Sermon for the Ninth Sunday after Pentecost

August 7, 2022

Texts: Genesis 15:1-6; Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16; Luke 12:32-40

After twenty-eight months, though people are inclined to think otherwise, the pandemic still goes on. Like a Broadway show that continually draws audiences, the curtain has not yet come down on this drama. Though lately it’s become mostly a temporary inconvenience, this virus can still kill and does still compromise some people’s health for a surprisingly long time.

There’s a strong impulse to just move on. Many have, of course, and perhaps you are one of them. No judgment here. But what have we learned, (or are we still learning) if anything, from this mis-adventure?

At the outset of the pandemic Richard Rohr, the Franciscan founder of the Center for Action and Contemplation in Albuquerque wrote that the global disruption has been like a traditional rite of initiation. It presents us with five lessons necessary to enlarging our view of our place in heaven and earth and finding meaning in life as it comes to us rather than as we imagine it should be.

The lessons are: life is hard; you are not important; your life is not about you; you are not in control; you are going to die. As postmodern, western people these are negative and unpleasant lessons. Why grapple with our anxiety, grief, and pain?

Navigating these lessons helps us align to reality, our belonging in it, and to remain grounded in the trustworthiness of God. These hard lessons have positive spiritual counterparts. When we face them, they deepen our souls and give us resilience.

So, life is hard. It’s painful. Our temptation is to try to fix suffering or blame it on others. But this isn’t good for our souls. Loss and renewal is creation’s pattern of wisdom. Suffering opens us to new experiences. It transforms us.

If we are not transformed by pain, we transmit it to others. Jesus accepted suffering. He refused to be rescued from it. He invited his followers to learn from it for the sake of their souls.

So, you are not important. The virus has shown us our vulnerability. It has been hard to acknowledge the need of the whole world along with what we desire for ourselves. The small self, the ego, clings to its own importance. We want what we want. Like Abram complaining that his life had no meaning without an heir. Was he not satisfied just to be alive?

God redirected Abram to a vision that was greater. He would have descendants of flesh, yes. But also descendants of faith, in right relationship with God. This was God’s invitation for Abram to forget his immediate self. He could grow his sense of self and rejoice in the larger whole of humanity and creation. And to his soul’s credit, Abram did exactly that.

So, your life is not about you. This lesson flows from the previous one. We do not belong to ourselves. Instead, we belong to life. This is hard to accept. It requires an enormous transformation in our thinking.  Yet we thrive when we embrace this.

See, the point is that we let go of being the center of our universe. We don’t hold everything together after all. We are one part of the whole. And that whole is God.

The writer of the letter to the Hebrews tackles this idea. The gospel of Jesus isn’t a moral code or a dogma. Jesus taught that we don’t have the burden of judging everyone, solving every problem, or being perfect. This is grace, and mercy. It frees us in faith. Grasping this, the spirit can fill us and move us in new directions.

Hebrews reminds us that we are travelers passing through this life. Our citizenship is within the mystery of God. And God is absolutely with us in everything.

So, you are not in control. Practically speaking we can argue that being in control is a good thing. We put enormous value upon controlling our circumstances. Taking control of our jobs. Our finances. Our destiny.

But in a greater sense we are not in control. One of the huge struggles in the pandemic has been that we can’t control this virus. We can only learn to live with it.

It has controlled our destiny, and that of our loved ones too. We’ve pushed back. Health care workers, governments, are regularly accused of taking undue liberties with our liberties. And there is even a kind of truth to this.

This virus has delivered a large dose of humility and loss. We take great care and yet the infection still strikes us or someone we love. We’ve lost the certainty we had about our ability to gather safely, to travel freely; to count on life being as we expected it to be.

However. This is where every spiritual walk begins. Great teachers of faith all began here themselves. Feel free to think of the one(s) you most admire. But it’s not about choosing your guide, which is control again. It’s about being open to the leading of the one whom God appoints. And trusting that our guide will lead us into God’s wisdom and truth.

So. You are going to die. Death is the enemy. We do a lot to fight this enemy. We do battle with medicine, with vitamins and exercise, and with delaying tactics. For us even the idea of death is painful. And Covid has only increased our apprehensions.

From the beginning Jesus embraced death as the only path toward resurrection and unlimited life in God. Jesus kept trying to bring up the subject of his death with his disciples. Three times they chose a distraction. Spare us the pain, please Jesus!

But Jesus tells us over and over that it’s okay. It’s going to be okay. Blessed are those whose souls are prepared, whose treasure (that would be life, right?) is safely hidden in God…in heaven’s vault. The alternative is to live in fear of the thief that comes at the unexpected hour.

But remember how when you were small and afraid in the night, your parents turned on the light for you? The Light is Jesus. Do not be afraid little flock. God is our whole life, all our good, our source and our destiny.