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Sermons > Eighth Sunday after Pentecost

18 Jul 2010

“The Lord appeared to Abraham by the terebinth of Mamre as he sat in the entrance of his tent, while the day was growing hot.” (Genesis 18:1)                             In the name …

My family was gone from Friday to Friday.  While they were away one of my jobs was to make sure that our dog Wilbur got his pills.  Before she left, Sharon left a huge note on the refrigerator, a whole 8 and half by 11 sheet of paper.  I went to the refrigerator a number of times each day, and each day you would assume that I would have seen that note about Wilbur’s pills.  The only problem was that our refrigerator is covered with other notes, and pictures and magnets and even a calendar.  So Wilbur survived, but I don’t think he got his pills every night. That big refrigerator note got lost amidst all of the other refrigerator paraphernalia.

I find it pretty amazing that there are different things we can concentrate on and see, but then there are other things plain as day that we can miss.  I don’t know how that works.  Take Abraham in today’s Lesson, for example.  He has set up his nomad’s tent in the sparse shade of a terebinth tree.  As he sat at the tent’s entrance, the Bible tells us simply that “he saw three men standing nearby” and he offers them the hospitality of a meal. Somehow though, Abraham recognized these three men as God.  Now there’s a whole lot to be said about that, but how is that Abraham recognized God in human form?  It appears that no one else did.  So how did Abraham see what the others could not?  Or take Martha and Mary from today’s Gospel.  How is that Mary saw this once in a lifetime opportunity to sit at the feet of Jesus with the other disciples and hear His words about God, while her sister Martha was preoccupied with the chores and distractions of daily life?  How did Mary see what Martha couldn’t?

The Bible doesn’t give us a good answer, and maybe that’s because there isn’t one.  One of the songs that I selected for our outdoor Mass this morning is Amazing Grace, which is the powerfully religious hymn composed by an old slave trader who came to see the light, but what makes this version even more compelling to me is that it is sung by the Soweto Gospel Choir of South Africa.  Sharon and I go to a lot of concerts, but I never buy the CD’s because they’re usually more expensive there.  But after seeing this choir, and the joy with which they sang, I did buy this CD.  This group started during the time of apartheid.  And while much of South Africa is modern, there are still many who come from poor villages.  They know their history of institutional prejudice and they can see the disparity between the big city and the small village, and yet when they sing Amazing Grace you can feel that they know God is real, in the good and the bad, the just and the unjust.  He’s there to celebrate what is blessed, and Jesus is there to comfort and correct what is broken.  How is it that these singers can see God through poverty and prejudice while others cannot? 

Another song that I wanted to use, but just didn’t feel ready for it yet, was Johnny Cash singing “Greystone Chapel” while at Folsom Prison and before 2,000 hardcore criminals.  It was written by an inmate, and Johnny Cash was singing it to inmates.  One of the lines in the song about that prison’s chapel also speaks to the mystery of seeing God:  “It takes a ring of keys to move here at Folsom,” says the song, “but the door to the house of God is never locked.”  Obviously, some at Folsom could not see God at all, while others found their spiritual freedom in Him even behind locked doors because God could be seen so clearly by them.  How come some of those convicts could see God and others couldn’t?

And the recessional is What a Wonderful World sung by Louise Armstrong.  It’s all about what is blessed in the ordinary gifts of life.  How is that some of us can see God in the ordinary while others say they will only believe if they see the extraordinary, the miraculous?  I left our Bible study group with a question a couple of weeks ago about what Jesus had to say concerning prayer and the extra-ordinary, and we opened with that same question this past week.  I wanted them to think to themselves about what talking to God means for them because the question wasn’t a technical one about the biblical verse itself, it was a faith-filled one about the mystery of talking to Jesus and the mystery of His answer.  None of our answers were the same, and as a matter of fact we didn’t even come up with an answer.  But how is that some of us can see God in the nothingness of a quiet room so that we don’t feel foolish like we’re talking to ourselves while others never bother to fold their hands?

And how is that some of us can see the vastness and closeness of God here in the sacredness of the Mass, the holiness of the community and the opportunity to concentrate on the spiritual, while others can’t imagine anything in the world to be a bigger waste of time?  I think part of the answer of being able to see God here, is that we see in church, the institution of church, the history of faith, the rules and the teachings of generations of believers, I think we who can see God in all of this, we use church as the architecture of our faith.  It is the basic structure upon which we fashion our beliefs, what we build our own relationship with God upon.  It is what gives structure to our sense of wonder.  And it pulls us together as a community of people now and through the generations.  It gives our individual consciences a place to flourish and a space in our daily lives to let God in.  The institution is the architecture, not the building itself.  To see something there is to invest of ourselves in it.  It’s to allow for wonder and mystery, that some things that can’t be proven can still be experienced, but for this to happen we have to first make it personal. 

There is no clear cut answer to why Abraham and Mary could see what others could not, but it probably has a lot to do with an openness to the wonder and mystery of God all around us, the good and the bad, the ordinary and extraordinary, and Christ right here right now.  May we be open to this nearness of God so that we can see Him.  I can tell you that Jesus is here, but how much more wonderful it is when we don’t need to be told.  To see God, for this we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.  +

Fr. Randolph Calvo


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