We all have the answer.
Friday was one of those days that has made our common life together so challenging. I know it was riveting television, but I chose not to watch the unfolding testimony that went on for hours. For one thing, I have enough agita in my life, but I also don’t want to add to the divisive and acrimonious atmosphere that has descended upon our republic. The drama was supposedly designed to determine the truth, but of course it was really all about winning. Sometimes I wonder if we really care about the truth anymore, and I suppose what makes this particular dispute even more tragic is that it is about a position that was designed to determine the truth about our laws. And now the FBI is charged to find the truth about this important issue. Good luck with that! I watched a movie yesterday with the Altar Servers, and one of the characters in the film had one of those magic fortune-telling 8-ball toys that Mattel still makes. You ask a question to the ball, and when you turn it over it reveals an answer to your question. We’d probably get as good an answer about Judge Kavanaugh using that process than all the so-called experts the FBI might employ.
All kinds of questions that come up in life, and you wanna know the answer, right? The internet has certainly helped a lot in that regard. The internet is such a great authority to get the answers you need to all those questions. Do cats have belly buttons? When you are sending someone Styrofoam, what do you pack it in? If olive oil comes from olives, where does baby oil come from? What is the speed of dark? Why is E on the top of the eye chart? And of course the internet can also tell you what that ominous-looking spot is on your cheek, or how to properly fill out your income tax.
But sometimes there are other questions that come up, even harder to answer, and I wish I had an answer man to instantly give me the answer to them. As a priest, lots of times, people expect me to be the answer man for these questions that come up in life, the questions that go way deeper than belly buttons and tax returns. When I was a baby priest, newly ordained, really wet behind the ears, that immediately happened to me. People would come up to me with some really difficult questions about things in their lives, and if I attempted to give them an answer because, you know, I was a priest, well, lots of times I felt like a fraud. I mean, just because I was ordained to the priesthood, it didn’t necessarily mean that I knew the answers to anything except maybe what I learned in my theology classes or what I knew about church teaching. It didn’t even mean that I could speak from spiritual authority. That kind of authority and answer comes from something much deeper than a degree in ministry or ordination to the priesthood. But even as it was scary to be thought of as the answer man like that, it was also a little exciting. It’s easy to let the authority of a title or position go to your head. To be honest, I think that has a lot to do with the abuse that has been uncovered in the church. What more does a priest or a bishop know about anything, even about God?
It’s easy to tell someone how many hours you’re supposed to fast before communion, or where in the Bible does it say that Jesus had brothers and sisters. It’s not so easy to click on the Google box inside when someone asks you with tears falling out their eyes like rain: “Why are they doing this to me?” or “Why doesn’t God take Mama now and end her suffering from cancer?” or “Why am I gay?”, or “Why do people kill one another?” or “Why doesn’t someone love me enough to marry me?” or “Why can’t I love myself?”. The answer man searches all his pages for answers that can never be contained on such a small source. “The reason is….why they are doing this is…because….the answer must be….it’s….there’s a…..” and though you are tempted to wrap it all up in an easy answer, a quick little bit of wisdom, a quote from the Bible, a paragraph from the Catechism of the Church---in all honesty you cannot meet those tears, that suffering, those fears, with any priestly magic because it would only be, quite frankly, a fake. I am not, as a priest, by any means, an answer man, and I have more questions, the same questions the everyone has in the face of the unanswerable. The answers to those questions come from a different authority altogether.
And that is the point of the first reading. Eldad and Medad—who were prophesying but who were not ordained to do so, and in the Gospel an un-named someone—not one of the apostles—was using Jesus’ name to heal the sick. In both cases there was a big to-do about them being unauthorized to speak out and heal. Moses in the first reading, and Jesus in the second, gave them the go-ahead and their blessing. All it takes to do the will of God--the work of God--to be the real answer man or woman, is to be an authority on one thing: to be an authority on lived love, and that’s really the lesson for all of us here today.
My mother always used to say “two heads are better than one”, and when you are faced with a really big problem or a really big question—where there’s no book around to give you the answer—the best place to go is right here, around this table, together. Here there is a mysterious thing that happens, and it is not just the work of the priest, it is the work of two heads and three and ten and eighty five and four hundred heads all here assembled, all of us gathered around this holy and miraculous first and last supper. Together in mystery we communicate with the Answer, you see, we communicate with it and it becomes a part of us as we plunge into the depths of pain and suffering, and soar on the triumphant wings of life.
Every one of us receives the Answer and becomes part of it, don’t you see: we are all empowered with the Spirit alive in us and all of us become answer women and men. We all have the answer. If we take on Christ, we are all of us authorities on pain and suffering… but also resurrection: we are all of us meant to go out and expel the demons of the world from the world. That is the power we all possess and must use, together, two heads and ten and ten hundred, an army of prophets and faith healers from the Church of the Epiphany, marching out, reaching out, lending a shoulder and an ear to some little one awash in tears, some big one overflowing with anger or despair or self-hatred. The words will still not come easily, if any at all. “Why they are doing this to you is because…the reason for evil in the world is… you are suffering now because….uh…because…I don’t really know
But….I love you, little one…come dry your tears, I love you, I love you, I love you…..“ That’s all, and that’s enough. The real Answer, to all the really important questions, is …love….hanging right here for all of us to see.