Losing A Child
Sunday in the Tenth Week of Ordinary Time (B)
My dear encountered couples:
A lot of people today do not believe in the story of the garden of Eden. They do not believe what it teaches about the power of evil, nor what it has to say about pain and suffering being the result of sin. Pity them because they have eyes, but do not see, and ears - but do not hear.
The suffering of this world is quite clearly caused by human beings. War, poverty, oppression, mass starvation, murder - all these things are within human control and yet we have no control over them. Millions starve while tons of grain rots in warehouses. Tens of thousands are killed while the nations all round talk about peace and non-violence. Uncounted numbers suffer - though they have done no wrong.
We meet good people, and we discover pain and suffering in their lives. Children do not show respect towards them; relatives cheat them; spouses betray them.
We see bad people apparently prosper while their neighbors struggle to simply put bread on the table.
The scripture teaches us that there is a power in the world that causes this. It teaches us that we, are under the control of sin and death, and that we cannot change this fact on our own - that we need help.
Last night a friend of mine was talking about his father: he spoke of how, for many years, his father was a drunkard who verbally and physically abused him. He had no control over himself and brought pain and suffering upon others. The family had to move - to change almost every year; landlords were cheated; employers disappointed; children neglected, and friends - abandoned or embarrassed or betrayed.
And this continued on until one day, after taking his children to a Sunday School and after witnessing the faith of others and what it did for them, he accepted Jesus into his life. He asked God to take control and to guide his actions and save him from his sins - and from the power of sin.
And then things changed: debts still had to be paid, amends still had to be made mistakes still occurred - but the inner man - the man that God made - was set free to grow and mature. No more booze, a lot more prayer. The children who were still living at home stopped fearing what would happen next. They began to look forward to being with their father - they began to develop their own faith in God - a faith that still guides them to this day.
This man, this father, this husband, experience a change in control - he went from being in the control of sin to being in the control of God, and the result was the renewal of his inner nature, and in the end, when his earthly tent was destroyed, the result was a building from God - a house not made with hands - eternal in the heavens.
There is a power in the world - a power that our sinfulness as individuals, and as a human race, has set loose upon the world. The scriptures calls this power of evil - and it is dedicated to deception, and to destruction, and to death.
But there is another power also loose in the world, the power of God, and it is a greater power than the power of evil; it vanquishes Satan and, in the end,, as the Revelation of John teaches us, and as Christ himself teaches, it vanquishes death itself.
That is what today's gospel lesson is about when Jesus turns to those who accuse him of casting out demons by the Prince of Demons and says to them “How can Satan cast out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but his end has come.... truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness but is guilty of an eternal sin.
Someone I know from Glendale loves birds and spends a few moments in his backyard every morning feeding them. He says that doves eat more than other birds and because they have such voracious appetites they will soon eat right out of your hand. One morning he decided to play a little game with a particular dove that had been a regular for several months. He held out his hand with seed in it and when the dove approached and was just about to peck out a few seeds, he closed his hand, hiding the seed. The bird stopped, cocked his head in disbelief, and then retreated a few feet. He then reopened his hand and the bird boldly approached a second time. Again, the hand clamped shut just before the bird could reach the food. The bird again retreated. Several more times my friend repeated the little ritual and the dove reacted in the same disappointed way. Finally, after about the sixth or seventh time, the dove flew off. My friend never saw that particular bird again; it never returned.
We can chase the Spirit of God away; we can deny it’s access into our lives; we can refuse to believe, to hope, and to obey. We can please ourselves rather than seeking to please God, much as my friend in Glendale sought to satisfy his curiosity; rather than the bird that trusted him. When we do, when we refuse to trust and believe – we remain in the control of the evil one, we remain under the control of sin and death, we remain unforgiven - despite the cross - despite the resurrection.
Sometimes you’ve got to hear the bad news if you are to really understand the good news. The bad news is this: we as human beings are sinful; our wills are not completely our own. We are under the influence of an evil that is greater than we are; an evil which is greater than ignorance and poverty; an evil that is so strong that it even thrives in the midst of education and in the midst of wealth.
The good news is this: that God seeks us. He wants us and that we can place ourselves under the control of God and help build the kind of world that God planned for us from the very beginning.
We do it by faith - by trust - by belief - and by walking in the ways of God, the way revealed to us by Christ Jesus our Lord. For as St. Paul says, when we come to believe in Jesus Christ and in his message a great and wonderful thing happens: we become new creatures. And we share in the victory of Christ over sin and death until at last we inherit an eternal glory, as did my friend's father; as do millions of others each and every day. Look not simply at the things that seen, but look at the things which are unseen - the things that are eternal - and open your hands - and leave them open - so that the Holy Spirit may land upon you, and remain with you, and give you life in this world and in the next.