Make Room for All of It
Sermon preached by Fr. Antony Hughes on Sunday, August 16, 2020
This is not an easy Gospel. I used to think it was cut and dry. I have struggled with it all week. For some reason I never really saw the tension in it. The miracle is not the main focus. It is the bright and shiny element of the story. That and the father’s prayer, “I believe, Lord, help my unbelief.” Who of us hasn’t said that? But there is more going on here and I am really not sure what it is.
Is Jesus really angry at the disciples because they could not heal the boy? His rebuke is harsh. He calls the whole generation “perverse.” “How long am I to bear with you?” That would hurt. There must be more to it than that.
The end of the story, I think, just maybe contains the clue.
"The Son of man is to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him, and he will be raised on the third day."
This is the second time Jesus talked about his passion with them. The first came in the 16th chapter of Matthew. Today we are reading from the 17th. Jesus is preparing them as much as possible for what is to come in Jerusalem.
I don’t know for sure, but the Gospel reads almost as if the boy’s father disturbs him. That he might have been praying as he so often did and was surprised by the desperate man. Perhaps Jesus had been thinking about his death and resurrection while all the drama was going on.
Was Jesus frustrated because the disciples just weren’t getting what he was laying down and were so consumed with the drama of the boy and his dad that maybe the disciples had simply put the passion out of their minds. Maybe they just couldn’t bring themselves to believe it or deal with it. Maybe they just wanted the painful news of his coming death to go away. How could such a thing happen to such a righteous, wise, compassionate wonder-worker? Our beloved teacher and friend. Bad things just don’t happen to such people.
The thing about faith is that it makes room for everything. If it rains, so be it. It is snows, thank God. If I’m well, nuska’ullah. If I’m not, God be praised. Faith doesn’t try to make the world into a Disney Land of our own design. The world is to be received as is. Life is to be received just as it unfolds and with gratitude.
There is a way of interpreting faith that is very popular in some pockets of contemporary Christianity and very misguided. What it says is this, “If you have enough faith, you can have anything you want, (seemingly including a life free from suffering.)” So, faithful and righteous folks (the elect) are known by how successful they are. The rich are elect, the poor are not. The healthy are blessed by God, the sick are not.
The first seminary I attended was part of a school with this view of faith. Their ideology manifested in the refusal to admit students who were physically challenged. Even students who were overweight had to lose weight to be permitted to stay. It was not until after I graduated and a lawsuit was brought that the school was forced to admit students who were physically challenged. Underneath this discrimination was the belief that such people inherently could not develop into true examples of the kind of Christian the school wanted to produce. The “elect” in this world-view, then, are also the elite. Physical imperfections were placed on the level of moral failings caused by weak or deficient faith rather than as facts of life. That kind of faith has no place for imperfection or diversity and thus no place for life itself which is filled with both.
True faith makes room for everything. For failure and success, for difference and diversity, for ups and downs and everything in between. True faith makes no demands and has only one expectation, and that is, the firm expectation that what comes to me moment by moment is a gift and part of God’s continuing work.
The reason? Underneath what the senses perceive lies the bigger picture. “The Father and I are always working,” Jesus says. And most of that work is unseen, in the subconscious and underneath the very ground of existence. At this moment and at every moment, the whole of the cosmos is being drawn into communion with its Creator. The accidents of life cannot stop this. Nothing can. They actually are a part of it.
Do you watch “Everybody Loves Raymond?” Carol and I love that show. And there is one episode where Marie, the overbearing mother of Raymond and Robert, gives some extraordinary marriage advice. Robert and Amy have only been married a short while and they decide to have an anniversary party for their marriage not even a year old. Marie tells them, “Ok, so you two are in love. You know nothing.” And then she tells them the truth about the ups and downs of marriage and says that the way to succeed is to “push through.” The word hate comes up and Amy innocently wonders how hate can be part of a good marriage. Marie replies, “You make room.”
Faith makes room for life, all of it. Giving thanks to God for all things turns “all things” into gifts and a blessings. I remember a paragraph in Fr. Schmeman’s journals where he says something that I’m sure caused no little consternation amongst the religious elites. After hearing the confessions of hundreds of seminarians (if not more), he commented that he was grateful to God for sexual sins! Without them, he quipped, all these seminarians would think they were gurus. Interesting take on it for sure.
We are, all of us, imperfect human beings, full of contradictions and we are accepted and loved and included unconditionally. Fallen, yes, and filled with God, yes. Saints, yes, and sinners, yes. Loved by God, saved by him, always.
We are, all of us, gloriously imperfect human beings, full of contradictions and we are all, at the same time, children of the Most High. What generation isn’t perverse. Could we have healed the boy? I wouldn’t bet on it.
At the same time at our core lies the truth about us. The poet Kabir puts this most beautifully:
“Within this container of flesh lies forests and groves, and within these God dwells. Within the container of flesh lies the seven seas and countless stars. And within them God dwells.”
Faith acknowledges the discrepancies of life and finds a way to celebrate them. Faith opens its arms from east to west and embraces all things transfiguring them. There is no reason to fear We are, along with everything and everyone else, part of his work.