Easter VI year C 2016
Fr. Dale Matson
Click On Photographs To Enlarge
Endangered Sierra Nevada Bighorn Sheep
Young Ram Has Moutain Lion "Tattoo"
Our Gospel lesson for the 6th Sunday of Easter states in part, “These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” (John 14:25-27) Here Jesus is talking about the Holy Spirit Who indwells all Christians not just His apostles. Think for a moment about the actions of the Holy Spirit. He is a Helper. He is the One who reminds, He is a Teacher, One who empowers and He is a Comforter. It is timely that Father Carlos has a class on listening to the Spirit. The Holy Spirit is Someone who reminds, teaches, comforts and counsels, the Holy Spirit is also a choreographer and I will talk about this later.
How do we tune in to the Holy Spirit? How do we get on His wavelength? Sometimes it seems like when my grandsons try to communicate with each other on our walkie talkies. They both press the talk button at the same time and can’t hear what the other is saying. The range of the walkie talkies is about five miles but they yell all the louder at each other from a distance of about ten feet. Sharon and I can hear them both without the walkie talkies quite well thank you. Sometimes Jamison is on channel one and Maxwell is on channel three. They can’t seem to agree to be on the same channel. Here are the lessons learned. First of all, unlike Jamison and Maxwell, we need to get our finger off the talk button and simply listen. Second, never buy a boy anything that will amplify the sound of his voice. Let’s look at one of my favorite passages from the Old Testament to help us understand how God communicates with us.
“And he said, Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the LORD. And, behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the LORD; but the LORD was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the LORD was not in the earthquake: And after the earthquake a fire; but the LORD was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice.” (1 Kings 19:11-12 KJV).
In this passage the Prophet Elijah finally understands that God can be found in the “still small voice” (“gentle whisper” NIV). Certainly God communicates with us through Holy Scripture. He also communicates through His Sacraments, circumstances and through a word from our Christian brothers and sisters. In all these ways God leads us in our daily life. And this is His role as choreographer. I once had a student who said about herself in all humility, “I have always been blessed to hear the voice of Jesus.” I understood her perfectly and hope you do too.
This voice is not the auditory persecutions experienced by psychotics. A clinically depressed person may believe that the voice telling them that they are no good is from God. Well, it is not from God. The Holy Spirit’s voice is instructive, it is a Teaching voice. It is not the condemning conscience energized by the law written on our hearts. “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1). The voice is Comforting. The voice is not one of self-criticism. How many have made a mistake and immediately say something like, “You jerk, what were you thinking?” That is not God. That is what I would call the voice of our critical parent. Has a parent ever talked that way to you? The voice is a Counselor. The voice is not any louder than our own thoughts as God the Holy Spirit speaks to us. God is not in the earthquake. He is in scores of little things in our daily life. As the children’s song states, “He walks with me and He talks with me and He tells me I am His own.” I would add that God will never; repeat never, tell you to do something that is not consistent with Scripture.
Let me illustrate with a personal example. I was on the east side of the Sierra Nevada Mountains last week. As I drove north again after crossing at Tehachapi, I called a friend in Bishop to say I would be staying the night in Bishop and could go out looking for Sierra Nevada Bighorn Sheep the next morning as planned. He asked me where I was and I said I was just south of Lone Pine. He said he found some Bighorn Sheep near there and told me about an area where I could look. As some of you know, I have been searching for the endangered Sierra Nevada Bighorn sheep over many mountain passes for years. There are only 600 of these endangered sheep in all of the Sierra Nevada Mountains from Yosemite as far south as Olancha Peak. Finding a Bighorn Sheep is like finding a needle in a haystack.
I drove to a place where I couldn’t travel any further in my 4X4 truck and began walking up a trail at almost 7,000’. I was carrying my camera with a heavy telescopic lens on a shoulder strap and the climb was wearing me down. I eventually decided to turn around and go back to my truck. As I began walking back down, I heard in my thoughts, “Go higher”. Here is a rule of thumb about the Holy Spirit in my life and perhaps yours also. If it is a bold idea that takes you out of your comfort zone, it is probably the urging of the Holy Spirit. “OK, I’ll climb a bit higher”, I thought to myself. Then I began to see tracks from sheep on the trail and decided to try and follow them. I saw mountain lion tracks too. About a quarter mile further, I saw a Ewe standing on top of a big boulder about 300 feet above me and off to my right. Keep in mind that the vast majority of the times Bighorn Sheep are so far away they cannot even be seen without binoculars or a spotting scope. How could I NOT notice her?
I immediately began taking photographs thinking it wouldn’t last. Again I heard, “Go higher” in my mind. I thought, “But that will scare the sheep away.” I decided to follow the prompting of the Holy Spirit. I encountered a group consisting of one ram, two juveniles and six ewes that allowed me to get within 125’ of them. I could have taken their photographs with a smart phone. My large 600mm lens became a portrait lens and the photographs may be the closest ever taken of the Sierra Nevada Bighorn Sheep in the wild. I spent an hour there taking over 100 photographs. My arms got tired from holding up the camera and heavy lens but unlike Moses; I had no Aaron and Hur to help me hold my arms up any longer. The sheep were so comfortable in my presence; they actually grazed toward me at one point. All of the time I was there, I felt as if the Holy Spirit was also there as the grand choreographer of this unique experience. Thank You Lord!
It was not until I finally left that I began to see how much God had orchestrated the entire experience including the timing of my call to my friend in Bishop, his directions to the area near where he had seen the sheep, God’s voice urging me to continue to look for His flock. The sheep were perfectly at ease with my intrusion into their world. Perhaps it was because they were with the Good Shepherd and me. Thank You Lord! I think it is in the really good experiences and the really horrible experiences that we are best able to see God guiding our lives with an unseen hand. Sometimes we see it at the time, Sometimes days and even years later that we see God’s involvement.
After years of struggling over mountain passes looking for bighorn sheep, I am reminded of Psalm 37:4. “Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart.” I am not preaching the prosperity gospel here. We do not name it and claim it. We are to be persistent. God rewards persistence and as stated in Hebrews, “He rewards people to try to find Him.” (CEB) When we finally find His Sheep, we should expect to find Him there too. This experience with the Bighorn Sheep also reminds me of a portion of our opening collect. “O God, you have prepared for those who love you such good things as surpass our understanding: Pour into our hearts such love towards you, that we, loving you in all things and above all things, may obtain your promises, which exceed all that we can desire…” This experience far exceeded all I could have desired.
In addition to being our life choreographer, He is the voice of the teacher, the counselor and the comforter neatly woven into our thoughts yet we are able to distinguish His voice from our own thoughts. With Elijah, God was not in the wind, earthquake and fire. Monks and Mystics seek silence and solitude to hear the voice of God yet ordinary Christians are blessed to hear God every day. Yes, God also speaks to us through others.
Let’s take a more careful look at this verse from our Gospel lesson. “These things have I spoken to you while I am still with you, but the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name.” Here Jesus is both looking ahead to His ascension and later to Pentecost. Thursday is the Feast of the Ascension. How fitting is it then for St. Paul to say that those who are led by the Spirit are not under the Law. (Galatians 5:18) Does this mean that we are no longer bound by the Law? No, it means that when we are led by the Spirit of God, we will also honor the Law. “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.” (Romans 8:14). The more the world becomes a confusing and crazy place to exist, the more I appreciate the Ten Commandments. There is certain clarity about them. The commandments are to behavior what sea level is to the surveyor.
I think there is also a great deal of moral ambiguity and confusion. Never forget this. The church will always be counter culture. We are called haters and bigots and we are not. It is not a right to free speech that we claim. It is a prophetic voice we cannot and should not contain. A life led for Christ is an affront to those living licentious lives.
As St. Paul inspired by the Holy Spirit has told us, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:21). We live in anxious times. So what is the release from this prison of anxiety for the Christian? It is the decision to die to self and live for Christ, for He is our authentic self. It is not our story. It is His story and He is the author and finisher of this story. I believe this is not something that happens overnight. It is a daily giving over of ourselves to Christ.
As Christians, we have the Holy Spirit. He is our choreographer, counselor and advocate. We have a conscience cleansed by the blood of Christ and forgiveness of our sins. We have hope. We are headed toward eternal life. We cannot convince the pagans around us to reform themselves because their minds are darkened by sin. We can however live a redeemed life, be a beacon of light to those who are perishing; to those who no longer have boundaries. “ …but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.” (1 Peter 3:15) Amen.