Job 42:1-6, 10-17
Psalm 34:1-8, (19-22)
What makes for a powerful encounter with God? Our scripture readings today are chock full of them. Power filled life-altering encounters with God. Do you long to experience that kind of power? Or does that seem silly? Does that seem like the sort fantasy not worthy of serious, intelligent people. I’ll confess, I find myself mixed with awe and wonder, as well as doubt and a fear of disappointment. And I wonder what this does when and if I approach God in prayer. Job and Bartimaeus experienced the power God in dramatic ways and their stories are preserved for people of faith to make their own. What can we make of them?
Most people have the general idea of the parable of Job from Hebrew Wisdom literature. God enters into a little wager with Satan who thinks people only worship God when they have nice things, so Job gets caught in the crosshairs and God allows Satan to slowly strip away all comfort and joy from Job. But, Job doesn’t give up, God wins, and replaces everything that Job lost and more. It sounds nice when you tell the story quickly and skip to the end. But it robs us of the place where our lived experience tends to dwell, in that place where things are unfinished, painful, and confusing.
For all the mysteriousness of prayer, Jesus, by word and example, teaches us simply to keep at it. I’m sure his disciples couldn’t help but notice the way he would slip away to pray, often. Occasionally he brought a few of them with him on these extended prayer times. His prayer must of have been of such a quality that it inspired the request to “Teach us to pray” that opened this dialogue. Aside from the Lord’s Prayer, there is precious little about the form and substance of these prayers aside from Jesus’ own persistence at it.
He goes on to assure them that they will receive, they will find, and doors will be opened to them. It seems evident that they need reassuring, anyone who has attempted to pray for something will quickly run into the uncomfortable truth that it’s not as simple as putting in your quarters and selecting which soda you want. Nor is it even like filing the correct paperwork for a zoning variance and navigating layers of bureaucracy until getting approval.
God is not a vending machine. God is not a bureaucrat. God is not a trickster. Jesus tells us he is our heavenly Father, capable of giving good gifts like we would give our own children. God is our good shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep. God is the great physician in the business of healing the sick.
One of the great joys and privileges of monastic life is dwelling in a world that is absolutely permeated with Holy Scripture, the Word of God. The creative force of God is all around us in our worship. The daily readings in morning and evening prayer, the Eucharistic lections, the psalmody which forms the heart of our office, as well as all the places it is woven into collects, canticles, and suffrages.
“The effect of the scriptures upon us in the liturgy is largely subliminal,” as our Rule states, but as we are enfolded into this life our hearts begin to be transformed in profound ways. As the Rule continues, “These hearts of ours are not empty vessels but inner worlds alive with images, memories, experiences and desires. It is the Spirit dwelling within us who brings the revelation of Scripture into a vital encounter with our inmost selves, and brings to birth new meaning and life.” The Word of God comes to us not only in a rarified Church language segregated to a single aspect of our lives. It comes to us in the language of our work and our play, our teaching and rebuking, our encouraging and counselling. The Word of God comes to us in the language of our hearts.
or Galatians 6:14-18
Psalm 98 or 98:1-4
I was a teenager when I found it. A simple silver cross only about an inch and half tall. Plain, unadorned, simple slightly rounded arms smooth and finely wrought. I found it in a little silver shop in an old mining town in Colorado. I wore it for years, first on a little box chain, then re-strung a few times, leather cords, braided hemp, wooden beads, but always that simple silver cross around my neck. It was, beyond language, a token of great importance for me. Something that I couldn’t articulate at the time, an attraction, a reminder, an anchor. This constant companion that would make itself known to me on a cool day when I might slip it under my shirt and I feel the cold metal pressed against my breastbone. Or in a daydream I’d find myself toying with it with my fingers, sometimes compelled to bring it to my lips for a kiss. It was precious to me.
And one day, after returning home from travel I noticed it wasn’t around my neck anymore. It wasn’t in my pockets or my suitcase either. It was gone. I had lost it. And, truthfully, I was heartbroken. For months I checked other coat pockets, inside shoes, anywhere it might have ended up but I never saw it again. Now, it’s not that it was such a costly item that I missed it; nor was I somehow superstitiously clinging to it for luck. It was simply because of the joy and delight I had found in it, all the things that I couldn’t speak it spoke to my heart in close proximity. Ineffable strength and peace. That’s perhaps one of the first times I found the power of the cross.
How many times have I heard this passage from the gospel, sighed and thought, you’re right, Jesus. I just need a nap. I just need to recharge my batteries and I’ll be set. But that recharge inevitably diminishes and I’m back to weary. What’s really needed is a power adaptor, a way to plug into the source of power directly.
A friend of mine keeps string cheese and granola bars in her purse at all times because she gets hangry. She knows that if she gets to a certain point, her energy will fail and that combination of hunger and anger will drop her into worse than a catatonic state. It can become a frantic cry for relief like a young child having a meltdown at the park.
Jesus’ invitation is not simply to cease activity but he says, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me.” In part, Jesus is sharing our burden, yoked together with us. And he is teaching us how to bear the load because there is the work of love to be done.
Do you remember the first rumblings about this Covid-19 virus you heard back in early 2020? What did it sound like to you when you started to hear warnings about a troublesome outbreak in a country far away? Depending on your profession, your news sources, your general level of awareness it probably took a while before the full reality set it. Even now mystery surrounds its origins and sadly there is no shortage of suspicion, blame, and contradictory information. Such is often the case with a prophetic voice. Dire warnings and croakings of doom are seldom heeded without hesitation and all too frequently caution is ignored until someone is directly impacted.
This has been true since the time of the prophet Amos, through to the time of John the Baptizer and, and continues to this very day. Why is it so hard to heed the prophet’s cry?
It reminds me a bit of earthquakes. I had been living in Los Angeles for a year before I encountered my first one. That day I was helping some friends fill up one of those big moving and storage pods. It had been a long day and near the end I hopped up on the pile to jam a few more things in the back corners. Then I felt my friends shaking the pod back and forth. Hey guys knock it off and help me. “It’s an earthquake, Todd.” Yeah, cute, stop making the earthquake and hand me another box. They were native Angelenos and knew exactly what was going on. A guy from Colorado like me had a hard time understanding what was happening. It didn’t compute to me that the actual ground was shaking. I still had my doubts until they started making calls to family saying, did you feel it? Yeah, we’re safe… I saw the news reports later in the day and I finally believed.
Is anything too wonderful for God? It’s a worthy question. How are you disposed to answer? Is anything too wonderful for God?
It’s hard for me to give an unqualified response. Is anything too wonderful for God? No, but…
There are ways that I am inclined to protect my hopes and expectations from disappointment. Ways that I may choose to limit God’s ability so that God conform to the pattern I have ostensibly observed. Perhaps I’m like Sarah in that regard. Laughing in the face of an irrational proposition. After a long life had taken its natural course, Sarah was aware of the typical pattern of women ceasing to bear children after a certain point. She had not been able to conceive while she was in child-bearing years, let alone now that the time had passed. We might excuse her laughter but her mysterious interlocutor didn’t. With a childlike simplicity he challenges her settled assumptions. Is anything too wonderful for God?
The centurion in our gospel passage today also had a life of experience that had inclined him in a particular direction toward the wonderful acts of God. But his posture of faith and trust was such that it amazed even Jesus. After so frequently being doubted, challenged and question for a sign, for proof of his power and authority, Jesus seems to be refreshingly shocked that some pagan Roman occupier was willing to approach with open expectations and trust. “You mean, you’re willing to just believe?” And more than that, the Centurion doesn’t even want to micro-manage Jesus into doing it his way, dragging him to his servant’s bedside, making sure that Jesus uses the right gestures, the perfect phrases, maybe a dramatic shout to ensure that the servant is healed. Rather, he simply trusts that Jesus has the authority to accomplish his request.
2 Corinthians 4:1-6
One of my favorite places on the playground at school was the swing set. Today, I still enjoy the gentle sway of the swinging bench in the cloister garden. But, back then, I was interested in a more high-octane version of swinging. I loved to push faster and higher to see how high I could get. I tried on several occasions to swing all the way over the bar and have always been disappointed that physics just weren’t on my side in that endeavor.
As much fun as the swinging itself was, I also discovered the excitement of the dismount. You could just let yourself come to a gradual stop, or drag your feet on the ground to slow things down quicker. Or, you could time it just right and jump! The thrill of being propelled into the air and landing what felt like several yards away was such a rush! But it took a fairly careful calculation to get it just right. Too soon and I’d skid to a halt and faceplant in the gravel, which happened. Too late and I’d just kind of fall straight down and crumple to the ground, which also happened. The best was when I was when I found that sweet spot and launched in a graceful arc and touched down like an eagle. I had to be ready, I had to have momentum, and I had to have the courage to make the leap.
We remember two apostles today, by definition two who were “sent.” We know a few things about Philip and James, we know less… James was the son of Alphaeus and he is always listed among the twelve. Tradition has distinguished him from James the Great, the son of Zebedee, and it’s unclear if he is the same James as in the book of Acts, son of Clopas, the so-called brother of Jesus. But, his relics arrived from the East in Rome at the same time at St. Philips and so they have been joined in remembrance.
Martyrs of the 20th and 21st Centuries
1 Peter 4:12-19
As recently as 2015, the extremist group ISIS produced a video to terrify the world. Dressed and hooded in black, the militants marched a group of 21 Coptic Christians dressed in orange, prison-style jumpsuits along a beach in Libya. The horrifying scene concluded with the cruel beheading of all 21 Christians. It shocked and horrified the world to see such a brazen act of violence not only perpetrated but promulgated to a global audience. One of the men was from either Ghana or Chad, the other 20 who had been kidnapped were poor immigrants from rural Egypt who were willing to risk the instability of Libya to escape the poverty and religious persecution of their homeland.
Such are the martyrs we remember today. It was a gruesome event and without the anesthetizing gloss of centuries it stands out like a raw wound on the Body of Christ in our own time. We remember these martyrs and others of the recent century. 3 million Armenian Christians martyred in genocide during the first world war. A million Orthodox killed by the Soviet regime in the 1920’s and 30’s. Countless other hidden martyrs vanish in parts of the world to which the western media is indifferent or blocked. Among groups who track the numbers of Christian martyrs in the world there seems to be agreement that there have been more Christians killed for their faith in the second millennium of Christianity than the first. These horrors are not history, they are news.
Why remember such horrors? The memory is fresh, it almost seems unnecessary. Remembering in order to prevent horrors of martyrdom hardly seems to be working either. Remembering so as to seek out a violent death like theirs would be pathological.
Exodus 12:1-4, (5-10), 11-14
1 Corinthians 11:23-26
John 13:1-17, 31b-35
Psalm 116:1, 10-17
It seems like we’re so far from where this whole thing started. So far from those days beside the lake tending the nets. So far from that invitation to come and see. But the decisive moments we mark this night go back much further even than that.
In a wonderous and mysterious way this night has been present to God from the very beginning when the Word was with God, and the Word was God. This night and the days of this Holy Triduum usher us into the fullness of God’s time in which these pivotal actions are always wholly present. We return to make this remembrance; to do more than flip the pages of a scrapbook and recall fond memories, but to truly re-member, to re-present Jesus here, to encounter the real and living presence of Christ.
We timebound creatures are forgetful and eternal God holds all time in hand. As our lives continue their meandering way we are given these precious gifts by which to return and to dwell in the love of God.