Mother Ann’s sermon preached on Nov. 14, 2021

Posted by on Sun, Nov 14, 2021 in Season after Pentecost, Sermons

The 25th Sunday after Pentecost

God’s Positioning System

Nov. 14, 2021

It was deep winter in 1582 when a pious nun, St. Teresa of Avila, left her convent near Madrid, and headed north into the Spanish foothills. Her mission was to open a new convent for her young novices, far from the temptations of the world. A downpour broke out as the women’s carriage began its descent into a steep valley, flanked on either side by coursing rivers. The road leading to the bridge spanning them was rapidly flooding. The nervous driver and horses lost sight of the shoulders, and currents threatened to sweep the carriage off the road into one abyss or the other. Teresa turned to her young charges and assured them of their ultimate safety because they were undertaking God’s good work. Then she unlatched the carriage door and slid briskly out. Taking hold of the horses’ harness she used her bare feet to feel the way forward down and across the bridge and up the other side. As the carriage again reached clear pavement, the young novices overheard Teresa pray through gritted teeth, “O Lord, when will you cease from scattering obstacles in our path?” The women swore they could hear God reply, “This is the way I always treat my friends.” Whereupon Teresa shot back: “Lord, if this is how you treat your friends, no wonder you have so few!”

Who could blame St. Teresa for her cheeky response? It’s hard to hold onto a heavenly perspective when all hell is breaking loose here on earth. We believers are convinced that God is all-loving, and desires only the best for us; yet we can find ourselves battered and abandoned. We are convinced that God is all-powerful and can move mountains if need be, yet we can find ourselves hemmed in. Embattled as we are, we’d give anything to see the situation from on high, as God sees it.

Maybe we’re really hoping for something like the GPS app on our phones. The initials G-P-S stand for Global Positioning System. It works through a halo of satellites constantly circling the earth. Each orbiter is programmed to know precisely where it is, and it constantly beams down coordinates to any phone ready to listen. Phones hear the telling message from first one, then two, then three, even four chatty satellites, and quickly merge all the data. Bingo! We are told, “You are here.” GPS is a Godsend as we travel on, because it orients us as we move toward our final destination. If the traffic is jammed ahead, it reroutes us. If we make a wrong turn it recalculates. All the while it keeps its digital eye on the ultimate target of our journey. We trust GPS to hold onto the bigger picture for us, the picture we cannot see.

Yes, GPS resembles the kind of help we need to get through our tumultuous lives. But the real McCoy, what we really need, is already at hand—and has been for 2000 years. The original GPS—God’s Positioning System—is the Bible. Humans reading the telling messages found in one, two, three, four or more inspired books, can prayerfully ponder the insights, and find their own place in God’s overarching story. The Bible begins with the beginning of time in Genesis, as God creates heaven and earth. It continues as God calls Israel into being, and gives Jews the Promised Land for their own. God raises up King Solomon who builds the great Temple in Jerusalem. This is the seemingly eternal edifice the disciples praise in today’s Gospel. But nothing is forever on this earth, as Jesus says. In less than a century the Temple will lie in ruins.

The Bible moves on to Jesus’ all-out campaign to get the world seeing life as God sees it. But he only ends up on the cross, crying out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Yet you know the story isn’t over. The New Testament reports that after the Resurrection Jesus sits down at the right hand of God, and waits to see what the powers and principalities of this world will try next. Persecutions and betrayals persist from time to time until nearly the end of the New Testament. It’s only in the last book that we discover our ultimate destination: the end of time as revealed in the Book of Revelation. The holy city of God, the new Jerusalem, is now descending. Heaven and earth are one. The lion lies down with the lamb; God dwells among mortals, and crying and pain are no more. Christ now proclaims triumphantly from the throne, “See, I am making all things new!

St Teresa of Avila, in her rain-drenched frustration, challenged God to explain why bad things like flooding happen to good people. God responds, in effect, that this sort of calamity has been part of life ever since Eden, when the serpent slithered into the garden and paradise lost its sacred integrity. Since then life unfolds day by day as goodness intermingled with evil–or as Jesus would famously say, wheat intermixed with tares. The two are rooted together, and pulling up either destroys them both. For now God’s promise to us is not that we will live like angels above it all, but that we are signed as his own forever. So in the end all will be well.

The Church in her wisdom reads through it all, from Genesis to Revelation. Even gritty Gospels like today’s, filled with realistic references to churches demolished, leaders lying, warfare raging, earthquakes rumbling and famines ravaging. In God’s graced creation, the worst things that happen to us will never be the last. Each calamity is but one more birth pang, heralding our inescapable ascent toward Paradise. Amen.

© 2021 The Rev. Dr. Ann P. Lukens. All rights reserved. Posted with permission.