Sep. 13, 2015

CS Lewis famously said that pain was the megaphone through which God got the attention of a deaf world. Not that God causes pain, but pain sure has a way of getting our attention. Like a patient complained to his doctor, "It hurts when I turn this way!" The doctor says, "So, don't turn that way." We do our level best to maximize pleasures and minimize our pain, but that doesn't mean we can make a diet of deserts...we need the broccoli too.

One of the primary results of going through a painful experience is to gain some wisdom, at least enough to know...DON'T DO THAT! Life seems to be the only game I know where the object of the game is to learn the rules! Recently I read an article in the New Yorker magazine (August 31, 2015) entitled "The Terrible Teens: What's wrong with them?" The point is that adolescents frequently do things that are dicey or fraught with peril--in other words, they don't show clear thinking and decision-making. Neuroscientists think the reason is that their brains are still developing. The cerebral cortex (where good judgments are made), isn't fully functioning in their brains yet. In fact, if I were to ask everybody here who has gone through adolescence, "Tell me about your life" most people would recall a disproportionate number of events from their adolescence...because that's usually when we do most of the dodgy, unwise, and irrational, and bizarre events in our lives, that are recalled later in wonder, because it's amazing that we even survived them. We don't even see it when we're going through it! There's a story about two young fish who were just swimming along and they meet an old fish going the opposite direction and the old fish asks, "How's the water boys?" The young fish just swim on until one turns to the other and says, "What in the heck is 'water'?" Scary and novel behaviors are remembered for a life-time (if we survive them!) and that's why psychologists say we remember...because they are like the touching of a hot stove...oh, do we remember them! Learning taught by pain is always remembered! You could always tell an adolescent "Don't do that!" but even if you tell them often, you can't tell them very much. Unfortunately, wisdom is something that we don't get until after we need it...but especially if we experience pain in the process, we'll never forget it, that's for sure.

The reading from the OT book of Proverbs today is clear about the meaning of all this:
"Wisdom cries out in the street...(and says): "How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple...Give heed and I will pour out my thoughts to you; I will make my words known to you...(and) those who listen to me will be secure...without dread of disaster." Truly, this's a message of hope...but one that we are reluctant to hear. Like the message of Jesus in the gospel today we want to follow as long as the costs are not too great...we want to follow, but without too much discomfort or pain. Jesus says, "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me."

The fact that we may not heed these words is not so much about the words as it is about our ability to hear them. It's as if we were deaf to the message about the costs of being a follower of Christ...we are like adolescent Christians who don't know how to make mature spiritual decisions. Responsible Christians can lift high the cross and move forward with integrity, joy, and commitment. Hearing the call of Christ is a call to serve and engage others. The problem is when it isn't convenient or easy to pick up and carry that cross. The message about the cross may seem like a foreign language to some.

One of the greatest voices of modern social science died a couple of weeks ago, Dr. Oliver Sacks. His insightful studies illuminated our understanding of human thought and life for a generation. In his book, Seeing Voices Sacks looked at the language of people who are deaf...sign language. As with all language, it must be learned early. And if it isn't, it retards the ability to learn it or it's much more difficult or impossible to grasp. When language connects us to the world at large, there is an "Aha!" moment...where the words connect us to something in the world. Remember the play Miracle Worker? It told the story of the teacher Annie Sullivan who worked with the blind and deaf child Helen Keller. Sullivan repeatedly...pumped water into the child's hand as she signed onto the hand of the child the word for "water". All of a sudden, the light came on in Helen Keller's brain! And she signed back the word for, "Water!" The connection was made! There was now a bridge, a way into the wide, wide world that had been found! As Helen Keller much later said, "The only thing worse than being blind is having sight but no vision." But when the connection is made between us and our God, would we not give all that we have for the grace that we receive from the hand of God? That's what the cross teaches us about faith.

Nobody in their right mind would say, "I want to suffer indignity and degradation," but for those that we love, we would gladly give all we have for their safety and well-being. The message of the cross is the same...unless you love the one who gave himself for you on the hard wood of that cross, it doesn't represent love, it's just bling that gangstas wear on big gold chains around their necks as they swagger through a meaningless life. If the cross is not that one thing that makes you and me recognize our connection to God and all the world around...just like the discovery of the meaning of the word "water" as it ran across Helen Keller's hand, if...that sudden "Eureka!" doesn't come, then we don't see, we don't hear...that God in Christ has reached out to us. Then the gospel just seems like so much incomprehensible gibberish. God's megaphone shouts out to us, "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me." Amen.

The Reverend Wayne Ray St Thomas Church
Diamondhead, MS 09-13-15