July 15, 2012
ORDINARY 15 (B)
Blessed be the God & Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavens… - Eph. 1: 3
When Jesus calls us into His kingdom, he warns us that we must “enter through the narrow gate …. How narrow the gate & constricted the road that leads to life. And those who find it are few” (Mt. 7: 13, 14). When we hear such words, we are likely to focus on the sacrificial side of being Christian. If we want to follow Jesus, there are risks to be taken; there are things in life we must do without; there are things that others do that we can not do. We think of the need to put certain restraints on our behavior, adhere to certain disciplines; & all the while the rest of the world goes its merry way. For Christians of any place & time, this is true. But as the New Testament writers tells us over & over again, the early Christians were a people of JOY.
Oppression, persecution, imprisonment, martyrdom – it’s all there. But in the midst of it all, there is a spirit of praise: “You rejoice with an indescribable & glorious joy” (1 Peter 1: 8). Rejoice! How can this be? Can we identify with it at all in our own time? Did those first Christians know something we don’t? Jesus said many things to shed light on this tremendous secret. Among others, He said, ‘Come to me … I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you … for my yoke is easy; & my burden light” (Mt. 11: 28-30). The secret is simple, & yet beautiful!
God is never closer to us than when we feel He is absent. He never loves us more than when we feel unloved. He is never more present to us than when we feel abandoned. Thomas Merton put the paradox this way: “Prayer & love are learned in the hour when prayer has become impossible & your heart has turned to stone.”
In those darkest hours, when we feel powerless & helpless, if we try to go it alone, the road to life is more than hard. It is impossible! But if, in those bleakest of times, we embrace the reality that God is there with us in the struggle, the burden will be lifted – not by our own power but by His!
The Broadway musical, “Lost in the Stars,” was based on Alan Paton’s famous novel, “Cry the Beloved Country.” The principal character is a minister named Stephen Kumalo – a good, conscientious pastor in a little South African parish. He identifies with the torment & pain of his parishioners who are poor & powerless, & he pours out his life for them. But more than that, his heart is broken because of His relationship with his son Absalom whom he deeply loves. As Absalom grows, he becomes more & more estranged from his father. There is a part of every parent in the song Stephen Kumalo sings about this problem: “How many miles to the heart of a child? Thousands & thousands of miles.”
Absalom leaves home to go to Johannesburg where he hopes to make enough money to get an education. For more than a year the father receives no news of his son. Finally, he receives word that Absalom was involved in an attempted robbery in which a man was killed. Moreover, the murder victim is Stephen Kumalo’s friend. The boy goes on trial. Two others involved in the crime tell lies on the witness stand & are set free. Absalom, on the advice of his father, tells the truth. He is convicted & sentenced to be hanged.
The father suddenly realizes what it means to feel lost & abandoned & cries out “Why Lord, why?” He wonders if God doesn’t lose some of us down here from time to time. If this loving God were aware of the terrible things taking place, would He allow them to happen? So Stephen Kumalo, in the title song, sings what it’s like to be down here “lost in the stars.”
After the conviction, he returns to his parish & tells his people he isn’t sure he should continue on as their pastor. But then, he hears a little voice telling him to talk to the father of the man his son had murdered. He does so, & the two begin to heal each other. Because of this, he is able to return to his parish & say, “I will stay. I have a friend!”
God is never more present to us than when we feel “lost in the stars.” If we have a problem with this it may be because we are too dependent on our feelings: we feel like nothing matters any more, we don’t feel like praying. We stop going to church because we don’t feel like it. Yet the great masters of prayer all tell us that the prayers we offer when we don’t feel like it are the best ones because they are the ones that really get through. Whatever happens, we can rejoice in the experience of God’s loving presence in that situation. It can comfort us, put our souls at rest, & mark us with the joy of those first disciples who just couldn’t keep a secret! AMEN!