Sermon by The Rev. Christopher W. Hogin
Sunday, October 14, 2018
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The Gospel: Mark 10:17-31
As Jesus was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.’” He said to him, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.” Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.
Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” They were greatly astounded and said to one another, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.”
Peter began to say to him, “Look, we have left everything and followed you.” Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age—houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.”
The Reverend Christopher Hogin
The Silent Voice of God
Job 23:1-9, 16-17; Psalm 22:1-15; Mark 10:17-31
The Episcopal Church of the Ascension
October 14, 2018
In 1982, a film was released called Tender Mercies starring Robert Duvall. Duvall plays Mac Sledge, a divorced, alcoholic, washed up country music singer. The movie opens in the remote dusty plains of Texas: the wind blows, there’s a rustle of sagebrush, and you hear the sound of a rusty creaking weather vane. Mac Sledge awakens from a drunken stupor on the hard floor of a cheap motel room. He’s broke. Unable to pay for the room, he approaches the owner, a young widow named Rosa Lee, whose husband died in Vietnam. She has an 11-year old son. Mac reveals that he has no money, and says, “Lady, I’m broke, but I’ll be glad to work out what I owe you.” She replies, “All right, but I got one rule—No drinking.” He responds, “Yes ma’am.”
The movie is about redemption and transformation. Mac bonds with Rosa Lee and her son (aptly named Sonny). They marry and become a stable, happy family. Mac is even drawn to Rosa Lee’s Christian faith. One day he and his stepson attend the Baptist church and ceremoniously get baptized together. Mac resumes his singing, and writes a few songs. He asks forgiveness from his ex-wife, and reconnects with his eighteen-year old daughter. All is well until tragedy strikes. Mac’s daughter is killed in a car crash. Overwhelmed with grief, Mac spirals downward. He begins drinking. All that he’s worked for teeters on the verge of oblivion.
The final scene is the most captivating. It is early spring. Mac grasps a hoe and pounds the earth turning the soil. Rosa Lee draped in a shawl, stands in the distance arms crossed. She watches and listens as he yells out a tirade of “whys” to no one in particular. He shouts, “Why did I wander off to a remote motel in Texas? Why did Rosa Lee take pity on me? Why did she fall in love and marry me? Why did her husband have to die in Vietnam? Why didn’t my step-son Sonny ever get to know his true daddy;” And then finally, in a bellowing lament he cries out, “Why did my daughter die?”
During all this the wind blows. The sound of laundry flaps in the wind. The old weather vane creaks. Mac’s hoe strikes the earth with a tisk-tisk-tisk sound. But in anger, Mac fails to see what’s around him. He doesn’t see the small shoots of green peeking underneath the mounded rows of dirt. He doesn’t see the woman, who loves him fiercely, standing beside the tree listening. He doesn’t see his stepson, who adores him, tossing a football in the air off in the distance. So much communication is happening that Mac can neither see nor hear.
Rarely does anyone of us through life not asking God why: Why did I lose my job? Why did my marriage collapse? Why did I marry the wrong person? Why did I never marry? Why is my child in trouble? Why did I not get to have children? Why am I sick? What did I do wrong? Am I being punished? Tell me what I must do! Why are their hurricanes? Please, God, tell me!
It’s not exactly verbatim, but we hear those laments in Job, the Psalm, and even in our gospel. Each reading asks God a question. For Job, it’s where are you God? In the Psalm it’s, why have you forsaken me God? And in the Gospel it’s, “What must I do God?”
In each instance a human wants an answer. It appears that either God doesn’t respond, or doesn’t respond in the way that human desires. But here’s the thing, God does answer. We only hear snippets from these readings. We never get the whole picture. If we read the whole book of Job, we would find Job’s suffering is eventually redeemed. The 22nd Psalm, is a cry of lament and of deep loneliness. Jesus quotes Psalm 22 on the cross when he cries out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” But if you read the Psalm in its entirely it concludes with: “The poor shall eat and be satisfied; those who seek him shall praise the Lord. May your hearts live forever!
The young man in Mark’s gospel, doesn’t understand that following God isn’t about rule following, it’s embodying God’s love and grace in life–that’s the pathway to salvation.
It’s apt that we don’t get the full picture of the readings, because as humans we will never get the full picture. Our entire lives will be about asking “why?” And that’s okay. It’s okay because part of our job is about seeking out and understanding the meaning in those whys—both joyous and tragic.
Here’s the deal, we are here on this earth to learn, to grow, and to find God in all things and in all people. We will be angry and frustrated, because we simply don’t understand. It’s no different from a toddler getting angry and frustrated when he or she does not understand. And like toddlers, we too will throw tantrums.
May we temper that anger by seeking out deeper wisdom. May we seek out God’s call by listening. May we spend less time pounding the earth with frustration, and more time looking at the world around us. May we stop and observe what old is dying; what new is emerging; where are the shoots of green growth in our own life? (Maybe they underneath those mounds of despair we keep pounding.) Do we see those who love us? Do we give that love in return? How are we changing? Are we changing? Are we growing? If we are not changing and growing, then why?
So stop for a moment. Remember, we don’t know the whole story yet. We see only a glimpse of the larger picture. Therefore, look all around you. Take a break from lament, and instead, listen. Listen to the people in your life. Listen to the people you love. Listen to the wind. Listen to the pulsating beat of creation. Listen to God. Listen.