The Lord calls us to a life of love and joy
Aug 27 is the feast day for Thomas Gallaudet and Henry Winter Syle. These men are responsible for bringing the good news of God to the deaf people of this country. It was not that long ago that people thought that deaf people were retarded, because they could not communicate well with hearing people. Because they were considered to be retarded, no one worried much about telling them about Jesus. Gallaudet thought differently, and decided to do something new. He went learn how deaf people communicated in both England and France. What they found was that in England, deaf people were taught how to lip-read, while in France, the deaf were taught a hand language or shuwa. Having a hand language clearly gave the deaf a better internal command of language and comprehension, and so American Sign Language is based upon French rather than English organizing principles. Gallaudet returned to this country with a French teacher who was deaf, and raised money and started the first school for the deaf. They proceeded to teach deaf students the new sign language, and having language, taught them about the love of God as Jesus revealed it. Gallaudet’s son, also Thomas, continued in his father’s footsteps establishing educational institutions, and was also a priest. Henry Syle was one of their students, and he became the first deaf Episcopal priest.
They are a great example of what we mean by “saints” in the Episcopal Church. These were men (and I’m sorry they didn’t include the women who were involved!) who saw a definite need, and did what needed to be done to meet that need. In this case, it was a need that no one else was paying attention to, and it started out of love. Gallaudet’s neighbor had a little girl who was deaf, and he ended up trying to teach her some language. Her father is the one who asked Gallaudet to please go to England to see what he could find out, because at that time, the mid 1800’s, there was absolutely nothing for her in the US. It was very much the same in Japan. In 1862, the Tokugawa shogunate dispatched envoys to various European schools for the deaf. The first school for the deaf was not established until 1878 in Kyōto. It was not until 1948 that deaf children were required to attend school to receive a formal education in Japan. Imagine if you had a child who was deaf in this time, and then someone came along who could allow the spirit within your precious child to come out and be known!
It is in that light that I hear Peter saying to Jesus, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life.” Jesus came into a situation where people felt alienated from God, and Jesus spoke to them in words they could understand, and with authority. Gallaudet came into the lives of deaf people, and gave them words, and gave them a way to praise God. There is no question but that people who do not have the language to express themselves can feel the love of God. When we decide that because they cannot verbalize in the same way that we do, that people with no religious background do not have any spirituality, we delude ourselves. But they may well not know how to express themselves, and that is different. They may not have a “container” for understanding what they feel, which again is different than not having the feeling.
I had a friend call me one day, very agitated. “What is going on?” I asked. “I just had this experience, and I have no idea what it was, what just happened to me,” she said. So I asked her to describe it, and yes, I could tell her what it was, and what was going on. She calmed down, just knowing that her experience was identifiable. She did not have “language,” that is, a framework to describe something. By giving her the language, I helped her comprehend her experience. Like the working of the Holy Spirit, it was not something to be contained or managed, but comprehending it let her know she was not going crazy. This is important!
For the last few weeks, we have heard the words of Jesus as written in the Gospel of John, about Jesus being the bread of life, and that we have to “feast” on him if we are going to live. We are rather used to this metaphorical language at this point, so it is not so shocking to us as it was to them. It was very, very shocking to them. It would be like saying, you have to kill me if you want to live, or something like that. It sounded just totally crazy to them, enough so that many people who had been following him said, “this is too much!” and they left.
So Jesus asked the twelve, “Do you also wish to go away?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life.” I can just imagine Peter saying “I wish! It is no fun to have everyone think I’m a total idiot for following you. I wish I could find peace and joy and truth someplace else. But I can’t. You have the words of eternal life. You have everything I’ve been looking for my entire life. You are the real deal. I’m in for good.
This brings us back to Moses and then Joshua saying: “as for me and my family, we will serve the Lord. But everyone gets to choose what they will choose as the lord of their life. So choose now, what lord will you follow?” And the people say: “the Lord who brought us out of Egypt is our God, we will serve him.”
Now with all of these, we have to remember that what is written down came a long time, some of it a very long time, after things actually happened. We’re not talking about factual historical stuff here, not the way we understand it. Furthermore, the writers had their own agendas in mind when they decided what got written down, and what didn’t, and even with what did get written down, they decided what order things came in. All of this is simply a caution when we try to get too rigid about any of this stuff. And at the same time, it is absolutely true.
What do I mean by that?
We get challenged all the time to make other gods into our lord. Definitions are important here. What is a god? Something that we believe has power in certain arenas, something we give power and allegiance to in certain times and places. What is a lord? Someone that we have pledged allegiance to, to whom we have given some control in order to get some protection. So there are gods all over the place, and there always have been. They have power when we give it to them. So the gods of money and fame and power are quite familiar to us, right? When we give power to the god of money, we will do whatever it takes to make this god happy so we will be rewarded with money. When we don’t give power to this god, then it does not have control over us. It does not mean we will be poor, just that we are not controlled by this god.
I was watching a movie where a monk was threatened by the bad guy. The bad guy said he would kill the monk if the monk didn’t do what he told him to. The monk looked at him calmly and essentially said that he was not controlled by the god of fear, even the god of the fear of death. The bad guy could not make him do this bad thing, because the monk had given allegiance to a lord of life that was stronger than the god of the fear of death. When you think about what really pushes you around, you will find the god you have given power to. Then you can decide whether to keep that god in place, or to throw it out the window in favor of a more powerful god that gives you life instead of death.
It is not a one-time deal. Often, that old god climbs back in the window when we’re not looking, and sets up residence again, and there we are, with the same fears running our lives. Then we have to choose again. The more practice we have in throwing the old god out the window, the easier it gets, because that is our discipline.
When we think about this kind of activity, then the words of Paul in the Epistle reading make sense. It really is a spiritual battle we are engaged in, a battle between the false gods that the world thinks are real, and the real Lord of life who calls us to a life of love and joy. If we are going to do well in this battle, we need to put on our “battle clothes.” We are not surprised when we see people dressed in loose white pants and top, we know they are going to “do battle” at the dojo, or people dressed for “battle” with their stiff bodies at the yoga studio. We dress for action at the office, and so on. Paul suggests that emotionally and spiritually, we need to pay attention to how we dress for battle with the forces that say we need to do whatever it takes to make more money. “Whatever it takes?” That’s certainly the god of money speaking, not the lord of life!
The final issue then becomes paying attention and learning the language of the Lord of life. It is actually a re-learning of this language, since all of us learned this language of love as children. We may have had it beaten out of us very early, but it was there or we would not be alive. This is the language we use to praise the One who loves us into being, and the ones who love us here, the language we use to love others, which may be a verbal language or a manual one, work done with our hands to help the other in need.
So how do we know? Is this a good thing to be engaged in or not? Is this related to the Lord of life or not? For me the fundamental questions are: Does it give life, real life? Does it give joy? Does it give peace? If so, then this god is certainly a manifestation of the Lord of Life. If not, then out the window it goes!
Our Readings Today
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