Sunday, November 17, 2013

Lessons Being Learned

It is the 26th Sunday after Pentecost, and that brings us what I have come to call, "The Lee Graham Collect":

Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for
our learning: Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn,
and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and ever
hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have
given us in our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with
you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Father Lee would use this collect before his homilies on Fridays at our 12:10 Eucharist.  It is so fitting that, as we approach his Yahrzeit, that this is what will be said in Episcopal Churches across the country.  And the holy Scripture lessons for this particular Sunday give rise for some reading, marking, learning and inwardly digesting as Isaiah talks of the promises of a new creation, and then Paul's Second letter to the Thessolonians has warnings about idleness, and finally we reach Luke's Gospel message in which Jesus tells us that we will encounter false prophets, and strife and hardship, but he will give the words we need in all situations.  

As I reflect upon those scriptures, that particular collect, and the man who brought that collect alive for me, I hear hints of some of the Scriptures that were used at Fr. Lee's funeral last year.   He, too, choose a passage from Isaiah that reminds us that "the Spirit of The Lord God is upon me" to bring Good News, free the oppressed, bind up the broken-hearted.  The other lesson was from 1 Corinthians which, again, sounds so similar to what is in our readings.  The last line of the passage, which the selection was about the mortal body becoming immortal, says, "Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, immoveable, always excelling in the work of The Lord because you know that in The Lord your labor is not in vain."   I hear in these passages, as well as the ones assigned for the 26th Sunday After Pentecost in Year C, a two-fold encouragement to allow our selves to become the vessels of change in the world, doing the mission work of God to love in an active way all the people, plants, and animals around us who need loving... and to be prepared for this to be an uphill mission as we will meet all kinds of resistance to Love.  

Now, according to the Borg on Star Trek: Resistance is futile.  And that applies to the case of Love, too.  Much as any society or culture has attempted to move away from God, and declare itself independent of a force of Love greater than our understanding, it really hasn't worked.  I think if it had worked, then there wouldn't be the zeal for knowing God that I saw exhibited in the film "Jerusalem."  The 45-minute documentary isn't on God, per se, but it is on the historic city that sits at the center of a crossroads of Europe, Africa, and Asia, with three Abrahamic communities, Jewish, Muslim and Christian, each finding something dear and sacred about their city.  If Love were driven out, then I don't think we'd still have people laboring for the rights of the oppressed and the needy, for the civil rights and liberties of LGBT people and immigrants, racial minorities and women.  

Some may point to the recent typhoon in the Phillipines and say, "Well, where is God in that horror?  How could a 'loving' God allow that to happen?"  I saw a meme on Facebook that I think answered that question quite well.  A man is sitting on a log in a forest with Jesus.  Most of the picture is dimly colored, except Christ, who is brighter in appearance than the man.  The man is posing that kind of question about "bad things happening to good people" to Jesus in that accusatory, "How can you let these things happen?"  Jesus responds: "Funny, I was going to ask you that same question."   A typhoon of such magnitude is a weather phenomenon; hence something from nature and beyond us.  We can not control or redirect the winds.  HOWEVER, the strength and intensity of these storms do have a tie-in to our own human-made destruction with the release of more carbon gases and other pollutants that are contributing to global warming.   At this point, there are almost no scientists willing to argue that climate change isn't a real concern for us all.  The warming of the planet is likely contributing to the ferocity of these storms.  But there is still push back from those who don't want to have to change the way we've been treating the Earth because it might cost more, or, more accurately, it would cut into their profit margins.  What is it that Jesus said in the Gospel lesson?

"When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end will not follow immediately." Then he said to them, "Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven. 

I interpret that statement as "Bad things will happen.  People will scorn and resist other people. But this isn't proof of no God and no Love.  It's how things are in the world you live in."   The promise of Christ is that he will give what is needed to endure whatever comes, and He knows how much the current situtation--be it the ruins left from a typhoon, the death of a loved one, the loss of a job--hurts like hell.  Christ is God as the human who understands the hole of grief in our hearts.  In turn, we, as the new incarnation of Christ in our current times, can offer that same sense of sitting with the pain of others, and then doing those things that we can do to help.  When it comes to something as seemingly beyond our control as global warming, we can start with how we handle our own waste and become more conscious of our personal habits of what we throw away, how often we drive when we could walk.  In the case of a catastrophe such as the Philippines, we can contribute to a reputable agency such as the Episcopal Relief and Development fund, so that the majority of our money gets to the people in need.  These are the ways I see that we can be Love in the world.

As St. Paul says in his second letter to the Thessolonians, "Brothers and sisters, do not be weary in doing what is right."  This is what is meant by the Spirit of The Lord being upon us, and remaining steadfast, immovable and always excelling in the works of The Lord. This is what it means to read, mark, learn and inwardly digest the Scripture and let it power our actions and responses to the world around us.


Phoebe McFarlin said...

Homiletics grade A+.

SCG said...

Thanks, professor! :-)

George Waite said...

I don't believe any of it. And societies that don't "do" religion generally are better places to live in.
Religion is a waste of time, money and effort.
And church is boring.