2020 Trinity III – Crying Out in the Wilderness

Postulant Ken Kubo
28 June 2020

But the God of all grace, who hath called us unto his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that ye have suffered a while, make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle you.- I St. Peter 5:5-11

Besides being the Third Sunday after Trinity Sunday, this is also the Saint day for Irenaeus, Bishop of Lugdunum (now Lyon in southern France) and the Sunday after St. John the Baptist’s day, which was celebrated last Wednesday. It’s also the birthday of King Henry VIII, for whom we bear some love and respect because his actions led to our Anglican way of worship. This weekend also marks the beginning of the National Wildlife Federation’s Great American Campout which lasts through the summer. Last night, my family celebrated by making s’mores in the backyard over our grill. Actually camping out is difficult because of the fireworks going off in our neighborhood until the wee hours. So that’s as close to the wilderness as we’re getting for now, but it also reminds us that the current situation has forced many into their own wildernesses – alone, in isolation, uncertain of the dangers lurking about.

There are many reasons that hermits chose to go into the wilderness of their own accord, whether to demonstrate that they weren’t having any part of the established state or religion, to avoid persecution, or – most importantly – to be able to hear the still, quiet voice of God without all the hubbub of mundane life. John the Baptist, of course, still attracted followers and flocks of the curious who sought him out, choosing themselves to go into the wilderness in search of him. And what did they go to see? A reed shaken by the wind – that same rushing wind that filled the house of the Apostles on Pentecost? A prophet? Or the spectacle of a wild man dressed in rough hides and living off locusts and wild honey? As an aside, the book of Leviticus considers most insects unclean, but does allow eating locusts. (Leviticus 11:22) You might have some fun with that the next time you plan a meal with Jewish friends. And what did they take back from the wilderness when they left it? What new path – spiritually at least – did they find as they went? As the Baptizer, John offered a new way to approach God, washing oneself clean of sins past and walking a more spiritual journey going forward. In literature, the wilderness is a common metaphor for a place of transition and growth, whether you spend one night or forty, you do not leave the same person as when you entered. John was the agent of transformation in his wilderness, making that effort to find the lost sheep of the flock of Israel and bring them back into God’s fold. Even so, the wilderness was and is a dangerous place, and not everyone is willing to embrace transition.

But part of what we have to acknowledge is that whether we embrace it or not, change is upon us. Dr. W. Edwards Deming’s management theories included the philosophical truism that dealing with change was not compulsory – but neither is survival. Change is part of the fabric of our being, inherent in the blueprint of our Creator. Studies dating back to the 1950’s (Aebersold, et al, Oak Ridge Atomic Research Center, c. 1953) determined that up to 98% of the atoms in your body are actually replaced over the course of a year, and that all atoms are swapped out by around five years. In a way, we are thus remade a couple times every decade, although we are made of different atoms, we remain us. Replace all the parts in a car, and you would still call it the same car, after all. In our time, we are promised that we will be remade perfected, resurrected in the body for eternal life. Until then, though, we must deal with the change we’re having to deal with now, whether driven by science, nature, or social mores.

St. Irenaeus also lived amid changing times; in his case, for the Church in the 2nd Century AD. Irenaeus was a student of Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna, who was himself a student of St. John the Evangelist. Polycarp had the honor of being the last living Bishop to have spoken with and been taught by one of the Apostles – the second generation of Church leaders was passing away. The Church was thus truly becoming an institution, surviving and continuing to prosper even as its founders faded into memory. This was a dangerous time for the Church, as many arose from within the Church to reinterpret doctrine, to find new revelation, or simply to seize power. Among Irenaeus’ writings was a series of books titled Against Heresies (Adversus Haereses), in which he listed three pillars of orthodox belief: holy scripture, Church tradition handed down from the Apostles, and the continued teaching of the Apostles’ successors. As the Church itself found itself in transition, Irenaeus tried to chart the way through the wilderness by depending on the recorded wisdom of the past and the then present leadershp in Apostolic Succession to set the course of the future. In his case, he was not preaching to create change but rather to preserve the Way of Christ amid change.

In our current wilderness, we find ourselves amid those same dual forces of transition and tradition, and the unanswered question is how much we will change while simultaneously preserving what must not be changed. Part of what we have to understand is that, since we are 98% changed every year anyway, we should not be surprised to find the world changing around us. As Christians, we have the ability to lean on eternal things to anchor us amid change. Our cry in the wilderness is not despair but prayer – thanksgiving, adoration, penitence, intercession, and petition – because we know that we are heard, though we call from out of the deeps and amid the horns of the unicorns (Ps. 22:21).

“To heal the sick stretch out thine hand, and bid the fallen sinner stand. Shine forth, and let thy light restore Earth’s own true loveliness once more” – Charles Coffin

We know that Our Lord worked great miracles of healing throughout His earthly ministry. He reminded John’s disciples of the fact when He said, “The blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them.” (St. Matthew 11:5). And even in this day and age, God works through the gifts He has given us. Through our intellect, our curiosity, and our concern for our fellow people, we have seen an accelerating pace of medical miracles. Technically, without these glasses, I’m about as blind as a mole trying to track groundhogs on a sunny day. And I have been assured by any number of commercials that simply allowing a doctor to dissect my eyes with lasers will let me dispense with them entirely. We have techniques that cure lameness and can in many cases reverse deafness. Leprosy, once a source of social stigma, now has a well understood treatment. Even now, the medical minds of the world drive to a better understanding of the virus at the heart of the current pandemic. But we must also remember that the redemption we are promised is healing more than just the body.

We have indeed suffered for a while, and while none of us here appear quite perfected as of yet, we may still lean upon Our Lord’s grace to strengthen and settle and ‘stablish us. It has been indeed a tough road to suffer enforced seclusion, the limitations on our activities, and even the struggles to keep our beloved Church going. In perspective, though, we are so very blessed. (We do have s’mores!) Consider other parts of the world that have all but declared martial law, where wearing a mask improperly or holding religious services or speaking out to hold the government bureaucracy accountable can still be treated as a criminal offense. And, on the other hand, remember those places (such as parts of Central and South America) where little attempt was made to control the spread and have become the new epicenters of the pandemic. So let us give thanks that we have been spared from the worst of the terrors of the world so far and let us then work to perfect ourselves. Our Lord promises us the healing of our spirit, the cleansing of our sins, the purification of our souls. He is our divine bottle of out-of-body sanitizer, if you will. He upholds the fallen sinner, and raises up the downtrodden. (Ps. 143). And more often than not, He asks to work through us. As Bishop Bulloch said, love is very much part of what we do. So let us do our part to share our blessings, to reach out a hand (or maybe an elbow, at least figuratively) to help someone who has fallen to stand. Cry out to those in the wilderness and help them find their way back. Thus we do not just preach the gospel to others, but live and model it. Be the Good News. Be the cup of comfort to suffering souls. Earth’s true loveliness is revealed in God’s light, and the Light that shines upon us and through us is the love that enkindles loveliness, even in the wilderness.

Blessed Lord, author of our being, strengthen us in the wilderness of the world. Give us comfort that we may call to thee in our need, mindfulness that we may call to thee in our joy, and courage that we may call others who need thy joy to thee. Be in our words, and our hearts, and our lives, Lord, that by what we say, feel, and do, we clearly show forth thy love and light in this oft-darkened creation. Amen.