A Sermon for 1 October 2017 – World Communion Sunday
A reading from Exodus 17:1-7. The journey through the wilderness continues. Listen for God’s word to us.
“From the wilderness of Sin the whole congregation of the Israelites journeyed by stages, as the LORD commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. 2 The people quarreled with Moses, and said, “Give us water to drink.” Moses said to them, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the LORD?” 3 But the people thirsted there for water; and the people complained against Moses and said, “Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?” 4 So Moses cried out to the LORD, “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.” 5 The LORD said to Moses, “Go on ahead of the people, and take some of the elders of Israel with you; take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. 6 I will be standing there in front of you on the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it, so that the people may drink.” Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel. 7 He called the place Massah and Meribah, because the Israelites quarreled and tested the LORD, saying, “Is the LORD among us or not?””
This is the word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God!
In England in the Fourteenth Century, there lived an amazing mystic of the church. She resided in the county of Norfolk on the North Sea, just a hundred miles north-east of London in Norwich, which once was the second largest and second most important city of England. There, Julian had retired from the world into a small cell adjacent to the Church of St. Julian of Norwich. It’s believed, Julian had been trained by nearby Benedictine sisters and might just be remembered after the saint of the church so that the original name of this incredible woman may be lost to us. Presumably from a wealthy family, some believe she took to the cell as an anchoress after she lost her family to the plague. (Richard Rohr Meditation: Julian of Norwich, Part 1, 1 October 2017 and en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Julian_of_Norwich). It was somewhere around the middle of her life, after she herself nearly died at the age of 30.
Some mystics experience revelations from God throughout their lives. But it was not so with Julian. It was just once in her life, during an intense, near-death illness; that the Spirit of Christ communed with her in sixteen separate visions. When Julian miraculous recovered from her illness, she spent the next forty-some years of her life trying to make sense of the visions she had received on her deathbed. Her book Revelations on Divine Love captures the visions, and her later writings explore the meaning of what was revealed to her. Supposedly, her first book was the first text written in English to be authored by a woman. She did some amazing work as an anchoress in the little cell attached to the church in Norwich. Not only was her writing about the full love of God ahead of her time, but the wisdom she also gave as an anchoress sustained the lives of those who would come seeking counsel from her. Something like a modern-day Spiritual Director, male anchorites and female anchoresses dutifully took to cells attached to sanctuaries. In exchange for the church providing for their physical needs, they made themselves available in their little adjacent cells whenever a wayward soul knocked on the cell’s window.
Julian counselled many well. I’ve always loved her charge that “the fullness of joy is to behold God in everything. For God is the ground, the substance, the teaching, the teacher, the purpose, and the reward for which every soul labors” (from Meditations with Julian of Norwich). Somewhere she also wrote: “if there is anywhere on earth a lover of God is always kept safe, I know nothing of it. For it was not shown to me. But this was shown: that in falling and rising again, we are always kept in that same precious love” (source unknown). In another source she wrote: “the greatest honor we can give Almighty God is to live gladly because of the knowledge of God’s love” (source unknown). And this week, I heard more deep wisdom from this our amazing sister of the faith. “God doesn’t want you to sin,” Julian explained “because God wants you to see yourself as God sees you” (as quoted by Richard Rohr on The Enneagram: Discerning the Spirits, 2004 recording). God doesn’t want us to sin, because God wants us to see ourselves as God sees us. What a beautiful way to remind us that the Divine dwells in us all always. Because, after all, God dwells in everything. It’s just that when we sin, when we do those things that separate us from who God would have us be; we make it harder for ourselves and others to apprehend the Divine in us. Like a cataract that darkens our vision, our sins mar the ability to see the Divine Spark in us. The Heavenly Breath within. The Fullness of Love living in our souls.
I wish the Israelites in the wilderness would have had the benefit of Julian’s insight. Things are getting pretty rough out there in the desert. Last week in our lectionary reading we heard the people complaining for food. This week, things turn sour again as thirst rears its ugly head. Grumbles intensify so that the text records: “the people quarreled with Moses” (Ex. 17:2). They demand he give them water to quench their parched thirst. As if Moses is some magnificent magician, they once again come after him shouting: “Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst!?!” (Ex. 17:3). . . . It is so obvious that God sees in them something they cannot. That God wants for them something they cannot imagine for themselves. Though God already has been sustaining them all throughout the wilderness, though a pillar of cloud has been guiding them and a column of fire led them through the darkness of that vast, immense desert; the people of God fail to apprehend the Divine in all things – even in themselves. If the story were before us on the big screen, at this point the music would pierce our hearts with sadness. O the tragedy of our inability to see God with us every step!
I can imagine that trekking for years through the harsh conditions of a desert would make the most faithful among us wonder. Is God among us, or not? . . . Isn’t that what we wonder when we get the breaking news about a senseless shooting among a church on the other side of town? Isn’t that the question that seeps into our souls when we see the destruction from Harvey and Irma and Maria too? Isn’t that the fear that rises when we look at empty pews, which once where filled with children and teens and parents who were eager to raise their families in the faith? Has God abandoned us? Was the LORD ever with us in the first place? . . . “Apprehend God in all things” another great mystic of the church once wrote. “Apprehend God in all things, for God is in all things. Every single creature is full of God and is a book about God” (Meister Eckhart). . . . Part of the problem in the wilderness – in the Israelites and in us – is that we fail to apprehend rightly. If we think God is somewhere out there – outside of it all and all we have to do is wait for some mighty one to valiantly come to our rescue, then we’re confusing faith with fairytales. We don’t understand the Crucified and Risen One. . . . God is in all things which means we are never apart from God. Even when we mar the image of God in ourselves so badly that we and others end up having a very hard time seeing; God remains with us, in us, and beyond us too. I have a feeling it takes something like wilderness to notice. Because most of us live as if we don’t really need anything outside of our capable minds and able bodies and our persistent efforts. We fool ourselves into believing we can handle it all so that the only way left for us to learn the truth of it all is wilderness. The desert, where at last we finally might see. The paradigm of faith is, as Julian says: that in falling we rise again and in each step we remain loved. In the falling and in the rising again we still are precious to God. If we can apprehend God in that – in both – we’re on the right path . . . It won’t be long until our parched places flow with abundant, life-giving water.
In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.
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