When I was in seminary in Chicago, I took an intensive class with a small group of people from all different faith backgrounds. One of my classmates was finishing his studies to become a Catholic priest and a monk. He used to describe the monastery he was going to live in to us. It sounded beautiful, but the one thing that most stuck with me was his description of the communion rail around the table. They had a polished wooden railing – like a lot of sanctuaries do – that ran all the way around the chancel in a big semi-circle. All the brothers could fit around it together as they gathered for communion. Outside the sanctuary, on the other side of the chancel wall, the circle was continued in stone, and it came together to make one big ring around the table. On this side of the circle was the monastery’s cemetery. Every time they gathered for communion, this circle reminded the living brothers of the monastery that they were also gathered with the dead brothers of the monastery. And they remembered that no matter which side of the wall they were on, they were all part of the one, same community.
“Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”
I think that this verse from Hebrews is a pretty accurate summary of all of our readings for today. From Amos’ dire prophetic warnings to Jesus’ disturbing conversation with the rich man, these are all very challenging texts. And like a sword, our gospel text for today cuts us open to our very core. Mark has been pulling no punches – we’ve been working our way through some very difficult passages together over the past few weeks, on hell and death and divorce, and the hits just keep on coming. Let me just say again for the record – I did not pick these texts!
One summer, many years ago, I drove through a terrible, terrible storm. It was the fourth of July. My family and I had driven down to Norfolk, about an hour from my hometown, to go watch the fireworks. The show ended up getting cut short by a tornado warning, so we decided to hightail it out of there to try to get out of the storm’s path. By the time we finally got out on the highway, the rain was pouring down in thick sheets and the wind howled around us as it ripped through the darkness. It was pitch black and almost impossible to see anything, even the road. It felt like all I could do just to keep my car between the fog lines. But up ahead of me, I realized I could just make out two little red lights in the darkness – the taillights of my dad’s SUV. As I gripped the steering wheel of my car with white-knuckled hands, I kept my eyes on those lights and followed them all the way through the darkness to home and safety.