Holy Trinity Episcopal Church

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    Oct 21, 2018

    22nd Sunday after Pentecost

    Passage: Mark 10:35-45

    Preacher: The Rev. Susan Sherard

    Series: Year B: 2017-2018

    Category: Special Services

    Detail:

    Since my retirement two years ago, I’ve had the pleasure of worshiping in the congregation I founded in the mountains of Madison County.  Most Sunday’s, Tom and I settle in a seat in the back of the room, where I sit like a contented grandparent.  When there’s good news about how things are going, I nod and feel very proud.  When the inevitable loose strings begin to show, I say to myself:  Not mine to deal with!  And of course nothing about what happens there is mine at all, the good or the bad.  Instead, our life there and your life here are evidence of the ever-unfolding mystery of life of which we are all a part, though none of us solely.

     Several Sunday’s ago, Bishop Jose made his official visit to Holy Spirit.  Hardly had he arrived when some poor soul slammed into the back of his car, which unleashed a flood of jokes about the memorable impression we were making on him. Meanwhile, he was likely wondering if he’d been cast in the lead role of Job’s lament.  The drama escalated when, during the liturgy, he asked all those being baptized and confirmed and received and reaffirmed to come forward, with their sponsors, at which point a loosely organized flash mob rose up out of the congregation and swirled in the direction of the altar, resembling the outer bands of an incoming hurricane.    

     We had gone over the service earlier, some of us, sort of. But there were no lists in the bulletin, no notes in anyone’s hands - about who was being presented for what; who was supposed to stand next to whom; and in what order. (We obviously lack an Annie Slaughter in our mix!) So when he issued the liturgical prompt, the eagerness with which everyone responded was met by a wave of chaos that tumbled us toward the front of the room.   

     Chaos.  We never know when it’s going to greet us.  But we know it will.  Eventually.

     Our experience of chaos was a puff of wind on a sunny day compared with the whirlwind in which Job finds himself. In today’s reading, Job has reached the end of his rope. His desire to be the person God called him to be has been drained out of him; chaos has swallowed him whole. He’s lost his family, his possessions, his health and maybe even his faith - and for no apparent fault of his own.  Despite his efforts to maintain a good and faithful life, he has landed in the silent eye of the storm, with no apparent direction other than the death he wishes for himself. 

     But there in that empty space of nothing, Life lies in wait to remake and redirect him.  As scripture explains it, God reminds Job about the timeless vastness of the universe which, as it is brought into being by the future, pulls us with it.  While we are a beloved and essential and a part of it all, we alone are never its source or its driver or its destination.  Nor are we ever alone, no matter how debilitating or deep the pit in which land.

     We can all identify with Job in some way, some of us from more desperate places than others. Our eagerness and energy for moving forward in life are challenged from every direction.  I don’t know about you, but these last two hurricanes really got to me.  I guess because they were closer to home; not something that befalls others far away.  And, as always, it’s the ones who can least afford a comeback who are suffering the most.  Every time I hear about migrant children being interred in tents in the desert, I don’t know if I can bare it, much less rise to the occasion to do something about it.  The viciousness of the political climate is like a high pressure system that could bust the windows out of your hope for the future; and there’s always the daily proof of the racism and misogyny that rule in the hearts of significant leaders.  Then there are the more particular, personal situations: the losses, the changes, the illnesses, the unexpected turns of events, the inevitable twists and turns of Life’s unfolding that can disorient and derail us and deliver us to our knees.

     In today’s gospel, James and John make it very clear that they don’t plan to land on their knees. Their intention is to remain safe and secure, walking tall on their solid, above-ground, carved out path.  They plan to secure the power they need to make things right in their lives, and in the lives of those whom they love.  They have decided that Jesus lives in this hurricane proof bubble where all is well for those who can fit in the bubble. But Jesus pops their illusion by telling them about the true nature of the power of sacrificial love, and how, if they want to shoulder the love that dwells in him, chaos will become a constant presence along their way.

     I can’t read or study this particular gospel passage without remembering a story that Bishop Bennett Sims told on himself many times.   Bennett was always quick to share that he regarded himself, physically, as a small man, a fact that particularly bothered him after his election as the Bishop of Atlanta.  He was a Bishop, after all, and a Bishop is supposed to look like he’s in charge.  So he was delighted when the owner of a car dealership offered him the use of this huge vehicle – I think it was an Oldsmobile.  “Picture it,” Bennett would say.  “Here I was, this small fellow whose head you could barely see over the steering wheel, driving around the diocese in this huge car, acting like I was in charge of the whole show. How foolish was that?”

     But that’s all of us, isn’t it?  Wishing we had more power to steer life in the right way, maybe even imaging we do have that power, when, really, we’re just these smallish, often foolish humanoids tumbling along in the unfolding of the mystery of life.  Beloved?  Yes.  Gifted?  Yes.  Called? Yes.  But never solely responsible or all-knowing, and always in the process of being buried and reborn as Life unfurls through us. But we resist this truth, especially when it comes to raising our children or excelling at our work or defending our faith or our sense of what is right. And in our resistance, we drive ourselves into the pit. 

     When you ponder the whole story of Job, you get the sense that the death of his illusion was harder to bear than his personal losses.  His faithfulness should have protected him and his loved ones from the inevitable chaos of life, but it didn’t, and it was this awakening that defeated him. He was not God, after all, any more than the person of Jesus was exempt from encountering the sufferings of this earth.

     Isn’t it a relief then, that no matter how low we get or how we get there, at the bottom of it all, in the heart of any pit, there waits the voice of God to speak a new word, to extend a hand and to invite us forward.  What we learn from Job and James and John and everyone around us is that these whirlwind experiences are inevitable; we will, simply by our humanness, be challenged by chaos.  And whereas our struggles with chaos can kill our imagination about the future, the voice of Life gets quite clear in the silent eye of the inevitable storms of our lives.  And ours is to listen.  Ours is to listen, and to let what we hear be embodied in our lives. 

     You will be happy to know that everyone who came forward a couple Sunday’s ago did indeed receive the welcome into the Body of Christ that they sought.  The Bishop even managed to look like he wasn’t focused on his damaged car or the lack of order that settled in around him.  There was a sense of joy in the room that was palpable, certainly not because everything happened as it should have, but because even in the chaos Love waited for those who sought it, stretched out Her hand and blessed us all.  As we hear in today’s lessons, that same Love waits in eye of any of life’s whirlwinds, no matter how terrible, ready to renew, re-shape and re-direct.  Ours is to listen.  Ours is to listen and live into what we hear.