Gay and I were taking our morning walk when I became conscious of a very familiar mid-summer sound, that of cicadas. When we returned from our walk, one of the little creatures was waiting for us on a brick cornice beside the front door. The cicadas certainly had captured my attention!
Like many of you, I grew up hearing the sound of cicadas in the trees of my yard. Perhaps it is because I became accustomed to that sound at an early age, but I find it both familiar and comforting. However, this is not the case with some people.
An American pastor was traveling to England on an ocean liner a few years after the Second World War. He and an English-man struck up a conversation. The pastor learned that the Englishman had lived in London during the war and experienced the terror of Nazi air raids. After the war, he moved to Missouri but was now returning home. He liked living in America but was returning to England because the sound of cicadas was driving him mad. Here was a man who had lived through the horrors of war, air raid sirens, bomb shelters, children running for their lives, and exploding bombs in London, but he was unable to live with the sound of a bug.
Sometimes it’s the little things that get to us, isn’t it? We often find strength to rise above the big things – a major illness, the death of a loved one, financial woes, loss of a job. But some little things try our patience – a shoelace that won’t stay tied, some grammatical error, a musical selection, a splinter in a finger, someone else’s annoying habit.
Jesus reminds us to pay attention to the little things – a coin, a pearl, a weed, a widow, an orphan, a hurt. If we are alert and receptive, we may recognize the hand of God at work in the unexpected places and experiences, even the ones that annoy us. God's reign also extends to those places.
The writer of Proverbs also gives us a word of wisdom in dealing with small things:
Four things on earth are small, yet they are exceedingly wise: the ants are a people without strength, yet they provide their food in the summer; the badgers are a people without power, yet they make their homes in the rocks; the locusts have no king, yet all of them march in rank; the lizard can be grasped in the hand, yet it is found in kings’ palaces. (Proverbs 30:24-28)
May God give us grace to remain spiritually grounded and alert to the divine presence, especially when some little thing has claimed our attention!
P.S. - Here's a fascinating video about the life cycle of the 17 year cicada. I've never seen them in such numbers. The Englishman probably did and that's what got to him. Don't watch it if you are seriously bothered by bugs.
The play "Inherit the Wind" is a dramatic account of the 1925 Dayton, Tennessee trial of John Thomas Scopes, a school teacher who taught the theory of evolution in defiance of a state law prohibiting the teaching of any doctrine contrary to the Bible. The prosecutor was William Jennings Bryan. The defense attorney was Clarence Darrow. Bryan won the "The Monkey Trial," and Scopes was fined $100. Several days after the trial ended, Bryan died. In the play, the character representing reporter H.L. Mencken, after hearing of Bryan's death, says to Darrow, "Why should we weep for him? You know that he was-a Barnum-bunkum Bible-beating blowhard." To an agnostic Mencken, Darrow says of Bryan, "A giant once lived in that body. But the man got lost - lost because he was looking for God too high up and too far away."
In the 13th chapter of Matthew, we find Jesus in the midst of his Gallilean ministry. Jesus had previously employed comparative and figurative analogies, but at this point Jesus chooses to teach in parables. James A. Fowler provides an interesting explanation of parables:
The Greek word for "parable" is derived from two other Greek words, para meaning "beside" and ballo meaning "to throw." Literally, then, a parable is an illustrative story that is "thrown alongside" or "placed side by side" a similar or com-parative concept. A parable brings parallel ideas together by drawing a figurative word-picture to illustrate a particular thought. It is often a thought-provoking analogy that leaves the mind of the listener in sufficient doubt as to its application that it stimulates further consideration thereof … This enigmatic nature of a parable allows the story to function as a picto-rial ponderable, which leaves an image on one's mind to be considered again and again. As such, the Biblical parables grate against dogmatism and the fundamentalistic desire to have everything figured out and nailed down in precision of under-standing. When attempting to interpret Jesus' parables the issue is not so much whether we "get it" figured out, as whether Jesus "gets to us" by planting a glimmer of His divine perspective of spiritual realities. The parable serves as a dum-dum bullet shot into our brain, which then explodes and begins to color our thinking in accord with the "mind of Christ." (Parables of the Kingdom, James A Fowler, 1996)
The parables of the kingdom challenge us to look beyond the obvious in our search for the realm where Jesus reigns and into which he invites us to live abundant lives. We can get lost in our search by looking for God “too high up and too far away.” God’s realm, as Luke tells us, is to be found within and between us-close in, as near as heart beat and breath and hands touching. Jesus’ parables call us to look at things in a new way and discover the abundant life we’ve been looking for all along right under our noses, even in the weeds and the dark corners where we'd rather not look.
The Cambridge Singers performing John Rutter's Open Thou Mine Eyes
The Responsorial Psalm for next Sunday is Psalm 139: 1-11, 22-23 (BCP). It is, in my mind, one of the most lyrical and poetic passages in the entire canon of scripture. In addition to its loveliness, it deals with a profound and humbling truth: God knows me better than I know myself.
1 LORD, you have searched me out and known me; * you know my sitting down and my rising up; you discern my thoughts from afar.
2 You trace my journeys and my resting-places * and are acquainted with all my ways.
3 Indeed, there is not a word on my lips, * but you, O LORD, know it altogether.
4 You press upon me behind and before * and lay your hand upon me.
5 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; * it is so high that I cannot attain to it.
6 Where can I go then from your Spirit? * where can I flee from your presence?
7 If I climb up to heaven, you are there; * if I make the grave my bed, you are there also.
8 If I take the wings of the morning * and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
9 Even there your hand will lead me * and your right hand hold me fast.
10 If I say, "Surely the darkness will cover me, * and the light around me turn to night,"
11 Darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day; * darkness and light to you are both alike.
22 Search me out, O God, and know my heart; * try me and know my restless thoughts.
23 Look well whether there be any wickedness in me * and lead me in the way that is everlasting.
When I am searching for God, I discover that God is already searching for me. When I am trying to discern God's will, I discover that God's yearning for me is always for my welfare and that impacts the lives of those around me - loving God in this way leads to loving my neighbor. When I am asking God to answer my prayer, I discover that God knows the best answer and is tailor made for my life.
God knows me better than I know myself. Therefore, if I truly believe that, I yield to God's wisdom and trust God with the results. That is not always an easy task. After all, I'd rather be in control of things, especially things that impact my life.
That's the story of the Bible, isn't it? The wrestling match between God and God's people. In fact, after the patriarch Jacob wrestled all night with the messenger of God and finally yielded, his name was changed to Israel, which means to wrestle with God. As the story unfolds, we see that it is a fitting name. The struggle between the human will and the divine will is the basic struggle of our existence as people of faith. Even though we profess to believe that God knows best, we are bound and determined to do it our way. Even though we say that God knows us better than we know ourselves, we still try to prove God wrong. Even though we hold the conviction that there is no place where God is not, we still try to hide from God.
The remedy for our condition is to grow in our inclination to trust God so that we can be reconciled to God. And, we are assured that God will supply the grace that will help us overcome our resistance, again and again and again. The one who knows us better than we know ourselves will supply the resources we need to align our life with God's life. A wise mentor of mine once told me that prayer is the struggle to harmonize the human will with the divine will. The truth of what he said has been borne out in my personal experience.
Sunday's collect sums it up this way:
Almighty God, the fountain of all wisdom, you know our necessities before we ask and our ignorance in asking: Have compassion on our weakness, and mercifully give us those things which for our unworthiness we dare not, and for our blindness we cannot ask; through the worthiness of your Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
May we be granted the humility and grace to yield our wills to God who knows us better than we know ourselves, so that we might become the new creatures God has had in mind all along.
P.S. - Here is a wonderful musical setting of Psalm 139 by Bernadette Farrell sung by the Choir of Wells Cathedral. I hope you enjoy listening to is as you reflect on who knows you best.
A few days ago, I was preparing an Evensong post for Unapologetically Episcopalian and discovered a nice recording of the William Harris anthem, Faire is the Heaven, performed by the Choir of St. Paul’s Cathedral, Buffalo, NY. I found an email address for the Organist/Choirmaster there and sent him a brief notice that we were featuring his choir that evening. Just as I hit the "send" button, John Linker, our own Organist/Choirmaster, stepped into my office. I told him I had just sent a note to one of his colleagues at the Episcopal Cathedral in Buffalo.
John said, "Oh, Jonathan Scarozza! Give him my regards. You know, he used to sing here." What a coincidence.
The following day, I received a telephone call from Jonathan who said, "I want to tell you something about the place where you are." I was touched by what he had to say and believe you will be too. He was kind enough to put it in writing and send for me to share.
"While living in Lexington, and studying at the University of Kentucky, I had many transformative experiences.
"In my first year in Lexington, I sang in the choir at Christ Church Cathedral. Having sung in cathedral choirs starting at the age of 7, I was nearing a time needed for a significant break from church commitment and attendance. For two or so years, I lived the simpler life of hanging out late on Saturday nights, and sleeping in on Sunday mornings.
"A life changing transformative moment for me came when Bob Burton, then organist at Good Shepherd, invited me into his choral program, put me to work, supported and nurtured my talents, and brought me back to the Episcopal Church and church music. For this I am truly grateful.
"My time at Good Shepherd felt wholesome, loving, and spiritual. There is something special and holy in the stones at Good Shepherd, and this I will never forget to appreciate. Thank you all."
Jonathan is one who returned to express gratitude. How many others might there be? I am reminded not only of the Parable of the sower, seed, and soil, but also of some words of Robert Schuller: "Anyone can count the seeds in an apple, but only God can count the apples in a seed." Seeds planted in the heart of one young man through the ministry of music at Good Shepherd took root in receptive soil and are now bearing good fruit, bringing about the transformation of other lives. How could you ever quantify that investment? How many other stories might there be that can be traced back to "something special and holy" at The Church of the Good Shepherd?
Here's an example of the musical leadership of Jonathan Scarozza. Enjoy it and give thanks to God who continues to inspire musicians everywhere to proclaim the wonders of God's love!
O God, whom saints and angels delight to worship in heaven: Be ever present with your servants who seek through art and music to perfect the praises offered by your people on earth; and grant to them even now glimpses of your beauty, and make them worthy at length to behold it unveiled for evermore; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
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