Sunday, August 2, 2009

Pentecost 9 (proper 13), Year B, Sunday August 2, 2009

2 Sam 11:26-12:13a; Psalm 51:1-13; Ephesians 2:11-22; John 6:24-35
Preached by The Rev. Ellen Francis, OSH

The prophet Nathan had a difficult challenge ahead of him. As the designated prophet and conscience of King David, he had the responsibility of “speaking the truth in love” to the King, and sometimes had to tell the King things he clearly did not want to hear. Nathan spoke “the truth” this time by telling the King a story.

He told the story of a poor man who had a lovely lamb who was to him like a daughter. A rich man seized this lamb and prepared it for a banquet. The story is so clearly one of injustice and improper use of power. King David couldn’t help but be offended, and declared that this man should make restitution for his injustice.

In much fear and trembling we can be sure, Nathan then exclaimed, “You are the man!” It’s not easy to hold up a mirror to a King. Sometimes it takes a neutral story to pave the way, and make the King himself declare such a deed to be a sin.

Recently, a mirror of truth was held up to me. Four Sundays ago our Epistle reading was from 2 Corinthians, and I preached on the passage “Power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor 12:9b). I spoke about Jesus’ experience of weakness when he came to his hometown of Nazareth and when he was unable to do any deeds of power. I spoke about our giving over authority and power to Jesus.

Two days later I was in the hospital, flat on my back, stuck like a pincushion with tubes and wires going everywhere. Out of the blue, I had had some sort of a heart incident, and was kept in the hospital for several days while the doctors measured and scanned and injected. I’m sure I glowed in the dark for a few days afterwards. After I was sent home, I had a bad reaction to something I was given or something I caught in the hospital. So, I was flat on my back at home for quite a while longer.

There wasn’t much to do except sleep, feel nauseous and still dream about food, and to start thinking, why is this happening to me? Why right now? Where is God in all this? Ummm, what was it I said in my sermon about power being made perfect in weakness?

This was a very new experience for me. It was a major wake-up call to slow down, eat more consciously and deliberately, take care to find time to rest, to learn to say “No, I can’t do that; not me, not this time”. I couldn’t help but look closely into the mirror that God was holding up to me.

There was also lots of time for prayer. There were sisters, and several people from St. Augustine’s, and doctors who prayed with me. I prayed to be well again, but especially I prayed to learn what the message was that God wanted me to hear. What should I be seeing in the mirror besides “You’re running on empty! Slow down!

I found that admitting my weakness was the first step in looking into that mirror. Then it became possible to give over power and strength and authority to Jesus and trust that he would take care of me and everything else that I wasn’t getting done. He would see that I was healed, as much as possible right now. He would see my weakness and frustration, and stay with me. He would see that I was held in love while I tried to understand and accept a new way of being in the world.

I’m not finished praying through this recent experience, and I’ve only started trying to figure out how to live with better stewardship of my health. Having always been over involved and over committed, it’s going to be a huge life change. And, I haven’t yet understood why God would give me the great blessing of serving here at Saint Augustine’s, and then find that I’m required to give it back for a time. A blessing may be even more special and precious when we acknowledge that it’s a temporary gift.

I think God sometimes calls us to be patient with not knowing. The very surrender of our own authority makes space for God to lead us gently in God’s own time to acceptance and peace, knowing that God’s bountiful spirit will sustain us always.

Some time ago, one of my sisters put a sign on the fridge in the convent that said, “You are not responsible all the time for absolutely everything. That’s my job. Love, God”. In my mind, I know that we are really not in charge. Through this experience, I’m starting to learn to take that message home and to let Jesus be in charge.

We see Jesus in charge especially in the Gospel of John. Just as different people may see and report the same events very differently, so the Gospel of John presents a special portrait of Jesus, somewhat different from the other Gospels. In the Gospel of John, Jesus is even more authoritative, and he speaks with intimate knowledge of God’s will. It’s as if he is speaking from the mountain of the Transfiguration throughout the Gospel. He stands apart from the disciples and people, and he declares who he is through metaphors, such as: “I am the bread of life”.

The manna was food for a transitional time. The bread of life is food for the soul, for all time. It is nourishment that sustains us through any difficulty or suffering or grief, even to eternal life.

What is most important is that Jesus is present among us and he offers to be for us the bread of life. That is the beginning and the end, and from that place of trust and confidence, we can go on to ask forgiveness, to serve and minister, and to grow as the Body of Christ. We are not followers of Christ because we do the good things we ought to do, but rather we can learn to walk in love and serve because first we follow Him.

Whatever suffering we may face, or sins we may have committed, or work we may have left undone, or despair we may feel – we will always have this promise from Jesus: “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” (John 6:35)

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