Benediction Online

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Avoiding Rock Bottom
Preached by the Rev. Brian McHugh on June 8, 2008

In the reading from the prophet Hosea this morning, we hear a somewhat petulant God whining. God is ticked off that Ephraim and Judah, who have behaved badly themselves and are now being oppressed and suffering, have turned to the great king of Assyria instead of Him for help. God is heard saying:

I’ll go back where I came from until they come to their senses.
When they finally hit rock bottom, maybe they’ll come looking for me.[1]

The people seem to understand the process of their Life and of their relationship with their God. They say:

Come on, let’s go back to God. He hurt us, but He’ll heal us.
He hit us hard, but He’ll put us right again.
In a couple of days we’ll feel better.
By the third day, He’ll have made us brand new.[2]

Don’t be distracted by the portrayal of God as hurtful and causing pain. I’ve pondered the Scriptures for decades. Of course, being Episcopalians, you are free to interpret as you like! Personally, I know, and I think any of us who truly know God knows, that God does not hurt or cause pain or death. As is said elsewhere, “God does not desire the death of a sinner, but that they should repent and live.” Speaking of God as the origin of both good an evil is an ancient way of saying that God is present in and to all things. It is we human beings who cause suffering and pain and death to ourselves and others, physically and emotionally. It is in embracing the Divine source of Life that we find the power and grace to Live.

Living is what it is all about. Living is why we are here this morning. If you have been doing this for a long time, I suspect it is because you know what Ephraim and Judah knew. If this is new to you, you have brought your hunger for life to the right place. There is a deep and powerful energy that flows through the great Mystery we call Life. A deep and powerful movement – into and away from pain and death and into Life. Our Baptism into Christ is a mind-blowing, blazing image of the power we have laid claim to in our saying Yes to the Gospel. There is indeed a way by which we can be drowned in suffering, where we die at one or many levels, and rise to healing and new life.

The Mystery of the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus throbs at the heart of our Faith. The same Mystery lies at the heart of our own human lives. But as we hear from Hosea, this is an old, ancient, eternal Truth. Ephraim and Judah understood and experienced it. It is heard in every faith and religion, and in all the great literature of every language and people. Have you read Ursula LeGuin’s Earthsea Trilogy? Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings? Beowulf? The same Message rings out:

Come on, let’s go back to God. He hurt us, but He’ll heal us.
He hit us hard, but He’ll put us right again. In a couple of days we’ll feel better.
By the third day, He’ll have made us brand new.

The eternal pattern familiar to Christians in the Christ’s Passion, Death, and Resurrection goes on. We suffer, we “die”, we are buried, we are raised to Life. This is why the Cross shines as the core symbol of the Christian faith. Beyond anything else, it speaks of the God of Love Who is never absent from us, holds us in our pain, walks through the valley of the shadow of death with us, and lifts us up to new Life. The great Holy Week hymn says it all:

Inscribed upon the cross we see in shining letters, God is love:
it cheers with hope the gloomy day, and sweetens every bitter cup.
It makes the coward spirit brave, it takes its terror from the grave, and gilds the bed of death with light.
The balm of life, the cure of woe, the measure and the pledge of love.[3]

But we, like Ephraim and Judah, must do our part. Come on, let’s go back to God. He hurt us, but He’ll heal us. Twenty-six years ago, I left a monastic vocation after 15 years; a new life opened up in front of my sadness. Six years ago I had heart surgery; I was prepared to awake or not; I did, and knew I was healed. Three years ago I met Dennis; a whole new Life opened up. Two years ago my colon burst; I almost died; I had a colostomy that was later reversed. I was raised to life. In April I “retired”, the culmination of decades of fury at how I and other Gayfolk are treated by society and the church; but my anger was taken away, and I am ready to lay hold on Life again. I have aggressive prostate cancer; I face it with calm and trust. Think about it - every one of you here today has experienced this Great Love healing us and giving us Life as we turn into the embrace.

We are not here being “the church”, waiting for an arbitrary God to decide if we have followed the rules/contract suitably enough that She will throw us a tidbit which we have “earned”. We are here, avoiding rock bottom, being “the church”, together eating and drinking God’s Life, holding ourselves in the context of the Death, Burial, and Resurrection of Jesus, in the sure and certain knowledge of at least some of the people of Hosea’s time - After two days God will revive us; on the third day [God] will raise us up, that we may live before Him.[4] We are instruments of that trust and embrace each to the other. Crucified, dead, we rise on the third day. Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes in the morning.”

We’re here to practice our religion, which by Word and Sacrament and Fellowship hold us in the cycle of hurt, healing and revival. We bear each others’ burdens and so fulfill the law of Love. With the ancient Hebrews we say, Come on, let’s go back to God. To the God who lives in us. In Her we find the power to rise and live.

[1] The Message, Hosea 5: 15
[2] ibid, 6: 1ff
[3] Hymnal 1982, #471
[4] The Message, Eugene Peterson