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Another Kind Of “Memorial” Day

With God and with Jesus, it is never too late (and that kind of love never takes a holiday, either, on Memorial Day or any other calendar date).
Never too late for love to triumph over hate.
Never too late for light to rise above darkness.
Never too late for that which is torn to be mended.
Never too late for goodness to make evil cry “Uncle!”
Never too late to find passage through the narrow gate that leads to the wide, open, green pasture that our Good Shepherd has waiting for us.
That is one of several messages in a story made famous in the Gospel of Luke, in which Jesus has appointed seventy of his followers to travel ahead, in pairs, to every town where he intends to go.
And his instructions to those emissaries are quite specific. Carry no purse, he tells them, carry no bag, no sandals.
Furthermore, whenever you enter a town and the townspeople welcome you, Jesus instructs them, cure the sick who are there and say to them, “The kingdom of God has come near you.”
But, Jesus adds—after letting them know he is sending them out like lambs into the midst of wolves—whenever you enter a town and its people do not welcome you, go out into the streets and say, “Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you.”
Wow, pretty dramatic stuff right there. Wiping even the dust of such a town off their feet sends quite a messages to the townspeople. But a message to his disciples, too, who suffered what would have been an aggressive lack of hospitality.
“Don’t let it get you down, don’t let that experience burden you,” Jesus is telling them without saying it. “Wipe it off your feet.” He knows the physical act of wiping the dust from their feet will make its point in a powerful way to any disciples who find themselves leaving indifference, or outright hostility, behind.
But even such towns and the people who live in them are left with one last perpetual chance. Not simply one last chance. One last perpetual chance. Because that is what God and Jesus offer us—one last perpetual chance, a last chance that is going nowhere. A last chance that will follow us around, perhaps even tapping us on the shoulder from time to time, as if to say, “Hey, remember me? I’m still here.”
Even after all of that dust-wiping, Jesus informs the seventy disciples, there is one last thing they must do before they leave such towns and their people behind. Words they plant. Words that might still one day grow.
“Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near.”
Those are the last words and while they might seem to be part of a final rebuke they can equally, and perhaps even certainly, be regarded as a marker Jesus has his disciples lay down. Because, going back to the beginning of Luke’s lesson, sharing the news that the kingdom of God has come near you is the precise message Jesus told them to share with townspeople in towns that welcomed them.
So the blessing is the same, no matter what.
A perpetual signpost.
The open hand of Jesus left behind, offering the kingdom of God to any who wish to receive it.
A mustard seed that one day might sprout in the hearts and souls of at least some of those townspeople who think, and re-think, about what Jesus’ disciples had meant when they had told them “the Kingdom of God has come near to you.”
That is the message Jesus sent the seventy off to deliver and he has them share it even in the towns that are callously indifferent to them.
Not a final threat, not a final curse, not a final “this is what you missed.”
Instead, it is a final offer of God’s love. Or, “this is what you can still have.”
A final offer that will live forever somewhere in the memory of those who heard it, no matter how the town welcomed, or did not welcome, the disciples.
There each day, there every day, simply waiting for acceptance.
Because, with God and with Jesus, it is never too late.
And when such love is finally accepted, that day becomes one to truly “memorialize.”

Having A “Jesus Moment”?

We never know when a “Jesus moment” might happen. We may not even realize that it’s underway.
That certainly happened to a Pharisee, according to the Gospel of Luke. The Pharisee invited Jesus to eat with him, and some others. Hearing that Jesus would be dining at that house, a woman, described as a “sinner,” slipped inside. She brought an alabaster jar of ointment and stood behind Jesus throughout the meal, weeping and bathing his feet with her tears, then drying them with her hair.
The Pharisee—as might some day happen with us—has no idea who is really eating with him. “If this man were a prophet,” he said to himself, “he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him—that she is a sinner.”
Jesus reads his mind, which must have unsettled the Pharisee, and tells him, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love.”
Jesus describes the woman’s actions with perfect clarity. Great love is exactly what she showed him.
Importantly, Jesus never once tried to stop her. The tears, the kisses, the hair, the ointment—he accepted them all with tremendous grace, with an open heart, with, in fact, love. He accepted them in the same spirit with which they had been given. The woman knocked, so to speak, and the door to Christ’s love was opened for her.
One might surmise that the Pharisee was so taken aback at what he was seeing that he was speechless and did not have the woman thrown out. He wasn’t saying any such thing but he was certainly thinking that Jesus should not have engaged in such behavior.
Several things are going on in this lesson—forgiveness is certainly a theme, as is, of course, the role of faith in healing and salvation, and also the prominent role of women in the ministry of Jesus. But what also declares itself is the deep intimacy of what Jesus and the woman shared together and what it tells us about the kind of relationship Jesus and God, through the Holy Spirit, wish to have with the us—a loving relationship. Or, in the words of Jesus, himself, a relationship of “great love.”
God wants to do more than go out with people on Sunday mornings. God wants it all, the whole enchilada, to go steady, a full-on relationship of great love and deep commitment.
But, with all the static the world throws at humanity, it can sometimes be hard for people to know that they would be on the receiving end of a “Jesus moment” if they’d only stop and free themselves to receive the Holy Spirit’s “hug.” The learned and well-respected Pharisee let his sense of self-importance, self-righteousness, and the great store of “religious wisdom” that filled his head blind him to what his eyes saw but his heart did not understand.
There is no evidence that the Pharisee, and the others sharing the meal, had any idea at all about the true significance of the “Jesus moment” that was happening right under their noses.
They were too busy being judgmental, about the woman and Jesus, who tells the woman her sins are forgiven, stirring the indignation of those around the table.
Jesus is not dissuaded from showing the woman that God loves her, however. “Your faith has saved you,” he says. “Go in peace.”
We have no idea how the remainder of this woman’s life story goes. She is one of many people who come and go, in and out of profound scenes with Jesus, never to be heard from again within the Bible.
It’s probably safe to say, however, that the seed of God’s love that Jesus undoubtedly planted in her heart that day blossomed into full bloom.
And what of the Pharisee? We don’t know about him, either. It’s nice to imagine that the dramatic scene between Jesus and the woman, and how Jesus explained his message of “great love” to the Pharisee, eventually worked its way through the intellectual wall that so often keeps people from receiving the kingdom of God like a little child.
Or, like a woman who knew a “Jesus moment” when she was having one.

Only Speak The Word

Jesus has just finished all his sayings in the hearing of the people and he enters Capernaum. A Roman centurion with a very ill slave sends emissaries to Jesus, pleading for the healing of his servant.
Jesus, of course, responds immediately, walking toward the centurion’s home. Before he arrives, however, the centurion sends friends who deliver this message on his behalf: “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; therefore I did not presume to come to you. But only speak the word, and let my servant be healed.”
That is deep faith.
Only speak the word.
Jesus is amazed by the depth of the centurion’s faith. “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith,” he declares. And the centurion’s slave is immediately healed.
That faith seems superhuman. If Jesus were on his way to our house, who among us would tell him to stop and simply “speak the word?” I’m really not sure I could do that. If someone I loved were ill I’d want Jesus to lay healing hands upon them.
My favorite version of this story is in the eighth chapter of Matthew. In this telling, the centurion comes up to Jesus himself and seeks healing for a servant who is paralyzed and, the centurion tells Jesus, “in terrible suffering.”
Jesus replies, “I will go and heal him” but the centurion says, no, don’t do that because “I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word and my servant will be healed.”
Just say the word.
The centurion has complete and utter faith and it is grounded in the everyday mundane details of life. “For I myself am a man under authority,” he tells Jesus, “with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.’”
When Jesus hears this, Matthew tells us, “he was astonished” and he tells the centurion, “‘Go! It will be done just as you believed it would.’ And his servant was healed at that very hour.”
Throughout the Gospel, Jesus clearly emphasizes the role that faith plays in healing. Jesus repeatedly tells us that faith is the key that opens many doors.
There are times when life knocks our faith off balance and we stumble. But those stumbles—after we regain our spiritual footing and continue on our journey—make our faith real.
Each of us, however much we may doubt it at times, has the faith of the centurion. Think about it. Jesus is not going to walk through Appomattox today or tomorrow. We’re not going to find him on Main Street or in tending to some clean-up in aisle five at the grocery store. All we have are Jesus’ words. Our faith, just like the centurion’s, is based completely on what Jesus said. He’s not going to knock on our door and come inside our homes, is he?
Or isn’t he?
When we take Jesus at his word, when we have faith in what he has spoken, that faith has the effect of bringing Jesus into our homes, opening our doors and windows to the Holy Spirit, and then anything is possible.
Sometimes it can be a good thing, when we pray, to remember the centurion and to simply tell Jesus, “You just said the word, you just spoke the word. I read those words you spoke in The Gospel and that Good News is real.”
When we do that, Jesus is not only in our homes. Jesus is in our hearts, too. Within us, truly, just as he promised.

Our Inner Floods And Droughts

Into everyone’s life, philosophers and meteorologists have told us, some rain must fall.
Floods and droughts.
The past year has been a series of recurring flash floods. That’s the weather report for today. Now we move on to floods and droughts of another kind.
Each of us knows through our own experiences about life’s non-meteorological floods and about its droughts. “Some rain must fall” hardly tells the story, despite its figurative truth that life is not without its challenging difficulties and difficult challenges.
There are times of suffering. We’ve all of us been there and done that. We’ve all of felt about to drown or die of thirst. “Some rain” sure fell but we needed a lot less or we were desperate for so much more.
Throughout human existence, “meteorologists” have sought to see the sunshine through the rain that falls. No, I am not talking about weather forecasters but, rather, philosophers who delve deeply into the human condition.
Suffering they say breeds character. And, yes, it does—if we endure. If we do not succumb. If we do not give up or give in.
What doesn’t kill us, they tell us, makes us stronger. Surely this is true—if we do not allow the wounds, whatever they might be, to swallow us.
Resisting the temptation to give up or give in or allow life’s physical and mental aches and pains to dictate the rest of the day, the remainder of the week, or the duration of our lives is not always easy.
In fact, it is frequently quite hard.
None of us has the power to control what happens to us in life and so feeling helpless is often our first response, and a response that seems quite reasonable and logical given the circumstances of our powerlessness over life’s hardships.
However, each of us can control how we respond to those hardships. That is something we very much have the ability to direct.
As the Roman emperor, and Stoic philosopher, Marcus Aurelius wrote:
“If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself but to your own estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.”
But how do we harness this power and use it to “revoke” that distress?
In today’s Epistle lesson, Paul gives his Roman audience what amounts to a lesson in Judo. That is, using your opponent’s momentum against them. Don’t push back against their onslaught. Instead, take advantage of their onrush to flip them head over heels and then pin them to the mat.
“…But we also boast of our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”
Instead of complaining, Paul advises, rejoice. That is classic “mental Judo” strategy. And very good advice, if we can wrap our head around the reverse psychology of it all.
In many ways, taking control of how we respond to life’s pain and hardship is very much like climbing a difficult mountain. It takes great endurance to reach the summit. Real character is required. But the further we climb the more hope we kindle inside us that one day we will reach the top.
And, with God’s love as our Sherpa guide, even life’s Mount Everests are within our power to scale. Shadows, by their very nature, are not real. Walking out of them into the light is what’s real.
And the view from the top of that mountain is a glory to behold.

On Easter’s Dawn, In The Garden

He is risen.
Jesus, the great gardener of souls—capable of transforming the most wintered of life’s landscapes into spring—has bloomed and blossomed out of the grave. No wonder Mary Magdalene mistook him for the gardener when she went to his tomb in the pre-dawn darkness.
How appropriate that we at St. Anne’s flower the cross every Easter morning.
Just as nature pulls spring out of winter’s hat, like a magician—so an Easter bunny is an apt symbol, after all—Jesus turned death inside out and upside down.
And now he stands there, outside our own tomb, reaching out to place flowers on whatever cross life has nailed us to, to turn the nails into petals.
Few people live an entire life without enduring some sense of crucifixion, however momentary it may be.
No, there are no literal nails, no actual hammers. Roman soldiers have not made a crown of thorns for our head.
But it is not blasphemy to have a glimpse of understanding of the horror that Jesus endured based on moments when life for us became really, really dark, very, very painful and extremely frightening.
Jesus, the great gardener of our soul, is there now. Is here now on Easter Day. Sharing Easter Day with us. Offering a sense of resurrection right here and right now.
Jesus knows.
Jesus understands.
And that is why he stands there, outside our tomb. He has rolled the stone away. He is stepping inside. Reaching out his hand to us.
Where we feel barren, he can sow any crop and the harvest day will come.
Where our limbs feel bare, he can bring leaves budding.
Birdsong in our silence.
Light washing our shadows away.
A sky so blue it sticks to our eyes even in the darkness, which suddenly doesn’t seem so dark anymore.
We all get wintered by life at one time or another. The seasons of life come and go, like tides, but Jesus will never fall away from our tree like dried leaves for which summer is barely a memory and spring is no more.
Love and grace are perpetual blossoms and blooms.
It is Easter Day, and we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus.
It is Easter Day, and Jesus celebrates the resurrection of us all into new life in the hereafter but also in the here and now.
Not THE resurrection for all eternity.
Not yet.
But a resurrection for today and tomorrow until eternity comes.
That is the prayer we hear Jesus whispering in our heart and in our soul.
The cure we most need may have to wait for heaven, but the healing we need is here now. Jesus is reaching out his hand to lead us away from our grave and walk with us away from our tomb so that we may experience the wonder of the flowers that suddenly surround us.
Jesus, the great gardener of our souls, offers to keep the weeds from consuming the petals he promises are inside us.
And he offers another promise, too.
Easter Day is not just this Sunday. Easter Day doesn’t die at sunset. Easter Day is not buried as the dark of night returns. Easter Day lives on and on and on because every day offers us resurrected moments in the garden with Jesus.
Just when it seems the winters of our life won’t ever let us go, there are sudden daffodils in us all.
Just where God put them.

Let’s Pick Up Our Mats And Walk

The first notes of the song outside the living room window told me that light was coming into the world, just beginning to lift the surrounding darkness.
The dawn of a new day, even though the old day still seems to be following us around.
The caroling bird wasn’t going to wait for all the darkness to depart.
The caroling bird wasn’t going to wait until every last ray of sunshine had come into the world.
The caroling bird wasn’t going to wait until it was absolutely proven that sunrise had begun.
The caroling bird was just going to sing.
Out on its limb of faith.
Nothing else to do but just fill the air with a song of joy.
The sky was still nearly completely dark, even to the east, and totally dark in every other direction of the compass.
But that bird didn’t need to touch the wounds. That bird didn’t need to feel the scars. The bird didn’t need to continue plumbing the depths of the darkness which had surrounded it since the light left the world the day before.
That bird simply believed.
“Do you,” Jesus asked the man who had been ill for 38 years, “want to be made well?”
The answer to that question means everything. Absolutely everything is at stake.
What are we going to say?
How are we going to answer the question?
What are we going to tell Jesus?
We’ve got to really want to sing.
We’ve got to really want to shout out joyfully into the darkness.
We’ve got to really want to believe in that sliver of light coming toward us, that thin wedge of something so much better.
“Sir,” the man tells Jesus, “I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; and while I am making my way, someone else steps down ahead of me.”
Jesus seems to know that the man had grown too comfortable with his suffering. Why else would he ask the man if he really wanted to be made well?
Jesus seems to know that the man had become perhaps a little addicted to, dependent upon, his illness.
That is why he asked the question.
And sometimes the same thing can happen to us. We grow too comfortable with a certain sadness, a certain pain in our lives—however real and painful it truly is. Sometimes we can allow a certain pain and sadness to become a crutch.
The man probably could have made it into the pool in time for the stirring water to heal him at least once in the course of 38 years. That’s just common sense. Jesus knows that.
But Jesus also knows that the man really does need his healing touch to turn his heart around from the illness that afflicted him toward restoration of full life.
Just as we really do. Of course we want to be made well. But sometimes there is a corner of our heart that won’t let go of the sadness or the pain or the affliction. A final step we haven’t been able to take on the journey to healing—not necessarily a cure, but being healed on Earth until heaven can finally cure us entirely. And that is the corner of our heart that makes all the difference. That is the corner Jesus can touch and make us well.
But we have to want it.
“Stand up, take your mat and walk,” Jesus tells the man.
“Stand up, take your mat and walk,” Jesus tells us.
Sing with a joyful heart at the crack of dawn rising inside you.
Let us all sing with a caroling heart of joy at the crack of dawn that is rising inside us.
We all know this new day is coming. We all know the new day is here.
Like the bird, perhaps we, too, can change some part of the world by singing our own song into the darkness.

Into And Out Of The Wilderness

There are very few true wildernesses left in the world. At least not within easy reach of us here in Appomattox County.
Unless you count the one we hold in the palm of our hand. My smartphone makes the world around me seem more and more of a wilderness every day. I am bombarded by words, images and sounds that make me feel surrounded by madness.
Existence can feel like one huge Tower of Babble and the babbling is filled with dissonance, self-righteousness, division and hate. Love is hardly ever tweeted.
The world can make us feel like the Canada geese I saw early this morning, flying overhead in a perfect V only to become suddenly discombobulated and muddled, as if they no longer knew how to fly at all.
I’ve felt like that. We all have.
That’s why God gave us these words and the promise they make, the promise that God will keep:
“…I will make a way in the wilderness…”
The wildernesses most of us face in our lifetime are those occasions that make us feel lost and alone. Whether it’s the loss of a job, an illness, the death of a loved one…or a difficult memory, life is full of wilderness moments that turn our lives into a tangled maze.
Such occasions create wilderness feelings inside us and that is where we often get lost. Thankfully, God is there to help us through such times. “…I will make a way in the wilderness,” God promises me, and promises you through the prophet Isaiah.
As important as those eight words are, the words that come before them hold the key to following God out of the wilderness in which we are lost and wandering. Especially if there is something deep in our lives that we find troubling, something perhaps even years ago that still creates wilderness moments in our otherwise orderly and civilized lives.
“Do not remember the former things,” God urges us, “or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?”
Those are words that provide us with an internal and eternal map through our wilderness moments and through the violently crazy world around us. They are words that blaze a trail to what is, in truth, a “promised land” that God offers us all, one that abounds with love and grace.
Don’t dwell on hurts and pains and sorrows, God is telling us. Don’t believe the babble all around you. God can speak through the static of a twittering world.
So, have faith in that new thing that God is about to do.
Like the leaves that will soon be budding on the trees and the daffodils dotting the landscape, what God promises will spring up. It can spring up now in the deepest part of ourselves that the wilderness cannot reach, the place that only God can find.
God is marking the trail through our trials and tribulations. Journey with faith in that guiding love and grace. It has the power to actually transform the wilderness, itself, giving us rivers in the desert and love so magnificent and huge that no tweet, text or email could ever contain or defeat it.
Then, like those Canada geese, we can gather ourselves and keep on flying where the Holy Spirit guides our wings.
So, take that smartphone and Google “Amazing Grace.”
Or, instead:
Be still. Be quiet. And listen to the melody God is singing inside you.

The Road To Healing

Ken Woodley here. I don’t know if this qualifies as a shameless plug—I know that I do it without shame—but I want to share with everyone that my book, The Road to Healing, will be published later this month and can be pre-ordered right this very moment through your favorite local or online retailer. It is available online through amazon.com and bn.com (Barnes and Noble). The book is being published by NewSouth Books of Montgomery, Alabama (and is no vanity press volume).
The book’s subtitle is: A Civil Rights Reparations Story in Prince Edward County, Virginia.
I believe those who have enjoyed sharing this journey together will also enjoy the book. The Holy Spirit, God and Jesus are deep within it because The Road to Healing was, and is, a journey of faith.
The story is true and provides inspiration and hope for a divided nation and world. The centerpiece of the book is my first-person account of the tumultuously twisting and turning effort to create what the late Julian Bond told me would become the first Civil Rights-era reparations in U.S. history.
Those who read, and recall, my writings in January of 2018 in Forward Day By Day will remember that about a half a dozen of them were about the “massive resistance” in Prince Edward County, Virginia to the Brown v. Board decision of 1954. The County shut down its entire public school system for five years—1959 to 1964—rather than integrate schools. More than 2,000 African American children were left without a formal education. The wound was deep.
The book tells the story of our efforts to bring healing to that unprecedented wound of race. In telling Prince Edward County’s story from 1951, and the birth of the Civil Rights movement there, to the present day, the arc of the narrative is one of ongoing healing and reconciliation.
The story marks a trail blaze for other communities, the nation and world to follow.
U.S. Senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine—both former Virginia governors, with Kaine also once a candidate for vice-president—wrote the Foreword and Afterword, respectively.
God’s love, peace and grace to you,
Ken Woodley

Faith, The Final Frontier

Faith.
It’s still the final frontier.
Our continuing mission is to keep on seeking out new worlds of faith.
To boldly go where no faith has gone before.
And on this week’s episode we are going to do precisely that. We are going to push the faith envelope and mail ourselves to another dimension.
In fact, don’t cue the theme music for Faith Trek. We are going to go so boldly that this is more appropriately Faith Trek: The Next Generation.
Previously, on Faith Trek, remember, Jesus encountered the Roman centurion, whose faith was so strong that he told Jesus to simply speak the word and his servant would be healed.
Jesus was so amazed, saying he had never encountered such strong faith before. “Go! It will be done just as you believed it would,” Jesus told the man and the Roman centurion’s servant was healed at that very moment.
If that healing seems miraculous to us, just look at what the Gospel of Luke has for us this week.
Soon after healing the centurion’s servant, Jesus is on his way to a city called Nain. As he approaches the gates of the city a man who had died is being carried out on a bier. Jesus sees the dead man’s widowed mother, and knows what kind of life a widowed woman will have in that day and age, alone in the world after her only son has died.
The photon torpedoes of sorrow and surrender must have surrounded her mightily. Life’s phasers were not simply set on “stun.” A man was dead. What in the world could Jesus do about that? The crowd following him was surely asking themselves that question. If we were walking with Jesus on that road, we’d be asking ourselves the same thing. Nobody would have been expecting the dead to rise.
So what happens? Exactly what we least expect. Jesus has compassion for the grieving woman, Luke tells us, “and said to her, ‘Do not weep.’” Then Jesus touches the bier and says, “‘Young man, I say to you, rise!’”
The young man does just that and begins to speak.
Totally unbelievable.
Yet, so utterly believable.
And something, I suspect, that each of us has encountered in our own lives, if we think about it.
Something about our life was dead and through our faith in God’s grace and love, through our faith in Jesus’ witness to that grace and love, and his promise of the Holy Spirit, we have risen from that “dead” self into a new life.
We have left that “bier” behind.
To echo the 46th Psalm, something about our life was keeping us prisoner—some hurt, behavior, circumstance. Whatever.
And the Lord set us free.
Something about our life made us feel blind.
And the Lord opened our eyes.
Something about our life was bowing us down.
And the Lord lifted us up.
Something about our life made us feel as alone in this world as an orphan or a widow.
And the Lord surrounded us with his healing presence.
Yes, I suspect we have all, at some point in our lives, felt Jesus touch our “bier”—touch whatever it was that was keeping us prisoner, blinding us, bowing us down or making us feel isolated from God’s love—and say to us, “Rise!”
I know that I have.
There are all sorts of “biers” in the world and Jesus can, and will, touch every one of them.
If there is something in your life that makes you feel imprisoned, blind or bowed down, why wait another day to feel the voice of Jesus telling you to rise?
Let these words soak into your soul: “You Are Loved—Always.” That is the Holy Spirit of God speaking and Jesus, our Shepherd, has led us to those words. Take those words with you and, some time later today, find a quiet moment. Just you and the Lord. Let Jesus touch your “bier” with the truth of those words.
Then feel your soul rise at the speed of Light.

And Our Walls Come Tumbling Down

One of the most famous scenes from the Old Testament is Joshua leading the Israelites in the battle for Jericho, 1,400 years before Jesus was born.

Listening to what God told him, and having faith in what he heard, Joshua fought a very unconventional battle.

He marched around the city of Jericho once a day for six days, but not to use warring weapons.

He circled around the city with what was really a marching band, priests with ram horn trumpets, or “shofars”, one of the earliest wind instruments in human history.

Instead of piercing weapons and stabbing swords, the breath of the priests, like a spirit wind from on high, was transformed through the curving ram horns into echoing notes that proclaimed their faith in God.

In ancient Israel the “shofar” symbolized our own human windpipes and had deep spiritual significance, the sound of the “shofar” summoning, the Israelites believed, God’s highest mercy.

On the seventh day, God told Jericho that his marching band should be joined by the people adding their own voices to the sounding trumpets.

Joshua, as we know, did just what God told him to do and the walls of Jericho came tumbling down without a single shot being fired.

Shouts to the Lord, not shots, carried the day.

In today’s Gospel lesson from Mark, we find Jesus and his disciples at the rebuilt city of Jericho and Jesus also causes walls to crumble just outside the city’s gates. But walls that are not made of stone, though these walls have a stoning effect.

Mark tells us that as Jesus and his disciples, along with a large crowd, were leaving Jericho, a blind beggar was sitting by the roadside. When the blind man, surrounded by walls of darkness, heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth he began to shout out, not unlike Joshua and his people did 1,400 years earlier.

The blind man pleaded with Jesus to have mercy on him.

As would sometimes happen, those with Jesus—all of whom had their sight—rebuked the blind man for bothering Jesus. They sternly ordered the blind man to be quiet.

But the blind man would not be silenced, crying out more loudly:

“Son, of David, have mercy on me.”

Mark’s next sentence is absolutely wonderful—Jesus stood still.

Jesus stood still.

Stopped right in his tracks.

And then, teaching those with him a lesson, Jesus tells his disciples to call the blind man over to him. He doesn’t call the blind man, himself, but instructs those who were rebuking the blind man to change the tune of their own voices and call the man to Christ.

They do so, and seem to have quickly gotten the point.

The disciples do not offer a grudging invitation but tell the blind man to “Take heart, get up, he is calling you.”

Though surrounded by the walls of darkness, the blind man reacts without any sign of caution, paying the dark walls little respect. He tosses off his cloak and, Mark tells us, “sprang up and came to Jesus.”

The blind man ran right through the walls of darkness surrounding him. He doesn’t stumble. He doesn’t walk hesitantly, groping to find his way through the walls of darkness.

He becomes his own new season.

He springs up, like a sudden bloom in winter, and just like that he is standing right in front of Jesus, who asks the most loving and compassionate question—What do you want me to do for you?

What do you want me to do for you?

There are no limits. No preconceptions. Everything’s on the table. All things are possible.

My teacher, the blind man responds, let me see again.

What happened next is simple:
And the walls came tumbling down.

Go, Jesus tells the man who is blind no more, your faith has made you well.

Immediately, Mark tells, us, the man regained his sight and followed Jesus on his way.

Just as are doing together, Jerichos all around.

All of us experience our own walls in this world.
Each of us know what effect those walls can have on our lives, trying to keep us from feeling the full measure of God’s love and grace.

Walls of doubt.
Walls of fear.
Walls of illness.
Of anxiety.

Of pain, rejection, sadness, or longing for love.

Some of us have walls that were begun, the first stones put in place, when we were young.

Walls that stoned their way higher and higher as we grew older.

Perhaps some of us are feeling a few stones of worry gathering together inside us, wondering about the future of St. Anne’s as we, once again, find ourselves looking for a new minister around a bend in the road we cannot see or be certain of.

Everyone’s wall is unique, individual, like a fingerprint.

Not every wall is the same height, or thickness, or strength.

But just about every one of us knows the way walls feel in our lives.

We can also sometimes be our own worst enemies, allowing doubts and fears to act on us much like the companions of
Jesus acted toward the blind man, shouting him down, trying to silence his voice of faith in the Lord.

Yes, each of us knows what the blind man felt like.

But we all know this too:

Jesus is standing still.
Jesus is not leaving us behind.

Jesus is in the darkness of our anxieties and pain with us.
Jesus is standing with us in the midst of everything we are facing, as individuals and as a congregation.

And Jesus is asking us the very same question he asked the blind man.

In a quiet voice deep within our souls, Jesus is asking you and me, today, right now, What do you want me to do for you?

What do you want me to do for you?

A question so very full of love because Jesus asks the question knowing that he will take our answer into his heart and respond to us with unconditional love and compassion, in ways that are sometimes not so obvious at first but become prayerfully and powerfully revealed, as clear as the towering oak tree outside the window above our altar, when we lift our hearts to feel the answer.

Like the blind man, and like the author of the 34th Psalm we just heard today, we can call out to the Lord in our affliction and feel the angel of the Lord encompassing us, becoming our north, south, our east and west, being with us in every direction of our journey.

The angel of the Lord encompassing us in every literal and figurative meaning of the word, like the melody of the ancient “shofar” trumpet, pulling apart the walls that the world tries to build around us.

We may not have our own ram horn “shofars” to bring down those walls but we have our own windpipes to breathe life into words of prayer that will also summon God’s highest mercy through the presence of Jesus, our Lord and Savior.

We can also be wind instruments of the Lord, sounding the refrain of God’s love and grace voiced through us, shining from us into a world where wounded people sit in dark silence waiting, some hearing voices from the surrounding world telling them to be quiet, just as the disciples first told the blind man.

Those voices are not our voices.

Together we are a marching band strong enough to take on the Jericho walls in the world we face.

If the walls do come, the walls will surely tumble.

The psalmist uses an extraordinarily rich word in the eighth verse of the 34th Psalm—Taste.

Taste and see that the Lord is good.

Taste is not a sense we are often invited to enjoy in a religious or spiritual context.

Or is it?

In a few moments, we will have the opportunity to taste the bread and wine of communion with Jesus Christ.

And our souls can take that momentary flavor of Christ’s love for us and partake more deeply, tasting the moment when we hear most clearly the voice of Jesus ask,

What do you want me to do for you?

Tasting the moment when we answer Jesus, our souls springing up like a winter rose, tasting the place where our faith and Christ’s love meet in a Holy Communion.

There is no wall that anyone can build around us, or that we can build around ourselves, strong enough to keep out Christ’s simple question to each of one of us, and to the collective family of Saint Anne’s:

What do you want me to do for you?

Nine words that add up to everything.

Nine words waiting only for us to answer.

Take heart.
Spring up.
He is calling every one of us.