Fr. Bill Carroll- Seventh Sunday of Easter, May 21, 2023

Humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God.  Cast all your anxiety upon him.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Let me tell you a little about a friend of mine.  Mark died about fifteen years ago.  He was a member of our home parish.  And he lived, more or less, right across the street.  He was a devoted, active member.  

One of my favorite memories about Mark is watching him beam with joy with a new grandchild.  That child was born to a daughter he didn’t even know he had, until she found him and showed up at his door one day.  More often than not, Mark was the cantor at the Eucharist.  He led our church in song.  His wife Marie wrote a regular column for the newsletter about prayer and the spiritual life.  

And then there’s the one thing that most people who didn’t know Mark noticed about him first.  For the last twenty years of his life, he was almost completely paralyzed from the neck down.  He’d been injured in an automobile accident.  He had a little mobility in one of his hands, and so he could work the controls on his wheelchair.  But otherwise, he had to make do with a bite stick.  That’s a mouthpiece with a stick attached to it, which he could move by turning his head.  It’s how he turned the pages in his hymnal.

For many of my formative years as a new Christian, I saw church people band together to care for Mark.  I also saw them give Marie much needed rest.  These are two of the people I think about first, when I hear the words “church” and “community.”  

I can’t help but think that they are saints.  Not in a conventional way.  And not in the way in which every Christian is a saint.  Like other saints, they’d be the last to describe themselves this way.  But I believe they have shown the world something about Jesus and what it means to follow him.  So too did our little church.

Marie was always brash and bossy, but with an infectious laugh and a smile.  She dealt with suffering mostly through an outrageous sense of humor.  Mark was different from his wife.  He was quieter and filled with a gentle wisdom.  His death made the world seem a little smaller for all of us.  When we visit that old church, his absence is palpable.  He was a powerful presence in that community.  He was a leader of our worship.  We all miss him terribly.  

For me, it is most poignant when I hear the psalms sung in certain ways, especially the settings we used to use at Christmas.  Though it’s been a while since we’ve been home for Christmas, hearing Mark sing was something I looked forward to every year.  There was a beauty and an honesty in it.  Mark knew what he was singing about.  He knew his Lord.  He knew Jesus in the flesh.

Today’s Epistle speaks to us about suffering.  I can’t say that I ever saw Mark suffer, but he must have.  And I can’t say either that I ever saw him full of anger or self-pity or grief, but he must have been sometimes.  Writing in a time of persecution, the Apostle Peter (who later died for our Lord), writes the following: “Beloved do not be surprised (he says) at the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you to test you…But rejoice insofar as you are sharing Christ’s sufferings, so that you may be glad and shout for joy when his glory is revealed.”  

These are difficult words to say to someone else.  I was never Mark’s pastor, but if I had been,  I would have hesitated to offer them while he was still alive.  There is a kind of violence implicit in the words we offer (like Job’s comforters) when someone else’s suffering makes us uncomfortable.  But Mark knew the truth of these words—and he lived them.  He didn’t need me or anyone else to tell him.

I have to say I’ve often found these words helpful when I am suffering myself.  What a comfort it is to know that Jesus has carried the Cross before us.  This mystery lies at the heart of the Christian life.  In her column in our church newsletter, Marie wrote about it more than once.  Peter goes on to urge us into solidarity with God’s saints around the world:  

Humble yourselves (he writes) under the mighty hand of God.  Cast all your anxiety upon him…Resist the devil steadfast in your faith, for you know that your brothers and sisters in all the world are undergoing the same kinds of suffering.  And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, support, strengthen, and establish you.  

The context here is the Roman Empire as the first Christian martyrs lay down their lives in witness to Jesus.  But Peter’s words can help us bear any other type of suffering that comes our way.

There are certain kinds of suffering that we must fight against.  For example, we must do what we can to rid the world of poverty, violence, injustice, and fear.  In the words of our Presiding Bishop, we must transform the nightmare of the world that we have made, into the Beloved Community that God has always had in mind.  But there is also suffering that can only be accepted, carried, and offered up.

As I ponder the manifold suffering in our world, I am reminded of the words of a famous prayer:  “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.”  In its shortened form, through the work of Alcoholics Anonymous, this prayer has become famous to millions as the “Serenity Prayer.”  Not many know the rest of the prayer, which was written by Reinhold Niebuhr.  It continues

Living one day at a time; 
Enjoying one moment at a time; 
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace; 
Taking, as [God] did, this sinful world
as it is, not as I would have it; 
Trusting that [God] will make all things right
if I surrender to [God’s] Will;
That I may be reasonably happy in this life 
and supremely happy with [God].
Forever in the next.

Today is the Sunday after Ascension Day.  And we know that Jesus has gone before us into heaven, drawing the whole world to himself.  He has joined heaven and earth together—bringing our frail and moral flesh into God.  Because we are one with Jesus in the flesh, he calls us to love suffering people everywhere—to really love them, to help them.  We join our prayer with his prayer, as he prays for us, day and night, before the throne of grace.  

We are strengthened by the songs of the communion of saints.  Truly, they echo through the ages, filling the universe with praise.  As I remember Mark, I imagine him leading the heavenly choir, as he once did at our little church.  I imagine him moving his wheelchair to the front of the assembly.  And I hear him singing our psalm with his unique and unforgettable voice:  

You sent a gracious rain, O God, upon your inheritance;
you refreshed the land when it was weary. 

Your people found their home in it; 
in your goodness, O God, you have made provision for the poor.

Contact Father Bill by Phone or by Email

Contact Mother Vivian by Email

Contact Father Bill by Phone or by Email

Contact Mother Vivian by Email

Contact Father Bill by Phone or by Email

Contact Mother Vivian by Email