In the Gospel today, Jesus exhorts both the crowd and his disciples to live a life of faith that is “founded on rock.” The analogy that Jesus gives us is to build the foundation of one’s house upon the solid rock which lays far beneath the softer levels of sandstone above it. Jesus is telling us that so much of what we believe holds up and maintains our lives and our societies, are in fact nothing more than shifting sands, that we must dig past, deeper, and deeper, until we reach the solid core of God’s deep love for us; the true source of salvation, of unity, and of life everlasting. This is the rock upon which Jesus calls us to trust in, to build our life of faith on.
Faith, is anything but easy. In this world that has fallen so far from God’s original plan of peace, generosity, and unity – where the innocent suffer exploitation and oppression, where war, violence, and abject cruelty are the lived experiences of the majority of God’s children – it’s easy to lose hope. When we feel our faith lacking, when we feel that we can’t trust in Jesus’ promise of liberation for the oppressed, when we feel hopelessness as we look at the state of the world, we must keep digging. When we read the newspaper, and our senses tell us, surely God is not here, we must maintain our faith in the Good News of Jesus Christ. If we fall prey to hopelessness, how can He use us to build up His kingdom which is to come? He needs us to fulfill His earthly mission; to continue His work.
Jesus says: Not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your souls.
Endurance is intimately associated in the New Testament with the posture of active waiting for the “day of the Lord.” In today’s gospel reading from Luke, Jesus draws our attention to the urgency, the sense of responsibility, and the vigilance that the day of the Lord awakens in those who are waiting for it in faith. This is a theme we’ll hear a lot more about in a few weeks, during the season of Advent.
But after introducing this theme in today’s reading, Jesus places the “day of the Lord” in the background, and directs our gaze to the foreground of Christian persecution. Jesus prophesies about the challenges Christians will suffer at the hands of both public authorities and those people closest to them in their web of human relations. This is a shift from “out there” in space and time to “right here,” to up-close and personal events involving everyday encounters, that must take place first.
I want to begin by saying how glad I am to be back among you, and to express my gratitude to the Brothers for the opportunity to be on sabbatical for the last 10 weeks, and especially to Brother Keith who covered for me. I also want to say thank you, to all of you who have held me in your prayers these last weeks, as I did you in mine.
My time away was extraordinary. I was able to see members of my family, some of whom I have not seen since before 2019. I spent time in Oxford, which, as you know is where the community began in 1866, and is a place over the last years I am coming to know well, and where I feel at home. The Sunday before I left Oxford, I preached in Father Benson’s former parish, standing in the pulpit where he once stood, which for me is always a thrill.
The bulk of my time away however I spent walking in Wales. The experience was exhilarating; the scenery spectacular; the people constantly generous. Even on the day, which my sister described as level 2 fun (in other words, not fun at the time, but fun in hindsight) when it took me 8 hours to walk 9 miles, which included the equivalent of 82 flights of stairs, and along paths far too close to the cliff edge for my liking, I never once thought of giving up, or wondered why on earth I was doing this. Every afternoon at the end of my walk, I was simply glad of a beer, a hot shower, a good meal, and a comfortable bed. Every morning, except for a few days when it was pouring rain; the day of the Queen’s funeral; and a couple days when all I wanted to do was sit in a coffee shop with my novel, I was ready to head out once again and walk. Of a possible 190 miles, I walked 135 of them, so I’m totally thrilled.
Our Gospel this morning is a story full of healing and faith. The action begins with Jesus on foot making his way towards Jerusalem. As Jesus enters a village, ten lepers approach him. These ten lepers are respectful of Jesus and do not get too close to him. They cry out to Jesus saying “Jesus, master, have mercy on us”. These men are sick and outcasts in society, they are begging for help.
Jesus tells these ten sick men to go show themselves to the priests. They do as they are told by Jesus and begin their journey. Then as these ten men are making their way to the priests, they are all healed. Now this is where the story gets interesting. One of these ten healed men turns back around. He makes his way back to Jesus. He throws himself at the feet of Jesus, praising God and thanking him for his healing.
Jesus is clearly pleased by this man’s gratitude but also wonders aloud where the other nine men he healed are. How come they haven’t come back to give thanks? The story ends with one of the most beautiful lines in the Gospels. Jesus tells the healed man at his feet to “Get up and go on your way, your faith has made you well”.
I can’t think of a more suitable text to ponder while in retreat than these words of Jesus drawn from the Gospel of Matthew. A retreat is a chance to step back from our normal routines and responsibilities, to surrender our burdens and cares to God, and to receive once again God’s healing and life-giving love. //
Close your eyes for a moment and imagine yourself coming into the presence of Jesus, who is so gentle and so humble. Imagine him extending his arms to you, welcoming you into his embrace. Hear him say to you, “Come to me; I want to give you rest…. I see what a heavy burden you’ve been bearing and how weary you are from carrying this load. Let me take it from you. Come apart for a while, and rest.” //
I don’t know what keeps you going these days. The recent mass shooting of 19 students and 2 adults at the Robb Elementary School in Uvulde, Texas, was another punch in the gut, coming, as it did, just 10 days after ten Black people were shot to death at their neighborhood supermarket in Buffalo, New York. Both mass shootings were carried out by 18 year-olds, with legally purchased assault weapons. We are just five months into this calendar year and already we have witnessed 214 mass shootings in this country. Our leaders cannot seem to find a way to put an end to it. Other nations have found ways to stop the senseless killing of innocent human beings, but we cannot.
We are suffering. Handcuffed by partisan politics, unable to take any effective action, completely out of patience with sentiments like ‘our thoughts and prayers are with the families of those who died,’ and sick to death of the senseless killings, we… are… hurting.
Century after century, generation after generation, we human beings continue to find endless ways to inflict harm upon one another. Suffering – so much of it completely senseless – seems to be woven into the very fabric of our existence; none of us escapes its effects.
Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary to Elizabeth
“Restore us, O God of hosts; show the light of your countenance and we shall be saved.” I love that line from Psalm 80. God, turn your face toward us. Look at us. See us. See me. A small yet significant request, to be seen. When we are seen in love, when another’s face lights up at seeing ours, we feel love.
Mary set out and went quickly to visit Elizabeth, a normal visit turned extraordinary. By divine power and blessing, now both Mary, a young virgin, and Elizabeth, a barren elder, are pregnant. They also bear the burden of public shame. The scandal since Mary claims pregnancy through the dream of an angel. Who did she think she was? The long years of ridicule for Elizabeth who had never born a child. Rumors swirled about why she was now.
Bearing children and shame, Mary goes to Elizabeth. This holy visit. They both believe, have faith in what they can’t see or explain. Both are filled with Holy Spirit. Elizabeth exclaims in a loud voice. The baby leaps in her womb. Mary sings her song.
“O Lord, make haste to help me,” cries the Psalmist. … Let those who seek after my life be ashamed. … I am poor and needy. … You are my helper.” The psalmist pleads for help, protests what is wrong, and trusts God is good. This is a lament: naming suffering and believing being heard.
Tonight we pray Tenebrae, which means shadows, with words from people feeling abandoned, isolated, cut-off, and grieving. We lament like them and Jesus, troubled in spirit.
While particularly appropriate for Holy Week, lament is from the beginning. Patrick Miller wrote: “The story of God and the human creature is rooted in and shaped by the experience of pain and suffering and what God does about it, in the human voice that cries out and the God whose ears cannot miss those cries.”[i] Lament, Miller continued, is prayer and part of being human.[ii] From the cross, Jesus cried out with Psalm 22: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Trust and question in tender, wrenching symmetry:[iii]
What is your lament today? What is your suffering? What pain of others weighs on you? Name it with scripture, but words are not necessary. Perhaps you need a break from them. Gaze at something broken. Shake your fists. Stomp your feet. Groan. Roar. Cry.
God hears you. Take a deep breath. Lie down and feel your body fully supported. God hears you. In the shadows with Jesus, cry out with trouble and trust.
[i] Patrick D. Miller, “Heaven’s Prisoners: The Lament as Christian Prayer” in Lament: Reclaiming Practices in Pulpit, Pew, and Public Square. (2005) Eds. Sally A. Brown and Patrick D. Miller. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, p16.
[ii] Ibid, p17
[iii] Ibid, 21
Ask… and it will be given. Search…and you will find. Knock…and the door will be opened for you.
What prevents you from asking, searching, or knocking?
It might be literal lack of clarity. Who should I ask? Where should I search? Is this the right door, or is it that one?
It might be an emotion on the fear continuum: anxiety; suspicion; pessimism; insecurity; loneliness. What if I hear “No” in reply? What if I spend all that energy searching but find nothing helpful, nothing worthwhile? What if I knock and that door remains shut tight, with not a light to be seen behind the dark window panes as night falls?
It might be a well-intentioned desire for independence or self-sufficiency; or the desire to appear competent or smart. What if I can just figure this out by myself? That way, I won’t have to be a burden or impose my question or need on someone else…
I love the Gospel of Mark because of its breathless character. We seem to race from one place or event to another, with little time in between, and less time to catch our breath. In a few short chapters, Mark crams in the whole of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
That breathless quality is displayed in abundance in this morning’s reading as we race around Galilee, following Jesus and the disciples, after the first apostolic mission, when they were sent out two by two, and [given] authority over the unclean spirits.
With so much packed into the reading, the preacher or reader would be forgiven if their attention was drawn to the latter part of the passage, the feeding of the 5000. My attention though is drawn to the beginning, to the regathering of the band of disciples with their leader, following their missionary travels. The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. That is what arrests my attention this morning. I can see this scene perfectly clearly, because I know from experience what that was like