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whats-your-story-chalkboard-620316_1280
We all have stories to share and to live. In the past several years, I have become interested in my own family stories. Because my mother died young (at 56) and was notably quiet about sharing some of her own stories, and because my dad had Altzheimers the last seven years of his life, there are many family stories that I simply never heard. I am left to re-construct as best as I can.
Of course now we have the “magic” of websites like Ancestry or Family Search–and in truth, these sites have connected me to second cousins I have never actually met in person, plus I have accessed some pictures of some ancestors. Going down the “rabbit hole” of Ancestry, I have learned that I am 52% English, Welsh, and Northwestern European, and 39% Irish and Scottish. That tiny trace of Native American is vastly overwhelmed! Yet I know where that tiny trace is, and it was somewhat comforting to know that all those years Daddy told me we had Cherokee Indian blood in us, he was not telling a tall tale (he had a wicked sense of humor, so he could do that), but telling us the truth.
On some level, when we research our DNA and go backwards in our family lines, we go more “granular.” Yet the other way is part of our stories as well. In other words, as we look outward, we can see ways in which we are connected to each other–sometimes in ways we never expected.
In the past five weeks, a group of folks have gathered in Wyatt Hall (at St. Philip’s) on Wednesday evenings to discuss various aspects of “The Way of Love.” So far, we have had conversations about Turn, Learn, Pray, Bless, and Worship. What have people learned? I’m sure folks have learned a lot of things. However, I think that from what I have overheard, people are sharing pieces of their own stories with each other: for example, how they ended up in the Episcopal Church, or at St. Philip’s . . .what their previous practices of faith included (and how those were unsatisfactory in some way or another.(. . .how we are blessed, and how we think we might bless another human being.  . .how we begin, even tentatively, to pray together or read scripture together as a couple.. . .what, in our worship liturgy, speaks most deeply to us (i.e. for at least two people at one table, that is the Confession, where they actually think of some concrete things they have done that they should not have done, or of some things they have not done that they should have done). . .what forms us as God’s people in our prayers and corporate worship.
what is your story
Those kinds of stories have been powerful, and frankly, I am in awe of the amazing stories, as well as the willingness for folks to be vulnerable enough with their brothers and sisters at the table, to share.
My story matters to you, and your story matters to you. Perhaps when we tell each other our stories of faith, we get stronger, and we learn more what Jesus means about “my burden is light” because we helped to shoulder each other’s heavy burdens.
Think about your own story. How does it fit in the larger context of God’s story? Maybe you can’t see that at first, but it truly does–which means that your story is so important, especially where it connects with mine.
Sheila
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Special Sermon Series: BLESS: To Bless the Space Between Us & To be People of Blessing (from The Way of Love)

Readings:  Genesis 32:22-30     Ps 23     Romans 12:9-21       Matthew 25:31-40

Jacob and EsauJacob is nervous. Recently, he has had a vision, in which God told him to go back to the place of his birth. Jacob weighs the options. The truth is that he has realized that his father-in-law, Laban,has cheated him over the years.

Jacob: The Backstory

First, there was the bridal deception. Jacob had worked for seven years for the chance to marry Rachel, the love of his life. Yet the morning after the wedding, he wakes up to find that Laban had deceived him. Jacob has actually married Leah, the older sister. Scripture tells us that Leah has “weak eyes” and likely isn’t as beautiful as Rachel. Her chances of marriage are slim to none. Daddy will have to support her. So Laban tricks Jacob.

This is poetic justice, of course, since Jacob himself has been a veritable trickster since he was young. In fact, the reason he had to flee his home was because he deceived Isaac, his own father, in Isaac’s old age. Aided by his cunning mother Rebecca, Jacob stole the firstborn’s birthright, and Esau’s firstborn blessing as well. Having been cheated of all that was due him, Esau threatened to kill his brother, so Jacob escaped.

Jacob: New Chapter Begins

Now, after years of learning some humility, Jacob is returning home. Yet he remembers Esau’s threat, so he sends a group of messengers to Esau to prepare the way. They return with the message that Esau is coming to meet Jacob—with four hundred of his closest friends. Jacob thinks fast. Esau may be coming to exact revenge after all these years. Jacob divides his company in half, so if Esau kills one company, the other company will still be safe. Jacob plans to send at least three separate groups ahead of him, with goats, sheep, camels, cows, and donkeys—all gifts for Esau. He hopes that Esau will receive all these gifts as blessing, and Esau’s anger will be mollified. Finally, Jacob takes his two wives, his two maids, and his eleven children, and crosses a river. He wants to keep his family safe, even if he dies.

Foster_Bible_Pictures_0047-2_Jacob_Wrestled_with_an_AngelThe Divine Wrestler

After sending everyone ahead of him, Jacob tries to sleep. Yet his sleep is restless. Full of dreams. A man shows up, and throughout the night, this man wrestles Jacob. They wrestle all night long. As dawn breaks, Jacob seems to be winning this match, and the stranger has not bested him. Finally, the stranger reaches out, touches Jacob’s hip, and throws the hip out of joint—thus winning the match. Still, stubborn Jacob will not give in. He refuses to let the stranger go until the stranger blesses him.

“What is your name?” the stranger asks. Jacob tells him. The stranger tells him he now has a new name. No longer will he be Jacob. Now, he is to be known as Israel, “for you have striven with God, and with humans, and have prevailed.”

Jacob asks, “Please tell me your name,” but the stranger refuses. Instead, the stranger blesses him and leaves. Of course in the ancient world, when you know someone’s name, that gives you power over that person. So the stranger’s refusal to reveal his name tells Jacob that he has not been wrestling with a human being. Rather it has been a divine being who has blessed Jacob, so Jacob names the place Peniel, which means “the face of God.”

Jacob has received God’s blessing. God’s blessing has left a mark—a crippling mark. Jacob may have God’s blessing—and one of those blessings is that he does reconcile with his brother Esau—yet he will never walk straight again.He will limp for the rest of his life. Jacob has received the blessing that leaves its mark.

Question markBlessing in the Past Several Weeks: Yes? No? Maybe? No Way?

I have been wondering a lot about blessing the past several weeks—maybe because there seems to have been very little of it. We have experienced political turmoil in our country over the Dr. Ford/Judge Kavanaugh hearings, and the emotional fallout and triggers that have assaulted people over those hearings. (I have heard a lot of stories from people who have suffered abuse.)  Then in an entirely separate realm, some folks have struggled with personal health challenges.

These things have piled on top of the usual stressful issues most people face every day with work and families. Personally, there have been times when I have wondered if the center will hold. “Is the whole world going to pieces?” I asked God one day. No answer.

I don’t know about you, but there have been times when I have had to be very conscious about breathing deeply, by notreading the news or being on social media. Instead, I have paid deliberate attention to people or places of beauty, and I have been intentional about my daily morning routine of lighting some candles, focusing on reading scripture, saying my prayers, and breathing deeply.

Blessing Space Between Us

I have wondered about how you can bless the spaces between us if the person on the other side of the space has no desire for blessing—or does not seem to want that. If you are going to bless someone or something, do you need permission to do that? Or do you wrestle blindly with someone or something, determined to win a battle, and not know until you are wounded that you have been blessed? I don’t know. I wish I did, but I don’t know.  I keep going back to a quote by theologian Pierre Tielhard de Chardin that I quoted, in late August, at Clif Collin’s memorial service:  “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.”

We are spiritual beings having a human experience. This means that we have been born into this world as blessed people, we live our lives as blessed people, we go Home to God as blessed people. We may not always feel blessed. We may not always feel like blessing others, yet I am not sure that feelings have anything to do with God’s reality, God’s truth. Sometimes I think we have to be like Jacob. We keep wrestling.  We hold on to the thing or divine presence that might bless us after a long, dark, difficult, pain-filled night. We may demand to know its name. We may weep, or struggle, or rant and rave. We may end up being wounded. Yet at the end, we know it was blessing, and we re-name places or people. We say “Now that, right there, was God, even if I didn’t know it at the time.”

images-8How to Bless People in Real Ways

Jesus taught us how to bless. The really good news is that Jesus said we should bless others in concrete ways—ways outlined in today’s gospel. Feed hungry people. When they are thirsty, give them something to drink.  Welcome the stranger who shows up in your midst. If someone needs clothing or a warm pair of shoes for the winter or a sleeping bag or a tent, then we are to provide those things. Jesus says to visit the sick, maybe take them Holy Communion. Jesus knows there are a lot of people incarcerated.  So go visit them, or if you can’t visit them, you can write them letters or put money in their commissary accounts.  Or we can send cards and prayer shawls to people who are sick or dying.

These are many ways in which we can bless people. Yet what we must remember is that every time we do things that bless others, we may as well be doing those things to Jesus. Yes, that kind of blessing is that important.  If that kind of blessing doesn’t wound us, at least we should be in awe and wonder that we follow that kind of leader. A leader who taught us about servant ministry. A leader who taught us about real ways to live into our fullest selves as spiritual human beings in human bodies.

Today, I want you to do something. (Note: Audience Participation is needed!)  I want you to turn to the person next to you, look in their eyes and say, “I bless you.”  If no one is beside you, go find someone to bless. Then let that person bless you. Receive their blessing. And think about this: blessing someone else means that the space between you is also blessed.  This is holy space. Blessed space.

Paul’s Letter to the Romans: Written for us today

I would like to close today by re-reading what Paul wrote to the church in Rome—because sometimes we think a piece of scripture could have been written today: “Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honour. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord.

“Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all.

a09a7ff1545f5da42a434f91d925d24e--my-live-nail“If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’ No, ‘if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

You are God’s person of blessing. This day, bless someone. Be a blessing. Carve out blessed space in this world. Live into God’s reality for you as you bless someone, and as you are a blessing. Name that and claim that. Because in God’s world, it is already true. Amen.

© The Rev. Dr. Sheila N. McJilton

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A Life of Prayer

Special Sermon Series:     PRAY: Dwell Intentionally with God Each Day

Readings:  1 Sam 3:1-10    Psalm 25:1-9      2 Cor 12:7-10      Luke 11:1-13

“Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples. . .”

umit-bulut-143016.jpgIt is very easy for us to think that there was no “real” prayer until Jesus of Nazareth came onto the historical scene.  Yet the truth is that Jesus of Nazareth was simply living out of his own Jewish tradition in his discipline of prayer. Even today, observant Jews pray three times a day during the week, four times a day on Shabbat, and on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement that just recently occurred, five times.

So the practice of prayer was not alien to Jesus. It was as natural to him as breathing. We seldom get to eavesdrop on Jesus AS he prays. Clearly, Jesus knows that his cousin John the Baptist has taught HIS disciples how to pray, and it is likely he has some sense of what the Baptist taught. In fact, some scholars believe that earlier in his life, Jesus may have been a disciple of John’s before he was baptized and began his own ministry. So Jesus knows John’s teachings.

We are told, in various accounts in the gospels, that Jesus goes off alone on mountains to pray. In other words, a lot of his prayer is done in quiet and solitude. Yet sometimes even that didn’t work, because his disciples call him away from his prayer time on more than one occasion, for him to teach or heal.The only significant time we eavesdrop on Jesus’ prayers is the night before he dies—in the Garden of Gethsemene.

Albrecht_Dürer_-_Praying_Hands,_1508_-_Google_Art_Projec BWtThere, under a full moon that casts dark shadows among ancient olive trees, Jesus begs God to “take this cup from me.” At the same time, Jesus prays, “Not my will, but yours be done.” The next day, we hear him cry out from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” At the point of death, we hear an agonizing cry: WHY? No answer. Then Jesus gives up his life, and dies. The answer does not come until three days later, at the moment of resurrection.

What we often fail to notice is that in Jesus’ prayers, is that prayer is not a business transaction. Jesus doesn’t pray, “Give me this, or give me that.” He doesn’t say, “I’ll do this, God, if you do that.” More than requests or pleas, my sense of prayer from the rabbi from Nazareth is that prayer was more about relationship than transactions. Jesus knows that in order to learn how to pray, you have to practice prayer. That means you draw apart from the craziness and division of the world to spend a little time with God.

Now we just sang an old gospel hymn entitled “Have a Little Talk with Jesus.” It’s catchy. You may remember the Oak Ridge Boys singing it with fabulous harmony:

“I once was lost in sin but Jesus took me in

And then a little light from heaven filled my soul.

It filled my soul with love and wrote my name above

And just a little talk with Jesus made me whole.

 

Now let us have a little talk with Jesus

Let us tell him all about our troubles.

He will hear our faintest cry

And he will answer by and by.

 

Now when you feel a little prayer wheel turning

And you know a little fire is burning

You will find a little talk with Jesus

Makes it right.” (Want to hear this? Click here:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4fbuQvoKH9U )

 

Now we do not really have time this morning to address the theology of this gospel hymn. Clearly it is meant to give people hope and comfort. However, the idea that some people are “lost” and some people are “saved” is problematic in itself—at least it is for this preacher (who grew up with this kind of theology in the Baptist Church.)

hans-urs-von-balthasar-251x300Instead, I would like to point you to Hans Urs von Balthasar, who was a Swiss theologian and Catholic priest who died in 1988. Considered to be one of the most important Roman Catholic theologians of the 20th century, von Balthasar said this: “There will never be beings unloved by God, since God is absolute love.” Perhaps being “saved” happens when a human being realizes the need to enter an unconditional, complete universe of love, turns from the broken constructs of our humanity, including the limited human perception of love, repents of that small perspective, and chooses to follow God’s way of unconditional, self-emptying love. This kind of salvation can make us whole, but I am not sure it happens with “just a little talk with Jesus.” Furthermore, that kind of salvation can easily take a whole lifetime. Yet I think salvation also only only happens in the context of relationship, which I believe is really what prayer is.

For example, if I want to have a relationship with you, and you want to have a relationship with me, what has to happen? Well, I don’t stand way across a room and yell at you, do I? I don’t tell someone else to go and tell you I want a relationship with you—well, not unless I’m in the third grade. I don’t hide from you. No. First, I come close to you. I commit to spending some time with you. I need to get to know you, to see if you and I have enough in common to have a deeper relationship. If I find that we do, then we spend even more time together. Easy example: dating, getting engaged, getting married. Deciding that this person is the one I want to spend my life with. That doesn’t happen when you merely talk about dating or engagement or marriage. It happens when you experience relationship, friendship, love, commitment.

Such is the life of prayer. You can’t just talk about prayer, or its merits. You can’t just get into the mindset of asking God for stuff and then being mad when you don’t get your wish granted. God is not a cosmic vending machine.

Please note that I do not make light of this. Someone we love is very ill and we beg God for healing mercy. We are in chronic pain, and beg God to take that pain away. Our child lies in a hospital bed and the scary word leukemia is uttered softly as a possibility. If you are a parent, you start bargaining with God immediately. Or if we are really brave, we challenge God: “Don’t you dare let this child die.”

man prayingl-769319-unsplashOr if you are African American, or any mother or father of color, and your son goes out for the evening. I am going to bet your prayer life is strong that night as you intercede for that son’s safety. Please God, don’t let him get stopped by the police. Please God, don’t let him mouth off like the belligerent normal teenager he is. Please God, don’t let that phone ring. Please God. Please. Or if you are a woman who gets beaten or raped or sexually assaulted in any way. Where is God in the midst of such abuse? Your prayers may seem to fall on divine deaf ears.

I do not have answers about all these things. Like you, I am human, and my own understanding is limited. Why do people abuse each other and force their victims to cry out, to pray for help, to get no help or to have their pain ignored or dismissed? Why does the racism in our country and in the world become an ongoing unanswered prayer? Why do human beings get sick, and why do some die from diseases that take them too soon?

I wish I had answers for those questions. I do not. All I know is that God is. God is. God is love. Abuse and racism has never been God’s idea. God is always in the midst of us in challenging times. God means for us to be the hands, feet, face, arms of God to each other, And I believe that God intends for you and me to participate in bringing God’s realm to earth just as it is in heaven.

I do not think we are supposed to wait until we die, and maybe heaven really is not “up there” (wherever “up there” means.) Maybe heaven is already here, with eternity inside us, and God waits for us to realize that, to make God’s love come to reality in the fullness with which God knows it already.

Back to actual prayer. You may say, I want to pray, but I don’t know how, or I am scared that I won’t do it “right.” Well, think about this. You may want to have a friendship with someone, whether that is a business relationship or a personal relationship. You may not know exactly how to go about connecting. But you make an attempt. And assuming that the relationship you desire is a healthy one that honors people’s boundaries, you initiate a conversation. The same is true for prayer.

handNow today, I want to give you some practical guidelines. First, a disclaimer. I did not come up with this idea. I read about it years ago in a church magazine. But I love the idea. It’s called the “Five-Finger Prayer.” You can use it yourself. You can use it to teach your children or grandchildren how to pray. Here is how this goes.

  1. Hold your hand up and look at your thumb. Your thumb is closest to you. So pray for those who are closest to your heart—your family, your dearest friends.
  1. Touch your index finger. Your “pointer” finger. Now pray for people who point you in the right direction: teachers, doctors, nurses, therapists or counselors, coaches. Maybe even clergy or spiritual directors. People who teach, guide, heal, direct.
  1. Now touch your tallest finger, your middle finger. Pray for those who lead. Pray for leaders in this nation, leaders in this state, leaders in your local community, leaders in the Church, the lay and clergy leaders in this parish. We all need God’s guidance, God’s wisdom, God’s direction. Sometimes we need God’s strength and stamina—especially right now. Pray for that.
  1. Touch your ring finger. If you ask any piano teacher, he or she will say that this is physically your weakest finger. So here, pray for those who are weak: those who are sick, abused, troubled in any way, in pain, or dying.
  1. Touch your smallest finger, your pinky. Here is where you put yourself. Not one of us is to be the greatest. We are to be servants of all. The least, not the most elevated. So here, we are to put ourselves in perspective, but we also need prayer. So touch your little finger and pray for the one you see in the mirror every morning.[1] As you use this “Five-Finger Prayer,” remember that we are not just about asking God for stuff. We pray so that we might get closer to God. By getting closer to God, we might just get a glimpse of what God wants for us and our lives, not just what we think we need or want.

help thanks wowLastly, this. In 2012, the writer Anne Lamott wrote a best-selling book entitled Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers. If you want a simple guide to how to pray, get this book. It’s edgy, funny, direct, and true. Lamotte says there really are only three kinds of prayer. 1. You ask God for help. 2. You say thanks to God. 3. You say “Wow.” You look at stunning sunrises or mountains or sunsets, beautiful flowers or birds, or watch as your baby takes his first breath. What else is there to say but one word? Wow.

So if you want to have a little talk with Someone greater than yourself, or you want to connect with some divine energy and light, just take a step and begin what may seem like a stumbling walk into prayer. Use your fingers. Ask God for help. Say thank you to God and cultivate what Oprah has called “an attitude of gratitude.” ­Look around you and be amazed at the beauty and wonder of someone or something. Say “Wow.”

Try it. Before you know it, you’ll be in a real relationship with God. Suddenly, you’ll find yourself talking to God—and more importantly, listening to God—in some unexpected times and places. See? You’re praying. Now wasn’t that easy?  Amen.

[1] Kathy Stefferman, “Five-Finger Prayer,” in The Living Church, Vol. 221, No. 13, (Milwaukee: The Living Church Foundation, Inc., Sept. 24, 2000), 8.

© The Rev. Dr. Sheila N. McJilton

[1]Kathy Stefferman, “Five-Finger Prayer,” in The Living Church, Vol. 221, No. 13, (Milwaukee: The Living Church Foundation, Inc., Sept. 24, 2000), 8.

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Reflection by Steadman Crawford:

Lawrence Clifton Collins II

This past Monday when we were gathered at the hospital, Mother Sheila was there for Clif and comforting Clif’s loved ones. At one point, she and I were talking and she asked if I had planned on speaking at the funeral.  I told her Clif had asked me to speak for him back in early July and of course I said I would.  I’ve been putting off preparing for this with the hopes Clif would recover, although it was apparent that the Diffuse Scleroderma and Myositis was taking a serious toll on him.  In our discussion, Mother told me a good rule of thumb for a eulogy was three to five minutes.  Immediately, I reflected on how Clif would tease me about talking slow.  I figured I would be lucky to get ten to fifteen words out in that period of time, but I’ll do my best to keep it brief.

I became Clif and Eileen’s neighbor back in the 2002 when I moved in the house next door. Coming over to the fence, Clif introduced himself and I didn’t get much more out than my name when Clif asked where I was from.  He knew I wasn’t from around here and as it turns out we’re both from Georgia.  It didn’t take long for us to realize that this wasn’t just a transitory friendship and I had the good fortune of spending a great deal of time with Clif, most often on his side porch.   We would sit out there and chat for hours, and the angel that Eileen is, she would peek out the window with a little smile that politely suggested that I needed to get on home.  Clif and Eileen took me into their family as if I was one of their own. With the time that Clif and I spent together I was given the opportunity to know a brilliant and truly remarkable person.

Clif was an educator, not only as a professor but as a teacher to many of us that have shared the journey with him. Clif earned his BA in political science and an MA in English from Clemson University, where he taught full time from 1988 to 1990. Clif’s love for the Orioles Baseball Team brought him here to Maryland.  What many would consider a conventional decision process didn’t necessary align well with Clif’s wisdom of choosing your own path without the distractions of everyday life.  Many of us would like to believe we actually live that way, but Clif was one that truly did.  In his early years in Maryland, Clif taught part-time at the prison over here in Jessup. Clif has been a professor at Montgomery College for the past 25 years and it was apparent how much he loved his job.  He would often talk with me about the progression of his students. It’s not surprising that his students recognized his passion for teaching and I would like to share one of his reviews I found online.   This particular student seemed to get in touch with what Clif is all about.

“Professor Collins is a fun time. He will really get you to think about assigned readings and wants students to dig deeper into meanings. You MUST read to do well, he will pop quiz you. He likes analogies and jokes whenever possible. Southern charm? Check. Watch grammar when writing for him and don’t be afraid to draw your own conclusions from books”

Another student with a similar post added, “Cool, Cool guy really knows his music too.”  If you asked folks individually what type of music Clif likes, you probably would get a variety of answers because his taste in music as well as style, food, literature, theatre and pretty much the world in general was eclectic.  In many ways Clif’s approach to life was the definition of eclectic which comes from a Greek verb meaning “to select” and was originally applied to ancient philosophers who were not committed to any single system of philosophy; instead, these philosophers selected whichever doctrines pleased them from every school of thought.

Clif had a similar approach towards understanding people as well.  He wasn’t content with getting to know you from the surface. He wanted to know the person inside of you.  He liked to poke and prod around to get to that layer beneath.  He wanted to get to that area of a person that made them truly unique.  Not in a judgmental way, unless you’re a Yankees fan.  That was a primary character flaw Clif struggled with accepting.  Clif capitalized on humor and the art of shock therapy to psychoanalyze his subjects.  So, Clif’s brand of shock therapy was saying something that was oftentimes less than acceptable for the locker room, let alone mixed company.  Things that would get most guys slapped by a lady or punched by a husband or boyfriend was somehow allowed for Clif.  He loved that raw emotion he would uncover with his technique.  I think Clif’s interest in the psyche of humankind sparked his interest in the theater, movies and television.  Beyond knowing the actual names of pretty much any character you see on the screen, Clif would know the background and personal histories of many of the actors.

As many of us know, Clif was an actor himself.  He played all sorts of roles, he played a General in the military, a homicide victim and on one particular series pilot, Clif was the President of the United States. I especially enjoyed this one, not so much from the doomsday sci-fi theme, but seeing Clif in the Oval Office and imagining our nation with Clif at the helm. Here’s a few things that would take place immediately upon his inauguration:

For starters, the official business day would begin around 11ish maybe noon depending on how much coffee the president was able to consume upon wakening.

No work on Friday, Clif didn’t believe in working on Fridays.

Quite a few new national holidays would be added out of the gate, here are a few:

February 6th – Bob Marley’s birthday

August 18th– Roberto Clemente’s birthday

October 31st– Which marked the first Clemson game ever held in 1896 against Furman College

The nation would change for sure and I’m confident that Clif’s compassion for others, passion for education, integrity, dignity, and let’s not forget, humor, would guide this nation in its most challenging times.

Something personal I would like to share regarding my relationship with Clif:

Clif is the friend I’ve always had, it’s a shame we only met face to face only 17 years ago.  I look forward to the day we meet face to face again.

GO TIGERS FIGHT!

  • Steadman “Steady” Crawford

6b81b897-7a9d-4c71-b79d-b341e165724c-thumbnail

Two poems read by Dr. Miller Newman, Clif’s colleague at Montgomery College

The Horn Player’s Verse

And a great sky descended,

And from it a voice spoke, asking,

‘Have you come to count yourself

among the prophets? For only

a prophet may walk here

empty-handed

and his head uncovered.’

I answered that I did not and had only

This body, swollen and worn,

To give for the taking of a life

Just lived, and again the voice asked,

‘Are you then numbered

among the people of the desert

who subsist only that

their song may be each night

lifted to heaven?’

And again I answered, truthfully,

‘I know only this body, broken and torn,

given to you for a life just lived,’

speaking then in a fear cold

as the winter cup though the stones

of this very road burned my feet.

Clif Collins, p. 55 in The Lives of the Apostles

 

Sustenance by Participle (unpublished)

Dad’s taking hospice

in the living room,

oxygen and feeding tubes,

motors and compressors grinding—

we’re on the screen porch,

soft summer night,

saying our grace

passing around the heaping bowls,

and always having loved

fried okra and fresh green beans,

he dreams

while low voices and clinking spoons

pass into a place

only he knows,

and no one is pretending.

Clif Collins   August 2018

Two Poems read by Scott Lilienthal

The Lost Prophet

And I will stand before you with words

You will not understand and so will first rebuke,

For you have been taught in ways unbefitting a believer,

Indeed have not been taught at all

But only told such as meets your pride

And will therefore one day be your own destruction.

I say to you now, Do not look outside for your enemy;

He is not there, nor does he dwell alone in your heart

So that you may renounce its iniquities

And the blindness to which they have led you,

Knowing therefore the wisdom of that which I ask:

To stay the hand that would strike in retribution,

And hold the tongue whose words are sown in lies.

For surely guilt is with you as it rests upon all men.

Therefore should you live always, in word and deed,

With humility as an expressing of your unknowing.

Clif Collins in Lives of the Apostles, p. 30

 

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Benediction

(overheard at Penn Station, Baltimore)

Wipe your face and quit crying,

You still got mustard on your chin.

We all on the same train, baby—we just gettin off at different places.

Clif Collins in Lives of the Apostles, p. 62

 

Homily preached by the Rev. Dr. Sheila N. McJilton

Here we are. We all on the same train, baby. The one who got off the train on Monday evening is now at God’s Table. The prophet Isaiah had one description of God’s Table:  “A feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines. . .” A place where God swallows up death forever, where the fullness of God’s salvation and love is finally present and visible. Yet on Monday night, and this week, and in the weeks ahead, here we are. We are still on the train. We may not have mustard on our chins, but we sure do have tears in our eyes and tears running down our faces and deep grief in our hearts. We look at the track ahead—the track that, way down the line, curves out of sight into a grove of trees.

Wait a minute. There was more to do. Clif had too much life in him, too much keen intellect still to use, for him to have descended the steps of this train. There was another book somewhere in his bones and heart. There were lots more jokes. There were baseball games and football games not attended, there were graduations and weddings to go to, there were days on the beach in Lewes, there were margaritas yet to be enjoyed. Yet this man who, even to the last, possessed one of the finest minds I have ever encountered, is gone—at least from our sight.

Several months ago, I visited Clif in the Laurel hospital. We had about an hour to talk—just the two of us—and at some point, our conversation went as follows:

“Padress, I’m not ready to die yet.”

“Not ready?”

“No. Not yet.”

“Do you still have another book in you?”

“I think I do. I think I do.”

“So you’re not ready yet.”

“No. . .(silence, then) “But you know something, Padress? If it’s my time, I’m not scared to die.”

“You aren’t?”

“Nope. When it’s my time, I know I have lived a life beyond imagining. Not a day goes by that I don’t tell my boy I love him and how proud of him I am. I found the love of my life. I’ll miss my family and I worry about them. But me? I’m not afraid to die. I’m good.”

And he was. On his final day on this earth—which arrived way too soon for all of us—Clif Collins squarely faced the door between this life and the next. He walked through that door on his own terms, the way he wanted. He made his own decisions about how he would leave us. He made that final, difficult journey with courage, and had peace at the last—then—finally—he knew pure joy and freedom.

For years, I have believed—with all my heart—that when we pray the “Our Father,” we should do that with fear and trembling. Why? Because when we pray “thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” I do not think of that kingdom or that heaven as “pie in the sky by and by.” I really do not think eternity is a place we have to earn or a place we won’t see until we take a step off the train we are riding now.

I think we walk in it now, and our responsibility as God’s people is to make eternity real now—with our words, and with our actions. We are to bring God’s kingdom to reality now, today, as it is in heaven now, today. With humility. With love. In other words, on some level, you and I are already walking in eternal time. We may not hear the beautiful music Clif now hears. We may not see the amazing sights he now sees. We may not smell aromas that he now smells. We are hampered mightily by our limited human senses. Yet we are in some measure of eternal life. I agree with the Jesuit priest and philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, who said, “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.”

Yes. We are spiritual beings having a human experience. That means that regardless of our particular religious beliefs or our associations—or none—with a religious institution, we human beings aren’t so much human as we are spiritual. This, of course, explains our deep, spiritual hunger. Now it is true that we explore our questions about spirituality in many different ways, and Clif did that. He found God in this community of faith, within the Episcopal Church. He found God in words—in the words written by James Baldwin or Flannery O’Connor or Sherman Alexie. He understood that poetry is the finest of distilled language, because the structure and the sound of every syllable counts—double or even triple the usual value of a word.

I believe Clif found God in the acceptance of all kinds and sorts of folks, and he saw God, and experienced God, in the spiritual, everyday exchanges among people he met and partied with and loved.

Ultimately, of course, Clif found God in. . .football and baseball. (Please note, Clif, that this priest has used baseball in a sermon.)  A few years ago, I read a book by John Sexton, entitled Baseball as a Road to God. For years, Sexton taught a very popular class at New York University with the content of what became this book.

At some point, in a feature story, the PBS journalist Bill Moyers asked a student  to explain the content of the class. The student replied, “Is it about baseball? Not exactly. Is it about God? Not exactly. So what is it all about? If you want to know, you’ll have to come and experience it for yourself. It’s ineffable.’[2]

Ineffable is a word that tries to describe something that cannot be put into words. Yet Sexton contends that “poetry and music and art sometimes come close.” The ineffable is something that is beyond us, and we acknowledge that it is. In other words, we acknowledge that God is God and we are not, and so many things—including a death that has come too soon—are way beyond our comprehension. Yet we still ask questions. We still push back. We still ask Why. We still look at the final score with our mouths open—either in ecstasy or disbelief.

Sexton says, “Baseball evokes in the life of its faithful features we associate with the spiritual life: faith and doubt, conversion, blessings and curses, miracles, and so on. For some baseball really is a road to God.”[3]So the road to God looks different for each one of us. Yet on Monday night, as I prayed in an ICU room with grieving people, I knew one thing for sure. At the end of that road, there is love. Only love. And that love is spelled in capital letters.  It is the ultimate poem of God’s heart.

Today, we celebrate the life of a man who lived life large. He loved his wife and his family. He had strong opinions. He cherished his good friends. He didn’t talk much about his faith, yet he did live it. He had integrity and courage. He possessed a keen intellect and wit. And until the train came to a stop, he was still writing good poetry and listening to Steve Earle’s music.

In a little while, we will play a piece of music that Clif wanted, a song entitled “I’m Going Home” by Arlo Guthrie. I quote those words now:

“Like the tree that grows so tall
Leaves turn gold and then they fall
They’ve gone down, but now they’ve grown
They’re going home
Mountain streams may run and flow
Clean the sands on which they go
Stretching down like it had known
It’s going home
Sunrise early in the dawn
Slips away, and then it’s gone
Leaves the night to carry on
While it’s going home

Once a man he lived and died
What he said death could not hide
Even though it’s often tried
But he was going home

 

Now my friends it’s time to go
And this love will live to grow
And I want you all to know
I’m going home.”[4]

 

OkraMy brothers and sisters, we have all come from God. Someday the train will slow and stop again, and one by one, we will return Home—to God. Clif’s already there, waiting for us. May he rest in peace and great joy with the saints of God. And may he get not just bread and wine at God’s Table. . .I hope he is enjoying the best fried okra and sweet tea he has ever had.

Clif, we thank God that you were a blessing to us,your family and friends. We pray that we were blessings to you. We thank God that we could walk with you—even for a little while—on this spiritual journey in our human bodies. But please, please, will you remember what your mama Charlotte told you?  Please. . .please. . .Be sweet. Amen.

 

Note: Lives of the Apostles by Clif Collins can be ordered at one of the following: http://www.pagepublishing.com/books/?book+lives-of-the-apostles or at http://www.amazon.com

 

[1]Clif Collins, “Benediction” in Lives of the Apostles, (New York: Page Publishing, 2017), 62.

[2]John Sexton, Baseball as a Road to God: Seeing Beyond the Game, (New York: Gotham Books, 2013), 7.

[3]Ibid., 7.

[4]Arlo Guthrie, “I’m Going Home.”

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A Life Worth Living

debby-hudson-589680-unsplash.jpgPhoto by Debby Hudson on Unsplash.com

“I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” John 6:51.

These Sundays, John’s gospel focuses on bread. “The Bread Sundays,” is how clergy refer to them–and truth be told, we find these Sundays to be challenging. How much can you say about bread before you are left with no words that are new, fresh, inspiring?

On some level, I have been amused by some of the chatter on Facebook pages, or Instagram, or Twitter, about how some churches still use wafers for Holy Communion instead of “real” bread. I have spent no time entering into these conversations. I prefer the real bread like we use at St. Philip’s (522 Main Street, Laurel, MD), and I like being able to offer gluten-free options, or wafers, for those who need or prefer them.

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To me, real bread has more substance, and I imagine that real bread was what Jesus used. Of course the kinds of bread probably varied. What Jesus handed out among the five thousand out in the Galilean countryside was probably just whatever bread was in the boy’s basket. The kind of bread a mother would put on the table for dinner. For the final supper Jesus had with his disciples, that would have been unleavened bread, because it was Passover. More symbolic.

Bread is bread. On whatever level, bread nourishes, gives life. If well baked, you can dip bread in good olive oil, or spread butter or cheese on it. Maybe you tear it, and hand part to a friend at the table. Maybe you pour a glass of wine, or have a cold iced tea, and then you enjoy something that nourishes your body as good companionship nourishes your soul.

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Jesus talks to people about living bread. About living forever. Eternal life. We hear a lot about eternal life, and various denominations have varying perspectives on what “eternal life” means.

Several years ago, while on sabbatical, I enjoyed a week of writing at Kenyon College (Beyond Walls at Kenyon, now called Kenyon Review.) While there, a man named Tom Ehrich led a plenary one evening. I was impressed with him, and subsequently, I subscribed to his daily reflections. (Note: you should check his website out and see if you would like to get his daily e-mails. Here is the link: http://www.morningwalkmedia.com/about/

Photo above by Vitchakorn Koonyosying on Unsplash

One thing I like about Tom (he lives in the northeast–maybe Vermont or New Hampshire, I have forgotten which) is that he makes scriptural connections to real life. For example, he is learning how to be a volunteer firefighter. I know nothing about these things, so am appreciating more deeply the skills that sort of vocation requires. But he takes a piece of scripture–usually bits from the gospel for the following Sunday–and reflects on them. Helpful. Insightful. Good bread for my soul.

This week, Tom reflected on what “eternal life” means. Here is what he said: “‘Eternal life,’ it seems to me, doesn’t mean a physical existence that somehow never ends, a life’s journey that manages to escape the finality of the grave. ‘Eternal life’ means life with God and thus, life with purpose. The enemy isn’t the grave and whatever dying-time precedes it. The enemy is feeling useless, having no purpose of no value to anyone, not even to God. . .To me, that is what Jesus is promising: a life with God that happens now and extends to wherever God takes it.”

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Photo by McJilton on Isle of Iona in Scotland

So I invite you to reflect today on what “a life with God” looks like for you. What nourishes such a life? For me, community nourishes my life with God. Times of morning silence with a cup of hot coffee nourishes my life with God. A walk on a long path with my camera in hand nourishes my life with God. Breaking bread and drinking wine during the Eucharist with a community of faith nourishes my life with God.

For years, I have thought about “a life with God” on that eternal scale. I have moved far away from “pie in the sky by and by” concepts about life after death. I believe that you and I are already living eternal life. I believe that if God’s will is to be done on earth as it is in heaven, then it is up to you and me to make that happen. We are not to wait for some divine presence to override evil and corruption and the misuse of power in this realm. We are to do whatever we can on our human level, with our God-given skills and talents, to bring justice and peace to this earth. It is our responsibility to care for God’s creation that we have abused. It is our responsibility to love each other, to listen to each other, to make sacred space for “the other,” whomever that may be.

Today, when you break off a piece of bread, or enjoy a sandwich at lunch, I invite you to stop a moment. Give God thanks for physical nourishment. Ask how you might feed someone else in God’s name (hint: that might mean that you bring a can or package of food this next Sunday to church and put in the LARS basket for the local food pantry.) And then make a commitment to come to church this next Sunday to take holy bread and holy wine into yourself, to nourish your soul in the midst of community.

The Eucharistic Prayer we are using this summer at the Sunday 10:15 worship service is Prayer C in the Book of Common Prayer. Part of that prayer includes this petition

“Deliver us from the presumption of coming to this Table for solace only, and not for strength; for pardon only, and not for renewal. Let the grace of this Holy Communion make us one body, one spirit in Christ, that we may worthily serve the world in his name.  Risen Lord, be known to us in the breaking of the Bread.” (BCP, 372)

Come to worship this Sunday and as you hear these words, pray them silently to yourself. Reach out and take God into yourself. Be strengthened. Be renewed. Know that you are part of a greater Body. Know that with God in you, you are already living forever. This, my friends, is eternal life: a life lived in the presence and love of God.

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Photo taken by McJilton on Isle of Iona in Scotland

© The Rev. Dr. Sheila N. McJilton

Most photos in this article accessed at www.unsplash.com

Last two photos taken by McJilton on the Isle of Iona in Scotland

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I am a lifelong musician. What that means is that on some level, music has been part of my life as long as I can remember. Ironically, I do not remember records or music on the radio being played in my childhood home. However, I remember my mother singing in the church choir (yes, I inherited her singing voice) and playing the church organ. I think Mama had some music lessons, but so much of her ability was God-given and self-taught. She could also play “by ear,” which I am not good at doing.

Both my sister and I had piano lessons for about four years, and our teacher taught us the practical aspects of a pianist, as well as some music history about various composers. Mrs. Houchins’ favorite composer was Brahms; mine has always been Bach. Always.

I studied voice, and a little organ (until I sprained my right ankle as I ran down a hill at college because I was late for a make-up call for a production I was in.) Even today, I can play a bit of piano, but only enough to decide that yes, this is a hymn I think will work for us at St. Philip’s or one I want to ask Saunders Allen about. I never loved piano. I loved other instruments more—the organ (the king of instruments, some would say) or a cello or bass or oboe.

3_featheredneststudio_notesThe Value of Notes

I remember the counting of notes. Time signatures of pieces mean something: the number of beats in a measure (the space between the bars) and the value of each note in that measure. The notation of “adagio” or “allegretto” or “largo” or “moderato” tell the musician what pace to keep. Then there are the rests. A rest tells you it is time to pause. Time not to play or sing music. And there are values for these symbols as well.

Funny, isn’t it, how some of the things you learned as a child are never forgotten. I remember that the “half rest” sat lightly on top of a line of music and the “whole rest” was heavier, so it hung below the rest. A “fermata,” which is a pause of unspecified length, was termed as “a bird’s eye” by Mrs. Houchins.

The Rest in Vivaldi’s Gloria

Not long ago, Pat and I leaned up against a wall in Trinity Cathedral in Easton (it was Standing Room Only, and we got there too late to get a seat!), listening to a volunteer choir and small orchestra sing/play Vivaldi’s Gloria. It was stunningly beautiful, and that beauty was made even more exquisite in the short pauses, the rests, between the movements. I found myself grateful that the gathered knew their music etiquette (you don’t applaud between movements of a musical work.) The pauses were as much a part of the music as the notes.

The Rest in our Lives

I think life is like music. You and I so easily forget that deliberate rest, pause, taking a good, deep breath in the midst of our busy lives is as important as the busyness. We think that the more we do, the faster we can accomplish something. Yet a few years ago, while I was on sabbatical, I began to learn that often, if I slow down and become more intentional and mindful, I actually accomplish more. This makes no logical sense. Yet it is true.

While I have come to some peace in my own heart that I will never really live a “balanced” life on some level, I have learned to decide what is essential for me to do and what is just busy work that will please someone else. That meant that I had to take some time to figure out where my own gifts and strengths were, and what others could do better than I. And that did not necessarily mean that another person with a collar, either—that meant that one of my gifts—helping lay people live more fully into your gifts and skills—would be better utilized than I had done before.

il_340x270.1617660849_mt8nThe Fermata: An Unspecified Pause

The rest between music notes also reminds me that we all need to see that “bird’s eye.” That fermata. That unspecified pause. Sometimes it is critical for our well-being (and the well-being of people we love) to stop. To say no to something we have been doing. To re-evaluate. To rest. To breathe deeply and be in a moment where we watch a bald eagle rest in a tall pine tree. To enjoy the sight of a trio of loons swimming nearby in a tranquil Canadian lake. To read a series of novels. To sit down to a leisurely meal with dear friends.

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The Rest between our Notes

Many of us are getting a chance to “rest between the notes” this summer. It may be in a cabin near a lake. It may be feeling sand and surf between your toes. It may be a trip to someplace in the Caribbean, or to Europe. You may be enjoying blueberry pancakes and hikes in Acadia in Maine. Or maybe you are just “resting between the notes” at home, doing some “honey-do” chores.  I also know that because of personal challenges, some of us are just putting one foot in front of the other and struggling to take a deep breath. If this is the case for you, I suggest that you steal some time for your own “rest,” even if it is a tiny one. Call a friend and go to the movies—and yes, splurge on the big container of buttered popcorn. Go to a baseball game or a concert with a friend. Get a 90-minute massage–good for your body and your soul. At the very least, take a refreshing, cold drink or a morning cup of hot coffee, go over to St. Philip’s and just sit—without your phone!—in the Memorial Garden. Then just BE. Breathe in the summer air. Look up and imagine animals in the cloud formations. Even fifteen or thirty minutes may be the rest you need.

God’s Rest. . .and Yours

Remember that when God created the heavens and the earth, God took a day off. The Seventh Day. Sabbath. A day of rest. Are we better than our Creator? No. So take a lesson. Rest between the notes of your life. You will be glad you did.

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(c) The Rev. Dr. Sheila N. McJilton

Images accessed through Google except for the first one of the pianist, which was taken by austin-pacheco-703798-unsplash.jpg. 

The last one? I took that.

#sabbath #rest #music

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Job 38:1-11 and Mark 4:35-41

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Photo by Jon Moore on Unsplash

Chaos in Today’s World

Chaos reigns these days. Chaos reigns in international commerce, with E.U. tariffs on U.S. goods. Chaos reigns in a detention center in Taylor, Texas, at the Mexican border. Chaos embroils most of Washington, D.C. Six weeks after the first eruption, chaos still reigns in Hawaii, with explosive volcanic eruptions. No doubt chaos lies ahead this summer, in the forms of hurricanes, cyclones and tornados.  Noisy chaos fills emergency rooms and trauma centers. Chaos rips families apart with division and estrangements.

What is it about all this chaos? Why does it happen? Why do good people end up in the midst of chaotic storms? Is it some kind of personal punishment for sins committed—whether known or unknown? Is it some kind of cosmic injustice, catapulted through the heavens by way of scatter-shot, sadistic acts?

If you ever wondered where holy scriptures meet real life, look no further today than at the book of Job and the Gospel of Mark.

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Chaos in the Book of Job

In an Old Testament book that likely dates back to the late sixth or early fifth century BCE, the character Job is “blameless and upright” in God’s eyes. Job had ten children: seven sons and three daughters—and in case you didn’t know it, the numbers seven and three were thought to indicate completion in the ancient world. Job had thousands of camels, oxen, donkeys, and many servants. Job was faithful to God. He said his prayers every day. He offered burnt offerings to God every day, because in that time, this was how you asked God’s forgiveness. In fact, Job offered sacrifices for himself and all his children, because he said “It may be that my children have sinned, and cursed God in their hearts.”

Job wanted to make sure he was right with God.  Yet along comes a heavenly being named “Ha-Satan.” (literal Hebrew translation)  In this instance, it is not the little man we think of with horns and a pitchfork, but the Ha-Satan. The Accuser.  In the book of Job, this is someone in God’s imperial service (you could say he’s a master spy in the process of becoming a hostile agent of God’s.) Because of “the Satan’s” taunt to God, Job finds himself in the midst of a chaotic storm. One rival tribe swoops in, kills all but one of the servants, and steals Job’s oxen and donkeys. Another servant shows up to report that the Chaldeans have raided, killed the rest of the servants and stolen the camels. Then a great wind causes the house to collapse, and all ten of Job’s children are killed. Job’s wife says “Do you still persist in your integrity? Curse God and die.” Job calls her foolish. He refuses to curse God for these horrible events.

The Accuser re-appears before God and God brags on Job. Hey, did you see my boy Job? Isn’t he great? He’s so faithful! But the Accuser taunts God: “Skin for skin! All that people have they will give to save their lives. But stretch out your hand now and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will curse you to your face.” God says, “Very well, he is in your power; only spare his life.”[1]

Thus Job finds himself covered with boils, “from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head.”[2] Job doesn’t curse God. Yet Job does curse the day he was born. He rants and rails at God. His three friends show up to sit with him, but none of them prove to be very helpful. Maybe you have all these challenges because you’ve sinned and need to repent. Maybe you’re just full of hot air and speaking foolish words. After all, you reap what you sow.

Through all this chaos, pain, grief and lack of support from people closest to him, Job defends himself—his innocence, his integrity, his right living before God—to these three supposed friends. Then Job acknowledges all the loss he has known, and begs for God’s pity and compassion. He asks his friends, “Why do you, like God, pursue me, never satisfied with my flesh?”[3] In the midst of this storm, we can imagine a sick man rising from the dirt where he sits.

He throws his arms in the air and cries out:

“O that my words were written down!

O that they were inscribed in a book!

O that with an iron pen and with lead

they were engraved on a rock forever!

For I know that my Redeemer lives,

and that at the last he will stand upon the earth;

and after my skin has been thus destroyed,

then in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see on my side,

and my eyes shall behold, and not another.”[4]

Job shakes his fist at God. Job confronts God. What have I done to deserve this? Where are you, anyway? Haven’t I walked with integrity in my life? I have been faithful to my wife. I have loved my children. I have cared for the poor, the widows, the orphans. I have not cursed others. Yet look at me! Here I am, broken, sick, the laughingstock of the village.

Finally, in the final chapters of Job, God shows up. God answers Job. Yet the answer is no answer.  God never really tells Job why all these bad things have happened. Instead, God responds out of a whirlwind, asking this: “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Gird up your loins like a man, I will question you, and you shall declare to me. Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?  Tell me, if you have understanding. . .Who laid its cornerstone when the morning stars sang together and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy?”

God’s answer to Job is to talk about God’s creation, its majesty, its perfection, its awesome constructs. God speaks about light, about darkness, snow, hail, wind, rain, desert, grass. .  the constellations of stars—Pleiades, Orion, the Bear—the clouds, floods of waters, lightning, the seas.  God speaks of mountain goats, deer, the wild ass and oxen, the ostrich, the horse and rider, the hawk, the eagle, the great fish—that Leviathan.

Basically, what God says to Job is this: “I am God, and you are not.”

What Job begins to understand is that no matter what happens in his life, God is there. God has created everything that Job can see. God has created everything Job cannot see, hear, touch or taste.

God is in charge. God is in everything and with everything.

God is with Job, right there in the glorious, splendid cosmos. God is with Job right there in the dust, in the grief, pain, loss and doubts.

At the end of the book of Job, Job prays for his faithless friends, and at that point, God restores Job’s fortunes. Job gets twice what he had lost. His brothers and sisters and all the friends who had deserted him return. Each friend gives Job a piece of money and a gold ring— significant gifts in that time. Job becomes prosperous again. He acquires thousands of sheep, camels, oxen and donkeys. He has seven more sons, and three more daughters. (Note: Job not only names these three daughters—which is in itself significant—he also leaves an inheritance for them as he does for their brothers. This is the only time in the Hebrew scriptures that this happens.)  Job lives to be a very old man, blessed to see four generations before his death.

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Photo by Luke Paris on Unsplash

Chaos in Mark’s Gospel

Chaos also touches real life in Mark’s gospel today. In this story, Jesus and his disciples board a boat to cross the Sea of Galilee–headed to “the other side.” (That expression doesn’t just refer to a geographical border of a lake. It means that Jesus’ ministry is getting broader—beyond his own people.)

On their way to the other side, a great windstorm arises, and waves beat mercilessly against the boat. The storm is fierce. The disciples panic. Where is Jesus? Have you seen him? Oh. There he is! Jesus is back in the stern of the boat. Peacefully asleep on a cushion. What good is he in a storm? How in the world can you sleep through such chaos?  So they shake him awake. “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”

Jesus stands up. He hears the roaring wind. He sees the waves spilling over the edges of the fishing boat. He sees the terrified faces of fishermen who know the sea, and know they are about to die if something doesn’t happen—and fast. We can imagine that “Jesus [rises] to his full height on the stern of the boat in direct confrontation with the raging sea.”[5] Jesus stretches out his arm in a commanding position. Jesus rebukes the storm—using the same word for rebuke that he used when he rebuked unclean spirits in people. “Peace! Be still!” he commands the wind and waters. In this moment, Jesus reveals his true identity to these disciples: Emmanuel. God with us. God is in the boat. The Creator of Heaven and Earth is standing, full height, arms outstretched over the seas that he has created. The created obeys the Creator. The wind ceases. A dead calm turns the raging sea to smooth glass.  The boat stops tossing and turning wildly. In seconds, all you hear is the sound of gentle waves that lap against the boat.

The disciples’ response? Literally, “they feared with a great fear.” Jesus’ disciples are in awe of what they have just witnessed. And why not? We do not ever expect the God of heaven and earth to be standing in the boat with us. Yet that is where God always is. Always.

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In the chaos of our lives. . . in our pain and grief and loss and illness. . .In the chaos of family divisions. . .In the chaos of illness, pain and Emergency Room cubicles. . .      In the chaos of moments when we must confront our own demons in order to hold friends up in their time of need. . .God is in the boat in the dark nights of our souls, when we rant and rail and shake our fist at God, demanding to know why? Why? Why did this happen? Where were you, God, when I needed you?”

God is there. God is always there. You may not hear God or see God or touch God. You may not feel God’s presence at all in the valley of the shadow of death. Yet God is there. The bottom holds, and on the bottom, there is God. I promise you that. [Photo by Kyle Head on Unsplash]

God is in the boat. God holds the boat. God is the boat.

God will carry you and me across the stormy sea, out in the darkness, in our small boats on a wide ocean. God is in the boat with us. So chaos will never reign, because God is in the boat. And it is God who will help us find our way back home. . .to God.

“As for me, I know that my Redeemer lives

and that at the last he will stand upon the earth.

After my awaking, he will raise me up; and in my body I shall see God.

I myself shall see, and my eyes behold him who is my friend, and not a stranger.”[6] Amen.

© The Rev. Dr. Sheila N. McJilton

alex-blajan-362693-unsplash

Photo by Alex Blăjan on Unsplash

NOTE: After preaching this sermon, I played a piece entitled “Movement V: Grace” from a CD entitled The Prayer Cycle by Jonathan Elias. The faces of people in the congregation—thoughtful, pensive, prayerful—was an image I will never forget. It was deeply moving.

james taylor

Movement V: Grace

From The Prayer Cycle, by Jonathan Elias

Father won’t you carry me

For the ocean is wide

Father, won’t you carry me

For my boat is small

 

Father on the moonless night

Help me cross the stormy sea

Out here in the darkness

Help me find my way back home

 

Father won’t you carry me

For the ocean is wide

Father won’t you carry me

For my boat is small

 

Father, in the season of dying

Let me sleep in your arms

And come watch over me

Someone watching over me, over me

 

Father won’t you carry me

Father won’t you carry me

Father won’t you carry me

 

James Taylor (English)

John Williams, Guitar

The English Chamber Chorus (Italian)

Vocal Melody by Michael Sherwood

Guitar Arrangement: Bill Kannengiser

Note: This album/CD is a choral symphony in nine movements, or what Elias refers to as “a set of nine adagio prayers.” He included musicians and artists from all over the world, including Alanis Morissette, Salif Keita, the English Chamber Orchestra, Liz Constantine, the American Boychoir, Linda Ronstadt, James Taylor, Martin Tillman and others. It was released in 1999, and included Elias’ dark visions of where we are headed globally, and of the need for hope as expressed through prayer.

Prayer_Cycle

You can listen to this piece here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pE7x129N9TE

[1] Job 2:4-6.

[2] Job 2:7b.

[3] Job 19:22

[4] Job 19:23-27.

[5] John R. Donahue & Daniel J. Harrington, The Gospel of Mark (Collegeville, MD: Liturgical Press, 2002), 158 as quoted in Thomas D. Stegman’s “Exegetical Perspective” on Mark 4:35-41 in Feasting on the Gospels: Mark, Cynthia A. Jarvis & E. Elizabeth Johnson, Editors, (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2014), 143.

[6] From “The Burial of the Dead, Rite Two” in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer.

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