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Strengthening the Soul

Mark 10:35-45 and Excerpts from The Story of My

Life by Helen Keller


Sunday October 17th, 2021 by Rev. Nicole Lamarche


Welcome to worship! Thank you for being here for shared sacred experience. I invite you to let yourself arrive, whatever that means for you, to take some breaths and to tune in to whatever word God has for you on this day. I invite you to join me in a spirit of prayer as all tune in more fully to whatever word God has for us today. Gracious God, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts, be acceptable in your sight, O God our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.


Help us hang on when it’s hard! That’s what we are exploring today as we begin another series in this service, help! As Anne Lamott says, one of the three essential prayers, along with thanks and wow, is help. The word help appears hundreds of times in the Bible. And I would guess that it is probably one of the oldest prayers. Help us God.. In Psalm 37 we read that “The LORD helps them and delivers them…”

Insert more verses…and later we read that we are to “lift our eyes to the mountains because our help comes from God, the maker of heaven and earth.” Help us God.


I have been realizing for myself recently that part of why I am struggling is because there is still no end point for some of this. I find myself feeling emotional and vulnerable because there is no timeline for life to be different, for a time when we can once again see one another’s faces and full expressions indoors, for a time when shelves will be stocked and choirs can sing and children can play outside of cohorts at school. And how do we make plans when it seems like next month our money will be worth less, between inflation and the strains on our supply chain? It feels like one hard thing after another keeps coming. So how do we hang on? How do we get to the good things on the other side of this? Can’t we just skip some of this and get to that new paradigm that we have all been talking so much about? Can’t we just go around this moment that for some of us feels like a weird version of Ground Hog’s Day?


As a process thinker, I believe that God influences what happens, but that we are free actors in this glorious creation, being influencers ourselves on what becomes. This means that while God might not have put the pandemic before us to test us, to kill us, like we read in the Bible with plagues of frogs, lice, flies, boils, hail, locusts and more, but perhaps whatever name we have for the Holy, maybe God is guiding us inward and outward to find the good things that will come out of this? Maybe the energy that is the Divine is focused on taking the pieces of what is and influencing us toward the goodness? So perhaps we can’t skip this, to get to the other side, perhaps we can’t go around this moment, but maybe, just maybe we can be refined by it, strengthened by it, maybe we can grow from it?


This means in spite of the pop theology view that everything happens for a reason, what if it’s more like good things can come from everything that happens, God-sized things, Love-influenced things, Peace-soaked things? But this also means we are responsible, that we are responsible in part for what unfolds and it means these good things will come from some struggle and toil and effort and sometimes even pain…


If we are open, the worst parts of this pandemic can be our refining.


As Carlos A. Rodriguez writes, “Tough times don't define you, they refine you. ”


Or at least they can.


Which isn’t as simple as another pop theological perspective: what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, that drives me nuts! I think it’s more like what Helen Keller writes, which is that “character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, vision cleared, ambition inspired …” There are times when in suffering, our souls can be strengthened, times when our pain can be a place for us to think and pray and live our way into something deeper. Maybe because grief does tell us what we love, which means loss can be a chance to invest more fully in all that is available here and now to love.


I have been pondering the refining aspect of the pandemic that it seems to have clarified much of our individual and collective vision, clarifying the truth of the Before Times. As one article by Esau McCaulley claimed, “We Weren’t Happy Before the Pandemic” why are we trying to get back to that? And I believe that a lot of what is happening right now is in response to that truth. People are moving and changing jobs and people who once seemed too powerful to be toppled are being held accountable. People are being outside more and being with family more and leaving jobs that treated them inhumanely and workers are striking for livable wages as some companies boasts $6 billion in profits. Maybe this is part of our refining? Maybe part of how we are meant to come out of this is to be more aligned with who we say we are?


Because there are times when in suffering our individual and collective souls can be strengthened, when our pain can eventually be a place for possibility. Maybe we can’t skip this to get to the other side, maybe we can’t go around this moment, but maybe we can be refined by it, strengthened by it, deepened by it?


This is part of what I think Jesus meant by the Way of the Cross. It’s a hard lesson to get and even one that Jesus’ disciples struggled with greatly. As you heard from the Gospel of Mark, the very first question they get to Jesus is about them, about what he can do for them, about how they can have what he has, about how they can do what he’s doing. "Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you." As if to say, teacher, we want you to tell us how to feel secure, how to have it our way, how to have the good stuff.


And they say, "Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory."


As if to skip the hard parts. As if they don’t get to get to the new paradigm, they have to do the hard first.


The comfortable part isn’t forever. But they ask Jesus to get right to the glory.


And in his First Century kind of way, says, whoa be careful what you’re asking for, he says, "You do not know what you are asking…” Are you able to do what I am about to do? Will you hang on when it’s hard, are you willing to be refined by what is to come?


They tell Jesus that they think they understand, but maybe because their first question was what it was, he goes about telling them that they are thinking about it all wrong, which he does a lot. He tells them it is about being willing to drink that same cup and eat that same bread. In other words, can you do what is right and hard for the sake of our Greater Love? Are you willing to grow beyond what benefits you, for this path that we are all on together? Are you willing to find beauty even in the worst thing?


Are you willing to forge ahead and pray and make a way for new possibilities when everyone else leaves? Because you remember how it all ends there are only a couple people left when the hard stuff comes. As if to say, are you willing to forge ahead and pray and make a way through whatever comes? Are you willing to struggle when things hit bottom, when all seems lost, when some of what we love dies, when life as we knew it is stripped away, are you willing to be clarified, strengthened and refined for the sake of the Gospel?

I know this is part of what is happening around us. It is a hard and difficult time, where in some ways we might feel more vulnerable, but also stronger at the same time.


Maybe we can’t skip this and get to the other side, maybe we can’t go around this, but maybe if we hold on, if we hang on through this hard time, we will be strengthened, we won’t be defined by all that is difficult, but we can be refined by knowing what we care about has been strengthened, what we are about has been clarified. We are now more aligned with who God is calling us to be individually and collectively. Beloved of God hang on, character never comes in the ease and the quiet. This trial and suffering strengthens our souls, clears our vision, inspires our ambition! How has this time clarified your vision for your life? How have your commitments to who you say you are been fortified in this time? How has your resolve been strengthened? Know that you are not alone, that we are in this together and that we are still here. If your prayer is help, hang on. May it be so. Amen.


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