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Since I currently have several employers/supervisors/churches/etc., please know that none of the words on my blog represent them or their beliefs. This blog is my own creation.

It also does not represent my children's perspective, nor my mother's; they think I am funny, but misguided.
(Quick update: only my mother thinks I'm funny now.)

Sunday, July 27, 2014

On Cursing and Blessing

Sunday, July 27, 2014
Sermon by Katie Mulligan
preached at Spray Beach Chapel, NJ

Scripture Reading: Jonah 2:1-10

Then Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from the belly of the fish, saying,
‘I called to the Lord out of my distress, and he answered me...
As my life was ebbing away, 
     I remembered the Lord;
     and my prayer came to you,
     into your holy temple...
I with the voice of thanksgiving
     will sacrifice to you;
     what I have vowed I will pay.
     Deliverance belongs to the Lord!’

Then the Lord spoke to the fish, and it spewed Jonah out upon the dry land. 

I’ve been thinking a lot about Jonah and the belly of that fish lately. It’s been a bit of a rough year for me…I’m sure I’m not the only one in this chapel that feels that way today. Amen to that? Well, maybe this year has been just peachy keen for you, but I bet there have been other years when it felt like you were buried in the belly of a fish.

You know the kind of week or month or year I’m talking about. Here's a hypothetical sample week: You wake up one Monday to a slew of emails from work. “URGENT” the message line reads, and s
ure enough, you check in with the boss, and some deadline got missed or someone’s out sick. Two co-workers are feuding over who stole their lunch from the break room fridge. Turns out it wasn’t a matter of theft, just one person can’t stand it when the leftover food piles up and just threw everything away. Nobody’s talking to anybody. For some reason, they called you.

On Tuesday the car started just fine, but the check engine light went on three blocks from home. Unfortunately, work is 7,396 blocks from home, and you don’t get paid until Friday. I’ll let you think through the options for how you got to work that day and whether or not you got the car fixed Tuesday morning or delayed til payday. Maybe you got friends who owe you one. Maybe they answered their phones. Maybe you paid the auto club bill last November when it was due and this is your free tow. Still and all it’s just Tuesday.

Wednesday the cat died. Just a routine visit maybe, for a check up. But no, there’s something serious. The vet looks at you like you’re the worst pet owner on the planet, because the cat is 2 years overdue for that routine check up. The cat’s illness has nothing to do with anything routine, and probably wouldn’t have been caught last year, but she is two years late on the rabies vaccine, and what kind of pet owner are you? There’s nothing to be done except say goodbye—this mysterious illness came out of the blue, and by 5 she is gone. And that was Wednesday. The car didn’t matter anymore, and the company fridge NEVER mattered to you in the first place. But Wednesday wrecked you.

Thursday you took the day off to recover. Kids stayed home from school. Everyone’s sad about the cat. But not sad enough to be kind—sometime after dinner the arguments form again over who’s going to do the dishes, bedtime, homework, showers, whether or not you are the worst parent ever. You don’t even know how it got to this point, other than everyone is griefstricken, and you are too worn out from the week to be the adult, so along about 9:30 you start living into your new found reputation as the worst parent ever, confirming your child’s opinion.

By Friday you are stumbling in to the home stretch, and 5:00 can’t come soon enough. The day off yesterday to mourn the cat results in 43 unread emails, ALL marked “URGENT”. You get through 16 of them, but it wasn’t pretty.

You’ve been in the belly of a fish all week. It stinks in here. Thrown overboard by your companions and left to drown, you’ve been sitting in the dark dank belly of a giant fish, wondering what you ever did in your life to get you to this place. The job is awful (you pick the reason), the car keeps breaking down, but it’s cheaper to fix than replace, the vet bill was astounding considering you were paying for death, the kids have been on your last nerve since Christmas. You’re looking at the weekend ahead and it’s soccer practice this, and 17 loads of laundry, and how do 3 people use so many dishes anyway? You haven’t done your household finances in weeks and that’s staring you in the face—payday means bills anyway, don’t it? There’s a volunteer thing that sounded simple at the time, but now it’s 7 weeks later and you still didn’t get it done. You’ve been ducking Susie Smith’s calls for days now, because you don’t want to explain why you haven’t got it done. You’ll see her in church tomorrow, though, and there’s no ducking her there.

You’re looking at the weekend, and it’s looking grim. No rest for the weary. Maybe you’ve got a second job. Maybe there’s extra kids on the weekends. Maybe the dryer is broke, and all those clothes are gonna need to be either hung up outside or drug to the laundromat. 

Maybe your week was worse than that. Maybe your week was more tragic, more lethal than that. Your week, your month, your year, this season of life. Can you call to mind the curse words that come out of the depths of your soul in these moments? I know I can.

The Spirit’s been whispering in your ear lately…something about Sabbath or rest, getting to church, a new direction, calling your mother, sending that letter to a friend, walking the beach. God’s been calling you to new work, new play, a new vision, a new way of life. But after the week you just had, where’s the energy for that? Better to lie right down here in this fish belly, don’t you think? Settle in for a nap and a sulk? It’s been a long week/month/year, and at least a thing you know is that the fish belly is constant. It stinks in here. There is little light. You’re not happy, but who would expect you to be happy—you’re stuck in a fish belly. Everybody gets it.

But that isn’t any kind of life, is it? When Jesus called us to abundant life, he didn’t mean the belly of a fish, did he? I guess the question I have today is: how do we get out of the fish belly? Most of the time we don’t control the fish—what are we to do to get spit out on dry land?

I think Jonah was having that kind of week. A message from the Lord to go to Ninevah. He preferred Tarshish. There was good work he could do in that place, maybe he’d been meaning to get there for a while. Ninevah, by way of Tarshish, what could go wrong? He’d get to Ninevah eventually, he wasn’t exactly disobeying…

So then on Monday Jonah got on a boat, and a big storm came up all around them and threatened the boat. On Tuesday the crew shook him awake and yelled at him to call on his God for protection. On Wednesday they cast lots and discovered that it was Jonah’s fault that there was a storm. On Thursday they threw him overboard. On Friday, he got swallowed by a giant fish. So…that was an awful week. From the moment he stepped out his front door, everything went wrong, and now here he was, stuck in the belly of a fish, nowhere to go, nothing to do, except lie down and die.

Have you had that kind of week lately? Oh, I have, my friends. Our scripture tells us this morning that the way out of that belly is to call upon the Lord, to praise God pre-emptively for our deliverance, to say “thy will be done” and mean it. Sometimes I really hate scripture.

Back in the month of May, I procrastinated working all day one Friday. Maybe you’ve done that? Along about 10pm, I decided to do some of the work before sleeping. I went out to my car to get the stuff I needed for work—stuff I was supposed to bring in earlier that day, but I was too lazy to grab it from my car when I got home. I’d even looked at the box of papers and said, “Forget it. I’ll get it later.”

So it was 10 o’clock at night, and I skipped out my front steps to get the box—I had a second wind coming on. Looking carefully, I stepped down onto the last step—only it wasn’t a step, it was just the shadow of a step. I lost my balance, fell over, and landed on my hand. My little finger snapped back as I fell. The ER doc told me later that night that I’d broken the finger. He referred me to the orthopedic doc on Monday, and sent me home with a splint and some pain killers.

Long story short, it’s been a couple of months now. I had surgery in June because the finger wasn’t healing right, and the darn thing just won’t bend right now. 15-20 hours a week I’m spending, dutifully doing my hand exercises and showing up for physical therapy. My finger is not cooperating, and I don’t have much patience for it. Perhaps some of you have experienced this? Your body is supposed to function “normally” but it just won’t? You have an illness, an injury, a weakness? Arthritis maybe? Maybe something more lethal? Maybe just a small thing like a pinky that just won’t bend?

It’s hard to praise anything when you’re frustrated and in pain. I think back to that night in May and curse myself for not working earlier in the day. Or I curse myself for being lazy and leaving the box in the car. Or I curse myself for trying to work at 10 o’clock at night—like I’m still some college student able to pull an all nighter on a paper. 10 o’clock at night and I oughta be in bed. Fish bellies. Oh, I’ve spent my share of time in fish bellies. I’m good at wallowing—how about you?

These hand exercises I do take a lot of time and effort, my friends, and they produce very little in the way of results (at least from day to day). I sit there and do those exercises wherever I happen to be—at lunch, over coffee, sitting in my living room, at work, while cooking. I’m doing my best to incorporate them into my daily routine. It makes me tired. It hurts. It’s frustrating. I find myself cursing my hand. Sometimes I just glare at the finger, which doesn’t look right or feel right or seem right, and I curse it’s stubbornness. The finger just ignores me.

The other day I was at lunch bending my fingers into a half-fist (which is as good as it gets these days). While I was moving my fingers I was checking email, and up popped a monthly newsletter from an organization called WATER. WATER stands for Women’s Alliance for Theology, Ethics, and Ritual. Their monthly email included a blessing—a blessing for our hands.

So there I was, clenching and unclenching my fist, cursing my hand and my own stupidity for ending up in this situation, and up pops this blessing. For our hands. Let me read it to you, for irony’s sake. And as I read it to you, take hold of your own hands and bless them—whatever condition they are in. Perhaps your hands are perfect. Perhaps they are injured. Perhaps they ache everyday deep in the bones. Maybe you are missing one or a finger. Maybe your hands are chapped and dry, the nails crooked and cracked. Maybe you got a manicure last week. Maybe your hands don’t move. Maybe I’m the only one here in a fish belly over their hands. But take your hands anyway and bless them with me:
Summer hands have a freedom of their own. Look at your hands. Clasp them together. Through the centuries, the creative and healing power of the Divine has been represented through gestures of the human hand... (read the rest of the blessing ritual here)
Oh my friends…how many times do we curse ourselves, our lives, our circumstances, when we need to be blessing them? What good does it do to curse this hand? What do I accomplish by cursing the night I stepped out to my car? Not a whit, although it’s satisfying. But our deliverance, says Jonah, comes from the blessing. We call out to the Lord and we are spit out on dry land. It doesn’t always look like what we expected—sometimes we are spit out onto an unexpected shore. But we are delivered when we call out in praise—we are rescued when we bless what is.

The psalmist tells us the same thing, over and again in psalm and psalm after psalm. Songs of struggle and joy, pain and delight—when we call upon the Lord, we are delivered to dry land. Here’s one:

In Psalm 18, David cries out to God on a day when he was afraid Saul was going to kill him:

I love you, O Lord, my strength.
The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my deliverer,
my God, my rock in whom I take refuge,
my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.
I call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised;
so I shall be saved from my enemies...
The cords of death encompassed me; the torrents of perdition assailed me; the cords of Sheol entangled me; the snares of death confronted me. 
In my distress I called upon the Lord; to my God I cried for help. From his temple he heard my voice, and my cry to him reached his ears... 
He reached down from on high, he took me; he drew me out of mighty waters...He brought me out into a broad place;
he delivered me, because he delighted in me. 
The Lord delivers us because he delights in us. The Lord spat Jonah out upon dry land because he delighted even in that recalcitrant, difficult, stubborn, disobedient soul. The Lord delivers me from the trouble with my hand when I bless that hand for what it is. Will it be healed? Will it bend again? Oh, I don’t know. But I am delivered from the fear and worry and cursing (none of which make a lick of difference) when I call out to that hand, “Oh hand, how lovely you are, just as you are. I am glad you are mine.”

How often do we curse when we need to be blessing?

1 comment:

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