A Sermon Delivered by
The Reverend E. F. Michael Morgan, Ph.D.
Trinity Episcopal Church
May 19, 2019
Now the Son of Man has been glorified,…by this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. (John 13: 31-35)
Here’s the scene. I’m at the wheel in my car, negotiating twists and turns as I’m racing down Route I-79 on my way to Fairmont in order to connect with clergy at still another diocesan meeting at Christ Church. I’m late for the meeting, and somewhat out of sorts with everyone else on the road. They’re all crazy drivers – not me of course – just them; darting in and out, jumping lanes and recklessly cutting people off. It’s dangerous out on the road; and I figure I had better get an idea of what the road conditions are like. So I turn on my GPS for “Traffic Conditions” – you know the App that says, “Traffic-is heavy and congested en route, and I should expect delays, and so on. That’s when I learn things are really about to go sour. An accident appears on the screen as I the approach the ramp where I want to get off. Then my GPS announces in a calm and soothing voice that I should be cautious and careful, and that “drivers can expect a twenty minute delay due to several bottlenecks in the area.”
Bottlenecks …. That’s the last thing anyone needs on a busy commute.
Interestingly, there’s a really good book published not-too-long ago entitled Bottlenecks: A New Theory of Equal Opportunity, written by Joseph Fishkin. According to the author, bottlenecks are described as “narrow places through which people must pass if they hope to reach a wide range of opportunities that fan out on the other side.” These bottlenecks are omnipresent in everybody’s life experience – in fact, there are no social distinctions to the bottlenecks that people inevitably face every day. And to be objective for just a moment, bottlenecks can be seen either as major obstacles toward reaching developmental milestones, or as challenging conduits that must be navigated to acquire life’s necessities; fundamental things like food, or tokens of exchange like money. Bottlenecks can keep us from meeting particular obligations, or they can inspire us to seek new ways to obtain our goals. The point here is simply this:
Bottlenecks are here to stay.
So how do we deal with them? That’s a fair question. What happens it seems, is that bottlenecks can and most likely will, directly influence a person’s life chances. Therefore in order to expand opportunities, we need to either widen those bottlenecks confronting us, or find ways for people to go around them. Examples of significant bottlenecks range from the financing of a college education, to the more mundane matter of navigating the roads of West Virginia and the highways of America. Most would probably agree, that when all is said and done, bottlenecks are a major pain in the neck.
Be that as it may, with all this as a backdrop, it’s interesting the Gospel lesson this morning contains a passage of Jesus making a passing reference to the afterlife, thereby indirectly promising us a place at the heavenly banquet. This is clearly a more hopeful view than that of an apocalyptic “rapture” where some people are “left behind.” In its own way, the Gospel is warning of spiritual bottlenecks that we may all encounter on our respective journeys of faith before we ever reach our hoped-for destination - heaven. Yet this begs the question further, leading us to wonder – “What’s next?” “Where are we headed if we can’t get through, or we find that it’s impossible to go around the obstacles confronting us?” “Are we living in “end-times” as some zealots seem to suggest?” “Have we come to the proverbial last day, that ‘dreadful day of judgment when the secrets of all hearts shall be disclosed’?” Maybe!
As the Easter season winds down in the church calendar it might be appropriate for us to think about the on-going developing nature of our faith, and whether we really do have an abundant life in the future as promised by God. In truth, it seems the doubts stubbornly persist: and we’re left to wonder, “How are the respective narratives of our lives tempered by the religious views we hold?” It’s a perplexing problem, where we typically reach a point of despair and throw up our hands, sighing exhaustively - Go figure!
But wait – let me share a brief story.
A few years ago I was privileged to hear Archbishop Desmond Tutu speak to a packed field house at a university in Philadelphia, down the street from the church I was serving at the time. His theme was peace and reconciliation in the world, especially now that the planet is facing such severe, if not immediate, challenges to its very existence. The Archbishop stressed there was a need for reconciliation to come about through forgiveness, and he insisted upon the realization that God is the Lord of the Universe so that in the final analysis “good” will triumph over “evil.” The love of God will prevail, he declared with a spirit of conviction and humor; and he stated unequivocally, that justice and mercy will eventually reign on earth … to which we might all reply … “Amen!”
As I reflected on that unusual event where an Anglican archbishop from the nation of South Africa in a faraway continent captured the attention of Americans in a university basketball arena here in the United States. I wondered what it all meant. In fact, I remained puzzled for some time.
It wasn’t until a few years later when I heard former Presiding Bishop, Frank Griswold, speaking at a conference I was responsible for organizing, that I realized what was going on. Bishop Griswold reported that he himself had attended the consecration of a new bishop in Connecticut where Desmond Tutu was the preacher, and he recognized the awkwardness of later looking at the Archbishop’s printed sermon after it had already been preached. Here’s what the Presiding Bishop said:
I can tell you that if you had transcribed Desmond Tutu’s sermon you would have been completely unimpressed. He said very ordinary things. However, the power with which he spoke, and the intimacy of his own relationship with the Lord that shone forth in his person, conveyed much more than the words themselves.
The point here is that it’s not just words which are significant, but the power and authority of our voice when we speak those ordinary words, and the way they can lead to transformation. Bishop Tutu believed that we need to express our religious convictions through deeds and actions; not simply words alone.
Jesus said the same thing.
In fact, Jesus implied we should utilize every available form of communication and connection with God, particularly prayer, as in the ‘Lord’s Prayer’ that Jesus himself taught us. In stark yet simple terms that is where we ask to be forgiven of our trespasses, in order to actively “forgive those who trespass against us.” It’s all about actions, deeds, works, mercy, compassion and love – behavioral acts; not merely nice thoughts or good intentions, however noble they may be.
So, Bottom line…. Do not let the bottlenecks of life predominate, instead let deeds of mercy and good works prevail. To which we acclaim this Easter season;
Christ is risen. The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!
We ask all this …In the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. AMEN.
CREDITS, NOTES, & REFERENCES: available on request.