Sermon for Sunday, April 20, 2014
I have a friend who tells an extraordinarily powerful “resurrection” story; perhaps you’ve heard me tell it before, but I’m nonetheless going to tell it again. This friend used to be a special operations diver in the Navy. One day his unit was called upon to bring a sunken vessel back up to the surface. He tells how his ship arrived at the site, how he got into his diving suit, how he was given a powerful hose to blast away a tunnel through the sand underneath the ship’s hull, how a cable was attached to his back that he would run underneath the ship and then, God willing, back up to the surface, and then how he was lowered over the side of the ship and into the water down and down into the dark to the ocean floor. My friend tells how the operation began smoothly. He switched on his headlamp and engaged the hose and began blasting away a tunnel through the sand underneath the ship’s hull. But then, about halfway under the ship’s hull, he started to panic. Here he was, all alone hundreds of feet underneath the surface, in a narrow tunnel underneath the hull of a sunken ship, and all he could see was the grey of the ship’s hull overhead and the blur of the blasting sand whizzing by his mask. He began to wonder about what would happen if his headlamp gave out, or if there was a malfunction in his suit, or with his oxygen, or with the hose and he somehow became trapped underneath the ship. He said that he had such a panic attack that he did something he had never done before – he prayed. “God, Help!” As soon as he prayed, he said he felt an enormous peace come over him – “the peace that passes understanding,” he said – and he knew that no matter what happened, he was with God. He made it back to the surface, and said how wonderful it was to see the light and to breathe fresh air and to see fellow human beings again. “I went into the water one man, and I came out again as a new.” My friend experienced resurrection, and he has been a changed man ever since.
My friend has an extraordinary resurrection story. This morning’s sermon is for those of us who do not have such dramatic “resurrection” stories, or who maybe feel we don’t even have a resurrection story at all. If you do have an extraordinary resurrection story, you’re welcome to listen in. But this sermon is for those of us who do not have extraordinary resurrection stories, or who maybe feel we don’t even have a resurrection story at all.
When we don’t feel we have such a remarkable resurrection story, we might – or, rather, I can easily let myself feel “put out.” I can easily go to a place where I wonder if there is something wrong with me or if I am somehow insufficient. Or I can find myself going to a place of jealousy of those who had had significant resurrection stories, and sometimes I find I can be judgmental about them, too. And if I’m not careful, I can go to a place, not merely of “what’s wrong with me,” but “what’s wrong with me in regards to God?” Does God not love me as much? Maybe I’m not that important to God; maybe God doesn’t consider me special in any way.
I’m willing to admit these feelings because I have a hunch that I’m not alone. I have a hunch that many of us, when we hear an extraordinary “God” story or somebody’s “resurrection” story, have some of these same feeling of inadequacy. If we do not have such a story and we start to feel these feelings, what is our hope? What can we do?
The first thing that might be helpful to remember is that thoughts about God not loving us or considering us unimportant do not come from God. It is another, our Enemy, who wants us to believe that God does not love us. But he has been vanquished; he has no power over us and can work only by deception. The truth – which was made known to us in Jesus – is that God loves us immensely – each and every one of us – as though God had nobody else to love. So if you have feelings of being unlovable, remember, it’s not true! God does love you; God loves each and every one of us as though He had nobody else to love.
The second thing that might be helpful to consider is that my friend’s story probably isn’t all that extraordinary; that similar stories probably happen every day, if we but had eyes to see. My friend’s story could easily have just been “another day at the office” – an exciting day, to be sure – but for the life of a Navy special operations diver, really just another day in the office. Except that he did three things: 1) He got in touch with what he desired, 2) he shared that desire with God, and 3) he paid attention for God’s response.
- He got in touch with what he desired. My friend could have simply let his panic attack run its course, maybe using it as an incentive to more quickly get the job done, and never got in touch with his desire for peace. But, he did get in touch with his desire for peace. This seems simple, but I think it’s important to get in touch with what we desire.
- He shared what he desired with God. Even if he did get in touch with his desire for peace, he didn’t have to share that desire with God. He could have practiced deep breathing or visualization or other relaxation techniques to calm himself. But instead, he shared what he desired with God: “God, help!”
- He paid attention for God’s response. Even if he did pray, he could have not really listened, not really been open, for God’s response. Or he could have suppressed or dismissed God’s response as soon as he got back to the surface. But he paid attention, and noticed God’s answering his prayer for peace.
If we find ourselves feeling envious or inadequate or unlovable in regards to God and resurrection, I wonder – if we would like to have a resurrection story of our own – I wonder if it would help if we, like my friend, 1) got in touch with what we desired, 2) talked to God about our desire, and 3) paid attention for God’s response.
And if we’re not sure what we desire, why not ask God to show us what we desire? (God is the one who gave us our desires. Who better to know what we desire?) Now we might think, “Why do I need to tell God my desire if God already knows it?” And I would say, I know my wife loves me, but I still love to hear her say it; it changes things, somehow. Of course, God already knows my desire, but in the same way I bet God loves for us to tell Him about it. And we might wonder, too, about noticing God’s response. Know that God always responds to our prayer. Remember the parable of the householder who had gone to bed, and whose friend comes in the middle of the night and knocks on his door?
“Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; 6for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.” 7And he answers from within, “Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.” 8I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs… Knock, and the door will be opened to you.
God may not answer our prayer in the way we had in mind, or when we wanted it, but God always responds to our prayer.
So, if we would notice resurrection, maybe it would help to1) pay attention to what we desire, 2) to express our desire to God, and 3) to pay attention for God’s response. I have a hunch that, if we but had eyes to see, we would see God’s power working in our lives to a far greater degree than we could ask or imagine. We would see God loving us, renewing us, strengthening us – in short, raising us daily to new life in Him. May God give us eyes to see!
The Provincetown poet, Mary Oliver, has much to say about the astonishing life that is happening right before us, if we but had eyes to see. Of the many Mary Oliver poems that would be appropriate to leave you with today, I am going to leave you with her poem, “A Thousand Mornings.” I like it not only because she talks about new life happening right in front of our eyes, and darkness changing to light, and waiting without disappointment, but also because what she is waiting for – “for redbird to sing” – might also describe resurrection:
A THOUSAND MORNINGS
All night my heart makes its way
however it can over the rough ground
of uncertainties, but only until night
meets and then is overwhelmed by
morning, the light deepening, the
wind easing and just waiting, as I
too wait (and when have I ever been
disappointed?) for redbird to sing.