Sunday, June 7, 2015

Homily for Proper 5 Year B 2015

Several years ago, I received a grant from the CF Foundation to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land.  The CF Foundation has been sponsoring a pilgrimage to the Holy Land for ministers since the 1990s.  The program brings together a pilgrimage with study, lectures, shared discussions, and worship with other ministers.  The purpose of the pilgrimage (to quote from the promotional materials) was to renew the spiritual life of mid-career ministers.”
My pilgrimage to the Holy Land followed another pilgrimage: a pilgrimage into illness, brokenness, sickness.  The two pilgrimages form, for me, the two sides of a single coin.  
Before the first of the two pilgrimages I took, I did not know the meaning of papilledema.  I had never heard of fungal meningitis.  
Standing near the Church of St. Anne in Jerusalem, I look at what remains of the pools of Bethesda.  Bethesda:  “House of Mercy” or “House of Grace.”  For the Roman soldiers it would have been a secure water source, easily defended if attacked.  The Roman’s dedicated the pools: one to the Roman god of good fortune and the other to the Roman god of healing.  The site was once offered to England as a gift.  The Archbishop of Canterbury lobbied Queen Victoria to accept.  Instead, she asked for Cyprus.  Anglicans can, however, make a pilgrimage to west transept of St. Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral in Memphis, Tennessee and view a stone that was once part of one of the columns that surrounded the Pool of Bethesda.  No one waits by the pools for healing now.  They contain no water.  It was but a temporary “House of Grace.”  Pilgrims seeking living water and an eternal house, must continue their pilgrimage.
Several months before, I was sitting in the waiting rooms of the Mayo Clinic, and I would look around at all the sick people.  Each had made this pilgrimage, not on the Camino de Santiago (that ancient pilgrim’s path), but rather on some other path; a path that would take them to Rochester, a cathedral of modern medicine. 
We, the sick, gathered in waiting rooms not unlike the sick that gathered by the pool of Bethesda: a great multitude of impotent folk, the blind, the halt, the withered.  We waited, as underneath five porticos, not for the water to stir, but for our name to called.  You see, the way the system worked was also like the pool of Bethesda.  
At the Mayo Clinic, appointments are made for you, to see particular doctors or to have certain tests.  They give you an itenary, but it is ever evolving as one doctor sends you to see another, and all the appointments are reshuffled to keep them in the most efficient order.  Sometimes, however, even in the most efficient order, there may be several days between appointments.  If you wanted, you could sit in the waiting room and if there was an unexpected opening (if the water was troubled), the doctor would go ahead and see you.  You had to be present when the opening occurred.  If you had gone to the restroom when your name was called, your name was taken off the waiting list for that day.  So, many sat, waiting; afraid to leave, even for a moment.  While you were gone, the angel might stir the water. 
Sitting all day in a waiting room is harder than it sounds.  The sicker you are, the harder it is to tolerate the ordeal of the waiting room.  More than once, I waited all day to no avail, my name not called that day. And, as I waited, I watched as the most ill, give up and go home for the day.  
I thought of the lame man who laid by the pool of Bethesda thirty-eight years and who told Jesus:  “Sir, I have no one, when the water is troubled, to put me into the pool: and while I make my way to the pool, another steps in before me.”  I thought of a nurse, calling his name, but before he could make his way to the front desk, the nurse would assume he was not present and the nurse would call the name of another.  The nurse as an angel who stirred the still waters.
Pilgrimage is both a modern metaphor for our life with the Divine and an ancient practice that unwraps the life of one devoted to the Holy.  My dual pilgrimages were both.  
I started writing a book about my two pilgrimages, but this sermon is all I have to show for it.  I preach it today because of the words we heard from the Apostle Paul.
“But, do not lose heart,” Paul admonished the Corinthians.  We are more than our suffering, our mistakes, our choices.  And, we are not alone.  That mystery called resurrection is at work in us, even now, shaping us into a new reality that we cannot see but one that will be everlasting.  Look beyond our crumbling selves and see a re-creation!
Over the hill from Nazareth, a first century city lies unearthed by archaeologists.  Modern day pilgrims can walk its streets.  The city was being built when Jesus was a child.  Joseph, his father, the carpenter, may have helped build this city named Sephoris.  I wondered if Jesus, as a little boy ran in these streets, upon the very pavement I now trod.  I wonder if Jesus, as a young man, watched its occupants live out their day to day lives.  I wonder if scenes he remembered from this place would be the material from which he would craft some of his parables. 
Later, on the Sea of Galilee, crossing by boat, we drink from a cup and break bread and we remember.  A journey in time as well as in space.  On the opposite shore, I stand in a museum and before a boat.  Well, it once was a boat.  Two thousand years ago it was a boat that regularly crossed the Sea of Galilee.  It is a fisherman’s boat.  Found buried in mud, not far from the village where Peter lived.  I study how carefully some fisherman of yore used scraps of wood from this or that to keep his boat afloat.  I imagine him mending his nets and I make a mental pilgrimage to his side.  I ask him to show me how it is done.
In his coming of age story, The Wise Man’s Fear, Patrick Rothfuss writes “…If you want to know the truth of who you are, walk until not a person knows your name.  Travel is the great leveler, the great teacher, bitter as medicine, crueler than mirror-glass.  A long stretch of road will teach you more about yourself than a hundred years of quiet introspection.”
I love the scene from the movie Forrest Gump as he runs, after he has suffered a heartbreak, down a long stretch of road.  “Run Forrest, run” I mutter under my breath when I spy a fellow pilgrim with a long stretch of road ahead.
Hear again the words from Paul’s second letter to the church in Corinth.  
“...this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure.”

“...we look not at what can be seen 
but at what cannot be seen; 
for what can be seen is temporary, 
but what cannot be seen is eternal”

“For we know 
that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, 
we have a building from God, 
a house not made with hands, 
eternal in the heavens”

“ not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day.”

 Run Forrest, Run.

Chaucer quoted this scripture at the end of his epic poem, Canterbury Tales: (from the book of Jeremiah)
Thus says the LORD:
Stand at the crossroads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way lies; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls.

I close with a blessing.

May the love of God carry you through every storm 
and bring you peace;
May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ 
point you in the direction of home and bring you joy;
May the presence of the Holy Spirit 
surround you with a cloud of witnesses 

and give you courage.
May it be so. Let it be so. Now.  And, forever.

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