St. Augustine of Hippo


Episcopal Church

 


“When Humans Are Alarmed, God Has Already Planned”


by

The Rev. Nathanael Saint-Pierre

(Mark 16:1-8)


April 4, 2021


I have studied, but I need your strength.

I have prepared but I need your power.

I am willing and I want to, but only you can make me able.

Silently now, I wait for you, ready my Lord your will to see.

Open my eyes and illumine me, Spirit divine!


Have you ever been worried about the outcome of something to the point of losing sleep over it? Have you ever panicked because of the impossibility of your expectations? If for you, the answer is no, for Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, the answer was “Yes!”


When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint Jesus. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. They had been saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. 


Who might have rolled back this very large stone? What might have happened? Why do we panic about things we don’t control? Is St. Augustine’s really dying or are we not open to the possibility of it resurrecting? What is God’s plan for God’s Church?


When it comes to exposing human vulnerability, panic, worries and concerns, the writers of the Bible did not hesitate to use well-known feminine figures. As if only women were capable of fear and concerns, Mark throws them under the bus of our judgments as if their concerns were not legitimate. It took courage for them to go to the cemetery to perform this loving but painful funeral rite. Their teacher, a man that they loved and respected was killed and buried in such haste that they did not even have time to mourn him enough. Where were the courageous male disciples? Were they too busy hiding that they could not venture and risk to tag along with these women? Or were they themselves in fear for their security? Was that fear of being associated with Jesus and getting arrested? Even being executed, like him? The questions these women asked themselves were normal because they knew their limitations and were not considering themselves able to accomplish more than what they could. We are concerned when we don’t control the outcome; this is human. We are afraid of the unknown and that is also human. We are concerned because we care. What is Christian is to never let panic get the best of us. It is courageous to face the unknown with faith, surrendering the outcome to God. Mary Magdalene, Mary, mother of James, and Salome, walked in faith to the tomb, not knowing who was going to roll back the heavy and large rock for them. But they didn’t stay home. They took the road to the tomb, hoping to accomplish their duty somehow. That is faithfulness.

Today, the church or many members of the church are concerned and worried. Pledges are stagnant, we cannot rent the Parish Hall for gatherings.  We thought that would have lasted a few months only. It is now more than a year and we still don’t know when normalcy will be reestablished. Only a few members are still supporting the church. Many cannot attend, so the church is no longer in their thoughts and priorities. This is on top of the gigantic conflicts that have already divided and decimated our core membership. The building is still standing and unfortunately, the utility bills must be paid; the front steps are visibly disintegrating. If nothing is done to fix them now, it will take much more to replace a whole stone in the future. Several attempts done to see if we can get out of the contract lease of the printer/photocopier were unsuccessful. The banks/financial institutions do not want to lose their money. Sometimes we don’t quite know what the outcome is going to be.

Let me for a few moments remind you of a man named Jesus. He faced the cross with hesitation, I must admit, but had the courage to stand in front of his accusers. He faced their lies, their humiliations, their spitting in his face, their dehumanizing gestures, and their mockeries. He faced them alone while all of those he thought would be good friends or members of family standing with him, turned their backs on him. He took his cross as his destiny to pay for sins he did not commit. He accepted the guilty verdict presenting no defense. When one knows that nothing can happen without God allowing it and that the same God is at work to defeat the accusers, to reclaim the life of the innocent and provide eternal victory to the one who surrenders and trusts, that is resurrection guaranteed. Today, how pleased I am to welcome to our piano and mic here at St. A’s someone that God sent to roll the heavy stone blocking the tomb. Ms. Rosalinde Block is a well-known artist, performer, gospel singer, and choreographer who has decided that she was not going to be a passerby. She took the initiative not to just point a finger at repairs that are needed, she knew that we were aware of the problem. But she got involved in researching for solutions. By doing so, she started a movement to bring people together in order to fix the front. Such an act is an act of faith similar to that of Mary Magdalene, Mary mother of James, and Salome.

I believe that the church has made it this far by faith. I believe that God has a plan for the church. I believe we are the church, so we are part of God’s plan. Must we be worried? Of course! But we must not panic and lose sight that God is still in control despite whatever situation we are in. Our blindness may just be temporary. Our handicaps exist so that something graceful can born. We are not paying the sins of our ancestors or ours. Our blindness will give birth to the glory of God. Panic in a situation of brokenness is lack of faith. Jesus is capable of restoration. He can fix the lame and take away the blame. Yes, our membership is decreasing, and something must be done if we want to stay alive. But we are in no time to panic. We are in time to pray. Time to be church effectively so that two or three can gather in God’s name for God to manifest in our midst. When humans are alarmed, God has already a plan in store for humanity. When the survival of the church is at stake, God has the control. 

If the church must die to resurrect, let us consider 2020 the year of death of our church as we knew it: a building inhabited by ghosts. We have lost important members of our body, but the heart of St. Augustine’s is well alive. Maybe it is imperative for our survival that we regroup. What are we ready to sacrifice? What are we thirsty for? Personal glory? Do we want to be able to say we’ve walked away, and the church collapsed? Where is the glory in such statement? This would be lack of discernment.

Sometimes, no matter our handicaps, we must look at God before we point fingers at impossibilities. God is good all the time! All the time God is good. There is a time for everything. A time to play the blame game and make others bear the responsibility of our own faux pas. But there is a time when we must just venture in the journey with faith, letting God control the outcome. St. Augustine's piano has been sitting here several years, untuned, used rarely by Carolyn to teach our few children the rudiments of music. The last time Carolyn and I talked about it, we did not have the means to get it tuned and were waiting for a friend of Carolyn to come and do it. God’s plan went further. Rosalinde asked me if we had a piano. I answered: “Yes, but we also have a keyboard”, trying to lead her to use the keyboard instead. She said, “I’d prefer the piano.” She must have seen my face getting all tight when I told her the piano was not tuned. She just said: “That’s not a problem! I know how to tune it.” Next thing I know is that she is here this morning playing on that dead piano resurrected by her blessed touch. Resurrection is an act of faith for those who believe that death is not the end but a new beginning. Here is my message to this church today: Do not panic! It’s in the midst of complete darkness that the brightness of our little light will shine brighter and brighter. Happy Easter to all those who are here as well as those who are following wherever you may be. May you become anew in the risen Lord. May the dry bones that we think we are regain positive energy to become alive again and to God will be the Glory. Alleluia, Christ is risen! Jesus is risen indeed, Alleluia! Amen.