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Breathing underwater

Breathing underwater
November 11, 2018
Passage: 1 Kings 17:8-16, Psalm 146, Mark 12:38-44
Service Type:

“Trust me.” How many times have you heard that? We usually hear it
when we’re having a hard time trusting. “Fear not” might be the biblical version. When Mark and I were first dating, we had a series of outdoor adventures that often involved snow or ice, steep hills, and him saying: “trust me.”

Then we took scuba diving lessons together. The hardest part was getting
down under the water with the tank on and then breathing. It sound so simple, but I just couldn’t do it. It’s one of those physical things that only works if you remember to do sixteen things at once, some of which are mutually exclusive. Relax. Breathe. Keep moving. Trust. Don’t hold your breath. Don’t breath too fast. Don’t breathe too slowly. Slow down. If you need to go up or down, imagine a diagonal plane. Check your mask. Don’t touch your mask. Don’t move too fast to the surface. Trust. Relax. Breathe.

I eventually figured it out. Once we were actually scuba diving, the
hardest time I had was with the hand signals. This [“okay” hand signal] means “okay?” and this [thumbs up] means “not okay—I need to go to the surface.” I kept getting them mixed up. I’d instinctively respond like this [thumbs up], as I so often do. I meant both. My emotions and anxiety on the first day in the open water were such that both were true at the same time.

I eventually got into the habit of going like this—okay—even when I was,
well, thirty or forty feet under water with this heavy tank on me and a weight vest and a contraption in my mouth that made no sense. I kept breathing. It was all about trust. I was okay and not okay, but I had no choice but to act out my trust. My learning to breathe under water was about my relationship with the tank, with my own body, with questions of mortality and immortality, and with the earth and the sea. If you’ve ever done scuba diving, you know there’s a moment where all of that becomes one.

I think that all work of relationship—any relationship worth having—
is all about trust and about letting go. Trust is what God asks of us over and
over. Every scripture story is about trust. About letting go.

The widow we meet in today’s gospel, is also going like this. (She’s
okay, and she’s not okay.) The widow of the “widow’s mite” has always been
interpreted as an emblem of good stewardship, of generosity, of someone
who has her loves in order. All of this is true about her, but I don’t think this
is what the story is about. The widow is forced to trust God and to let go of
everything over and over again. She must trust God and she lives in a system that sustains an economic abyss between her and the Jerusalem scribes in their long robes. There may be other factors, but simply by becoming a widow, she has been stripped away of any material or social standing. She is forced to put God at the center of her life. There’s nothing else. She is okay because God is at her center, but the system is not okay.

Every bible story is about God calling us to greater trust. The widow is
not the person in this story being called into greater trust. She has already
lost everything. She has lived the words of the psalm—so very appropriate in an election week: “Put not your trust in rulers, nor in any child of earth.” She has no one to trust but God; for her, reliance upon God’s grace and mercy is like breathing out and breathing in.

The scribes, on the other hand, are being called to greater trust. We
know that they have trust issues because of their focus on appearances.
Through their long prayers and long robes, they try to work out their own
salvation, and they are trying to work it out in striving for earthly honors and
greetings of respect. Their concern for material security prevents them from expressing the generosity of the widow.

Many of us compartmentalize trust. We want to put God at the center,
but we let other things edge God out. We work hard to live as though we trust God with our very life, and then we set that trust aside when it’s time to work on, say, a church budget (for example ☺). Or we love and trust God, but we invest in companies with questionable labor practices or a frightening track record with regard to environmental stewardship. We trust God until our plans for ourselves and our security conflict with God’s plans for the kingdom. We know that we have enough of everything we need, until we don’t. I know whereof I speak. I’m guilty of all of these things. These daily choices reflect our trust issues.

Our world is full of people with trust issues, people who do not trust God, do not trust one another, and have something other than God at their center. In the past few weeks and longer, we’ve heard too many stories of people with deadly weapons at their center. (One story about this is too many.) I’m guessing that every person who plans and executes a mass shooting is driven by a pathological lack of trust, a gaping hole of “not enough” at their center. To this I say: not okay. To this I say: Help.

What is going on in our country? Why in America alone has there been
307 mass shootings in 2018? Everything is broken. We live in a system hellbent on creating widows and orphans, hell-bent on teaching that there is never enough. No wonder we become numb to these deaths, because the alternative seems like hopelessness and despair. To say that any of this is God’s design is blasphemy. There is no good news here. Unless it is that we are driven by despair to put all of our trust in God’s grace and God’s mercy.

We do a lot of praying in this place every Sunday, but I want to take a
minute more, right now and pray for victims of gun violence, and for
ourselves who struggle to find hope. I’m going to read some names. Each of
these stands in for hundreds, thousands of others killed because of a gun
lobby that doesn’t trust another way to make a living; politicians who don’t
trust that they can live without the gun lobby, people with broken hearts and broken minds who don’t trust that they can live without breaking others. Those lobbyists and shooters and politicians are also in need of our prayers.

1. Joachin Oliver
2. Aaron Feis
3. Meadow Pollack
4. Alaina Petty
5. Luke Hoyer
6. Chris Hixon
7. Cara Loughran
8. Jaime Guttenberg
9. Joyce Fienberg
10. Richard Gottfried
11. Rose Mallinger
12. Jerry Rabinowitz
13. Cecil Rosenthal
14. David Rosenthal
15. Bernice Simon
16.Sylvan Simon
17. Justin Meek
18. Daniel Stein
19. Melvin Wax
20. Irving Younger
21.Sean Adler
22. Cody Kaufman
23. Blake Dingman
24. Jake Dunham
25. Alaina Housley
26.Nancy Van Vessem
27. Maura Binkley
28. Alyssa Alhadeff
29.Scott Beigel
30.Nicholas Dworet
31. Amariah Emery
32.Nichole Pumphrey
33. Lawrence Cannon

Holy One, teach us to live and to breathe in new ways because we
must. Give us courage to dive down into the deep water of your grace and
mercy. It is all we have to live on.