Sunday, August 21, 2016

Finger Pointing and Watered Gardens

14 Pentecost, August 21, 2016 Isaiah 58: 9b-14
All Saints Church, Belmont Psalm 103: 1-8
The Rev. Nancy E. Gossling Hebrews 12: 18-29
Luke 13: 10-17

My mother, God bless her soul and may she rest in peace, was almost 93 years old when she died last August. She, like many older people, was not quite able to stand up straight. As osteoporosis settled in, she walked with a little bend in her body, and a small hunch to her back. I was often amazed at how strong her bones were. Like many elderly people, she occasionally fell, either because she was walking her dog, and the dog suddenly chased a rabbit, or because she caught her shoe on something, and went down. She never broke a bone when she fell.
My mother was a master gardener. She loved to spend time planning, picking, and pruning the flowers that would go into the corner of her yard or the flower boxes outside her windows. This was her paradise. As a biologist, she knew the importance of water, and the danger of flowers and plants becoming too parched. Her gardens were well watered, even if her body, at the end of her life was not. The day before she died, she said to me, “I’m thirsty enough to die.” There were not enough ice chips in the world to quench that thirst.
I’ve been watching parts of the Olympics recently, especially the swimming and diving events held at the pool in Rio de Janeiro. Water is everywhere. Perhaps like you, I’ve been horrified by reports of body parts floating in the harbor, green algae taking over the swimming and diving pools, and water too dangerous to drink. There has been a lot of finger pointing in and around the pools.
Isaiah talked about removing the pointing of the finger, and the speaking of evil. I thought of the Olympic swimmers, Michael Phelps and Lilly King, who wagged their fingers at the end of their races. They were pointing to some swimmers from another country who had been accused of “doping.” At the same time, they claimed their clean victories as gold medal winners. And then there is the latest finger wagging at Ryan Lochte and James Feigen for their false accusations. They claimed that they had been robbed at gunpoint in order to cover up their own misbehavior. When we point our fingers at others, we often point them at ourselves at the same time.
I recall many more water images at the Olympic games. Competitors drank water before their races, spit water out of their mouths after them, and plunged deep into the pools of water below them. As they emerged, they would shake off the excess water from their bodies, and then dip themselves into smaller pools nearby. Whether swimming straight in their lap lanes or standing upright on the podium, these young men and women were proud of their God-given gifts. They were proud of their countries, proud of the discipline that got them there, and proud of their accomplishments.
Sometimes it’s hard to stand up tall or to walk in a straight line for a variety of reasons. I think of a young man, who walked with a stoop. As one friend once said, he walked as if he carried the weight of the world on his shoulders. I think of another young man who couldn’t walk a straight line after being pulled over by the police.There are plenty of things that can weigh us down these days. Isaiah mentions some of our burdens: people who are hungry, afflicted, and parched. The doom and gloom of our current affairs, the ruins in our cities, and the evil that erupts unexpectedly can destroy our spirits.
The author of Hebrews offers us a prescription. He or she reminds us that we “have not come to something that can be touched, a blazing fire, and a tempest, and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that not another word be spoken to them.” Most of us, do not believe in a God who seeks to destroy us, but a God who seeks to save us. Every Sunday is a reminder of the resurrection.
God descended God’s holy mountain in order to draw nearer to us. On the mountain that overlooks the city of Rio is the figure of Jesus, who stretches out his arms of love, even to those who have done evil. Through Jesus, said the author of Hebrews, we can touch our forgiving and loving God, if not in the flesh, then at least in the Spirit.
Sometimes our worlds need to be shaken in order for us to see the truth of a matter. Like an earthquake, God’s voice shakes the heavens and the earth, so that we might see those things that cannot be shaken. Like a consuming fire, God burns off our dross, so that the gold medals of our hearts hang clearly around our necks. As we shake off the excess waters from our bodies, we see a deep pool of God’s love into which we’re invited to plunge. We shake off our fear, and find at the very core of our beings, the image of God. And God cannot be shaken.
“You hypocrites,” said Jesus to the leaders of the synagogue; for they would lead their donkeys and oxen to water, but they would not heal this woman of her affliction on the Sabbath. Isaiah said that “if you remove the yoke from you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom (will) be like the noonday.”  
With God’s help, individually and together, we can lift the burdens of the world from our shoulders. The yokes that afflict us can be shaken off like excess water when we yoke ourselves to God. “Come to me,” Jesus said, “all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.’  (Matthew 11:28-30). Come to me, Jesus said, any day of the week, and I will heal you.
At a quick and first look, we may not notice that the woman in today’s gospel is not necessarily old. Yes, she was bent over and unable to stand up straight, and she had been in this condition for 18 years. But Luke also said that unlike my mother, hers was not a physical ailment, but rather a spiritual illness. When Jesus called her over and laid hands upon her, he said, “Woman you are set free from your ailment.”
Now spiritual cures may or may not always manifest themselves in our physical bodies; and yet, they are essential to our true and ultimate healing. When we yoke ourselves to Jesus, we may find that we are better able to swim in our lanes, and stand tall on our podiums, even if we don’t get a medal. We may find that our souls are watered by a living God, even if our bodies are thirsty enough to die. We may find that Jesus can break our bondages and set us free, when no other physician in this world could. No wonder the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the things that Jesus was doing.
Our psalms are scripture passages that express the full range of our feelings, from deep despair to blissful joy, and everything in between. As Herbert Slade of SSJE once said,
“Jesus communicates with his emotions: he weeps, he loves, he laughs, he is angry, and he is inspired with unquenchable hope.”
Today’s psalmist expresses joy and gratitude. “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless God’s holy name.” Sometimes when the worries and cares of our lives weigh us down, we forget this unquenchable hope. Today, ask God for your own spiritual healing. Today, stand up straight and bless the Lord.
Bless the Lord, O my soul, for the spring of living water that is pure and never fails. Bless the Lord, O my soul, for the ocean of love in which we all swim. Bless the Lord, O my soul, for we are your watered garden, and we live in a kingdom that cannot be shaken. Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless God’s holy name. Amen.