Monday, October 6, 2014

We need not travel to some remote part of the war-ripped world to find this gift of joy, the gift of hope, the gift of singing in the dark.


Come let us sing to the LORD, let us shout for joy to the rock of our salvation. Let us come before His presence with thanksgiving and raise a loud shout to Him with psalms. Psalm 95:1-2

My heart is firmly fixed, O God, my heart is fixed; I will sing and make melody. Psalm 37:7

The LORD lives! Blessed be my Rock! Exalted is the God of my salvation. Therefore I will extol you among the nations, O LORD, and sing praises to Your name. Psalm 18:46

My heart is firmly fixed, O God, my heart is fixed.

I will give thanks to You, for You answered me and have become my salvation. This is the LORD’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes. On this day the LORD has acted; we will rejoice and be glad in it. Psalm 118:19-24

My heart is firmly fixed, O God, my heart is fixed.

Prayer: Holy Father, Creator and sustaining Wisdom of all that is, both in heaven and on earth, take from me those thoughts, actions and objects that are hurtful. Give me instead those things that are profitable for me and all who seek rightly to praise You. I ask this grace in the company of all believers and through the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, who is, with You and the Holy Spirit, one God forever and ever. Amen.

So Mark O’Hagin tells the story of when he was a little boy, growing up in Tucson. In all of his free moments he was a shoeshine boy going in and out of the bars on Sixth Avenue with his little shoeshine box and rags and polish trying to help his momma put food on the table. And he remembers resting at the corner of Sixth and 17th, in front of that big house that now belongs to Heather and Dustin and thinking, “My what a big and beautiful house!”

And Mark and Pauline have had a rough time of it. Mark got tangled up in drugs and drink and things were not easy. And yesterday he and she stood up in front of the body and told more of their story. Many years ago, wow, could it have been almost forty years ago, he stood in that exact same spot, a drugged out and broken kid with a couple of kids himself I think, and gave his life to Jesus. 

But things didn’t necessarily get better. At all. Turns out he got hepatitis C and also, well, even though he and Pauline worked and worked harder than most anyone I know, and tried and tried with their five kids, things have always been a struggle. With this hepatitis eating away at his body all the time, sapping his strength and his energy and his hope. And they went to every doctor, and took every medicine and went through every treatment and stood on that very same spot and had the Body of Christ lay hands on him and anoint him with oil and pray for healing and those tests just kept coming back that he was full of hepatitis. And Mark was getting nearer and nearer to death, and then it turns out he built their house too close to the property line and the water line and the City was going to make him tear it down, and really the past few years have been him desperately trying to build Pauline a new house over her head before he died. And except for a few work Saturdays when a bunch of people showed up to saw and hammer and plaster it has been a slow journey, especially when a lot of the time Mark couldn’t hardly get out of bed, and when he did, it seems that he was mostly helping out at the church, or at the neighbors’, or helping the Voelkels roof the back house. 

So he was losing hope. Both of them were losing hope. And there was one more last chance experimental drug, if he could get well enough to take it. And just before he stepped into this one last chance, they ran more blood tests. 

And it was gone. 

No more hepatitis.

All gone. 

The miracle.

Why and when and how, we only know by the hand of God. The doctor said he had never seen this happen before. Apparently Mark was a very welcoming host.

And the point of standing up in front of the church was to talk about His timing. And He is not bound by yesterday, today and tomorrow. And come let us sing to the LORD, let us shout for joy to the Rock of our salvation.

And the service yesterday was focused on the Breaking of the Bread service, as the finale of the Why Do We Gather? series. 

And before Jesus broke the bread, He gave thanks. 

Before the time of suffering. Before all that the Passover means is fulfilled. Before the kingdom of God comes. 

Eucharist always precedes the miracle.  

And yesterday I read A Small Cup of Light, a story told by a Ben Palpant who walked through unimaginable suffering and a wilderness of despair and came out the other side rejoicing. A man who used to be a little boy climbing up the trees and throwing olives at our church so very long ago. 

And he had a dream. And in his dream he felt himself pulled by each hand in two opposing directions, his beloved wife and children and friends and peers and parents and siblings pulled on one hand. And off in the distance stood a great and towering city filled with people he loved.

And he felt someone pulling his other arm with a dynamically overwhelming force. He knew his surrender to that presence was only a matter of when, never a matter of if. He turned my head to see who, or what, pulled on him with such uncontestable vitality. He saw God, or knew that he had seen Him. He saw neither his face nor his body, but it felt as though he had seen both. The mystery swallowed him. All the terror and perplexity of his soul were not eased by that glorious vision of divinity. It amplified them, devoured by the pervasive, comprehensive, and incomprehensible presence of God.

In that moment, he was the happiest he had ever been in his life, about to burst with joy, and yet, also terrified, brittle like a china cup falling to the ground. In that moment, he knew what it was to worship the wellspring of all his joys with fear and trembling.

In that moment, he knew what it was to simultaneously fear God and call Him “Abba.” He knew that he was unmade, facing only his dread, his deepest longing.

And this morning the sky billowed with fantastic orange and purple that shifted into glorious golden streaks across a bright blue sky before my very eyes.

Prayer: My heart is firmly fixed, O God, my heart is fixed.