looked behind me in line to see a very large man with a very small Chihuahua on his shoulder. I said hello. What else do you say? And he said I would like you to meet Peggy Sue, the top shoulder sitting dog of all of East Tennessee. She panted gently and sort of smiled, and then he said, she is actually Peggy Sue, short for Peggy Sue Bodacious. She sat on his shoulder beautifully, ‘tis true.

I shook my head in awe and said she's very talented, no doubt about it.. I nested my bag of tomatoes in my arms and thought what a talented, gifted world we live in.


 


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