Saturday, April 21, 2012

Oh That We Might See Better Times

“Oh that we might see better times!”
Psalm 4:6
God knows there’s plenty to complain about. Even the weather has turned foul. We’ve witnessed a terrific spate of tornadoes over the past few weeks, and many have been left homeless and too many dead and injured. Please remember the Episcopal Relief and Development Fund to help those in need.
The tenor of our political discourse has little to commend itself. The anemic economic recovery is a bit discouraging. What concerns me most is that our young people are facing a very uncertain future concerning jobs, and I can’t honestly say that either political party has its act together in terms of offering real hope. Politicians offer promise but not much in the way of performance.
The Scripture says, “Come let us reason together!” Whether that is in Congress, the Middle East, Labor or Management, The European Debt Crisis, Questions of Global seems that we prefer idealogical posturing over a more humble and honest conversation. “Come let us Reason together” 
This won’t do! “You mortals how long will you dishonor my glory and how long will you worship dumb idols and run after false gods!” (Psalm 4:2) God’s getting a bit riled up over this.
Idolatry begins with my willfulness. Notice the Lord’s Prayer takes at its heart the notion “Thy will be done”. And Jesus in the Garden says to God; “Not my will, but Thy will be done”. Idolatry is the self seeking willfulness without regard to the others.
This is why we must gather together week by week.
I taught my Communion Class this morning that we begin in church with gathering. Without gathering we can have no church. And if we stop going because we cannot have our way, we diminish the Body of Christ, and our hearts sink.
Is it any surprise that as church attendance declines, depression becomes more rampant? It is tough enough to keep up our spirits with each of us cheering one another on, but when we sink into loneliness and become solitary we take on a whole new battle.
That’s depressing.
What cheers me up is the moment when I enter the Holy Place. When you enter a Mosque, you must remove your shoes. When you enter a Synagogue, you must wear a yarmulke, and when you enter a church you must remove your hat, unless you’re a lady. You may wear yours. I remember when I was younger that all these rules were strictly adhered to. And that it was necessary to dress formally with your Sunday best and present yourself to God at your finest.
We’re a bit more flexible these days.
But still there is the matter of gathering. We cannot honor God unless we come together. We sing our songs, we say our prayers, we listen to God’s Word and tell God’s Story. And when we offer our Gifts to God we say an extraordinary thing; 
“Lift up your hearts!”
And the people reply; “We lift them up to the Lord!”
God cheers us with the knowledge that Jesus is here in our midst. He appears to us in this Sacrament. We take bread to eat, we take wine to drink. Jesus asks for a piece of fish to demonstrate he is real. Jesus is no ghost. And in those rare moments when the appearance of Jesus becomes urgent, necessary, or surprising, our experience of God takes on a very special significance. Crisis of any sort brings us in contact with our humanity and our vulnerability, and we get scared, or even terrified as the disciples were in today’s Gospel lesson, we may also come into the presence of God. “Oh God!” is often the only prayer we can say in a moment of crisis. If we’re really scared we might say something else.
That’s why when I gather with you I practice the Presence of God Sunday by Sunday (or Saturday by Saturday), and I carry on that practice every day, every moment, so far as it is possible, so that when we gather again we do in fact “Lift up our hearts to God”.
I make this my practice because I know all too well that when those moments of terror strike, I need a Rock to hold onto. I’ve seen it in recently in my own son’s struggle for recovery after a stroke. I’ve seen it a thousand times as a parish priest as folks deal with one crisis after another.
That’s when I see Jesus. That's when the eyes of our faith open. In recovery one day with my son, while were doing some physical therapy and stretching his arms and hands and fingers, the old hymn came to me; “Awake my soul, stretch every nerve”. I sang a verse with him and we began to laugh! We’re both Anglophiles and it did sound so much like a moment in an episode of the Vicar of Dibley. We laughed all the more.
Awake, my soul, stretch every nerve,
And press with vigor on;
A heavenly race demands thy zeal,
And an immortal crown,
And an immortal crown.
Ah yes, you want to see better times? Then be here right now, in this moment. And see that Christ is truly present to lift up your hearts, "to heal the sick, bring good news to the poor, release to the captives, sight to the blind and freedom to the oppressed". (Luke 4:18)
In case the politicians forget what the scripture says; you remind them. Remember, like Jesus, you too have been anointed to bring Good News.
By living this way, you have a good shot at living as Jesus wants you to live, abundantly, joyously, courageously. 
You may become discouraged and frightened some times along the way, don’t be surprised by that, you like Jesus are human. But you are also a Child of God, just as the scripture says you are; “But see what love the Father has given us that we should be called the children of God. (I John 3:1)  
Oh yes, cheer up my friends or as the faithful folks have been saying for two thousand years; “Lift up your hearts”.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Fr. Paul

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