Epic Quest (updated)

Sermon for Sunday, July 3, 2022 || Proper 9C || 2 Kings 5:1-14

Today’s sermon is about our lives of faith, specifically about how we have a tendency to get overwhelmed when we look at the whole thing in one go and then fail to even begin. We have a test case for this tendency – the person of Naaman from our first reading today. A few years ago, I called this tendency “Naaman Syndrome” because I like making up biblical diseases.

Naaman, the central figure of today’s story from the Hebrew Scriptures, has superiority issues. And for good reason. He is, after all, the commander of the army of the King of Aram. He has the resources to travel with an entourage, not to mention bags and bags of precious gold and silver. He has the political clout to rate an audience with Israel’s king. And to top it off, Naaman has chariots! (No, seriously. The mention of chariots is a big deal. My Old Testament professor in seminary used to joke that Israel had “chariot-envy,” because it didn’t have any. So to mention this guy has chariots – watch out, he’s the real deal.)

Continue reading “Epic Quest (updated)”

The Spiritual Desert

Sermon for Sunday, December 11, 2016 || Advent 1C || Isaiah 35:1-10

To his people in exile, the prophet Isaiah says these words of hope, promise, and comfort:

The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad,
the desert shall rejoice and blossom;
like the crocus it shall blossom abundantly,
and rejoice with joy and singing. […]

For waters shall break forth in the wilderness,
and streams in the desert;
the burning sand shall become a pool,
and the thirsty ground springs of water…

I must confess that I needed to hear these beautiful words this morning. I must confess that I have been feeling spiritually dry lately. I must confess that an arid desert of burning sands has grown up within me in recent months when I wasn’t paying attention. There have been a few moments of oasis – notably splashing my hands in the waters of baptism two weeks ago – but overall my spirit has shriveled recently. I’m, quite simply, parched. Continue reading “The Spiritual Desert”

Mountaintop removal

The following post appeared Monday, May 3rd on Episcopalcafe.com, a website to which I am a monthly contributor. Check it out here or read it below.

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I recently moved to one of the top ten most beautiful spots in the world. I live a three-minute walk from the Atlantic Ocean. I can see a lighthouse from my living room window. I bought a new car. I started working at a new church, which is as beautiful as the town surrounding it. The people at church are wonderful. The trees and flowers are exploding with spring colors. And to top it all off: it’s Easter, the happiest and most celebratory season in the church year. I know I am blessed, radically blessed.

So, why am I having trouble finding something to write about? Why am I having difficulty elucidating God’s presence in my life, at this, one of my life’s most idyllic moments? You’re probably thinking: “Adam, go back and read your first paragraph and quit complaining.” Fair point. But my difficulty is symptomatic of a deeper spiritual malady, which (strangely enough) a simple recitation of my blessings actually exacerbates. I’m sure this malady affects more Christians than just me, so let’s do a little diagnosing.

Our walks with God are topographically interesting. For the most part, we walk the straight path, which Isaiah and John the Baptizer proclaim is the way of the Lord. But sometimes, we meander through desolate valleys, in which simply finding the tiniest token of God’s presence is drink for our arid souls. Other times, we climb mountains, atop which we touch the very face of God and can never imagine a time when our spiritual energy will need recharging. The valleys and peaks, the lows and highs, are the times we remember.

We remember the smile the stranger gave us in the frozen food aisle when we’d forgotten that God was still around. We remember hearing the choir singing choral evensong and how our hearts soared into the very heart of God during the first chords of the Magnificat. We remember the smell of disinfected despair when we sat overnight in the hospital room. We remember standing on a literal mountaintop and breathing in the wind of the Spirit and seeing the patchwork creation spread out below us.

These valleys and mountains shape our lives as Christians. Some folks have Grand Canyons and Himalayas. Others have dry streambeds and foothills. But the slope of our lows and highs matters little. For this discussion, let’s agree that our walks with God have valleys and peaks. The spiritual malady I mentioned a moment ago severely limits our ability to process the peak category.

By removing the mountaintop receptors, the malady keeps our souls from gathering spiritual nourishment from the peak times in our lives. Our minds know that God must be moving in our lives for life to be so full of blessing. But our souls have trouble metabolizing that blessing into the nutrients that sustain us while we search for God’s presence. Without that sustenance, we cease our active awareness of God until there is a noticeable change from “good” to “bad” times. When the paradigm shifts from “good” to “bad” – that is, from mountain to valley – we enter spiritual survival mode and begin frantically looking for God, only to have the walls of the depression limit our sight.

The disciple Peter is patient zero for this spiritual malady. When Jesus calls him out of the boat, Peter walks on the water as if he’s ambling down a garden path. Walking on the water is a spiritual mountaintop, but the paradigm shifts quickly. Peter notices the waves around him, and he starts to sink. Only when he is floundering in the surf does Peter reach up his hand for Jesus to rescue him. Peter could have taken Jesus’ hand while walking atop the water, but he waits until his valley moment.

Like Peter, I forget to seek God when things are going well. When I’m on a mountaintop, I rarely open my eyes to take in the glorious view. Through an intellectual exercise, I know that I am blessed, but this blessing fails to filter into my soul. Only when the jaggedness of grief or deprivation assaults me do I begin my tardy search for God anew.

I know I’m not alone in dealing with the spiritual malady of mountaintop removal. If you suffer from it, then know that there are steps to address it. Take a few moments to look at your life. Orient yourself on the topographical map of your walk with God. Where are you in relation to your most recent valley? If you know that you are no longer in the valley, force yourself to do more than think about your blessings. Rather than an amorphous abstraction you call “blessing,” separate each small blessing into individual shimmering lights of grace. Write each one down. Then thank God for the blessings individually, and be creative. Thank God with action, not thought. If your blessing is having enough food, go feed someone who is starving. If your blessing is living near the ocean, go stomp around in the shallows. If your blessing is being a member of a loving family, go tell them how much they mean to you. If your blessing is the song in your heart, go sing.

Once you’ve acted out your thanks to God, don’t stop. Actively seek out ways to thank God for God’s blessing in your life. Every morning when you draw your first breath, decide to look for God’s presence that day. Then over time, you may see the ground beneath your feet rise into a mountain. And you will notice just how close is the face of God.