Monday, October 22, 2018
Turning the Tables
Turning the Tables!
Turning things upside down! That’s the way Jesus seems to go about things, whether its the Tables in the Temple precincts or who gets to be boss versus who gets to be bossed. He says in today’s Gospel that he comes not be be served but to serve. He is the One who washed their feet the night before he died for all. He left an indelible mark upon us. Yet, given our human nature, we seem to forget as soon as we look away.
After all, we have to live, learn, work and play in this world. And in this world there are bosses and those who get bossed around. There are bullies and bullyboys, and those who are bullied. Those are just the facts. The abuse inflicted and suffered in the church, the business world, entertainment and politics is well documented. The #MeToo movement is but the latest manifestation of those who seeks to right the ship. We can only hope for more.
In today’s Gospel, the sons of Zebedee want Jesus to do whatever they ask of him. After all, they were political zealots, the ones who sought the overthrow of the government, and they felt they deserved special seating at the right and left hand of Jesus. I suppose they thought they should wield power from the throne room of God.
They had a case. The occupation force at the time was the distant Roman government, well known for swift reprisals for any uprising or questioning of authority. Jerusalem resented Rome. Jesus own family was driven away from the Bethlehem of his birth, for fear of his life. The slaughter of the Innocents soon ensued. It was a dark time for the folks who sought freedom and self rule. Again and again the brutal oppression of the ruler’s rod is meted out ruthlessly.
The Book of Job deals with the problem of suffering and injustice. Job was a good man. So much so that when God and Satan are pictured as in conversation about the dilemma of the human condition. God says do what you will with my servant Job, but he will never curse me. Satan had a field day with him. He took away his beloved family, his wealth, and finally his health. He visited him with sores so painful that Job could not find a moment’s peace even in his sleep. Job was tormented also by “friends” who tried to explain his condition by postulating that he must have done something to deserve all this…some sin, some offense, some something to deserve the calamity that befell him. Job’s physical torment was now exaggerated by the conversation of those who surrounded him. There was no relief.
Folks, this is the way things are. Things are often upside down. The suffering makes no sense. Lets face it, when we see the good and the righteous suffer, no fault of their own, we cannot help but question God.
Yet when God gives the answer to the questions we raise, there is a turning of the tables and a quaking in the human soul. God asks the questions. We give the answers. In today’s first lesson we read this exquisite Hebrew poetry;
“God answered Job out of the whirlwind:
"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 determined its measurements—surely you know!
Or who stretched the line upon it?
On what were its bases sunk,
or who laid its cornerstone
when the morning stars sang together
and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy?
“Have you commanded the morning since your days began,
and caused the dawn to know its place,
Have you comprehended the expanse of the earth?
Declare, if you know all this.”
Job remembers his rightful place in obedience to God. And God restores Job to all that he had lost and more besides. Jesus also learned obedience through what he suffered, the Epistle tells us. And he became the source of salvation for all who obey him.
When I served as Interim in Sandwich, on the Cape, a faithful woman of the church, took sick and was admitted to Beth Israel for surgery. When they opened her up, what the surgeon saw convinced him that the best thing to do was to sew her up and break the news to her straight on. I went to visit her at her home and she was remarkably collected given the facts as she faced them.
She told me that she had but a few months to live. She talked about having Cindy and me over to tea. She and I both loved “Typhoo Tea”, a popular English brand which we still drink. We had tea and biscuits as time permitted. Then one day with a twinkle in her eye, she said to me; “All I want to know is that there is a Thrift Shop in heaven where I can price items without interference from those who think they know better.”
I told her I’d get back to her on that.
When I returned the following week, I told her that I had good news and on good authority; “Eileen, there is a Thrift Shop in Heaven, and you can price all he items you want without interference within in the department you are assigned for the day.”
She was thrilled to hear the news, and willing to accept reasonable limitations.
Her joy was much like the Psalmist’s joy today;
“Bless the Lord, O my soul; *
O Lord my God, how excellent is your greatness!”
She was obedient to her fate and kept it in her faith.
We played out the Game of Heaven until those last days.
I remember the end. It was Sunday night. We had just arrived home from Sandwich. I had changed into my jammies to watch the Bruins take on the NY Rangers and the phone rang.
It was the head nurse.
She told me the end was near.
I looked up at Cindy and said; “We’ve got to go back to Sandwich. Eileen’s time has come.”
I suited up and off we went into the cold winter’s night. Thankfully, there was no snow, just a cold and bitter wind to fight driving down the Cranberry Highway.
When we arrived, I gave her communion by touching her lips with the host and then I leaned over as I learned years ago and I sang in her ear;
“Jesus loves me, this I know,
for the Bible tells me so.
Little ones to him belong,
they are weak but he is strong.
Yes Jesus loves me,
Yes Jesus loves me
Yes Jesus loves me
The Bible tells me so."
The last to go is the hearing, and those are the words I wanted her to hear in those sacred moments.
I whispered to her that all was in readiness in the Thrift Shop.
You can go anytime now.
The nurse standing by teared up and thanked me and Cindy for coming. We drove back to Lynn.
I’m told it wasn’t long afterward that she died during the night. The nurse expressed profound gratitude for the experience we shared.
God spoke to Job out of the whirlwind.
God knows we suffer. God knows those we love suffer.
God made us the way we are.
God made the world the way it is and nature has her way with us.
And so it was with Jesus too when he suffered and died upon the cross, no fault of his own.
It was the brutal bullying of his own time that became the vehicle through with Salvation has come to us all.
As we say time and again in the heart of the Eucharist.
Christ has died
Christ is risen
Christ will come again.
That the central fact of Faith!
And the coming his again as you and I become the hands and feet of Jesus.
The Breaking of the Bread, a symbol of our brokenness is also a symbol pointing to God’s healing grace and power.
The Tables have turned upside down.
We are here not to be served but to serve.
The very power of the Gospel.
The very power of Jesus the Christ.
In the Name of God, The Most Holy, Undivided, and Everlasting Trinity. Amen