29 IX 2013 Michaelmas
St. Michael and All Angels
The Rev. Canon Daniel G. P. Gutierrez
Let us bow our heads, close our eyes and open our hearts to the one who is greater than we. Lord I humbly pray that some word that is heard, be thine.
Worry. I do not like to worry. I find it draining, I am anxious, uncertain, I try to go at it alone and usually mess things up. I like security. It is comforting and liberating - it provides a sense of ease. I use the word “security” expansively be it financial, personal, safety, relational. I have found that when I feel secure it is usually because, I trust in something. When you stumble someone or something will steady you.
When you blindly grasp in the darkness there is a knowing that a hand will be there to meet yours. I was blessed to witness what I call a “blessed assurance” reflected in the marriage and last years of Arnold and Bernice Fletcher. They married young during World War II, and raised three beautiful daughters. They did not change the world with brilliant acts, yet their faith and lives were examples to many.
There were no poems written about their devotion, yet many could have been written.
Whatever difficulty that entered their lives, including the tragic death of a daughter, they faced it, trusting. They know that they were spoken for - by one another. After 50 years of marriage, a cruel thief began to steal Bernice from Arnold. Because of the disease, they moved from their beautiful home to small assisted living apartment.
Yet, they were together. From assisted living apartment to one small room in a nursing home, and they were still side by side. Bernice’s world consisted of constant care, a distant stare and arms moving rhythmically. Arnold patiently sitting nearby. Listening for her breathing, watching if she rustled, From early morning through late at night, he watched over his beloved Bernice.
One time when their only grandson came to visit, Arnold gently reached through the rails to hold her hand and spoke to her softly. Bernice, someone is here to see you. When she heard Arnold’s voice, her arms stopped moving. Her clutched fingers grasped his hand and for a few moments, she was calm.
From the recesses of her soul, a place without speech, where there was no clarity, Arnold’s voice lovingly slipped through the distance. In that instant, it was as if she understood that her love, her life, was near. Although her memory was taken, she did not need memory, like a favorite song, she knew his voice by heart.
In remembering that moment and in today’s Gospel, I thought of how Jesus is always nearby - if we realize it. The first disciples follow Jesus. When invited by Phillip, Nathaniel seems doubt that this man called Jesus is real or that he is something something special. In fact in the preceding verse - he is downright sarcastic.
When Jesus calls out to him and describes his character, Nathaniel is stunned. He asks in a demanding tone “‘Where did you come to know me?” Not “where did you see me?” or “who told you/” In an instant, he realizes that God has always been in his life, close by, watching, tending, hoping. That Jesus was in his life, long before he met Jesus. When Nathaniel comes to the realization - he is changed.
How different things must have been 2000 years ago. To question the presence in our lives and then have Jesus walk into our lives. Then suddenly, be changed. To feel trust, to be liberated, not to worry, to have a new life and new world. Imagine. But nothing has changed, it seems we have. Maybe our openness to Christ has closed over time. And I am sure we can justify the reasons.
Maybe we have a difficult time accepting that we can be loved or that God is truly capable of love. How can God love my enemy, even worse - how can God love me. It is easier and less binding to believe that God spends all eternity judging and rejecting us. Yet throughout the Bible, the Eucharist, the cross and resurrection, the message is the same. I know you, you are mine. We are spoken for by the mouth of Christ.
Or maybe we can rationalize intellectually. How can Jesus know me? Yes, these are great stories about some guy who lived over 2000 years ago, he has outstanding messages that I want to live by, great moral stories, appears in stained glass windows. Yet you want me to accept that his presence is always near? Prove it. We want answers instead of questions, understanding instead of desire, clarity instead of mystery. Yet, how do you explain the unexplainable. How do you define mystery.
I could not explain that millisecond when my breath was stuck in my chest when I understood that Bernice was grasping for Arnold’s hand and struggling to listen to his voice. I cannot explain the wonder I feel in a sunset, the feeling of holding my son in my arms, the pain felt at the death of someone we love. How do you explain love?
Maybe we do not recognize the possibility of these moments have their origins in God.
Or maybe the reason is that we are at a point in life where we just do not feel that Jesus is close or really care. The pain of illness or the cloud of depression leaves us no room to seek or feel. The world, the pressures, the divorce, the problems with the kids, the bills, they all seem to set me apart from Christ. Yet somehow, there is a calm in the storm, a sense of relief, a voice that seems to speak.
A small light that shines in our darkest night. And we cannot explain nor understand it. A favorite author wrote - Consider how the sun continually lights our daily world yet we cannot see light except in what it touches. Though the sun burns constantly and holds everything living within its pull, though it sends its power across millions of miles. It is unseen for all that way, until it hits a simple blade of grass or makes the web of a spider a golden patch of lace.
In the same way, the presence of God powerfully moves between us unseen, only visible in the brief moments we are lighted, in those moments we know as love. For just as we can look at that spider web and never see its beauty until it reveals itself in sudden light, we can look upon the nearest face, again and again, never seeing the beauty in each other, until one or both of us is suddenly revealed. It is there until we finally realize it, God is always close.
Maybe this week, let’s open ourselves to the possibility. In our private moments, walking up to communion, sitting at work or in the darkness of your night, ask God, “how do you know me?’ Sit back and listen for that silent voice, reach out your hand and grasp whatever is placed in yours. Notice the light that has traveled billions of miles to reflect on your life. God speaks to us through the heart, not only through the mind.
Somehow I have to believe that in much the same way, Bernice knew by heart Arnold’s voice, our own heart senses that God is near. That realization was ingrained inside Nathaniel when Jesus called him so that he was forever transformed. It will change each one of us in much the same way.
To patiently await morning when we only feel the darkness. Purely Love when hate is all we feel. Struggle upright when broken. Breathe when suffocated. Or to bravely step forward in hope with Fr. Clark knowing that Jesus is near, walking this parish journey with you. This assurance provides the type of security that money, a locked door, or a closed heart will never protect.
After Bernice left his world. I sat with Arnold and we would talk about catching red fish in the Gulf, his daughters, granddaughters and the life that he and Bernice created together. When talking about his Bernice, he would get a faraway look in his eyes. “She was the prettiest girl I had ever seen.” he said. ‘She gave me 61 years of her. God was good to me, giving me Bernice. He loved me and I loved her.”
The two are buried next to each other in a small cemetery in Texas, Arnold knew that in the end he would see the two people who were always with him Bernice and God. But more importantly,, he understood that the love of Bernice and the love of Christ, although he could not see them, were still with him
So this week be silly, irrational and take one minute out of your day. Ask Jesus, “how do you know me” You may find a surprising response and as a result find within yourself something stronger, braver, trusting, kinder, and holier that anything we could have every imagined. Hold your hand out, lean against him, he knows you because he is always there. Your may never see God in the same way ever again.
 Mark Nepo in The Book of Awakening