42 - A Lazy Summer Day, July 1, 2018

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Romans 10:1-10

Matthew 8:28-9:1

What strikes me most about this morning’s Gospel is the simple fact that it is assigned for our reading this morning. Why is it assigned for this morning? This is a Paschal Gospel; but, liturgically, Pascha and Pentecost are now behind us. We’re out of the Sts Peter and Paul fast. We have entered a wonderfully quiet time of year, the liturgical quietude in sync with the lazy, hazy days of summer, barbecue, summer vacation.

These warm, lazy days of summer take me to my childhood when we would drive for two days from Nampa, ID through the desert of southern Wyoming – the interstate was newly built then – the monotony broken up by the old Stinker Gas Station billboards, down into Hastings, NE, to visit my maternal grandparents and great grandparents – pretty much the same route my wife and I took years later when we loaded all our belongings into a 4 x 4 x 4 trailer and pulled it in our little yellow Subaru sedan to Kansas City to find an apartment before I began my graduate studies at Nazarene Theological Seminary in the Fall of 1976.

In my mind, I can still smell the hollyhocks, taller than I was, that grew around great grandma’s house. I see grandpa and great grandpa in their farmer’s overalls, looking out over what they called a garden – we would probably call it a small farm – under the white, puffy clouds drifting lazily across the warm skies of summer like cows grazing in the field, and I imagine this may be what they had done all their life on lazy summer evenings this time of year, looking out over the fields watching the crops grow – because the crops had been planted, and it was a (relatively) quiet time on the farm, too.

My grandparents and great grandparents were the last generations of farmers in my family on both sides. My mother’s family were farmers in Nebraska. By the time I came around, they had left the farm and moved to Hastings. Their homes were old already when they moved into them, smallish and basic; but, they were grander to me than any palace because they were Grandpa and Grandma’s House. I feel that something incalculably precious was lost when they left the farm and we, their children, became citified and sophisticated.

They were simple even in the complexities of their inner life. I wouldn’t call them thinkers; yet, they were close to the earth and I think that made them naturally reflective. But, more deeply than that, they were rooted in the Christian faith, such as they had been taught it. It was the firmness of their faith aligned with the rhythms of nature and a simple reading of Scripture interpreted and lived out to the best of their ability against their own experience that gave them a profound inner resilience and strength such that they did not just survive the many hardships, losses, and several devastating setbacks of their life on the farm, or, in the case of my father’s family, on the mission field in China, but they came out of them with grace and humor still intact.

Of course, I learned of the hardships and setbacks they had weathered only bit by bit from the stories they would tell us as we grew older. Reflecting back now on those stories, I marvel how, even though their spirit was broken a number of times, they showed no angry regret, no sense of having been robbed or deprived of what should have been theirs; rather, there was in their spirit a simple serenity and joy I can still feel palpably in my memory of them even now. I have to say, when I consider the image they stamped on my memory of them, what I see is the bright light of their faith in the LORD Jesus Christ shining through their humanity and illuming them with a nobility and dignity of soul that makes me appear to myself to be very small of stature.

Beneath the veneer of their ggentle demeaner, their soft facial expressions, great grandma’s perpetual impish grin, great grandpa’s kind eyes, grandma’s thoughtful eyes, grandpa’s watchful eyes, a fundamental decency, an unyielding moral fiber that was clearly and unmistakably tinctured by the Name of Jesus. I can see now that it left an indelible imprint on my soul. No doubt, this is the basis for whatever other factors in my life have made me what I am today – a priest in the Orthodox Church of the holy apostles.

And, what about you? How has it happened that you find yourselves here today? Your presence here today, is it not the product of how your ancestors shaped you in ways known and unknown to you, in the way they weathered the events of their lives?

My family were simple farmers – not in the sense of being stupid; in the sense of being unpretentious, unassuming. Because they were excellent farmers. But, victims of the depression, they were not rich by any means – great grandpa was on the verge of being very rich, but the depression hit and he lost the farm and the farm he had just purchased and all their savings. They lost everything. This is why I now marvel at how they told the story of losing everything with no anger, no wistfulness or regret, no sense of having been robbed of what they should have had. So, they were not rich, except in fundamental human warmth and familial goodness, and a sincere piety, and those summer visits to Nebraska for me are rich with wonderful memories.

So, here we are on this Sunday morning in July, reminiscing as though we were sitting back in the rocker in great grandpa and grandma’s front porch, smelling the hollyhocks, the evening breeze cooling us from the heat of the day, the cicadas beginning to tune their legs for the evening’s concert, a bull frog off in the distance vying for a chair in the percussion section, the fireflies dancing in the yard – here we are on this lazy, hazy summer day in July, and we are jarred out of our reverie by this Gospel dramatically showing the Savior expelling the demons and raising the demoniac to sanity, peace and joy, given us to contemplate against the homey sounds of clattering plates and dishes as grandma puts together the recipe for homemade ice cream, and great grandma finishes up the apple pie or chocolate chip cookies before putting them in the oven, while Uncle David brings the homemade ice cream maker out onto the porch where the men will take turns showing off their stamina churning the cream into homemade ice cream.

What am I trying to say in all of this? I am wishing to proclaim to you the power of the Name of Jesus Christ, in whose Name you have been raised from death to life in your holy baptism, and to whom you have been united in the eating and drinking of His Holy Body and Precious Blood in Holy Eucharist. Christ God is in you! The principle of your life is no longer your own strength, your own wisdom, your own wits to get you through all the setbacks, disappointments, heartaches, griefs, tragedies of life. The resurrection of Christ our God is the principle working in the world, in the Church, in your life, far beneath the surface, beneath every setback, every grief, every heartbreak, every tragedy, even every evil, working unseen down in the depths where everything begins and ends. The True Light of the world is shining in the darkness of hell. The world shall never be moved because it has been established in its spiritual foundations on the Pascha of Our most blessed LORD God and Savior Jesus Christ.

This is what was held up my grandparents when they lost everything and their spirits were broken. In the hopelessness that surely overwhelmed them, they fell into their faith, and this is what carried them through to where they were when I came around and got to know them: at peace, the soft glow of a quiet joy that had become the very fiber of their soul, and how could that not have shaped me even in ways I cannot see or fathom?

The Body of Our LORD Jesus Christ is the Church, and His Church is in the world praying for the world and offering herself on behalf of all and for all. In the mystery of His most holy Pascha, the Savior is working in you and in the world night and day, in festal seasons, in fasting seasons, in winter and on these lazy, hazy days of summer. He works in us, He works in spite of us. He works where His Name is not named. He works where His Name is named, even where it is named imperfectly, maybe even incorrectly. He is working for one purpose: that not one should be lost but that all should be saved and come to a knowledge of the Truth.

May I say, then, that this wonderfully lazy, hazy time of the year is the gift of God our Good Father to us. Like the lemon drops that we kids always found mysteriously replenished in a dish sitting on a table in great grandma’s house, these summer days are rich in the boundless goodness of the LORD’s Holy Pascha. When, then, we sink into ourselves in relaxation, sitting on the front porch, listening to the gentle sounds of summer, smelling the breeze, reminiscing, let’s sink mindfully into the warm sun of the gentle goodness of God, the Source of all love and goodness, and in quiet thanksgiving, let’s be mindful to taste and see how good the LORD is who has been working in our life and is working even now in ways seen and unseen for our salvation. Amen!