Year B — Proper 25 (The Twenty-Second Sunday after Pentecost)

Commentary for October 28, 2012
by the Rev. Dr. John Fairless

Click here for today’s readings

Job 42:1-6, 10-17
What is the best we can hope for out of life? Job’s epitaph is, “And Job died, old and full of days.”

Beyond numerical substance, the context indicates that Job’s days (yom, in Hebrew) were full — full of joy, full of sorrow, full of exhilaration, full of frustration.

We often describe someone who is undergoing a particularly trying time — and somehow managing to find grace and peace in the midst of it — as having “the patience of Job.” Certainly, that patience was hard-earned in Job’s instance.

There is something to be said for simply never giving up; I am reminded of Viktor Frankl, the Holocaust survivor and prominent psychotherapist who became a proponent of Kierkegaard’s “will to meaning.” 

Beyond the simple will to live, there is the ultimate human urge for life to have meaning. (A nice, ultra-brief review of Frankl’s classic text, Man’s Search for Meaning, may be found here.)

Psalm 34:1-8, (19-22)
Why should I bless the Lord at all times?

Psalm 34 acknowledges that “many are the afflictions of the righteous.” There’s no sense in pretending that life is all A-OK, peachy keen, no problemo, etc.,  just because one has placed one’s trust in God. Life is difficult, as M. Scott Peck (among others) has reminded us. 

The kicker comes with the other half of the psalm’s message: “…the LORD delivers them from them all.” Most especially, v.4 gives the operative phrase, “I sought the LORD, and he answered me, and delivered me from all my fears.”

Franklin Delano Roosevelt is over-quoted, but he defined the paucity of fear’s power over us when addressing a distraught nation in 1933: “So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.” 

In the presence of the LORD, our fears may be named, our reason restored, our terror replaced with calm assurance.

THAT is why I bless the Lord at all times!


Jeremiah 31:7-9
The path of return to the Lord — to the safety and sanity of God’s refuge — is quite often through weeping and consolations. But God is the God who, like a father, walks alongside his children and leads them so that they will not stumble.

Psalm 126
Weeping to laughter, tears to joy. God sure does good work!

Hebrews 7:23-28
I remember the conversation with an older (in those days, as a young “preacher boy,” older was probably anyone over 40 from my perspective) church member who wryly commented, “I appreciate all you’re doing, but remember: preachers come and go. Some of us have to stay here all our lives.”

The writer of Hebrews reminds us that God has always had to have a steady supply of priests and preachers in order to minister among God’s people — for one very simple reason: preachers come and go. Or, at least, they eventually die.

But, Jesus is not like any mere human priest. He is the Great High Priest, and he will never die again. His priesthood, his ministry, is forever. It has been given to him by God, and he is now and ever will be doing what priests do — interceding on our behalf. 

Mark 10:46-52
Blind Bart. What a great character!

Several points come to mind when I read this story:

  • Don’t let other people discourage you or shout you down when you know what it is that you need
  • Never give up — keep praying — in fact, don’t be afraid to shout at the Lord!
  • When Jesus invites you to come, jump at the chance
  • When Jesus asks you what you need, tell him (no need for hem-hawing, eh?)
  • Faith is awfully strong

Sermon
by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton

“See, I am going to bring them from the land of the north, and gather them from the farthest parts of the earth, among them the blind and the lame, those with child and those in labor, together, a great company, they shall return here.” Jeremiah 31:8

A young priest was assigned to the staff of a large cathedral. He soon noticed a woman who came in every day before mass and knelt before the statue of the Blessed Virgin and prayed for an hour.

He commented on the woman’s obvious holiness to an elderly priest who had served the cathedral for decades. The old priest smiled and said. “Things are not always what they seem. Years ago, that woman was the model for the statue of the Virgin. She’s not worshiping God. She’s worshiping who she used to be.” (Apocryphal: told by various sources about a variety of famous clergymen.)

Worshiping who we used to be; it’s a bad habit that all of us with a few years on us can fall into.  The older we get the smarter, hipper and more successful many of us apparently once were.

Churches and denominations often fall into this habit as well.  I have served two churches in North Carolina with histories dating back into the 1700’s and they both had walls filled with portraits of former pastors (referred to by the less reverent as “the rogues gallery”) and a history room stocked with artifacts (dare I say relics?) from an earlier time.

And there is nothing particularly harmful in any of that.  It’s good to know about and honor those who came before us.  It’s also good to learn from their mistakes, if we can.  George Santayana said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

Things get messy when we adore the past more than remember it.  Oct. 31 is not only Halloween, it is also Reformation Day and this is a time when many Lutherans are sometimes guilty of “ worshiping who we used to be” rather than worshiping God.

A recent poll showed that for the first time in a long time less than half of the people in America identify as Protestants.  The days when the grand old churches of the Reformation dominated the religious landscape are far gone.

Too many Lutherans and Methodists and Presbyterians and Episcopalians and Congregationalists are left looking back at a rich heritage while scratching their heads and wondering what in the world happened.  We must avoid the temptation of worshiping (and trying to recreate) who we used to be and get on with the business of worshiping God and sharing God’s story now, in this place and in this time.

Writing in America magazine and quoted in the Huffington Post, Jesuit priest James Martin shared an interesting sidebar to the recent vice-presidential debate.

“. . . listeners may have been flummoxed by the Vice President’s offhand reference to de fide doctrines of the church, which simply refers to the most basic Catholic beliefs, which cannot be denied by any Catholic in good standing. (Think, for example, of what is contained in the Creed.) Ironically, this was such an abstruse theological reference that the official transcription CNN simply wrote ‘inaudible.’ “
(Huffington Post, Oct. 12, 2012)

“Inaudible.”  Basically it means “un-hearable,” “incapable of being heard.”  It could be a metaphor for the voice of the church in the modern world. No matter what we say, the world no longer hears us.

It’s like my favorite line from the Chris Tucker/Jackie Chan movie Rush Hour:  “Do you understand the words that are coming out of my mouth?”  Faced with a world that stares at us uncomprehendingly, we try saying the same old thing louder and more slowly.

It’s not going to help.  They don’t know our language.  And they are not running out to get a religious Rosetta Stone course in order to learn it.  It is on us, the church, to learn the new languages the world is speaking so that we can talk with the world about the gospel of God’s love.

The text from Jeremiah gives us a vision of those whom God desires to bring together in one holy community.  “From the farthest parts of the earth,”  “the blind and lame,” “those with child and those in labor,” “a great company.”
Jesus’ healing of the blind man in the gospel lesson is a sign that this holy community is here in the world now.

God has chosen us to be the ones who call the world to participate in the community of love that is being created. We are the tellers of the tale, the proclaimers of the promise, the speakers of the spiel; the witnesses to the world.

What story are we telling?  Are we talking about who we used to be, inviting the world to join us in restoring our imagined former glory?

Or are we telling God’s “old, old” story in a new, interesting and exciting way, inviting the world to join us in the healing, loving, sacrificing and joyful work of God in today’s world?

Amen and amen.

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