Zoom sermon, June 19

Preached by the Rev. Lorna Grenfell. 

The young poet Amanda Gorman burst on the American consciousness at the presidential inauguration in January 2021 when she read her poem “The Hill We Climb”. More recently, she has written a poem entitles “Everything Hurts”. The first four lines of which are as follows:

“Everything hurts,

Our hearts shadowed and strange,

Minds made muddied and mute.

We carry tragedy, terrifying and true.”

Certainly, the phrase “everything hurts” sums up much of what each of us sees, hears, and experiences in our world today.

-The pandemic continues to dictate much of our lives.

-There is a very decisive war being fought in Ukraine and in 20 armed conflicts–terrorist insurgencies, civil wars—in the rest of the world right now.

– Storms, hurricanes, floods, and wildfires continue to rage and devastate many parts of the planet with our inability to address climate change adequately and quickly.

– Our beloved country is enmeshed in a political morass of unbelievable proportions.

– And our attention is riveted to the demands of addressing gun violence, reproductive rights, homelessness, inflation, and our systemic, ever-present racism.  This morning, we praise God that Juneteenth, begun in 1865, is finally a federal holiday.  It took us 157 years to make that happen, and there are still only 18 states that have actually funded this federal holiday.

Good heavens.  Have I left anything out?  No wonder the phrase “everything hurts” comes to mind.  Our world seems barely tolerable.  In fact, a good word for today is INtolerable.  So, let us turn together to our scripture lessons that were so beautifully read for us this morning.

After King Solomon’s death, ten tribes broke away from Davidic rule and set up Israel where Ahab was king in the 9th century BCE.  Ahab marries Jezebel, daughter of the King of Sidon, Israel’s Phoenician neighbor.  Jezebel promotes the worship of their god Baal.  The prophet Elijah appears on the scene and overwhelmingly demonstrates YHWH’s superiority over Baal, ending in the slaughter of all the prophets of Baal.  Jezebel is furious and swears revenge on Elijah.  She’s so angry that she swears death to Elijah.  

Elijah has to get out of town fast.   He flees into Judah and then into the wilderness.  After 40 days and 40 nights, exhausted and alone, Elijah lies down to sleep beside a wadi.  While he sleeps, angels come and leave food—a cake by his head. (I think this is one of the first biblical references to Angel Food Cake?  Don’t tell Miranda I said that!)  After his long journey alone into the wilderness, after wild wind and splitting rocks, after earthquakes and fire, there is the sound of silence.  Verse 12 tells us God speaks to Elijah when he is alone in the sound of sheer silence.  The words translated as the sound of sheer silence have more than one meaning: quiet, small voice, gentle whisper, stillness.

Our New Testament story this morning tells of the Gerasene demoniac who also finds the world Intolerable and flees to a place where he can be alone.   This Gerasene demoniac is a heartbreaking, Biblical figure, a man possessed by demons, a man with no name, a human being who, when asked his name, replies “legion”—a direct reference to the oppressive Roman rule that all are living under.  A Roman legion is composed of up to 6,000 armed men trained for war.  Like Elijah, life in community for the demoniac becomes intolerable.  He also flees to a place where he can be alone, the cemetery.  Alone and afraid, ranting, naked, violent and shouting, he lives among the dead.  He lives amidst a great silence.  And, of course, it is here that God comes to him in the form of a human being, Jesus.  It is exactly here that Jesus comes to the demoniac and exorcises all his demons, banishes them into the pigs who rush into the sea and drown.  And Jesus tells the man to return home and share with people how much God has done for him.

So, what about us gathered here this morning?  Retired Bishop Steven Charleston writes:

“When I watch the news, I get the feeling that history is deconstructing itself all around us.  What we knew is not what is now.  What we once assumed or expected is giving way to what we never could have imagined.  Old alliances are breaking apart.  Old assumptions about who we are no longer apply.  Like it or not, we are a transitional generation, people living on a hinge point of history.”

I think one of the questions for us gathered here this morning is how do we address what the World Health Organization describes as our collective ‘exhaustion, cynicism and burnout’.  When everything hurts, where will we get the courage, the stamina, the expertise and knowledge to live in and change our communities, our country and the world which have become nigh on INtolerable with violence and prejudice, with the systemic and ingrained harm human beings are doing, one to another.

It seems to me that our lesson is first to find a place where each of us can be alone.  In Jesus’ time, the world population was 250,000.  Today it is 1 billion people.  So, this finding a place to be alone might pose a challenge, but I think we can each do it if we are intentional about it.

maybe on a hilltop watching a sunrise on a morning walk or run

maybe a woodsy spot where we can feel and smell the sun-warmed pine needles

maybe an evening canoe paddle on a glassy smooth lake

maybe a chair outside at dusk to watch the stars come out

…a place for you alone where you can listen for the sheer silence, the small voice, the gentle whisper, the stillness.

…a place where there is a joining of the seen and unseen

…a place quiet enough for the transcendent and the immanent to meet

…a place for simply and passively receiving healing and strength

…a place where you don’t have to be busy

…a place where you don’t have to hold a prayer seminar with God

…a place to just let the sheer silence, the stillness, the gentle whisper flow into your very being.

Down through the ages, there has been a great deal written about these places of silence.  Songs and poems abound, and I know you know many of them!

–Of course, there is the old hymn “I come to the garden alone”, the place where “he walks with me and he talks with me”

–and for those of us who came of age in the ‘60s, there is Simon and Garfunkel’s “Hello darkness, my old friend/I’ve come to talk with you again…And the vision that was planted in my brain/Still remains/Within the sound of silence.”

–And here are the words of beloved American poet Wendell Berry:  “When despair for the world grows in me/and I wake in the night at the least sound/in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,/I go and lie down where the wood drake rests in his beauty on the water….”

–And here are my all-time favorite words from all of Christmas.  When a congregation sings this, I hold my breath and just listen: “How silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is given/So God imparts to human hearts the joys of highest heaven/No ear may hear Christ coming, but in this world of sin/Where meek souls will receive him still, the dear Christ enters in.”

Again, in Bishop Charleston’s words:

“Our task is not to run away from change, but to run towards it.  We must swing the hinge of history in the direction we want to go for our shared future.”  In being alone with God, both Elijah and the demoniac receive the strength to return to community.  Elijah goes on to deal again with Ahab and with his son Ahaziah and eventually to pass his own mantle on to Elisha.  The demoniac becomes an active community witness to all God has done in his life.

When life seems to become intolerable, may each of us find a way to be alone, a way to let the sheer silence of God reach in and bring comfort, courage, strength, solace and renewal.

It’s important.  It’s what enables us to go on, and you never know–maybe there’ll be Angel Food Cake?

Amanda Gorman ends her poem “Everything Hurts” with these words: 

“Maybe everything hurts,

Our hearts shadowed and strange,

But only when everything hurts

May everything change.”

In the words of poet David Whyte, ‘the visible and the invisible working together in common cause produce the miraculous.’

Amen and Amen.

Lorna Grenfell

June 19, 2022