Rev. George Miller
“What Size Portion Will You Take? ”
Oct 3, 2010
Hear these words from Psalm 130: “Out of the depths I cry out to you, O Lord...Hear my voice! Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications!...my soul waits for the Lord, more than those who watch for the morning, more than those who watch for the morning.”
A cry out to the Lord from deep darkness, akin to a grave, buried in hopelessness. When will sunlight penetrate in, scattering the darkness, to redeem and restore?
We have all experienced moments of darkness, where loss seems to be the victor. The types of darkness can be innumerable. The loss of a job, a repossessed car, a failed marriage.
The depths can be many. Loneliness, illness, death. There is no depth or sadness in which we are permanently shielded from.
To live is to climb to the highest highs and to walk in the darkest valleys. We have all been there, regardless if we admit it or not.
The book of Lamentations explores those realities, traveling through some of the most vile and violent images possible.
Lamentations takes place after the community has experienced a series of horrible events. One word that runs through is “How” and it ends with the statements that God is angry and has rejected the people, perhaps forever.
It is a book cloaked in darkness, except for this small part, in which the poet recalls the good that God had done in the past, and claiming that the Lord’s loves is eternal, the poet decides that he will wait and hope in God..
For that moment a ray of light breaks in, allowing him to move into being a survivor, even if only temporarily.
Survival: for most of the world survival is a day to day reality. And right now, many in the world are paying close attention to a group of men who are in the deep, deep depths of Chile.
2,300 feet below the Atacama Desert, 33 miners have been trapped since August 5, learning how to maintain their sanity and safety.
They spent the first 17 days in virtual darkness, barely able to breathe, rationing their food, eating every other day. The first images we saw of them were naked, dirty and unshaven.
Though such an experience is horrifying, it showed that the men have the drive and strength needed to survive.
Half a mile above ground scientists, doctors, and cooks have been working to not only rescue them from the depths but to help them stay focused.
Through holes in the ground they’ve been sent down pieces of cots to be reassembled, as well as TV, movies, dominoes and letters from family.
Toothbrushes were one of the first things the men asked for. Since then the miners have been sent razors and clean clothes, including matching red shirts: tidiness translates into discipline and the matching shirts create the sense of togetherness.
When a crises hits, people try to normalize the situation, trying to press on in as ordinary a way as possible. People can also develop what is known as a “mortality salience” in which the awareness of death can bring people together.
So psychologists and anthropologists are studying them, following the ways in which they are coming together.
To confront their fear of being swallowed by the depths, the oldest miner, Mario Gomez, took on the role of coordinator, organizing everyone into 3-men groups so they can look after one another. He also set up a chapel to offer spiritual support.
To normalize things, another man, named Luis Urzula has given them jobs and responsibility, coordinating work schedules from a desk he made from a mine vehicle. His desk has become a sign of civilization to the men.
Luis created an important rule: none of the 33 men can eat until all 33 of the men have received their food; Communion in one of its purest forms.
They are sent down food, such as yogurt, tea, sandwiches, and meatballs, but no beans, for exactly the reasons you think.
There are no cigarettes, as they can create toxic fumes; no wine until their diets even out. Nor will they receive hand-held video games or Ipods with headphones because those things can cause them to isolate from one another, and isolation will not help alleviate the depths of the pit they are in.
The miners rebelled against these rules, rejecting a delivery of peaches in protest, but this was seen as a good thing: it means they still have fight in them, they are still individuals capable of making choices. Men who are defiant are not beaten men.
They have a long road ahead of them. Soon they may face fatigue, illness, depression. And when rescue comes, it means each man will be lifted one person at a time in cage for a two hour ride, in which, at some point, one of them will be left completely, and utterly, by himself.[i]
Buried in the depths.
It is amazing what the human soul and body can endure when forced to look death in the face, and when it finds a way, through community, to hold onto hope, even if it seems as if the sunlight will never come.
I think that’s part of what’s lacking in the book of Lamentations. The people have been left feeling so broken down, so humiliated that they have fractured off and lost sight of the community.
The sense of destruction has so thoroughly pierced their souls, that instead of turning towards one another for comfort, they turned away, further creating a sense of alienation and complete loss.
And in today’s reading we hear one sole voice, saying that he will recall what God has done in the past, and that he will wait quietly, alone is silence.
...But perhaps it is because he sits alone, waiting, that the book ends with him feeling rejected by a God who is angry beyond measure.
What is more faithful: to sit and wait alone for God to act, or to find people to band together with and say “God, get off your tookas- it’s time to act!”?
In life and in faith there is passive waiting and there is active waiting; there are those who look into the face of death and crumble and those who find within them the reason to act and live.
That is what I understand Jesus to have done.
When I read about the Chilean miners, about how Mario and Luis have developed a life of work and worship, community and coordination, I felt like I had another understanding about Jesus and his incredible ministry.
The more I think about Jesus the less I see him as a passive, long haired floormat and the more I realize what a strong, alpha leader he was, a man so full of God and so full of life that he could give and give of himself and never run empty of the God-force that resided within him.
Part of this leader that we see in Jesus is the very fact that to do his ministry, he called other people forward, he invited them to share in the responsibility of doing the Kingdom’s work.
Jesus sent the disciples out in pairs, trusting them to do what’s right, empowering them to do what needed to be done. Jesus held them accountable; neither coddling nor enabling them.
When the disciples came to a place in which they were not welcome, Jesus didn’t let them get stressed out. Instead he taught them to shake the dust from their feet and to move on.
Jesus did many things, but rarely did he do them alone. When he taught, the disciples were there, when he healed, the disciples were there, when he stood up to the authorities, the disciples were there.
Jesus, as a leader, demonstrated to them how to develop a “mortality salience” because virtually everything he did was in the shadow of the cross.
No wonder the disciples were able to do what they did, because they watched and learned from Jesus
-that a person is most powerful when they are untied with others for the cause of God
-that standing up to an abusive system is standing up for God
-that even in moments of darkness we each have something to give.
Jesus demonstrated this on the last night he was alive. Knowing that he was about to face the depths of death, Jesus did not isolate himself, but made sure they were all together for a meal.
He didn’t disappear or emotionally shut down. He shared a meal with them, lifting up the bread and giving thanks, before passing it to them. In an act of unlimited fullness, he took the cup of wine saying that it was be poured out for them.
Because he shared himself so completely and unselfishly, we share in that bread and cup, today.
His sense of leadership, that call to create a community in the face of death and destruction, radiated from Jesus’ very being.
And it is because of those acts that when he faced the darkness of the cross and the depths of the tomb, death could not put out his light.
For 3 days later, women and men were able to say “He lives!- he lives in the garden, he lives in the gathering room, he lives at the table.”
In conclusion, the author of Lamentations tried to find solace by sitting alone, quietly waiting in hope, remembering what God had done.
The 33 Chilean miners are surviving by banding together, working as a team, and through the help of those who are above.
Jesus did what he did because he found a way not to go at it alone, but to gather others and surround himself, to call and to share, to include and not exclude.
Christianity has survived because every time we gather at this table, whenever we have a chance to share in Christ’s last meal, we are reminded that we are not alone, that sunlight is breaking in and darkness does not have the final say.
God’s renewing grace and restorative love is not limited because in Christ that supply is limitless.
So what size portion will you take?
All thanks and honor be to the Spirit that empowers us to survive, for God who will not reject or deny us and for Jesus Christ, the leader who pulls us through, up and out of the depths.
Amen and amen.
[i].The information about the miners comes from the Time article “Trapped” by Jeffrey Kluger, 2010, and the Tampa Tribune Article “Trapped Miners Get Home Comforts”, Sept 28, 1010.