Ordinary Time 2016
It is that sideways glance that always gets us in trouble. It is that furtive frown of displeasure that is our downfall. It is that secretive squint that seduces us into the wrong place. It can be the swift look of condemnation of the baby wailing beside us, when, even momentarily, the thought crosses our brains: “Why can’t that mother control her child?” It can be the nearly cautious look of disapproval as we pass the disfigured person on the street. It can be our impatience portrayed in the rolling of our eyes that gives our secret away.
We too hit walls in our lives that the message of Jeremiah speaks to, when the hardness of life seems all-consuming, when the trauma and drama of life overwhelm us, when what we’ve worked for is destroyed, when anxiety around our job security settles around us as an icy fog settles among the evergreen trees along the coast of Maine, when we ourselves, or our loved ones, walk into the emergency room and we’re not sure what the outcome will be. There are times when we crave the reassurance of anyone who may tell us the falsehood that “all will be okay”, or we push the hardness away because we don’t have the energy, the courage, or the mental health to look it squarely in the eye, but Jeremiah reminds us that there is redemption in the hardness.
We have a glimpse of this eternal rest each time we come to Jesus, when we surrender our souls weary from carrying the burdens of a world where injustice reigns and broken relationships flourish, when we take the yoke of Jesus upon our own shoulders, and we move in sync with the grace of Christ.
Clearly one main message of this parable is that wealth is a snare, which will eventually lead to our suffering, poverty, and deep hunger. Our story tells us the only way to avoid the snare is to heed God’s relentless commands to aid the poor and sick. Jesus is challenging us to care from a place that costs us something within: the destruction of whatever boundaries we have created to protect our lives, heart or status.
At the root of this parable is a message about the stewardship of our resources and the impact this has on our relationships.
I remember a lot of that morning. I remember all of the staff in the rector’s office, huddled around a small TV, some of us pacing, others of us sitting with our heads in our hands, others of us drastically trying to reach family members who worked in the Pentagon. The priests began gathering their prayer books to plan the funeral mass they would offer at noon that day for the victims. From this place of utter darkness, smoldering despair, utter disbelief in the depravity of humankind, and an abiding sense of the presence of evil which was consuming my soul, I walked out into the bright blue autumn sky. It was beautiful and it was memorable. It was a day you would have loved to be sitting outside, turning your face, like a sunflower, into the sun, soaking up the goodness and grace the world offered. The contrast of this scene to the events we witnessed inside that morning on TV was stunning and revelatory: there was still light in the world that even the worst of actions could not extinguish.
We want there to be a seamlessness between God’s Word and our very being, and to do that, we need to sit with, study, and know with our heart, God’s Word.
Some say that the psalms serve as mirrors for our souls, for just as a one looks into a physical mirror to see one’s outward state, when we read a psalm, we can often discover our inner state. When we hear the psalm today, perhaps we can hear it as an invitation to more deeply examine when, where, and how have we been moving toward God, and when, where, and how have we been moving away from God.
This image of God as our rock and refuge is prevalent in our psalm today. The psalmist implores God to be his strong rock, a castle to keep him safe, affirming that God is his crag and stronghold. I understand what that means after my scary traverse in the canyon last year. I understand the importance of finding a crag to hold onto, I understand the protection offered to me by that sturdy rock. I understand how much I wanted the rock I was hanging onto to be permanent, not permeable, to be solid and un-moveable. This is the God I also want and need, especially in times of trial.
Disorientation is really hard. It’s uncomfortable. It makes our heart hurt. It shakes our beliefs to the core. All that we have believed had been true is suddenly not. It’s what the psalmist wrote about and it’s what we experience in life over and over again, if we’re honest with ourselves. The prosperity gospel tells us all these things are bad, and yet the gospel of Jesus Christ tells us that in each of these moments, resurrection is possible. And that’s the difference between what the psalmist experienced: if it’s bad, it must mean God is absent and needs to be reminded to pay attention and us, as Christians, who will say, if we are disoriented, if we are experiencing something that appears and feels very bad, then God is present and is inviting us into something new. This is a huge distinction. Reorientation, not the previous state of orientation, follows disorientation in the Christian faith
Whereas it is true that we could never win this case God has brought against us, the exercise was never about winning or losing or justice or punishment. It was always and will only ever be about God’s love for us – about mercy, about opening the pathway for us to be back in right relationship with God. This is what the judgment of God looks like: mercy, love, forgiveness, and an invitation to wholeness. When we declare our Confession of Need today, we will say, “Compassionate God. We confess our weaknesses and our need for your strengthening touch.” Our weaknesses: our forgetfulness of God and each other, and our need for God’s strengthening touch. This is what God desires to give us, to touch us with God’s holy strength, and to make us whole.
Yet, over and over again we learn from the tradition of the church and each other’s experiences that when we keep God at the center of our lives things work better. When we follow the way of Christ, life works better! Things work better because we become more aware of how precious our limited amount of time on earth is. Things work better because we become more aware of those around us and their needs and desires. Things work better as we focus more on God and less on the self-inflicted things that trip us up.