It would be like someone from Delta, Utah coming up here to Salt Lake and addressing people in the foyer of the Main Library. He’d stand there yelling, taking the leadership of Salt Lake apart verbally and the patrons would just ignore him, write him off as one of the homeless rabble. One of the staff there would call the police to come and quietly take him away as they do there pretty often, I’m sure.
Well, prayer, real prayer, as someone has said, is “becoming weak toward God.” Anyone who has prayed long and hard in the face of something immovable comes to understand this. Paul certainly did. So do many others.
I think of how desperate I was once when my daughter, at the age of four, was suffering what seemed to be simple ankle sprains. Both ankles at once. We liked her pediatrician a lot, but all she could recommend was wrapping the ankles and waiting.
Well my daughter started feeling very very sick one night and we took her to the children’s hospital in Portland and the doctor we saw there, after midnight, looked her over and unwrapped one of her ankles, and nothing prepared me to see the mass of purple bubbles of skin her ankle had become.
All at once I thought this must mean she was deathly ill, but for this specialist it was proof, without the need of a blood test, that she had an auto-immune condition that could be serious but that, for most, was just a stage of development that should pass in a period of a couple of months. It was like going from a sentence of death to new life in a matter of moments for me, the desperate dad.
A week ago Hilary and I provided our children a three day Vacation Church School experience. One of the Bible stories we unpacked with them was the story of Noah and his ark. I asked the kids what an ark was and they said it was a boat, and they were correct – but I also let them know that the Hebrew word for ark also has a value meaning to it. An ark is, in fact, a treasure box. It is a place God told Noah to construct that was meant to hold the things that God deemed most precious – in this case it was the remnant of all the living creatures of the earth.
Now, all that is preamble to this morning’s story.
Jesus is asking the disciples (read: you and me) to give him all we have. He knows we are going to say, as we always do – “Hey we are inadequate. First let me go to graduate school. First let me poll my friends about this problem. Give me time to find some resources.” No, Jesus is saying, offer up the little you have; empty yourself.
Eli and his sons have become strangers to one another, if not actually, then at least morally. Now, most times when I have spoken about this passage Samuel and his calling has been my principle focus, but the incredible pathos that the judgment of God on Eli evokes here looms so large in this text. To ignore it would do such a disservice to the story. Besides, I wonder if there aren't a lot more Elis than there are Samuels in the world.
What is interesting is what occurs to Isaiah when his world comes crashing down. Look carefully at the text here and you can see that though Isaiah is crushed by the loss of his benefactor king, Isaiah, in that terrifying vacuum, finds out who the REAL King of the Universe is — He puts it this way: "In the year King Uzziah died, I SAW THE LORD.” Isaiah had a God-sized blind spot when it came to the foundation his life was built upon, and he was just finding that out.
There you have it: Attestations from the young to the meaning and value of God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, what it means to be Presbyterian, what it means that we are a judgment free community of faith committed to growing in that faith together.
Some years ago, when she knew her time was short, the wonderful Nora Ephron made two lists: What I will miss - & - What I won’t miss.
Here is some of what is on her What I Won’t Miss list … Dry skin, E-mail, washing my hair, bras, polls that show that 32% of the American people believe in creationism, Clarence Thomas, Mammograms, the sound of the vacuum cleaner, E-mail – I know I already said it, but I want to emphasize it, taking off make-up every night.
Here is some of what is on her What I will miss list ...
Way back in 1907, two scholars, a British scholar named William Mitchell Ramsay and a German scholar named Gustav Adolph Deissmann, got on a couple of trains and then a couple of boats and finally two horses and went around visiting sites of the early church in the northern Mediterranean – places where the apostle Paul had planted an early form of Christianity, and they saw some ancient stone inscriptions on monuments in those towns that said that Caesar Augustus was divine. They saw inscriptions that showed that he was called the son of god, and lord, and redeemer, and savior of the world and they said, “Hmm? Those are familiar titles.” They saw all that and they said, as it were: “Oh, my God! So that’s what these titles in the Bible are all about!”
One thing that must mean is that if there is fear in a relationship, something other than love is going on. It doesn’t mean there isn’t any love in the relationship; but if there’s fear, love isn’t the only thing there.
Well, Jonah went down to the bottom of the ship and went to sleep. But God wasn’t through with Jonah. God hurled a storm, a strong wind like we had here last Monday afternoon, against that ship and it says that all on board were afraid. And so, in a panic, they began to throw things overboard. And then in their superstitious way, they thought: “Maybe there’s a guilty-critter on board this ship who made this happen.”
When I was a kid, way before digital photography, we would hurry to the drug store with rolls of film as soon as we’d return from a trip, and then, in a day or two, we’d hurry back to get our pictures and eagerly open them, right there on the counter, to see what just happened to us a few days earlier, so as to begin the process of sealing and celebrating the experience by remembering it.
I Googled the words “most monumental anti-climax in history” and I got, Y2K – remember that one? And the Mayan Calendar prediction of the end of the world in 2012. Yes, and someone online also suggested, The Big Bang.
... It is this type of grief that I believe Mary Magdalene was dealing with on that first Easter morning when she walked alone to Jesus’ tomb – she was not just going to look after the body of a friend, her teacher – she was going to that grave to bury the dead future he had helped her imagine, to lay to rest their dead vision of the way things might have been. She was going there to grieve for her lost hope – what else could she do? Mary thought the story was over.
What Jesus is telling us is that if we do everything in our power to protect our lives the way they are - that is, if we successfully prevent change, prevent conflict, prevent pain or loss - then at the end we will find that we had no life at all. It may be nice, and comfortable, painless and free, but as far as the Kingdom of God is concerned, it was wasted, empty, and fruitless.
Martha cuts to the chase saying, "Yeah, I know all that stuff about the resurrection of the dead on the last day, whenever that is supposed to be.” But she is not interested in any pious talk about her brother having gone to a better place, or that it’s somehow God’s will. After all, without her brother, what’s going to become of her and her sister? She wants muscular answers she can trust. Why not?
Many years ago in India, a group of men traveling through desolate country found a seriously wounded man lying beside the road. They carried him to a Christian Missionary hospital and asked the physician who met them at the door if a bed was available. The physician looked at the injured man and immediately saw that he was an Afghan, a member of the warring Patau tribe. “Bring him in,” he said, “For him we have a bed.” When the physician examined the man, he found that an attacker had seriously injured his eyes and the man’s sight was imperiled. The man was desperate with fear and rage, pleading with the doctor to restore his sight so that he could find his attacker and extract retribution. “I want revenge,” he screamed. “I want to kill him. After that I don’t care whether I am blind for the rest of my life.”
I remember when I went to the very first church I served as a student pastor. I was 24, I think. I was only supposed to serve that tiny two-bit town parish for three months. Before I got there, I tried to bargain with God about it. I knew I wasn’t ready. I’d only had one semester of seminary. I said, “Okay, I‘ll preach every Sunday, and I will call on the people, and moderate meetings if you want, but under no circumstances allow anyone to die on my watch. Nobody, period. I’m just not ready for that.”