Sunday, October 18, 2015

Sermon: Of Ravens, Goats, and Humans

Raven by Ed Archie Noise Cat as seen in Washington DC  Photo by Wayne Stratz

Thousands of years of human wonder and impossible questions remain.

How did the first spark of life on Earth happen?
Why was the universe as it was the nanosecond before the Big Bang?
Who introduced these beneficial bacteria that live inside our guts?
Who has mastered the path of the hurricane five days into the future?

Job may have had the worst day ever and emerges from it with leprosy. His wife gives him some advice: curse God and kill yourself. Job’s friends come over to give him some theological advice. One friend tells Job the specific sins he must have committed because God only does bad things to bad people. Another friend tells him that classic line of how horror and destruction will make Job stronger. You know how it goes: God never throws a curve ball we can’t hit, thus God pushes us to terrific limits so that we can learn from them.

Then a true prophet arrives and the word of the Lord thunders down upon Job and his friends. Impossible questions. There are page after page. Do you know the wisdom of clouds? Can you take a crocodile for a walk on a leash?

I tell my students I am glad that questions remain that science will never answer. So how did that first spark of life happen? My answer is, “I don’t know and please don’t trust anyone who speaks with absolute certainty, for if they do, they need to step back into the land of mystical uncertainty.”

Today’s OT reading then ends with this question: 41Who provides for the raven its prey, when its young ones cry to God, and wander about for lack of food?

Are you ravenous?

Are you 1. extremely hungry; famished; voracious:

Are you 2. Intensely eager for gratification or satisfaction.

Baby ravens with open mouths are restless within their huge nest on the side of a steep cliff. They scream to all who can hear to be fed. Have you ever wanted to move on? To be in a new place. To not be trapped by elders.

They are ravenous. Feed me, for without strength and energy leaving a cliff side home could be your last bad move. Feed me so I can leave to be my true self.

In Luke Jesus again brings up the feeding of Ravens:

24Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds!

God feeds the ravens and God wants you to ponder how much more value you have then birds. Asked the same but opposite question, I am sure the Raven would claim to have more value than humans.

Consider the Raven: Devoted parents who mate for life, who dance in courtship and feed their young, which are intensely eager to be satisfied. They are intelligent and playful. We are like ravens.

Consider the Raven: Ravens are creators of the Universe in Native American myths, but also tricksters not to be trusted. Their call is said to predict human death and on battlefields they feed on the flesh of our hate. They are a mixture of the good, the humorous, the bad, and the ugly.  The Hebrews had four guideline to whether a bird was kosher or filthy. The raven met two of each. Ravens are mixtures of good and bad.

Consider the ravens. Ravens are the first bird mentioned in the Bible. Ravens dared to mate on the ark and when Noah released them, the ravens unlike the olive branch carrying dove released later, didn’t come back. They are hated as deserters. But I don’t blame them, would you return to such a place? How many humans would return to a place that stank and was confining, if they found a better home? How many refugees return home? If Noah listened to Ravens instead of cursing them, instead of fearing them; then maybe he would have heard the call from dry land just like a refugee trying to get their family to a new safe home.

Consider the ravens. When the prophet Elijah ran to save his life and went to the desert, he found himself in a strange land with no food. Having fled into exile, a surprise arrived when for days a raven flew to him with food. We also bring food to feed the hungry at Manna and at Forteniters. Who has brought you food? Who have you fed? 

Consider the ravens. They are allies with wolves, an animal hated nearly to extinction. What do we think of people who associate with our enemies? If you find out a friend belongs to the wrong political party, or a strange religion, or God forbid a Dallas Cowboy fan; then our mind begins to second-guess and they lose favor.

Consider this dirty creative friend of our enemies. Jesus calls us to do this when he attempts to help us with our anxieties.

Impossible questions come to mind? Can I trust in the Lord to feed me me when I am 82? Will I live to 82? What happens when I die? Am I just headed to be fuel for ravenous baby ravens? Will I be fed by love in an eternal life or will I be thrown out of God’s presence and be gnashing my teeth? In Matthew Jesus seems to turn eternal life into a black and white world. The sheep are in. The goats are out.

To be honest I am a mixture just like a raven. Linn, Linn, and Linn wrote a book called Good Goats. And surely that is where I fall in, I am not a perfect sheep; and I think good goat sounds better than bad sheep. I am a mixture of good and bad.

Have you ever cared for the hungry, the poor, and the imprisoned?
Have you ever bought a special but truly unneeded electronic gadget instead of feeding the hungry?

Welcome to the land of Good Goats and the patient God who tries to guide our way. God forgives flaws and asks only that we accept love and forgiveness. Not real easy to honestly accept, but better than that gnashing of teeth route.

God’s epic ramble of impossible questions to Job must have been overwhelming. Job is stunned and tries to get some words in, but God regains his voice and when it is all over Job stands before God awed by an amazing universe. Shall we stand with Job and be amazed even if we can’t comprehend it all? God hid mysteries that we cannot answer. That’s OK. God will be patient with us as we try to be good goats.

God wants the ravens and humans to be fed, and creation is hungry. God hears the cry of hunger and our call is to listen and be called into action.

Just as a well-fed apple tree will bear splendid fruit, we bear fruits when fed by God. We love beyond our imagination. We know a joy that comes from seeing others feel joy. And we are patient to feel the peace of who we truly are. In 1986 I had plans to be an environmental lawyer. I was going to save wetlands and defend wildlife. Maybe help out a raven along the way.

I stumbled into becoming a special ed teacher and was embarrassed, just like a squirrel I once saw fall out of a tree. I felt I had crashed instead of flying to where I thought I was headed. Richard Rohr wrote, “Our first job is to see correctly who we are, then act on it. That will probably take more courage than to be Mother Theresa.” God’s food helps us to become ourselves.

Consider this: God wants to feed you. God wants to see you grow fruit. Are you ravenous for the Eucharist?