8:15 AM Holy Eucharist
in-person: indoor registration required
9:30 AM Holy Eucharist
in-person: outdoor registration required
10:45 AM Holy Eucharist
in-person: indoor registration required
Please visit our Grace@Home page for details, links, and to see all the ways we are staying connected to one another, to Grace, and to God!
422 Brenau Avenue, Gainesville, GA 30501
This homily is #5 in our Lenten sermon series, Essentials of Prayer.
We have looked at prayer in our bodies; prayer in the face of suffering; and prayer as our very life. Today, we look at prayer that reveals, that pulls back the curtain, allowing to us to see the surprising path toward our own recovery.
We all know the “curtain” reference from the Wizard of Oz, the moment when a frustrated and very homesick poor little Dorothy begins to rail against the great and powerful Oz, withering beneath his smoke and amplified voice shouting her down. Only to have her little dog Toto pull back the curtain on a surprisingly ordinary man posing as something he clearly is not.
In truth, what he “is not” is the scary all powerful terrifying Oz. What he “is”, is the fraudster she encountered when she attempted to run away from the conflicts and drama of her life at home.
And, in that moment when she feels that now, after all she has been through, after all she has fought against — flying monkeys, an evil witch, and traveling companions as broken and lost as she is — her last greatest chance at recovery rests on this person who turns out to be nothing “special”.
And yet, it is what he shows her in his own actual self that gives her the clues to complete the journey to where she’s going.
Because prayer is a state of being as well as a practice, being present in prayer is to resume a journey through our practice of aligning our bodies and souls and minds with God’s. In that light, today we want to look at prayer as the practice that has the possibility of pulling back the curtain on our suffering for us to see that this suffering is the unmistakable path by which our own healing will come; that is, to gaze upon the very thing that has bitten us in order to be healed.
Does that mean that we give thanks for suffering? Not exactly. But, we can give thanks that God is present with us in our suffering and there will be recovery on the other side. And we absolutely give thanks for the lessons we learn in our suffering, lessons that apparently we were never going to learn any other way.
Does it mean that God “sends us suffering”? I will answer that with another question: Why can’t the God who made both light and dark and declared it “good” also use a “ray of dark” to help us see our own circumstances more clearly, especially if that’s what it takes to get us unstuck?
“The people became impatient on their way to the Promised Land and spoke against God — who created them for his own companionship — and they spoke against Moses — who risked his own life to come back and get them —complaining about the food — the manna that appeared fresh every day, that they didn’t have to work for or even save some for the next day. Food that was just coming to them. On their way to a homeland that was being given to them. And yet they became impatient.”
So, what happens when we are praying and during the time when we finally stop talking but remain in a prayerful state, we start to notice the snakes that have slithered into the opening created by our impatience with God?
Well, my first impulse is to move to a quick “In Jesus name we pray, amen!” and get busy doing something else. But, the truth is that there is no amount of pulling that curtain closed again that will allow me to un-see what the Spirit has just shown me. And only by paying attention to it can I get past it.
So, let’s look a little more closely at the text. My translation of this text says they spoke “at” God and they spoke “at” Moses. And they said “We loathe this miserable food” that God has provided us each day.
What happens when we talk “at” someone instead of “with them”? Well, as any marriage counselor will attest, the answer is, “Nothing good!” They say they have no food or water, but that’s not true. They have what they need, but they don’t like it. They somehow imagine that they are “dying” out in the wilderness. But they are not. And so God shows them how blessed they are by allowing some of the real wilderness to reach them.
And when it reaches them, God says, “If you want to live, fix your minds on this event so that you can get your head back in the right place.” (Also my translation.)
Compassion for their suffering in Egypt was God’s motivation to rescue them. Compassion for the suffering of the whole world is Jesus’ motivation to be lifted up on that cross just like the serpent in the wilderness. If we focus only on our suffering, we will miss the compassion, the love of God, that is guiding us, present with us, through whatever wilderness we are in, and feeding us all along the way.
Perhaps an eleventh commandment should be “Thou shalt not loathe the bread with which God feeds you today.”
So many times in life, God’s graciousness to us shows up in these prayerful moments when the Spirit reveals to us how dismissive we have become of the very circumstances that are feeding us, sustaining us, even when what we hope for is not within our view of the horizon.
Ask any parent whose children are grown, how fast did the years go that were so filled with long days. Ask any retired person what they would give for one more day in their vocation filled with challenges and the companionship of working alongside their colleagues. Ask any Eagle or Gold Scout whether it was the patch or the project that they remember.
This season of pandemic is coming to an end. The promised land is on our horizon. We may have grown loathsome of viewing these tiny screens and wearing these cloth masks. Doubtless we have often shifted from talking with God to talking at God. And I, for one, will say that I’ve been bitten more than once by the snakes of my impatience.
And eventually the sting of that brings me up short, and I see how much I am rushing past; that is, the blessings of this particular season in life that will never recur, and that I want to slow down and experience for just that reason.
How many times has our impatience with God turned what should have been a fairly quick journey into a forty-year long one? The manna of these days is bread that we will not receive again in this form. Milk and honey will make its way to our tables again ere long. But, for now, for this part in the journey, this path that we are on, the path that we, pray God, never take again, may God help us to be grateful for what presently sustains and feeds us, and thankful for hearing the snakes’ rattle in time to avoid more bites.
The Rev. Dr. Cynthia Park
Fourth Sunday in Lent
March 14, 2021