“If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.”
The readings today from Deuteronomy and Mark both inspire and sadden me. They speak of the power of the word of the Lord. When God’s word is spoken something happens. The preacher feels commanded by God to say what s/he has to say. People are spellbound and feel brought to task. Evil flees shrieking. — Sometimes, yes. Sometimes, not so much.
On my first mission trip to Kenya, I was asked to bring the 6:00 AM devotion to a group of high school and college students who had gathered for a retreat over term break. I arrived on scene rubbing sleep from my eyes. The young people, however, were joyously singing praises, some of them with hands raised, others kneeling in worship. They came early, I was told, to prepare their hearts for the word I was to deliver. “My God,” I thought, “this is just a short devotion, a little meditation, not a full blown sermon.” I quickly prayed a prayer of preparation and asked for the mercy of the Lord. “May these your children not be disappointed in your miserable servant.” My prayer, or most likely theirs, God must have answered as the minutes turned into an hour. God did have something to say to them and to me as I listened in on what was being said through me. Throughout the day I listened to their stories too. Stories of repentance, healing, revelation, and conversion. I also heard of the hardships they encountered to attend the retreat. The few shillings necessary for bus fare were not to be found but at the last minute God provided. Long grueling hours on hot buses, no brakes, hurling down bumpy, mountainous roads, careening around hair pin curves. Arriving hungry with no money for food but through the generosity of others a few extra potatoes are thrown into the pot. Some faced persecution from parents who did not want them to become too enthusiastic about the faith. But here they were. And they sat not just for my hour of teaching but for hours all day and into the night on backless benches in a makeshift chapel, happy to hear the word of the Lord and to prepare for a life of Christian service.
Back in the USA. I am asked to share a devotion, “keep it short,” at a luncheon. Here, too, people have arrived early, Lincolns and Lexus are the coach of choice, for the cocktail hour. Next, dining on potatoes, yes, and waldorf salad, and roast beef, and hot rolls, and green beans with almonds and mushrooms, all with fine wine. And dessert. Appetites fully satisfied, the audience settles back in comfortable chairs to hear my spiritual bit between bites of rich ice cream, “don’t forget the strawberries please.” I rise to the podium, nothing happens, no Presence. I read my notes. Sixteen minutes and forty-two seconds. “Is that man sleeping?” “Am I?” I leave receiving polite thank yous. “Your talk was nice.” Is nice another word for harmless?
Fourth Sunday of the Year Dt. 18: 15-20; I Cor. 7: 32-35; Mk. 1: 21-28
Peace Connections: Making the connection between the Sunday Readings and issues of peace and justice. Copyright 1995, by Thomas L. Garlitz. “Not for profit” permission to reprint granted.