Sunday, September 28, 2008
Twentieth after Pentecost, 2008
Valerio Castello, Moses Striking the Rock, 1653-1655
September 28, 2008 XX Pentecost (RCL Proper 21A)
Exodus 17: 1-7; Matthew 21: 23-32
It is really something to hear through the Exodus story again and again this murmuring, grumbling sense of resentment and entitlement. Rescued time and time again. Freed from slavery. The miracle of the escape through the parted waters of the Red Sea. Fed by the supernatural provision of manna, falling from the heavens, and now here again at the rocky wilderness crossing of Rephidim. The persistent negativity, the lack of trust, the resentment, the spirit of entitlement.
The parental psychologist certainly knows through experience what this is all about, in the character of the spoiled child. “Give me more,” he says to the divine Candy Machine. Yet every good gift only fuels the descent into deeper sullenness and hostility. And then you think of these Chief Priests and Elders, as Jesus meets them in this Holy Week moment in St. Matthew. Miracles happening in front of their eyes, the very Bread of Heaven, freely given, in their midst. But for them not the transformation of the healed Blind Man, not the wonder, awe, and love of the peasant villagers of the Galilee. Instead: suspicion, mistrust, resentment, hostility—all soon to turn to murderous intent.
A familiar story and pattern. Not just in the Bible, certainly, but playing out in our hearts and lives. Certainly so often in my heart and life, in any case. Sitting through the convoluted meetings and sometimes still contentious moments of our gatherings in the diocese and wider church lately, of course. But really a life-long situation. Perhaps rooted in the brokenness of my essential human condition. Original sin.
To take it for granted. What Adam and Eve did when they decided it was their garden and they could eat the fruit of any tree they might choose.
Often at weddings I preach on the text from Exodus chapter 3, the story of Moses at the Burning Bush, the great voice of God commanding, “Take off your shoes, Moses, for the ground on which you stand is holy ground.” And I talk to the bride and groom about the holiness of the ground on which they are standing as they exchange their vows, and I remind them that as they live those vows faithfully, that holy ground will continue to rest beneath their feet, to support them and bless them in the care of a loving Father.
But do I live that myself? In my marriage, with my children – who are miracles themselves, as every child is – with my friends? In the absolutely miraculous gift of the work I’ve been given to do? Any of us?
What I think the ultimate strategy of the Enemy is: not to convert us to the worship of some flaming Satanic underworld deity. But simply to fill our minds and our hearts with self-centered trivia, to turn our emotions in on ourselves, as we gradually lose touch with this gracious gift. Until it is nothing to us: our life in God, redeemed by Christ at the Cross, renewed for eternity. Again, slowly, almost imperceptibly buried under the weight of trivia. Until we become trivial ourselves, sliding into a pattern of indulgence and the slow toxin of negativity and resentment. Where I think all I really need to be happy is to have things my way, and where I think it is somehow the duty of the universe to make that happen.
But, somehow to hold on to that sense of “holy ground.” A deep awareness, permeating everything.
St. Paul to his squabbling little first century diocese in the Province of Galatia, Galatians 5: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, self-control.”
Oh—simply to pray that this would be the fruit of the Tree of the Garden of his presence in my life, in our lives. That he would cultivate that in us, open our hearts to that fresh delight, grow us in that Spirit. As Christ has died for us, so now we are privileged to live with him in this greater life, to be fed on the same supernatural food, to drink the same supernatural drink.
To live lives that are and can be miracles of transformation and renewal and hope in a church and in a world in such great need of transformation, and renewal, and hope. To be his arms and his heart of compassion. And to know that always, as gift. Unearned, undeserved. Freely given. Like manna from heaven. Like water springing up into a great fountain from the dry desert rocks. All gift. All miracle.
Walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God.