Counter Cultural Calm and Comfort-All Souls

  • All Soul’s Day – Isaiah 25: 6-9, Ps 27: 1-9,13-14, Romans 5:5-11, John 6: 37-40


Tuesday afternoon, I sat with a bedridden elderly woman. I was just beginning to introduce myself to some residents at a nursing home.  I had no information about this woman other than a staff person suggesting she might enjoy a visit.  So I asked, “How’s it going for you?”

Her eyes began to form tears. “Oh, my husband, he’s here, he has dementia, Alzheimer’s.  He sits in a wheel chair and he just talks nonsense…he was never that way before.”   She made no mention of it, but it was clear she had her own health issues too.

We talked for a few minutes about the strain of watching a beloved spouse’s health deteriorate. I asked her: would she like to have me read to her out the Bible.  “Yes”, she nodded.  So I opened to Psalm 103, and read of the goodness of God, about God’s love and faithfulness, compassion and mercy.  She grew visibly calmer as I read.  “Oh, thank you,” she breathed.  The Bible I had with me was donated by the Gideon’s, and I left it with her.  Those free Gideon Bibles have a well-deserved reputation for helping people who are overwhelmed by life.

It’s very easy, and entirely normal, to forget God’s love when crisis strikes.   But in every section of the Bible, we can find reminders of the tender love God has for us, all of us.  Today one of our reading is from Isaiah, a Hebrew prophet who lived some 800 years before Christ.  It speaks of the Lord ending death and grief and tears on the earth, and offers assurance that the Lord will save us.  Then the Psalmist writes, “The Lord is my light and my salvation……..wait for the Lord with courage.”

Years later, St. Paul declared with great certainty that we will not be disappointed by our hopes in God.  Wearied by the sound bites of politicians, we need to be reminded of this!  Paul says, “But God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us…we are justified and saved through him…”  Paul adds, “We also boast of God.”  Now, if you have read much of St. Paul, you know when Paul says you can boast of something, he means it’s rock solid, without a doubt.

But if you might have any remaining doubt about hoping in God, our Gospel will dispel it.  John quotes Jesus saying, “…Everyone who sees the Son and believes in him may have eternal life, and I shall raise him up on the last day.”

All Soul’s Day is about remembering those who have gone before us; those we miss, those we will mourn for the rest of our lives. But this day calms us, and draws us back from the pain of loss to the comfort of God’s love.  It is almost counter-cultural to remember that God didn’t make us disposable. We are eternal beings.  It is absolutely counter-cultural to say that we are eternal beings, but we still don’t know very much at all about eternity.  And it is probably close to anti-cultural to say that we don’t need to know more about eternity than we already know.  What do we know?  We know Eternity is real, prepared and waiting for you and me and those we love, and it will be beyond anything experienced in this life.

So, today we rejoice in life. We light candles to remind us of eternal life; their light breaks through the darkness of doubt.  We delight in the memory of those who have been born into eternity, even as we remain here for a time, and we continue to share the love of God.


11th Sunday in Ordered Time

Posted in christian, Christianity, ecclesiology, homily, inspirational, religion, Resurrection, scripture, Word by Rev. Martha on June 11, 2015

11th Sunday in ordered time year B, 6-14-15; Ez 17: 22-24, Ps 92, 2Corth 5:6-10, Mk 4:26-34

The first part of the Book Of the Prophet Ezekiel is a harsh indictment of the leaders and people of Israel. The Babylonians had killed the king of Judah, and King David’s line had ended. But our reading today is a promise of hope and assurance of God’s continuing promise of a messiah. It uses a poetic symbol of the cedar tree.


So we need to know a little about cedar trees. The cedar tree is a picture of strength. Cedar is beautiful red hardwood, highly prized for building, used for beams, pillars, ceilings and furniture. Cedars grow up to 150’ or higher (2 or 3 times taller than oak tree), with a circumference of 40’ or more. Cedars are evergreens, deeply rooted, and the spread of their branches exceeds their height creating a refuge for birds and other animals. Cedars are an Old Testament image of a powerful kingdom sheltering its people.


God tells Ezekiel that he will take just a tender shoot from the very top of a cedar tree, and he will plant it in on top of a mountain (a holy place) in Israel. From this tiny shoot will grow a majestic cedar tree (an image of a messiah who brings eternal life, ending sin and suffering). This tree will provide shelter for “birds of every kind” (people from every nation). From this we are to understand that God is Lord of all creation. God is the God of all trees, all life; God is in control. So when the world of the Israelites seems out of control, when their last hope for a new Kingdom of David (the promise of “forever”) seems out of reach, God acts. God takes a small shoot, like a tiny baby, seemingly insignificant, and makes something strong to protect and to provide for his people.


We seem to have a kind of inborn “memory loss” – we seem to need God to regularly remind us of the Promises we have been given. Most of the harmful things we do to each other and to ourselves are based in the fear that it won’t “all work out.” But God does not, cannot forget us. God promises to hold us in the very palm of his hand, to have us as the “apple of his eye”, to dwell with us for eternity. Look at the last two chapters of Isaiah, when God says, “ I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; there shall always be rejoicing and happiness in what I create.” God also gives us the ability to create anew, to change our actions and choices when things go badly.


Because we must feel our way through life with faith, without clear sight to guide us, we must guard against that “memory loss”. Paul adds incentive for hope. Paul says that God’s promises give us courage in bad times. Paul chose to act in ways that were right and holy, ways that would please God. One of Paul’s memory aids was to think of the final judgment. We must watch our behavior mindfully; we are held accountable.


Two short parables in the Gospel bring all this together. In the Growing Seed parable, seeds grow independently of humans. The ministry of Jesus began a sequence that will lead to the fullness of God’s Kingdom just as surely as sowing seeds begins the spontaneous process leading to harvest. Even if the Kingdom seems hidden now, it is present. In spite of appearances, we can be confident that what has begun will lead to its glorious revelation. While we live our daily lives, the Kingdom is at work. What we know and see is not all that will happen before the promised coming of the Kingdom of God. We do not bring in the Kingdom; we are servants of the Kingdom, not its cause. Patience; all is in God’s hands.


As to the Mustard Seed parable, 750 mustard seeds weigh about 1/28th of an ounce; but a mustard seed can germinate in 5 days and grow to a height of 10 feet, with large leaves. The visual point is that a mighty plant grows from a tiny seed.


This parable illustrates the presence of the Kingdom in Jesus’ own ministry, even if others do not recognize it, and Jesus’ expectation of the certain and full revelation of the Kingdom to come. Like a mustard seed, God’s Kingdom starts as something insignificant but becomes large. Never forget that Jesus knew the Jewish scriptures intimately, he knew the image of the cedar tree shading and sheltering and protecting, and this parable reminds us of the Ezekiel passage. Inherent in the phrase the “Kingdom of God” is all of God’s care for us, and more.  


Both parables respond to a question that was asked of Jesus then and that we ask now. Wasn’t the Kingdom of God supposed to slay evil like a dragon and remove oppression from nations like Rome and Babylon? The Apostles’ expectations were incorrect if they expected a bomb to vaporize Rome. They, like us, thought violence could bring peace; but if the image of peace is birds sheltered in a tree, then a bomb cannot create peace. Miracles and healings are great, but people often demand impressive action, without delay. The promise of the Kingdom’s fulfillment is certain, but frustrating. No timetable is provided, except to know that the timing will be perfect.


Have you ever reached out to grasp God by the lapels, to scream and shake him, when a child suffers, when a loved one has a frightening diagnosis for which there is no cure, when everything goes in your life goes wrong?   Then these parables of hope are for you. In the worst times of our lives, we look to the Cross for answers. The Cross was considered the spoiler; on Good Friday, it was seen as a death of shame and finality, an end to hope, a crushing loss. Like the cross, the mustard seed challenges the way we view and judge what is small and what is significant. When God is at work, we come to understand that our ways are not God’s ways. We must develop “mustard seed memory”; never doubting the unexpected ways God acts to fulfill the promises given to us.   In the Words and Love of Jesus, the Kingdom – God’s coming to rule all things – has made its entrance into our hearts and into our lives and into our messed up world. Let the mustard seed of hope and faith grow tall in your life.




Tagged with: ,