There is an edited version of this sermon below but the full text follows here:
`“There are more like us. All over the world
there are confused people, who can’t remember
the name of their dog when they woke up, and
who love God but can’t remember where
He was when they went to sleep…”
from “People Like Us” by Robert Bly
You know, it hit me
while I was praying recently
that those ancients were 100% correct:
we need help.
We are a species
insufficient unto ourselves
to live well.
I was praying a prayer for peace
that I have been making
since Russia invaded Ukraine
and I realized it was a stupid prayer.
You see, at the beginning
of the war,
and again when the generals in Sudan
who Russia and the US are funding,
started killing for power,
I asked God
to empower those
who were waging peace.
My prayers were for God
to help those who were working
toward stopping the violence.
And then I looked out
and saw the smoke from the Canadian wildfires.
The haze was so thick
I could barely see the other side of the lake —
something that rarely happens
even in the soupiest morning fog.
Everyone I spoke with
during those smoke-filled days
shared a sense of ominicity —
that’s not a word,
but it felt ominous to folks.
It was like, “Uh oh, this is going
to start happening more and more, isn’t it?”
And sitting there
offering up my morning prayers
with the dog sitting next to me
like she always does,
as if it is all about her,
it smacked me in the face
that we don’t have a prayer.
I mean, it isn’t about God helping us
help ourselves — we need God to make peace happen!
We need God to kick our butts
and force fit us into a more humanizing mold.
Those ancients were totally right:
we don’t stand a chance
of surviving ourselves
without some direct intervention
from the God of all that is.
Jesus described us well
a long time ago when he said,
”To what will I compare this generation?
It is like children sitting in the marketplaces
and calling to one another,
’We played the flute for you,
and you did not dance; we wailed,
and you did not mourn.’”
Then he added a little personal testimony:
”John came fasting and they said he was possessed.
I came sharing community around a table
and they say I am a glutton and a drunkard.”
In other words,
nothing is good enough for us
and anyone who tries to fix us
is immediately discredited and discarded.
I realize that God’s efforts to fix us
haven’t gone all that well, either.
The Garden of Eden,
Noah’s zoological cruise,
Moses and the exodus,
Solomon and the civil war in Israel,
even Jesus and the kingdom of heaven.
None of those events fixed us
and even when it helped a little,
it wasn’t long before we were right back
to our self-destructive ways.
For at least the last 300 years
God as a source of help
has basically been poo-pooed.
We could not, with cold reason and cool logic,
prove God can intervene
or have anything to do
with the principalities and powers
running things here on planet earth.
So we pretty much relegated God
to warm thoughts and spectacular mysteries
that do not truly intersect with our existence.
Some of us have hoped against hope
that God will hear our prayers
about people we love
who are ill
or in danger
or doing stupid things
or flying in airplanes to far away places.
We don’t know how prayers work
or if they do work
and we try not to think about it too much.
We just do it and cross our fingers.
Really and truly,
God has no place in a world
that requires laboratory manufactured proof.
There are some brilliant mathematicians
who posit God
and see an opening for a mystery
we cannot measure or replicate.
But they aren’t leading the pack
and they play in a science
that doesn’t use a laboratory
to verify hypothesis.
Jesus’ prayer of gratitude to God
for hidding such things from the wise
and the intelligent
while being revealed to infants
is a really interesting thought.
But all of this takes me back
to very ancient people
howling at the moon
and dancing around the fire
that they do not have a chance in hell
without help from God.
I don’t know if they recognized
their utter foolishness
and self-destructive natures —
or if they simply understood the limits of their powers
in the face of nature’s magnificent majesty
that could crush them like a bug,
drown them like a rat,
or burn them to a crisp.
But while we have a huge
technological foot up from those folks,
we seem utterly incapable
of recognizing that we are not self-sufficient
and that in fact, left to our own devices
we will kill ourselves.
Surrounded by so much that is ominous
I want to tell you how it is
I still pray — and how it is,
despite the secular consensus
that God doesn’t do anything
if even there is a God —
how it is
that I have reverted to an ancient understanding
that the Creator-Of-All-That-Is
will still do stuff to help us.
I don’t know if I’ve told you about this before
but if so, indulge me like
your old weird uncle
who forgets the dog’s name.
I once spent three weeks in Guatemala
trying to learn Spanish.
I was a spectacular failure
just like I had been in sophomore year Spanish class.
But I tried harder in Guatemala
with the same result.
Anyway, that isn’t the story.
I was in a small city
known for its historic beauty
and language schools.
I lived with a family who would only speak
Spanish with me,
and attended a school where only Spanish
So it was a difficult, uncomfortable time
surrounded by vestiges of the past
and bodies on the street.
Literally, I passed bodies on the streets
that may have been dead or dying —
like the priest in Jesus’ Good Samaritan story.
I was confronted by beggers
asking for money at every corner
and in many of the cafes
where I ate.
I spent the first couple of days
feeling guilty and ashamed.
“Gracias, no gracias,” I repeated over and over again
as children aggressively hawked bracelets
on the street.
”No lo siento” I said to beggers,
not making eye contact
as I said I was sorry but I wouldn’t
give them money.
Long story short,
it struck me how deeply flawed
my reactionary self-preservation instinct was.
While my resources were not unlimited
and I was going to be there for quite some time,
I figured out how to say, “Si, Salud!”
instead of “Gracious, no gracious.”
The fact is, in that kind of economy,
before smartphones and applepay,
and you’re a tourist, you start to avoid coins.
When the exchange rate is wildly uneven
your pockets start to feel like sandbags
so you try to figure out how to limit
taking on change in coins.
But I bought a change purse
and instead of avoiding change
I began to make sure I had plenty of it
all the time.
I even went out of my way to get it.
I made it my goal
to never say “Gracious, no gracious”
and always to have at least one coin
to give if asked.
The other thing I could do
was always look whoever was asking
in the eyes.
I could stop,
look him or her in the eyes,
say “Si, Salud!”
when I handed them a coin.
I’m sure I wasn’t perfect
but my strategy worked.
I went from a sense of scarcity
to one of abundance.
I no longer walked under a cloud
of feeling like something ominous
was going to happen, and instead
greeted the streets as an opportunity
to meet colleagues in need
and be responsive to them.
It changed everything.
Well, not how poorly I was doing in school
or in communicating at my adopted home,
but it caused me to feel empowered
instead of powerless.
“Si, Salud!” instead of “Gracious, no gracious.”
Then, on my last day in Guatemala
I had an hour to kill
before getting picked up for the airport.
So I walked half a mile to La Merced,
a 17th century monastery and church
that makes the sanctuary of 520 S. Main Street
look like a storefront.
There were baptisms going on
so I sat toward the rear of what seemed
like a two-mile long nave.
I just sat there for awhile
in a state somewhere between thought and prayer,
drifting in and out of reflection
on my time in Guatemala,
and praying for those I had met
and who had showed me such hospitality.
As I stood and turned to leave
I could see a dark figure
on the floor
huddled in the shadows
just inside the massive front doors.
I felt in my pocket for change
and there it was, the change purse
with quite a lot in it.
I took out four coins for each of my kids
and the rest was for whoever
sat there in the shadows.
As I approached the dark outline of a man
I began to see the contours of his body.
Clearly he was in his twenties or thirties
and was missing both of his legs.
He was not “huddled” as it turned out,
rather, his posture and demeanor
seemed relaxed and composed
rather than despairing.
His face was remarkably clear and clean.
The hair on his head
and his beard
were handsomely dark.
His eyes as I got up close, were far more noticeable
than the absence of his legs.
They were brilliant.
I placed the change purse in his cup or bowl,
or maybe it was even his hand,
I don’t remember.
But his eyes were locked onto mine when he said:
“Gracious, Dios te bendiga” – Thank you, and
God bless you, he said.
In that man’s eyes
was the brilliance of a god…the spiritual strength
of a Jesus or Mohammed or Buddha.
Perhaps I only saw what I wanted to see
or was in some other way projecting my own stuff
upon him and the situation — but I don’t think so.
Even now, with the distance of time and space,
I don’t think so.
The decision to give one, two, or three coins
each time I was asked, to say, “Si” instead of “No”
Suddenly I was no longer weary
and my burdens had become light.
Truly it was weird how fast
the heaviness left,
what had just seemed ominous dissipated.
In that decision to say “Si, Salud!” —
literally, “Yes, Bless” —
and to look those I encountered in the eyes,
the impossible became possible.
Even though I didn’t know
how it would turn out
or if would have any impact at all
one way or another,
it changed everything for me.
I believe what those ancient’s believed,
that we are incapable of living well
if all we have is our own resources.
I believe that in fact, if God
is not present or in the equation,
we will continue to do poorly.
And it seems clear to me,
though I could not prove it in a laboratory
or with a mathematical equation,
it requires very little from God
for human beings to turn around and thrive.
It is almost miraculous
how fast we go from “No” to “Yes”
when we are even just a little open
to the presence of God in our midst.
This video presentation is an edited version of the text.