Season of Pentecost: 16 November 2003
Proper 28; Year B
A Homily in Memory of The Rev. Robert K. Pierce
by The Rev. Philip R. Taylor
Hebrews 10:31-39(New Jerusalem Bible)
31It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. 32Remember the great challenge of the sufferings that you had to meet after you received the light, in earlier days;33sometimes by being yourselves publicly exposed to humiliations and violence, and sometimes as associates of others who were treated in the same way.34For you not only shared in the sufferings of those who were in prison, but you accepted with joy being stripped of your belongings, knowing that you owned something that was better and lasting.35Do not lose your fearlessness now, then, since the reward is so great.36You will need perseverance if you are to do God's will and gain what he has promised.37Only a little while now, a very little while, for come he certainly will before too long. 38My upright person will live through faith but if he draws back, my soul will take no pleasure in him. 39We are not the sort of people who draw back, and are lost by it; we are the sort who keep faith until our souls are saved.
Mark 13:14-23(New Jerusalem Bible)
14'When you see the appalling abomination set up where it ought not to be (let the reader understand), then those in Judaea must escape to the mountains;15if a man is on the housetop, he must not come down or go inside to collect anything from his house;16if a man is in the fields, he must not turn back to fetch his cloak.17Alas for those with child, or with babies at the breast, when those days come!18Pray that this may not be in winter.19For in those days there will be great distress, unparalleled since God created the world, and such as will never be again.20And if the Lord had not shortened that time, no human being would have survived; but he did shorten the time, for the sake of the elect whom he chose.21'And if anyone says to you then, "Look, here is the Christ" or, "Look, he is there," do not believe it;22for false Christs and false prophets will arise and produce signs and portents to deceive the elect, if that were possible.23You, therefore, must be on your guard. I have given you full warning.
The deductions we draw from life and the things we think are true are sometimes actually wrong and far from being true. Perhaps you have heard the story about the politician who was asked by a reporter to comment on his opponent in a race for Governor. The politician thought for a moment and then replied, "My opponent in this election is not really stupid; he just knows a lot of things that aren't true." Sometimes we think we know some things and they just turn out not to be true.
For instance, there is a bit of common wisdom that says, "Adversity breeds character." There is just enough truth in that old saw to lure us into believing the statement is some sort of absolute. Of course, it is not an absolute and if we live long enough, we will have some adversity in our own life that does not breed character or we will know someone else for whom adversity was not the breeding ground for character but just the opposite.
I once knew a clergyman who believed passionately that the adversities and wounds we all suffer in life's journey were often the breeding ground for major shifts in our lives both positive and negative. He thought that these wounds and adversities could actually be the beginning of our healing.
There is a book by Henri Nouwen titled The Wounded Healer that is an eloquent explanation of this phenomenon and I recommend it to you. The sub title of the book tells the story of his book in summary, In our own woundedness, we can become a source of life for others.
My friend the clergyman and Henri Nouwen were both bright enough to understand that the 'wounded healer' concept does not always work out positively. Most of us know someone for whom a major wound or adversity was the beginning of a downward spiral that may have ended in addiction, prison, or death by suicide.
My friend was insistent however that life's wounds and adversities did not have to end in tragedy. He believed that one of the major roles of the parish church or any faith community was to help in the healing of life's wounds.
He taught and preached tirelessly that the church, the body of believers, was charged by the Gospel to give instruction, encouragement, pray for, and give spiritual guidance to those who had not been able to recover from the adversities we all face. He believed that the mission of the church was first to practice forgiveness and then to participate in the healing of the wounded.
He rejected the statement we often say and hear from our friends, "God does not give us any adversity greater than our capacity to deal with that adversity." He would point out the facts of scripture that Jesus needed disciples to help in his ministry and that even the Son of God needed help in carrying the cross to Calvary.
My friend's name was Bob. Bob saw himself as someone who by fate, God's grace, and the help of others had actually been healed from many of life's wounds. He saw his ministry as primarily a ministry to help his fellow wounded do what he called, "Viewing bad news through Gospel Eyes." He believed that through instruction, care, and prayer many people otherwise destined to a downward spiral could experience life-changing healing by understanding and participating in the 'wounded healer' process.
Bob often told his counselees the story of a man who oversaw the youth sports programs for a large mid-western city. Bob explained that the man was a volunteer and that he had one rule he strictly enforced with all of the coaches, referees, etc. The rule was that every child, on every team, must be allowed to play in every game.
At this point in the story, Bob would stop and ask slowly, "Now, you tell me what happened to this man when he was ten years old?" The counselee would then smile and say, "He did not get to play when he was a small boy."
Bob would then shout, "Of course, and now that man is turning the bad news of his youth into good news for thousands of young people!" He would go on and say, "And you must find a way to view your own bad news with 'Gospel Eyes'."
Bob knew that one of the most important things Jesus asks us to do is view the world, others, and ourselves with 'Gospel Eyes'. Jesus invites us to see things the way he sees them.
With 'Gospel Eyes' we can see ourselves and others as God sees us, as sinners, forgiven and redeemed by the blood of Christ.
Bob was right and he changed my life by pointing me in the direction of Christ and by encouraging me to look at myself and others with 'Gospel Eyes'. The truth is he may have helped save my life and I miss him dearly. He died ten years ago this Fall.
Whenever life's wounds and adversities confront me, I remember him, his gallant spirit, his sage advice, and his constant plea for all of us to view life through 'Gospel Eyes'.
In today's lessons, the author of Hebrews pleads with us to persevere in life's journey and not to abandon hope. In Mark's Gospel, Jesus warns us that the future in uncertain and dangerous. Bob understood these messages well and often talked about not being able to control the future but persevering through faith and prayer to maintain hope.
Rest in peace, my friend, I know you loved the Lord and served Him well.
And now unto God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, be ascribed all might, majesty, dominion, power, and glory, this day and forevermore. Amen