Today is Holy Trinity Sunday and if a rector is lucky enough, he or she will not have to preach. The lucky one has either an assistant assigned to the day, or just takes the day off and finds supply. Why? You may ask. The simple reason is the Trinity is not easily explained and when the Church grapples with these concepts, more often than not, they are explained a mystery and we move on. So moving on is what I am going to do.
For the call of Isaiah is more interesting to contemplate. A huge temple, think four or five football fields in size, incense filling the space with clouded scent and Seraphs. Yes Seraphs are captivating and high in the angelic realm-second in line. So who would you want guarding the temple? Cute angels and rosy winged cherubs or something a little more commanding? Seraphs are not rosy cheeked angels, they are winged lizards, dragons who fly around and proclaim loudly, HOLY, HOLY, HOLY. So loud in fact the rafters of the temple shook Why? Because our God is a great God.
Isaiah has been chosen by God to lead the Israelites and in the first five chapters of Isaiah we find, as usual, they are misbehaving. God wants them straightened out and no one is willing to do the job. Finally after Isaiah hems and haws, says he is not worthy, he is filled with sin, he relents and tells God to send him.
How many of us have felt like Isaiah? Someone asks you to do something slightly out of your comfort zone and the first response is, "I can't do that. I'm not smart enough or rich enough or creative enough or... you fill in the blanks. Well I am here to tell you, you are all of those things and more. God doesn't need people who are sinless, he needs people who now how sin feels. He wants real people not cardboard cut-outs of disciples. Why? Because who can better understand the trials and tribulations of humanity than those of us who have stumbled and even fallen? We can lead because we are not called to perfection, we are called to follow the risen Christ. A Jesus who knows how it feels to be human because he was. He understands what it meant to make mistakes, because he did. Remember the Syro-phoencian woman, arguing with Jesus until he changed his mind. That's who Jesus calls, people who will not blindly follow but will question and yes even fuss at being called.
I love the call of Isaiah not because of dragons and puffing smoke but because I see a little of all of us in Isaiah. Tentative, nervous, apprehensive but realizing God wants us no matter who we are or what we have done. All are forgiven...now the work begins.
I've been thinking
This Lent the focus is on being mortal. The first week the Frontline program "Being Mortal" and the discussions in the following weeks have been about end of life issues.
What I have been thinking about is this is not about dying but rather how do I want to live? This doesn't mean throwing caution to the wind and acting as if there is no tomorrow but rather how can I have the best quality life while I am here on earth. What are my beliefs and how do they form my actions in this world. What do I really want for myself and for others? These are the questions which have been forcing me to examine who I am and what is my place in the world.
While I do not have answers to these questions, I have noticed I am not alone in thinking deeply about these issues. The challenge is to be willing to hold in tension what I do and do not know and to be patient in waiting for some kind of direction or response.
The past few weeks have been interesting for all participants and it shows up in the attendance each week. What I do know I am in the right place at the right time with the right people to think of how I want to live. Then have the courage to live.
He will go where you don't want to go
In Tijuana, Mexico, at El Parque del Mapa (the Park of the Map), I approached a man to ask if he wanted a meal. I introduced myself as a pastor. “I killed several people just for fun,” he screamed at me, “and if I want to, I can kill you right now in front of all these people!”
As I think back to this encounter, I feel the shivers in my body again. After what felt like a long pause, I responded like this: “I don’t know why you did all that, but please know that God loves you, and because I have experienced God’s love in my own life, I can tell you that I love you too.”
This made him more upset. He started screaming in despair, “No! No, that is not possible. I am a bad person; no one can love me!”
“Yes,” I said, “God loves you, and I love you.” Miraculously, the man’s demeanor changed drastically. He held my arms and then started to cry.
I asked if he would allow me to pray with him, and he consented. Did he have a specific concern or request? “Pray for my family. I have not seen them in years, and I don’t think I will see them again.” I prayed, and when I finished he left without a word
Tell me what you believe and I will tell you who you are.
Each gospel states its thesis at the beginning
Matthew: Jesus reinterprets the Torah in the Beatitudes
Mark: Casting out the old
Luke: Jesus proclaims the Lord’s acceptance but is then rejected
John: Jesus shows his glory by remedying the wine situation at Cana
Mark’s casting out the old begins on an ordinary day in the synagogue. The men gather as they always have to study the scriptures. Jesus enters and begins to teach. In that moment, who the men thought they knew is shattered. He was teaching with authority. In other words, he had command of the Torah that went beyond what his peers would know. The men stare at him in amazement and turn to one another eyes wide pointing and saying under their breath “Can you believe this? He is so compelling. So smart.” Who would have ever thought this of him.
Then everything hits the proverbial fan. A man stands or enters and begins shouting. His voice is contorted-other worldly. He like the man in the story above starts screaming and may we be so bold as think swearing at Jesus. He points his finger at him yelling, “I know who you are?”
Jesus stands looking at the man, not fearful, not afraid. But he looks at him with love. He knows the man can’t help it. He is possessed.
Imagine you are one of the onlookers. How do you feel? Frightened it is safe to say. Perhaps you have found yourself in the same situation. Someone is walking down the road shouting to no one in particular. Having an animated conversation with someone who is not there. It is sad but it is also disconcerting. People who are unstable may do the unexpected such as attack innocents, shout in someone’s ear or even look and say, “I know who you are.”
What Jesus does is unexpected. He does not have the man removed from the synagogue, rather he looks him in the eye. Forces the man to look back at him and engage him. Not for the faint of heart. Jesus then performs an exorcism. Even those words cause the spine to tingle. Exorcisms are still performed today but they are not to be taken lightly. There are forces which surround us which serve to weaken us physically, spiritually and emotionally. Someone who performs the rite of exorcism is specially trained and not anyone can be called to this work.
We know Jesus was specially trained for this work-honed in the desert when Satan tempted him with worldly concerns. Mark doesn’t say what these worldly concerns are but if Jesus is human as well as divine it is easy to imagine what they are: wealth, power, greed, lust, gluttony to name a few but Jesus commands Satan to leave him.
Father James Martin writes about our temptations in his book “Jesus” He speaks of his own weaknesses: pride, ambition and selfishness. He laments these traits don’t change immediately like the demon coming out of the man. He writes I try not to avoid vanity but find myself being vain. I try not to be sarcastic but mean words fly out of my mouth. In prayer, I wonder where does this come from? Why am I still like this? When will these demons leave me?
He further writes one time he was so frustrated by his actions he got down on his knees and begged God to change him as quickly as the possessed man. After an hour of waiting Martin writes I rose the same person as before. How many of us have not found ourselves in the same spot? Wanting to change and then doing the very thing which makes us nuts not two minutes later. Not many of us are able to turn off a learned behavior we work at it and when we fail start again.
But once we focus on what it is we want to change about ourselves, the change comes. Slowly imperceptibly we don’t even notice until one day a trait which once bothered us, is gone. Martin writes of his own battle with envy. He said there were times when he was envious almost hourly of those around him. Reflecting on his actions and working hard to eradicate this trait through prayer, he realized one day it was no longer there. One of his demons had been cast out. There are more to be sure.
Jesus in today’s gospel heal the man but he also shows us what healing looks like which is a return to the life God wants us to have. The man could now return to his family, his work, his faith. Most of us thankfully will not be possessed by evil spirits but we may be possessed in other ways, ways that are equally as life draining. Thankfully we have someone who is ready and willing to return us to new life, that man is Jesus.