Saturday, September 6, 2008
Thirteenth after Pentecost, 2008
Joseph Mallord William Turner The Evening of the Deluge, c. 1843
June 1, 2008 Third Sunday after Pentecost (RCL Proper 4A) Genesis 6-8; Mt. 7: 21-29
As we move now into the season of “ordinary time” after Pentecost our new lectionary will be offering us extended readings from the Old Testament, this year beginning in Genesis. That began a couple of weeks ago as I remember at that wonderful Trinity Sunday service of Holy Baptism, when Ray Williams began the service with that magnificent reading of the opening passage from Genesis, the Six Days of Creation, unfolding one after the other in a wonderful procession—earth, seas, sky, sun and moon, plant and animal life, and then in a crowning moment the birth of the human family, made in God’s own image.
This morning, just two weeks later, and the whole deal has, we would say, gone somewhere hot “in a handbasket.” At the end of that first week God looked at all that he had made and announced that “it was good.” But now this: “The earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence. And God saw that the earth was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted its ways upon the earth. And God said to Noah, ‘I have determined to make an end of all flesh, for the earth is filled with violence because of them; now I am going to destroy them along with the earth.’” Everything is coming apart. Hit the delete key, and start again from scratch. Maybe from here, from Noah, and from what gets born again from the ark, things will go right. Maybe this time it will all work out. And of course then we know the bigger picture. The floods subside, the great Mother Ship discharges her passengers, and the whole mess gets started again. And God seems to come to the conclusion that the delete and reboot strategy isn’t going to get him exactly where he wants to go with this motley crew anyway, and so there is the rainbow in the sky, and the promise of a better future. “You stick with me, and I’ll stick with you, and we’ll get where we need to go together.” Something like that.
The storms and floods are always with us, of course. The Tsunami; the cyclone carrying a great wall of water across the lower delta region of Burma; the earthquake in western China seems to fit into this category; the tornados that have been ripping across the Great Plains this spring. For the moment they seem far away, but we know enough to know that they can happen anywhere and everywhere. You get up in the morning and it seems like just another day, and the calendar is set with meetings and activities, work and play, with some reasonable certainty of who I am and what I have and what my life is about—but knowing deep down, in a place that we don’t like to visit very often in our own self-consciousness, that this is all conditional and provisional. The earth could give way under our feet, as a matter of fact, the winds blow, the waters rise. At any time. And other kinds of storms as well. Crimping arteries. Random violence. The driver of a car across the intersection losing control. At any time. Not usually to us. But sometimes. One way or the other. Storms roll in, and the day just unfolds differently, and out of our control.
The theory is not, in what is called “Track One” of the Revised Common Lectionary, that the Old Testament reading and the Gospel reading necessarily coincide thematically. But of course today they do. The little parable of Jesus, the Foolish Man and the Wise Man. Which is not really about building codes, of course. And interestingly, as I was officiating yesterday at the marriage of Jennifer Duca and Brandon Cooper, two of our newer members, I am reminded that this passage from St. Matthew is one that is listed in the Book of Common Prayer as especially appropriate for use at a wedding. Allowing us to ask the question, “Where do I want to build my house? How do I want to build it? On what kind of foundation? --and, What exactly would it mean, to build on the solid rock?” The foundation that would be able to withstand the water and the wind and the shaking of the earth. And if it’s an appropriate reading for a wedding, a worthwhile set of questions worth asking again and again in all the moments of our lives when we would be stepping back, and taking stock.
We would of course have the answer to the question unfolding here in our presence. Though it is counterintuitive. You’d think you’d need concrete and block and stone and steel dug down into the bedrock. But all we have here is bread broken, a sip of wine. Dying. Letting go. What kind of answer is this? What kind of poetry? How do we explain this? What sense does it make? How is that supposed to keep us standing when the wind is howling and the ground is giving way?
If you would permit me to conclude from this with a word from scripture not in the lessons appointed for this morning, but from Paul, 2nd Corinthians in the 12th chapter, when he is talking about what he calls the “thorn in his flesh,” apparently a physical ailment, a medical condition of some kind, which keeps him back on his heels, causes him to falter, endangers him and his ability to go on, and he talks about how he has gone to the Lord again and again and again with prayer that he might be delivered from this affliction. And then this critical moment. “He said to me,” Paul says, about the answer to his prayer, “he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’” Which is of course the heart of this mystery, the heart of the Cross, and his love for us, giving himself up for us: “my power is made perfect in weakness.”
How strong a house do you think you would need to withstand the storms? The earthquake? Tsunami and cyclone? The brokenness of life as it is? So that you would be safe and secure? How hard would you have to work to make that happen? How thick would the walls need to be?
So: a piece of bread, up there at that Table. A small piece at that. A sip of wine. What we do this morning, or rather what he does. What he does, in us, through us, for us. As we would sing, “The Church’s one foundation.”
“Take my life, and let it be, consecrated, Lord, to thee . . . . Take myself, and I will be ever, only, all for thee.”