Preacher: The Rev. Doyt L. Conn, Jr.
Today we have some Jesus healing stories from the Gospel of Mark, and they inspire me to talk about the non-contingent power of God. If you’re wondering what that is, it is a fancy way of talking about the love of God that is bigger and beyond the boundaries of creation.
Let me explain. I am contingent, which means, I need a support system for the continuation of my being. I needed a mother. I need air and food. I need gravity and the sun. You get the idea. Everything in the created order is contingent. Science is the language used to understand and articulate contingencies. So, for example, physics articulates the light, energy, time and space contingencies; chemistry articulates the contingencies of mass and energy and how they coalesced into atoms and then molecules; biology articulates the contingencies of organisms and how they interact.
Science gives us the language to articulate the contingencies within the brackets of the created order. Which is why the language of science is so critically important for so many things, but does not have the vocabulary to speak about God, because God is non-contingent. God is not dependent on creation for any of God’s needs.
Now that does not mean that God is not present in creation, or that creation is not lovely and beautiful, and that contingencies aren’t something to deeply value and attend to, and understand… they are. It simply means that God is not dependent on creation for any of God’s needs. Which, incidentally, is why God can neither be proven nor disproven by science.
There are no strings that attach God’s needs to the created order. God is perfectly, internally self-sufficient, and self-reliant. God is non-contingent. God is fine within God’s self.
So here is why I’ve said all this…what we see in the miracles of Jesus is non-contingent power. It is a power that reaches deep into the mystery that sits beyond the brackets of creation; it is a power that reaches into the relationship of our Trinitarian God, and from that place, draws forth, like water from a well, love.
Love is not a created thing. It is not contingent. Love is a tapped into thing. Love is a beyond thing. Love is an old thing. Love is an eternal thing. Love comes from within the very nature of God…and then is uniquely given to humanity, to you and me, to relish and to share with those to whom we are contingently connected.
Here is my hope for you; that you are the kind of person, or become the kind of person, who seeks out the love that exists deep within the Trinity, and taps into it, and allows it to work through you…so that you are a portal for the power of God’s love.
And so, how do we engage this love, that is bigger than creation?
I want to suggest three things:
1) We tap into it.
2) We are ready when we wander into it.
3) And we share it with our neighbors.
I want this first point, the tapping into divine love, to remind us that we have intentional access to this power. I want this second point, being ready to encounter this love, to remind us that this love moves in the world like a river we step into, or a storm that blows across our path. And I want this third point, made in today’s Gospel, to remind us that this love can be shared with our neighbor. Let me explain these three points: the tapping into; the being ready for; and the sharing by telling some stories.
We’ll start with how we tap into the power of love by recounting the story of the Wild Boars. That is the name of the soccer team in Thailand that was trapped in a cave by unexpected torrents of rains that filled the tunnels and blocked their exit. If you don’t know the story; twelve young men went with their twenty-five-year-old coach, Ekkapol, into a cave. They were stuck two miles under the earth for sixteen days, before they were found, and then another three days before they were all rescued. They had little food and water to survive on; and the oxygen content in the cave had dropped to 15% which is 6% points lower than what is sustainable for human consciousness.
But they had coach Ekkapol, and he did what he was trained to do; he guided them into the power of non-contingent love. This young coach, it turns out, was also a novice at a Buddhist monastery and trained in the art of deep mediation. He led his team, as they sat in the dark, cold cave, out from under their fear, and into the power of love that comes from beyond.
You see what the Buddhists know, and what we Christians know as well, is that the spiritual exercises are designed to help us tap into the non-contingent power of God. And as Ekkapol, the novice monk showed us, tapping into this mysterious power, is not only something we can become good at, it is something, to quote Jesus: “that gives life and gives it abundantly.” And so, we are capable of tapping into the love of God, and I encourage you to practice doing so.
But also know that this love from beyond creation is something we can stumble upon as well. It flows like a river, or whirls past like a storm. Which brings us to my next story.
It is a story that was sent to me by a parishioner about a man named Bill Hart. He was having lunch with his wife at The California Pizza Kitchen. And there he saw an older woman sitting at a large table across the room; nicely dressed, by herself. She was there for about five minutes before what appears to be her daughter and two or three grandchildren showed up. At about this time, Bill hears a voice in his head saying: “You need to go over there and tell her how pretty she looks.” Well, his food arrives, and his check arrives. He and his wife are going to go shopping in the mall, but on the way out, he leans over, getting down sort of low, so he is eye to eye with the woman and says: “Hey, if no one else has told you yet today, I just want you to hear from me how lovely you are.”
And she looks at him, with a look he had never seen before and says: “I know you.” And Bill says, “No, we don’t know each other.” She then said, “I know your spirit.” And it gets really quiet between them, and she says: “My husband died a year ago, and that is something he would have said to me.” Bill is overwhelmed with emotion. He can’t talk. And he just hugs the woman through tears and he leaves.
Bill calls these divine moments “Shoulder Taps by God.” But what I would say is that they are moments when we find ourselves standing in a river of non-contingent power, with the water whipping around our legs, calling our attention to a love that is from beyond creation. The Celtic people called these rivers “thin places”. I believe Epiphany was built on a thin place. I not so sure if the California Pizza Kitchen was built on a thin place, which is why it is important to remember that love from beyond can also blow through the world like a whirl wind.
So, whether we step into a thin place, or are caught up in a whirlwind…be ready to respond to the power of love, like Bill Hart did. Know it exists. Know it may surprise you. But don’t miss a chance to participate in it. So, we can train to tap into love. We can prepare to stumble across love.
And finally, point three: we can share the power of love. That is what we see happening in the Gospel today. People are putting their neighbors in the path of non-contingent power. And it heals them. Jesus was always tapped into the love of God. No surprise. He was a master of non-contingent power, and he shared it with those who sought it. We can do the same thing.
I’ve seen it happen. I was teaching a class at All Saints’ in Beverly Hill with my friend, Dr. Ron David, a neonatologist by training. I noticed a few people bustling around a woman. Her face was ashen. I called a break, and Ron and I went over to her. She was in the midst of a crippling migraine, an affliction she had suffered many times before.
So, Ron suggested I take over the class, and he would attend to her. He took her to a sofa in the back of the room where she laid down. He then laid his hands upon her head, as another woman held her hands, and he guided her into a healing pool of non-contingent power. Forty-five minutes later she was entirely restored, and to my knowledge has never suffered a migraine again.
With each of these stories we can search their corners for strings of contingencies to pull, to help us make sense of what happened and why it happened, or we can wonder at a deep, divine, resounding love that ties them all together.
There is a power that comes from beyond the created order. It needs nothing other than itself. It is non-contingent, and we know it as love. It is a love we can tap into through the spiritual exercises. It is a love we can stumble across and then act upon. And it is a love that we can pass on to our neighbors in prayer.
When we sense something we can’t explain; when we witness something we can’t define; when we can’t draw the lines of contingency that we are so well trained to draw…Remember God.
Remember that God is; that God was and is, and is yet to come, because, while God is in this place, God too was before this place and is beyond this place, and from the place where God is comes a power-we call it LOVE.
It is a love that we can share. It is a love that we can stumble upon. It is a love that we can tap into. From the place where God is, comes a power- and we can be portals through which this power, this love, is made known in the creation.