Homily- Oct 19, 2008

Exodus 33:12-23 Moses said to the LORD, “See, you have said to me, ‘Bring up this people’; but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. Yet you have said, ‘I know you by name, and you have also found favor in my sight.’ Now if I have found favor in your sight, show me your ways, so that I may know you and find favor in your sight. Consider too that this nation is your people.” He said, “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” And he said to him, “If your presence will not go, do not carry us up from here. For how shall it be known that I have found favor in your sight, I and your people, unless you go with us? In this way, we shall be distinct, I and your people, from every people on the face of the earth.” The LORD said to Moses, “I will do the very thing that you have asked; for you have found favor in my sight, and I know you by name.” Moses said, “Show me your glory, I pray.” And he said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you, and will proclaim before you the name, ‘The LORD’; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. But,” he said, “you cannot see my face; for no one shall see me and live.” And the LORD continued, “See, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock; and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by; then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back; but my face shall not be seen.”

Psalm 99 The LORD is king; let the peoples tremble! He sits enthroned upon the cherubim; let the earth quake! The LORD is great in Zion; he is exalted over all the peoples. Let them praise your great and awesome name. Holy is he! Mighty King, lover of justice, you have established equity; you have executed justice and righteousness in Jacob. Extol the LORD our God; worship at his footstool. Holy is he! Moses and Aaron were among his priests, Samuel also was among those who called on his name. They cried to the LORD, and he answered them. He spoke to them in the pillar of cloud; they kept his decrees, and the statutes that he gave them. O LORD our God, you answered them; you were a forgiving God to them, but an avenger of their wrongdoings. Extol the LORD our God, and worship at his holy mountain; for the LORD our God is holy.

1 Thessalonians 1:1-10 Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace. We always give thanks to God for all of you and mention you in our prayers, constantly remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labour of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. For we know, brothers and sisters beloved by God, that he has chosen you, because our message of the gospel came to you not in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction; just as you know what kind of persons we proved to be among you for your sake. And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for in spite of persecution you received the word with joy inspired by the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. For the word of the Lord has sounded forth from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but in every place your faith in God has become known, so that we have no need to speak about it. For the people of those regions report about us what kind of welcome we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols, to serve a living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead–Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath that is coming.

Matthew 22:15-22 Then the Pharisees went and plotted to entrap him in what he said. So they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?” But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin used for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. Then he said to them, “Whose head is this, and whose title?” They answered, “The emperor’s.” Then he said to them, “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” When they heard this, they were amazed; and they left him and went away.

The image is a typical one: two children, ages 9 and 7, a girl Kimberley and her little brother Michael, playing with an office chair sunny day. She is pushing the little guy on the chair on the sidewalk in front of their house. His feet are straight out in front of him, she is in mid-stride, moving this chair down the sidewalk for all she’s worth.

It’s a pretty ordinary and typical scene, until you realize that it takes place in the context of the aftermath of Hurricane Ike. There have been many inspiring images from the aftermath of Hurricane Ike upon the people of Texas, as Galveston and other communities have begun the process of recovery: images of people helping each other; people working together; people praying together; people embracing each other and consoling each other. But this image of Kimberley and her brother Mike, with the contents of their home piled in front of their damaged house , almost as if oblivious to all the mayhem that has happened and is still happening, really spoke to me – it’s one that seemed to capture something significant. The hurricane must have been a terrifying ordeal (I don’t want to minimize that), but when you see all these inspiring images, it seems that sometimes even a disaster can turn out to be a blessing in some ways, and the bearer of new life.

It says in the Bible, “A little child shall lead them …” In the midst of all the images of devastation – the shock, sadness, even death – here are these two children, revealing something really important about life, displaying an unconscious, intuitional yet profound wisdom. On one level, they’ve lost everything, but on another level they seem to know they haven’t lost anything essential. In fact, sometimes we need to clear a lot of “stuff” out of the way in order to discover what is truly essential in our lives. Robert Fulghum, author of Everything I Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten says: “Wisdom was not at the top of the graduate school mountain, but there in the sand pile at school.”

I think this image reveals at least three important things about being human in the face of disaster:

1. Don’t lose perspective about what’s truly important

2. Stay in the moment

3. Keep your sense of humour

First, keeping things in perspective. These kids couldn’t help but be aware that something momentous had happened, yet they chose not to react with despondency or despair. In the face of severe loss, disorientation, and uncertainty, some people not only find a way forward, but a way to triumph and to integrate the experience and grow from it. Typically they identify that spirit/attitude with God – an indomitable sense of faith, hope, positivity and perseverance. People without it are often quickly overcome by even minor setbacks.

It’s not that faith makes us oblivious or indifferent, but rather gives us a sense of security and trust even when things look bad on the surface – a confidence that there is a deeper order and purpose to things. Children have a unique way of tuning in to those deeper things — they are tremendously resilient, and they have a unique capacity for believing that life will go on. It is a wise person who can stop, and look, and listen, for the wisdom that children and other people of the Spirit can bring us.

St Paul spoke of “having nothing yet possessing everything” (2 Cor. 6:10). The world can’t give what those children already have, no amount of possessions can make them as rich as they already are, and no loss could take it away. I hope there is someone in their lives who will be wise enough to let them know that, because we live in a world where priorities are often upside down. The old attitude was: “Use things, but value people” but our world tries to teach us to “value things and use people.” The wisdom of Kimberley and Michael teaches us, that, in the midst of what seems to be disaster, we should keep focused on what’s important. The girl and her little brother still had each other, they still had the love of their parents, they still had the office chair and the sidewalk, they still had a sunny day, their health, and a capacity to play. What more could they need?

Whether we are considering the plight of the people of Israel as they struggle in the desert, or the many trying to cope with the recent stock market changes, these children have much to teach us. The bottom line of life is not about stock portfolios, or guaranteed incomes, or a better and bigger . . . (whatever), it’s about love and faith and an outlook of hope. It’s about being grateful in whatever circumstances. It’s about keeping a sense of priority and perspective that keeps you from getting disoriented even in the midst of apparent disaster. It’s about having a true sense of what “home” and belonging means.

Secondly, Stay present

Cat Stevens asked, in one of his songs, “Tell me, where do the children play?” He doesn’t provide an answer, but the answer is: children play virtually anywhere, in any circumstance. Growing up, I always felt the best games were the makeshift ones that just sprang up, not the ones that had to be organized, scheduled and controlled (especially by adults). For example, creating a soccer game out of a discarded sock; racing bits of twig in the little streams rushing to the sewer grates on a rainy day; seeing the shapes in the clouds. True play is in and of the moment – spontaneous – and requires nothing more than what is there.

There is a single-minded intensity on the face of Kimberley as she propels her brother Michael forward in the chair, and there is a look of excited abandon on Michael’s face, because to them that’s all that matters in the moment. They are totally engaged in the moment, and they reveal that, in a moment, something wonderful and memorable can be born, even with chaos and uncertainty around them. In a moment, something momentous can occur, a subtle shift, as the moment expands and intensifies and its importance and intensity shift our sense of time relative to whatever else is going on, and it becomes a “timeless” moment. We often refer to this as the difference between chronological time and kairos time, or between ordinary time and God’s time. People who can enter and embrace and abide in that timeless realm are blessed indeed. Our worship and prayers and spiritual practices are meant to open doors into that timeless way of being.

Unfortunately, most people seem awfully impatient with being where they are – they want to get there faster, they feel compelled to become something other than what they are. St. Teresa of Avila, in one of her famous prayers, said: “Let nothing frighten you, let nothing disturb you. Everything passes away except God. God alone is sufficient.” Anxiety about the future and guilt and regret about the past can be overwhelming and rob us of the joy of life. Children teach us to BE — to be with what is – not how it might be or how we think it should be, because that creates a lot of pressure and usually frustration and anger when things are not as we want.

Spontaneous moments are a tremendous gift of God’s grace, and often stay with us for a lifetime, whereas attempts to create or control the perfect situation often end up as a disappointment and can’t help seeming contrived and awkward. Having the wisdom to enter into such moments when they happen is priceless, because in kairos moments, something new is being born. It is the art of being centered. When we stay in the moment, present, centered, we allow the divine to become part of the equation, and we connect with the Source of new life.

I was at a conference about social issues sponsored by the Saskatchewan Government for various people in helping professions. It was a very helpful gathering which drew together some 800 people. One of the speakers indicated he was of Jewish background, and then when he announced he had something to say about the issue of abortion, you could feel the tension in the room immediately rise, and people sat almost holding their breath while the man described the various religious responses to the issue of when life begins: for the Catholic, life begins at conception, he said. For the Protestant, life begins at what they call the “quickening.” For Jews, he said, life begins when the kids leave home and the dog dies.”

The room exploded with laughter which lasted for minutes. The sight and sound of 800 people laughing until tears ran down their faces was therapeutic in and of itself. It was brilliant. He then went on to give a very engaging and informative talk. Such is the gift of humour. Final point: Keep your sense of humour!

To reference once again the Induction service, which outlined the way we are meant to serve together here at St. John’s, the Rector’s Warden said to me: “Grant … be among us in wisdom and humility, in discernment and good humour.” “In good humour!” That means it is my job – my solemn responsibility – not just to make you laugh, but to encourage you to see the wry, the ironic, the absurd, the incongruous, the lighter side – in many things. And if it is my responsibility to provoke laughter, I have to assume it’s your responsibility to laugh.

I’ve always felt a sense of humour was a sign of health, and over the years it’s been amazing how many people, in looking back on the legacy of a loved one they have lost, have mentioned humour as one of the person’s most important attributes.

Humour is a gift – a gift for not taking things too seriously – a gift for seeing the lighter and brighter side of things – an ability to overcome. During flooding in the American Midwest, for example, a restaurant hung this sign up: “Waitress wanted. Must be able to swim under water.” Laughter is healing and unifying. Laughter is a sign of life and a sign of God’s leavening presence. I picture Jesus as one who laughed a great deal.

So, again, even in the midst of disaster:

1. Don’t lose perspective about what’s truly important

2. Stay in the moment

3. Keep your sense of humour

As the song says “Teach your children well . . .” but make sure you learn from them too. As Jesus advised, “Be like children or you will never see the kingdom …”

Last Sunday was Thanksgiving Sunday but, as I mentioned, every Sunday is Thanksgiving for the Christian, because we are a Eucharistic people. This Sunday, I am grateful for the simple wisdom of Kimberley and her brother Michael, for unknowingly providing me with a glimpse of the kingdom; I am grateful for the wisdom of their parents in letting them be and not dragging them into the mess (messes are adult hang-ups which kids don’t seem to notice or worry about); I am grateful for the wisdom of the photographer in noticing and capturing such a priceless moment; and, finally, I am grateful for the gift of being capable of noticing and appreciating such things and for the opportunity of stopping for a few moments to let this image speak to us.