I heard about a husband and wife from the Diocese of St. Petersburg (I’ll simply refer to them as Joe and Mary) who flew to Australia for a vacation to celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary. As the plane was crossing the Pacific, the captain suddenly announced, "Ladies and gentlemen, I am afraid I have some very bad news. Our engines are malfunctioning and so we’re going to attempt an emergency landing. Luckily, I see an uncharted island and we should be able to land on the beach. But the odds are that we may never be found!"
The plane landed safely on the island. Joe, shaken, turned to his wife and asked, "Mary, did we pay our pledge to the “Forward in Faith” appeal yet?" She responded: “No, sweetheart." Joe then asked, "Did we pay the annual pastoral appeal?" She said: “I'm sorry. I forgot to send the check." "And, Mary. Did you remember to send a check to our pastor for the building fund?" "Forgive me, Joe," Mary pleaded. "I didn't." Joe grabbed his wife and gave her the biggest kiss in 40 years. Mary, a bit startled, asked, "Why?" Joe answered, "We’re not stuck on this island. The bishop and pastor will find us to get those payments." Guess what: they found them.
According to a UN statistic, there were approximately 14 million refugees around the world in 2016: men, women and children forced to flee their homelands under the threat of persecution, conflict or violence. Perhaps the most shocking photo was of a three-year-old Syrian boy washed up on a beach, lying face down in the surf not far from a fashionable resort in Turkey. Another iconic image showed an inconsolable father of this boy. The father looked so helpless and alone.
Today Jesus calls forth a similar, but not so shocking, image of loss when he announces his departure from the disciples: his close friends. Jesus is about to leave them and they feel helpless and alone. But Jesus promises that he still will be with them through the Spirit.
So what else does the word of God have to say to us today?
The word carries us back in our imaginations to the beginnings of Christianity, to a deacon named Philip, traveling to the “back-water” city of Samaria. And what is Philip doing? Despite a local persecution, Philip is proclaiming the “Good News,” i. e., Jesus Christ lives. And because he lives, we live. Philip had such remarkable success as an exorcist and healer and baptizer that the Jerusalem community dispatched Peter and John to Samaria so that they could “lay hands on them,” i. e., breathe the Spirit upon these newly baptized and fire them up with the gifts of the Spirit: wisdom (to recognize what truly matters in life), intelligence (to discern what's true), courage (to stand up for what's right), empathy or compassion (for the needy), good judgment (to do the right thing), and wonder and awe (to worship the great God of this universe).
The author may be asking us whether we’re fired up with the gifts of the Spirit, and reflect them in our attitudes and behaviors.
The author of the Letter of Peter urges Christians to be patient, especially in adversity, and to speak with “gentleness and reverence.” Like Jesus, if they have to suffer, he asks them to suffer for doing good rather than for doing evil. Because the innocent Jesus suffered for the guilty. God exalted him through the life-giving Spirit and God also will exalt us.
In the Gospel according to John, the author alludes to the mystery of the triune God: Father, Son and Spirit. The triune God lives within us and we live within the triune God. This is called the mystery of the indwelling of God. His presence is as real to us now as it was to the disciples then. But the challenge is to find the presence of God in our daily lives.
I would like to highlight how an author of a book titled “Grace’s Window” found the presence of God in her everyday life at a hospital. The author describes the hospital as a mysterious place.
The hospital confounds the peaceful soul with the realization that the God of daily living is also the God of sudden dying. The God of the comfortable parish sanctuary is also the God of the intensive care unit. The God of candle and incense is the God of diseases; the God of organ and choir music is the God of squeaky gurney wheels and crying children; the God of wine and bread is the God of infected blood and wounded flesh.
The God of all these smells and sights and sounds is also the God of profound silence. When despair prevents ordinary prayer, when the psalms fail and words seem meaningless, the mantle of loneliness surrounding me becomes “a mantle of dark and wordless love,” as Suzanne Guthrie wrote.
This very simple yet very profound point is also the point of today’s Gospel: we tend to isolate God to “church” or “temple,” to remove God from our work week. But God is in all of life: in moments of great joy, in periods of dark sadness, in the nitty-gritty of daily work, and in times of doubt and disappointment. The Gospel especially invites us to look beneath and beyond the ordinary appearances of daily life that envelop us and see the reality of God all around us. And so today:
Take time to think, it’s the source of power;
Take time to play, it’s the secret of perpetual youth.
Take time to read, it’s the fountain of wisdom.
Take time to pray, it’s the greatest power on earth.
Take time to love and be loved, it’s a God-given privilege.
Take time to be friendly, it’s the road to happiness.
Take time to laugh, it’s the muse of the soul.
Take time to give, it’s too short a day to be selfish.
Take time to work, it’s the price of success.
Take time to do good, it’s the key to heaven.
I conclude with inspiration from Theodore Roosevelt, a “renaissance man”: a naturalist, Phi Beta Kappa Harvard graduate, rancher, author, conservationist, historian, politician, “Rough Riders” colonel, Nobel Peace Prize winner, intellectual, explorer, public official, statesman and 26th President of the United States: the youngest president ever at 42.
Roosevelt stated, “A thorough knowledge of the Bible is worth more than a college education” He based his philosophy of life on what he called “realizable ideals,” and believed that you found yourself by being involved with institutions, people, jobs, causes, movements and everyday life. Roosevelt was “in the arena whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who knows the great enthusiasms; who spends himself on a worthy cause; who at best knows the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly so that his place will never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory or defeat.”
Yes, let us look for the presence of God everywhere but especially in the nitty-gritty of daily work.