26 Oct 2014
“‘You shall not molest or oppress an alien for you were once aliens yourselves …’” (Ex. 22:20)
In the name …
This Friday is Halloween. This gives me the chance to say in advance that I don’t put any faith at all in stories of the paranormal. When you tell me these stories and don’t get a response, it’s because they’re not registering with me. I don’t believe in haunted houses, graveyards, old inns or hospitals. I don’t believe in ghosts, witches or devils. I don’t believe in horoscopes, psychics, fortune tellers or energy specialists as some like to call themselves. Then people who believe in all these sorts of things have every right to turn around and say to me, “Well what’s so different about these things and you believing in God or heaven or Communion?” That’s a valid question. And my answer to that sort of question is to point away from God or heaven or Communion. Those are mysteries that a person chooses to believe-in based on faith. There’s no more physical evidence that the Holy Communion we will receive in a short while is anything but bread and wine than there is that a ghost flutters around the Deerfield Inn. There’s no way that I can prove life continues after death any more than psychics can tell me what’s going to happen to me this afternoon.
All the mumbo-jumbo about love-lives and lucky lottery numbers all strike me as silly when no psychic could tell us in advance that a 19 year old from Sunderland wanted to try and pull a Columbine at Frontier or that another kid did in Marysville, WA. I would imagine there’s a lot of psychic energy coming from things like this, but no card-reader ever predicts these sorts of things. If they in turn respond by pointing to prophets and prophecy, I have to agree with them. I think prophets are about reading the world around them, not the world to come. I don’t think the future is yet determined by either the stars or by God. I think it’s intended by God that we get to play a significant role in how the future plays-out so it’s the present that matters, and that’s where the prophets see what we don’t see.
So in this sense the paranormal and the mysteries of faith are on equally unstable footing. To those who believe in the reality behind all of the Halloween fun, I can’t prove that the mysteries I believe in are any more true by pointing to things equally unseen. But for me that doesn’t mean that God or heaven or Communion are left just as murky as the paranormal. It’s not only a matter of choosing which improvable to believe in. For me the proof of the mysteries of faith are in the practical consequences of believing. And that’s why today’s readings are so important. Jesus is asked which single commandment is the greatest. In Jesus’ mind, He answers with one, single commandment. It is to love God and to love neighbour. We may call these the Two Commandments of Love. The Jewish people may see them as Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18, two separate commandments from two separate books of the Bible. But Jesus could not separate them. For Jesus it was one law to love God and to love others. It’s put perfectly in the First Epistle of John: “This is the [single] commandment we have from Him: whoever loves God must also love his neighbour.” (4:21) The evidence that Christianity’s unseen mysteries are true is found in how they affect our lives now.
And this truth is explained even more forcefully for us in today’s Old Testament reading from Exodus. This is the book that tells the story of Israel’s freedom from Egyptian bondage, their wandering in the desert and the meeting on Mount Sinai of God and Moses. With this story of homelessness as its backdrop, God reveals that those who would follow Him must be open to the needs of all others, especially those who find themselves in desperate circumstance. Exodus reminds God’s people that they were once exiles and outcasts themselves. Therefore, they must never mistreat any other exile or outcast callously. If a Jewish person was to abuse one of society’s weakest, in the language of the Old Testament the widow or the orphan, then they would face the wrath of God. What Exodus is saying is that the proof of the mystery that took place on the heights of Mount Sinai between Yahweh and Moses is in the way the Jewish people acted in their lives, the way they cared for the ones who had no one to care for them. The practical works of believers are the proof of the unseen mystery.
This is why how we lead our lives is so important. The good that we do is the evidence that what we believe is true; and the good that we let pass-by makes our belief no more real than psychics and horoscopes.
I wasn’t sure I even wanted to tell this story because sometimes the problems and pains in this world are almost overwhelming. There is so much that is sad that to concentrate on it can suck all of the joy out of life. It’s almost like things can be so bad that whatever we do won’t make a difference. But I was reading a story about on ambulance driver in Liberia dealing with the Ebola epidemic. Every day families call to have loved ones taken to the hospital, but only a small percentage will get picked-up, and an even smaller percentage admitted and treated. Others will die alone. A 17 year old girl was picked-up by the ambulance, but there was no hospital bed. They waited, nothing changed. They brought her home with the promise to be back the next day to try again. She died overnight. This is half a world away, but in God’s eyes they’re our neighbours. But whether we work here or there, it is our charity and brotherly love that prove our faith. Even if we can do little or nothing for these Liberians, we can’t be unmoved by it all. We have to care and when we can, we have to try. This is not only an effect of our faith. This is the real proof of our faith. This is sign that the unseen mysteries are real. Jesus could not separate into two the love of God and the love of neighbour. Let us pray that we can’t either. Let us pray that our faith in Jesus who is here, who is in heaven, who is in the Communion, gives us the will and ability to live like Jesus would. In His name we pray. Amen. (+)
Fr. Randolph Calvo