For those of us lucky enough to be here last Sunday, we heard Bishop Melissa interpret the readings of the day using the example of how reassured we feel when we hear the words: Help is on the Way after calling 911 in an emergency. She used this example to demonstrate the help that God made available to each and every one of us through his death, resurrection, and the gift of spirit to the world he left behind. God is the ultimate 911 provider. God does provide the help we need to navigate the windstorms of life….and all we have to do is pray the call AND listen for the answer.
Today’s readings show us how that spiritual help comes to us. In our first reading, we hear the story of the disciples witnessing Jesus ascension to heaven: his final departure after he had appeared to them many times to teach them the important lessons of his ministry in the days following the crucifixion. Our second reading from Peter is a letter that he wrote to fledgling Christian communities who were being persecuted by the Romans who were fearful of the Christian talk about other kingdoms. This is a letter of support and survival advice. And finally, our Gospel story is John telling us about how Jesus prepared his disciples for his leaving, affirming the resurrection covenant and promising the gift of spirit that would remain in the world after his departure.
I can’t begin to imagine the despair his disciples felt after the crucifixion: This man, their friend and teacher whom they’d studied and travelled with through three years of ministry: this man for whom they gave over their lives to follow in his way: this man surrendered to a horrible execution. I can’t imagine what Saturday, the day after the crucifixion felt like. I can only dimly imagine the joy they felt seeing him again when he reappeared to them over the ensuing weeks as Christ fulfilled his promise of personally demonstrating the joyful Easter message:
- Love transcends death,
- Spirit survives bodily death
- and that the part of us which is most “human” is not the body at all….but the spirit, made in God’s image which dwells in each and every one of us.
Many centuries later, the theologian Teillard de Chardin said” we are not humans on a spiritual journey, rather we are spiritual beings on a human journey”……..I think he got it right and the messages in our readings today are the instruction manual we need to master the challenges that face us on our human journeys. We are spiritual beings…on a human journey….
In the early years after Jesus’ death, people faced Persecution, inequity, slavery, starvation, poverty, disease. Our 2014 world isn’t that much different. We have poverty in our community….we have children going to school without food, we have cancer and we have persecution…This past week a 27 year old woman gave birth to a baby girl in a prison in Khartoum…Meriam Ibrahim, mother to big brother Martin and now to newborn Maya is sentenced to death for refusing to renounce her Christian faith. When she finishes breastfeeding (she’s allowed two years) she will be executed unless the Sudanese government can be persuaded to change it’s mind….Rape and honor killings abound in Pakistan and World vision is trying to stop the sale of 6 years olds into slavery in the sex trade, agricultural and factory work…..Elliot Rogers is the most recent of mass murderers in North America We permit economic imbalance that keeps people in poverty, we have gang warfare on our streets, we marginalize people who don’t fit the “mold”. There is more than enough evil today just as there was in the times of the early Christians to whom Peter was writing. Listening to this list can be despairing but I don’t want to get distracted by pointing fingers of easy blame at either a religion, a political party, or a culture.
The point I want to make is that when human beings lose real connection with God; when they forget or don’t realize they have a 911 connection with God; when humans rely on their own intelligence and ego-driven behaviours to solve personal or communal problems: bad things happen.
As good people, we struggle to be socially responsible. We volunteer in the community. We ride for cancer or jump for heart health and we walk in political protests. We join churches and sometimes we leave them when our church experience doesn’t magically make it all better. We get stuck in the Saturday of the Easter story. We keep looking “out there” for the great “fix-it” . We wait for Christ to come again to put it all right. But the solution isn’t out there. The solution is in the promise of Easter, that God would always be with us; that help is not on the way: it is already here”. The solution is within us. We need to learn to connect with God.
When Jesus was overwhelmed by the world he went away by himself to commune with God. The desert fathers and mothers that gave birth to the faith traditions that have survived millennia used silence to discern the will of God. Saints and mystics all through the ages have similarly retreated from the world to get quiet, to still the busy mind and connect with the voice within, to connect to spirit our 911 help.
Our world today is noisier than ever. Our thinking circuits get regularly overloaded by the 24-hour news cycle; the frantic pace to get everything done: music, traffic, emails, stress and insomnia. You know the drill. It is a malignant creep of noise and distraction.
We are becoming aware that our intelligence and all our busyness is not enough. Moving fast is not the same as going somewhere. We are exhausted and overwhelmed and we don’t know where to begin some days. We need that connection with God our higher power: the wise, organizing, loving, energy of God. Alcoholics Anonymous has known it since its inception. Our forefathers knew it as our own national anthem asks God to keep our land, glorious and free. It is interesting that these spiritual concepts were embedded at a time when there was more quiet time; more thinking time. But as we’ve grown more impressed with our own intelligence and become more secular we are losing this common knowledge.
We need to regain it through personal encounters with God. Our scriptures today tell us to cast all our cares and anxieties on God because he cares for us: to trust that our spirit will survive death and that he Holy Spirit is present among us to help us on the journey. Applying this help is easier if we learn to “practice the presence of God” through contemplative or listening prayer. We need to learn to “Be Still, to listen and thereby know God.”
This is why we have contemplative services at regular intervals. This is why we have contemplative prayer groups in the parish and why spiritual retreats are necessary to recharge our batteries. It is in the stillness that we can clear our heads from the distracting noise of the world; where we can still our busy minds and begin to hear the language of God, which will reveal the way. It is the missing piece of our spiritual journeys, which is gradually being replaced in Christianity today.
Through regular practice of contemplative prayer we will learn to discern scripture with out hearts; we will discover how to apply the wisdom of scripture to our lives and we will manifest Christ in the world. The help is at hand and it is the survival skill necessary to help us deal with the spiritual issues that face us on our human journeys.
Get quiet. Call 911. Practice the presence of God. Live the Easter Sunday gift. Help is, indeed, available.
This is the good news of the gospel this day. May all praise be to God.