Thursday, September 29, 2016

Suffering for the Gospel: Reflections on the 20th Sunday After Pentecost, St. Francis' Sunday


There is a lot going on in our lives as a family right now, both for the Shellys (and our extended clans) and for our parish family. There have been deaths and diagnoses that we would have happily gone without that have had a profound impact on our lives. In so many ways, as these seasons come and go in life, I feel profound connection to the writer of Psalm 137 when they not only lament loss, death and the hollow wake of grief that continues to pitch them back and forth in exile...they also condemn with extreme prejudice any and all causes of remembrance of those losses and of the agencies responsible.

I can categorically say that I despise the conditions that have impacted my family and parish, that have caused us to suffer, or to anticipate suffering and the struggles connected to all the challenges we face.

Even giving thanks for the remarkable and amazing gifts of community and faith that make challenge or loss as bearable as they can possibly be, we still have to be honest and allow lamentation to have its moment. Let the feelings flow...the hurt, the worry, the anxiety, the fear. Let the grief be what it is, hollow and chilly or hot and messy. Let the anger be as well...for when we feel powerless in the face of challenge it helps us forge resolve. But, above all...let it all go to God. Let God have it, and don't hold a bit of it back.

Why?

Because of a mustard seed.

Jesus chastises his followers that if they had faith the size of a mustard seed, they could say to a mulberry tree lying close at hand that it should uproot itself and be planted in the sea. I always chafe at that harangue. It calls to mind those moments when I was a young athlete and the coach would attempt to motivate us by insult, with the intent to make us angry enough to accomplish something we had previously been unable to achieve to date.

Instead, today and in context with the laments from the Hebrew scriptures and the psalm, I find myself feeling honored and awed by Jesus' chiding. Why?

All it takes is a mustard seed's worth of intent, of concern, of desire to get up and do for someone. All it takes is a mustard seed's worth of prayer, of honest service to another...of concern.

...and all the upside down and backwardness of loss and grief gets shaken up into a clearer vision of God being active in all the messes of our lives. God is with us in our struggles and our sufferings God is with us in our worrying and fretting. God is with us in our wonder at how we can laugh through tears and cry through laughter.

God is with us.

...and all it took was a mustard seed to remind us of that simple, absolute truth.

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