This sermon was preached by the Rev. John Rasmus, a retired priest who makes his home at St. Dunstan’s.
Have pity upon me, Have pity upon me, O ye my friends for the hand of God has touched me.
A few Sundays ago Miranda spoke in her sermon about story, about how our lives are part of a great story and that story is reflected in the great story that God is telling — the old, old story of Jesus and His love.
This morning I would like to speak more about that story in my life. I begin by reminding you of these words from the Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien. Sam and Frodo have found themselves walking alone, the fellowship of the ring has been broken, Gandalf has been lost in the mines of Moria, Boromir has betrayed the fellowship and has died at the hands of the orcs; and now Sam and Frodo have found themselves on the dark and dangerous road to Mordor. As they walk along Sam turns to Frodo and says, “I wonder what sort of tale we’ve fallen into.” And that is the question isn’t it for each of us. Just what sort of tale is this? Is it as Macbeth says, “A tale told by an idiot full of sound and fury and signifying nothing?” Or is there something more and deeper into which we have fallen. A tale of meaning and life, a story of fellowship and community, a story of life and love. Let me share a moment in my story and how once I found my story tied up with a greater story.
There are three threads that are woven together to make this story. The first thread is about what was happening in my life and in my father’s life. I have told you before about how in 1965 my father was dying of colon cancer and I went often to visit him during that time of his dying. But my dad had made a promise that he would make it to my high school graduation. It had been a hard and difficult struggle. I want to return to the conversation I had with my dad on April 10, 1965. On that day when I walked into my dad’s room he began to weep. After a moment or two he regained his composure and said to me, “Johnny, I just can’t make it.” We both wept together. Then my dad said, “Johnny I want to place you and Mary Ann, my sister, into the hands of my best friend.” He paused and I spoke up, “That’s OK dad I have come to love Geneva and Alfred and I’ll be OK with them.” My dad looked at me intensely and then said, “Oh, Johnny, I’m not talking about guardianship, no, I want to place you in the hands of the best friend I have ever had and that is Jesus. I love you so much that I could not let you go without you in His hands.” That evening after that conversation my dad he slipped into a coma from which he would never wake up again. My dad’s voice would grow silent. That is the first thread of my story and my dad’s story, but let me move to the second thread – the thread of my community of faith.
The day I had that conversation with my dad, April 10, 1965, was the day before Palm Sunday — Holy Week. And that week had always been a precious time to me. I attended all of the services every year — Wednesday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday. And I should tell you that on Holy Saturday in those days there was no Easter Vigil. The Holy Saturday service consisted of an Old Testament reading and an Epistle, but no Gospel, no Eucharist. Jesus was in the tomb and He too was silent. And this Holy Week was especially hard on me. For my dad was dying, was already in a coma, and my Savior was dying on a cross for me — the One who as my dad’s friend, the One who gave His life for me.
One other thing I was a lector at the Cathedral in Eau Claire, and in late March, the lector’s schedule came out for April. And I was scheduled to read the Old Testament reading on Holy Saturday. That year Holy Saturday was April 17, 1965. It was just seven days after my dad had slipped into a coma, seven days since I had had that last conversation with him. Now at that time the readings were always in the King James Version of the Bible.
And so now the third thread — the scripture that I read that night. Let me read that lesson as I read it on that evening from the King James Version of the Bible. The reading scheduled was from the Book of Job — the same book from which our Old Testament lesson comes this morning. I am reading from the 19th chapter beginning at the 21st verse, “Have pity upon me, have pity upon me, O ye my friends; for the hand of God has touched me. Why do ye persecute me as God, and are not satisfied with my flesh? Oh that my words were now written, oh that they were printed in a book. That they were graven with an iron pen and lead in the rock forever. For I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth; and though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh I shall see God. Whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes shall behold and not another.”
The third thread was those words of Job, those words from scripture, but words that were so meaningful to me that night and still are for I was living that story and that was my dad’s story. My dad had struggled for 16 years with Multiple Sclerosis and now colon cancer. His flesh was being destroyed, and yet my dad’s faith in his Lord Jesus was as unwavering as Job’s had been in God. He knew that his redeemer lived and he knew that he would see God and know him and be known by him. And as I read those words that night in the Cathedral I wept. I knew that this great story was my story. That I had been invited into a greater story. There was a larger story, and I was being called into that greater story. It was not a story that was a walk in the park, rather it was a story of pain and sorrow, trials and even danger, a story told amidst a great storm, but it was the story that God was telling in me and through me and it was also about Jesus and His love. God had planted eternity in my heart, and God’s story was being written in my heart as it had been written in the hearts of so many others before me, as it was being written in my father’s heart.
And though at that moment there seemed to be a great darkness all about me I began to believe and trust that there was a redeemer who would stand on the latter day — that I was not destined to darkness and sorrow, but life and love and redemption!! There was grace and I was invited into a life of grace, into a future and a hope. That at the end of it all there was not only sorrow and sadness, but resurrection and victory. And it was not that I had sought God out, but rather that God was seeking me, holding onto me when I was barely holding on. For Jesus has come to seek and save that which was lost. He came for me. He also comes for you. He came that we might have life and have it abundantly. And God has written His story in my heart, a story of human brokenness, spiritual blindness, struggle and sorrow, but also of hope and joy and peace and trust and love.
And I also believe that this is possibly what is going on in that Gospel story this morning as well. I concede that James and John may be looking for special recognition, but I am convinced that what they are really asking for is to have a part in the story that Jesus is living. They want to stand with Him; they want their lives to matter — to have meaning. And they have discovered that thrie lives have more meaning when they are with Jesus. They wanted to belong to the community of those who were with Jesus. And they wanted a significant part to play — “Can we be there Jesus, one on your right hand and one on your left in your kingdom? We want to be baptized with the batism with which you are baptized. We want to be with you in your kingdom!!” I believe that is the hunger and the deire of these two men. They want to have a significant part in the story that God is telling in Jesus!!
And I am also reminded of the end of the Narnia stories which is a story that is an echo of the story God is telling. Let me share a part of that.
“And Aslan turned to them and said, ‘You do not look so happy as I mean you to be.’ And Lucy said, ‘we’re so afraid of being sent away, Aslan. And you have sent us back into our own world so often.’ ‘No fear of that, ‘ said Aslan. ‘Have you not guessed?’ Their hearts leaped and a wild hope rose within them. ‘There was a railway accident,’ said Aslan softly. ‘Your father and mother and all of you are — as you call it in the Shadowlands. The term is over; the holidays have begun. The dream is ended; this is the morning.’ And as he spoke he no longer looked to them like a lion; but the things that began to happen after that were so great a beautiful I cannot write them. And for us this is the end of all stories, and we can most truly say that they lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all of their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page; now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has ever read; which goes on forever; in which every chapter is better than the one before.” And so C.S. Lewis ends his story of the Last Battle. And I often cannot read this without tears, for that too is my dad’s story now and someday it shall be mine as well.
We are all invited into the story that God is telling, a story of victory in the face of disaster; the story of life in the face of death, the story of wholeness and holiness in the face of sin and death. Job shouts it out to his friends. “I know my redeemer lives.” I know my redeemer lives. It is God’s story and we have been invited. That is the tale that we have fallen into. God is weaving together the threads of our lives into a beautiful tapestry, into a great story and God has given us a part to play. May we find our place in that story; may we fall more deeply in love with Jesus as we enter into life with Him. We are loved. You are loved. Shalom.