I remember being told as a child that God is everywhere. I think that was meant to be reassuring, although to tell you the truth, it could also be a little scary.
Now as an adult, I do hold onto that assurance of God’s enduring presence as one of the fundamentals of my faith, but I’ve also come to realize that there are places where I experience that divine presence in a way that feels especially real and immediate, and I don’t think I’m alone in that. Some people might feel that way here in church, while for others it’s more likely to happen when they’re out somewhere enjoying the beauty of nature.
And sometimes it’s only later that we realize that we’ve encountered the living presence of God in a place where that was totally unexpected.
That’s what happens to Martin the cobbler in a short story called “Where Love Is, God Is,” by the Russian author Leo Tolstoy.
Martin is a humble sort of fellow, an honest man and a hard worker, but his life has been touched by grief. His wife dies, leaving him a three-year-old son to raise alone; all of their other children had died in infancy. He isn’t sure how he’ll manage to take care of this child by himself, and he considers sending the boy away to his sister, but then he has second thoughts. He’s worried about how difficult it would be for the child to live with a strange family, and so he decides to keep the boy and do the best he can to raise him.
When I was a kid, I liked to sit very quietly in the shadows when my parents got together with aunts and uncles for the holidays, just listening to their stories, hoping they wouldn’t even notice I was there, so they’d tell the real stories, with all the details.
They talked about relatives I would never know, and others I had met but could barely remember, because they died when I was still very young, and somehow I sensed that all those little bits of information about who they were was also part of who I am.
Lately I’ve been working on my family tree again, trying to flesh out those stories, connecting individuals and tracing those connections back to ancestors I’d never even heard of. In one part of family now I can go back seven or eight generations, to the 1600s.
“’You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
Today we begin those couple of Sundays people like to call “stewardship season.” That isn’t really a very good name, but it is a convenient shorthand. Church people know what it means: You’re going to get a letter with a pledge card and a deadline for returning it, and for the next couple of Sundays the sermon’s going to be about giving in support of your parish.
But good church people should know that true stewardship has no season. It’s not a synonym for fund-raising.
It’s a way of life that begins with recognizing God’s abundant generosity, and it’s all about our grateful response. It’s about how we use what we’ve been given in all areas of our lives. It’s about how we spend our money. It’s about how we use the abilities we’ve been given. It’s about how we care for the earth.
The city of Assisi in Italy is built halfway up a low mountain in the region of Umbria, and when you approach it from a distance it’s strikingly beautiful. What you see is this long expanse of white buildings, and in the sunlight they have a pinkish glow. You have to go up the mountain to get to the city, and you can’t park or drive in the middle of it, and so when we visited last year, we parked at one end of the town and then walked down the main street to the other. The first place we stopped was the church that contains the font where St. Francis supposedly was baptized toward the end of the twelfth century. From there we went on to the place where they now have the San Damiano cross, that famous cross before which Francis was kneeling in prayer when God gave him the commission to rebuild the church. And finally, at the far end, we came to the Basilica of St. Francis, where Francis is buried. Now to get into the basilica, you have to go through a checkpoint that’s guarded by armed soldiers. And I couldn’t help wondering what Francis would think if he came back and found that he had been buried in such a grand place, and found it protected by armed soldiers. …
Offered in the spirit of St. Francis of Assisi, whose feast we celebrate today:
“Love all God’s creation, the whole and every grain of sand in it. Love every leaf, every ray of God’s light. Love the animals, love the plants, love everything. If you love everything, you will perceive the divine mystery in things. Once you perceive it, you will begin to comprehend it better every day.”
~ from The Brothers Karamazov, by Fyodor Dostoevsky
What do you suppose would happen If Jesus showed up at the Senate Prayer Breakfast this week? In person. Would they let him in? Do you think they’d even recognize him?
If he showed up looking like this, I think probably they’d have no trouble recognizing him. This is actually a detail from a larger picture, and in it he’s wearing a long tunic, which is pure white and perfectly clean, even though it’s dragging on the ground by about four inches. He has nice light brown hair, and actually has blue eyes, but I think the dead giveaway is the halo.
But what if he showed up looking like this guy? This is a forensic reconstruction that was done a few years ago, and it’s supposed to show what a typical Gallilean of Jesus’ time would look like, so it might be pretty close to what he really did look like. His hair’s a little untidy, and like anyone from that part of the world, he has dark skin and brown eyes. I suspect that if he showed up at the Capitol, they’d want to check this guy out pretty carefully before they let him go anywhere.
And what if he showed up looking like this? This is just a young guy in a suit. And when I first saw this, I thought, no, that couldn’t be Jesus, he’s too young. But think about it: he never really got out of his early 30s. If he were here on Earth today, why wouldn’t he put on a suit and tie and look like one of us? That’s exactly what he did the first time, after all. And if he did, I think we’d have an awfully hard time recognizing him. The only way to tell who he really was would be by how he acted, and how he used his authority.
Today’s readings are all about actions and authority. First we heard Paul’s description of the self-giving love of Jesus, the paradoxical way he manifested his authority through a series of actions that looked more like giving up authority. And then we witness this encounter between Jesus and the chief priests and elders at the temple in Jerusalem, where they challenged Jesus to name the source of his authority.
We’re going to be talking about recovery, and grace, and hope today.
Everywhere that Jesus went, the crowds came after him. The sick and the suffering followed him. There was no other urgent care station for them. They couldn’t check into the family practice around the corner. In fact, whatever pain they were carrying, they really had very little hope of being healed, except through this healer who walked among them. And that’s why the crowds came after him. they brought their pains to Jesus, and he healed them.
Healing was at the very heart of his ministry, and when he sent his disciples out on mission, he gave them the most simple basic direction. he told them to go and proclaim the good news and heal.
Today we have so many miracles of modern medicine, we call them. We have resources to heal us in amazing ways, and yet as much as things change, some things remain the same. We carry a lot of pain. There is a lot of need for healing. We live with so many chronic illnesses. …