Sunday, August 9, 2009

Yes, We Have No Bananas

The Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Today's Word:
1 Kings 19:4-8 (The prophet Elijah eats of the food given by God while traveling to Mount Horeb)
Psalm 34:2-9 (Taste and see the goodness of the Lord)
Ephesians 4:30-5:2 (Do not grieve the Holy Spirit, with whose gifts you have been sealed)
John 6:41-51 (The Bread of Life Discourse: 'The bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world')

And: James 2:1-26 (Faith vs. Works)
Isaiah 40:28-31 (They who hope in the Lord will renew their strength, and soar like eagles)
Romans 7:14-20 (Paul of Tarsus: 'What I do, I do not understand; for I do not do what I want, but I do what I hate')

Where do I begin  - especially when I want to keep this reasonably short?

Jesus is moving on to the greater subject at hand. Not only is there nourishment for the soul, but he's the one providing it. And as may be expected, some just can't believe this. Jesus does not appear as one who would command authority, like the king they've believed the long-awaited Messiah to be. They cannot see beyond the hard reality before them. We'll come back to this.

Today's message in the letter of the Apostle James can best be summed up in this catchy little ditty:
It's about as useless as a screen door on a submarine
Faith without works baby
It just ain't happenin'
One is your left hand one is your right
It'll take two strong arms to hold on tight
Some folks cut off their nose just to spite their face
I think you need some works to show for your alleged faith

Well there's a difference you know
'tween having faith and playing make believe
One will make you grow the other one just make you sleep
Talk about it
But I really think you oughtta take a leap off of the ship
Before you claim to walk on water
Faith without works is like a song you can't sing
It's about as useless as a screen door on a submarine

Faith comes from God and every word that He breathes
He lets you take it to your heart so you can give it hands and feet
It's gotta be active if it's gonna be alive
You gotta put it into practice

It's about as useless as a screen door on a submarine
Faith without works baby it just ain't happenin'
One is your right hand one is your left
It's your light your guide your life and your breath
Faith without works is like a song you can't sing
It's about as useless as a screen door on a submarine

--Screen Door (1996)
Rich Mullins

Okay, now on to today's Signs for Our Times:

Actually, this is an understatement. You probably won't see this sign (or it's graphic counterpart) unless you're on a slope with an incline of 6% or more for a distance of at least half a mile. By then, you're in at least the foothills of mountains (if not in the mountains themselves) or in great river valleys.

What's interesting about this is that when driving in these surroundings, you have to pay more attention to things up close. When going uphill, you may not have enough momentum to reach the top, requiring you to shift into a lower gear to provide more pulling power to the engine. When going downhill, you have to watch that you don't pick up too much momentum, in order to keep the vehicle under control and preserve braking power. Again, shifting to a lower gear is sometimes in order.

But seeing the mountain or drop-off ahead takes focus away from the overall view of the roadway.  Because you have to slow down in these areas, you can get a bit disoriented and think you've come out of the area when in reality you're somewhere deep in the middle of it. You have no idea where the crest of that hill is, or if you've reached the bottom of the mountainside. The driver has to make a judgment call; and once committed may not be able to correct himself if that call turns out to be in error.

Sometimes, a lifeline is thrown out in the form of:

But they're not always used, and even when used may not be effective in preventing damage or loss of life.

Believe it or not, there's a great connection here. Jesus' contemporaries can't seem to accept how God has provided for them, even as he explains himself. The sheer controversy behind this is what ultimately sends Jesus to Calvary, where he gives his flesh "for the life of the world."

Even the most devout of followers can be blinded by the immediacy of what's before them, watching gauges, looking for twists and turns, trying to figure out if they've finally come through safely.

Judas, one of Jesus' inner circle, was one such person. All this just didn't add up to him, so he turned Jesus over to the authorities. When he realized that their intent wasn't simply to reprimand but kill Jesus, he tried to recant. But as they had what they wanted and weren't about to give up their trophy, in utter despair Judas took his own life. Jesus could have forgiven him, but he was so blinded by the guilt of his action.

In our own time, people will come into times so difficult that they cannot see past it, even in prayer. God is forever patient; but we aren't. Push will ultimately come to shove. The descent down the mountainside is such that either the runaway ramp is missed or can't be accessed, if it's even there. It reminds me of another song that has a wry bit of humor in it - please pardon it under the circumstances...

It was just after dark when the truck started down
the hill that leads into Scranton, Pennsylvania
Carrying thirty thousand pounds of bananas
Carrying thirty thousand pounds of bananas.

He was a young driver,
just out on his second job.
And he was carrying the next day's pasty fruits
for everyone in that coal-scarred city
where children play without despair
in backyard slag-piles and folks manage to eat each day
about thirty thousand pounds of bananas.
Yes, just about thirty thousand pounds of bananas

He passed a sign that he should have seen,
saying "shift to low gear, a fifty dollar fine my friend."
He was thinking perhaps about the warm-breathed woman
who was waiting at the journey's end.
He started down the two mile drop,
the curving road that wound from the top of the hill.
He was pushing on through the shortening miles that ran down to the depot.
Just a few more miles to go,
then he'd go home and have her ease his long, cramped day away.
and the smell of thirty thousand pounds of bananas.
Yes the smell of thirty thousand pounds of bananas.

(The song builds up in intensity and excitement)
He was picking speed as the city spread its twinkling lights below him.
But he paid no heed as the shivering thoughts of the night's
delights went through him.
His foot nudged the brakes to slow him down.
But the pedal floored easy without a sound.
He said "Christ!"
It was funny how he had named the only man who could save him now.
He was trapped inside a dead-end hellslide,
riding on his fear-hunched back
was every one of those yellow green
I'm telling you thirty thousand pounds of bananas.
Yes, there were thirty thousand pounds of bananas.

He barely made the sweeping curve that led into the steepest grade.
And he missed the thankful passing bus at ninety miles an hour.
And he said "God, make it a dream!"
as he rode his last ride down.
And he said "God, make it a dream!"
as he rode his last ride down.
And he sideswiped nineteen neat parked cars,
clipped off thirteen telephone poles,
hit two houses, bruised eight trees,
and Blue-Crossed seven people.
it was then he lost his head,
not to mention an arm or two before he stopped.
And he smeared for four hundred yards
along the hill that leads into Scranton, Pennsylvania.
All those thirty thousand pounds of bananas

--from 30,000 Pounds of Bananas (1976)
Harry Chapin

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