Monday, July 28, 2014

St. Christopher & Life's Journey

Today have gathered together to celebrate the love of God as revealed to us in the legends and stories of St. Christopher. Christopher lived during the third century, a time when it wasn’t easy or admirable to be a follower of Jesus. Actually, the government, at the time, use to forbid it in many places because followers of Jesus had a way of breaking the rules! They tended to work outside of the norms of society and the social constructs that were deemed appropriate. They placed their love for God, love for neighbor and love for self before their love for the rules and politics of the time. As we all know politicians and rich men, even of our own time, do not like it when individuals go against their mandates and beliefs and it was no different when Christopher walked the earth.

Now, Christopher was a man we have to allow our imaginations to form in order to truly appreciate his appearance. Accounts tell us he was a huge burly man that was seven and a half feet tall! He was said to have a fearsome look, the type that would cause many of us to quickly turn and head in a different direction. Mind you, a few of us might have run towards him but that is a thought for a different time! Now, Christopher was the servant of the local king where he lived in the country of Canaan. He had a pretty good life. But he had a deeper desire to be the servant of the most powerful ruler in the world. You see Christopher wasn’t satisfied with good enough; Christopher wanted to be a part of something great, something incredible, something unlike anything else. And so he set out on a journey where he found a king who was known to be invincible and above all other kings and queens and rulers.

Christopher was pretty happy for a time. I think many of us have different stops along our life journey and we often feel we have arrived and our life is set in stone, everything is perfect and we couldn’t possibly imagine anything rocking the boat. But then something happens, sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s bad and sometimes it just is and we have to accept that our journey isn’t over. This happened to Christopher. One day the powerful king he served heard talk about the devil and the king quickly made the sign of the cross. Well, Christopher couldn’t be a servant of a king who was afraid of some devil…so he did what only seemed natural. He set out to find the devil and become his servant! Of course, it can be pretty hard to find the devil, mostly because the devil isn’t out there with a pitchfork, but rather the devil is found in actions of hatred and hostility that far to many of us are good at dealing out. 

So Christopher found a band of outlaws, criminals, who raped and pillaged the land! We might want to judge Christopher, but deep down we all know we have those moments when we want power, when we want to feel invincible and sometimes evil just feels good. It feels good because we allow ourselves to ignore the effects our actions have on those around us. We rape the environment and plunder natural resources without worry for the generations that follow us. We stare only at ourselves while dictating that everyone should live life like us, everyone should share our beliefs! In the process, we don’t notice the pain and harm, our pillaging causes of souls and hearts all around us. Yes, we have all thrown our lot in with the “devil” at least once. Thankfully, most of us find our way out eventually.

So back to Christopher, that tall burly mean-looking man, one day notices the leader of his evil band suddenly diverts everyone in a new direction when he happens to observe a cross up ahead on their path. Well! Christopher realized that working with evil wasn’t all it was cracked up to be and he decided to search out this whole “cross thing” that kept popping up on his life journey. He traveled into the desert and found a hermit and asked the hermit to tell him about the cross and its story. The hermit explained the cross was a symbol of God’s love and God’s promise that all of people-kind was loved, cherished and redeemed. Christopher, no doubt, lit up with joy! He had found the real power in this world, the power of love, the power of self-sacrifice, the power to love another so much that you would be willing to lay down your own life in order to rescue them.

So Christopher asked the hermit, a question something like this, “What do I do in order to align myself this powerful ruler called Jesus who loves in such incredible ways?” The hermit, being a good religious man, naturally came up with the idea of fasting and prayer. Screech! Christopher looked that hermit in the eye and told him to keep dreaming, he was unable to perform those services and that wasn’t happening! Well, the hermit thought for a moment and then gave another suggestion. The ancient stories tell us not to far from the hermit’s dwelling was a dangerous river that people had to cross in order to journey form one town to another. People had often been swept under the weight of the water and killed. It was a dangerous place! A place where chaos occurred and every man or woman was for their-self, to use a common phrase, and little to no assistance could be found. The hermit told ginormous Christopher to go and build a house next to the river and help people cross. In this way, the hermit felt that Christopher could honor the gift of love, the power of God, in a simple and yet profound approach. Christopher did as he was told. The entire area rejoiced with Christopher’s appearance at the river. For the first time in years, people could travel without fear of death; they knew someone would be there to help them in their most dangerous moments.

I think Christopher’s vocation, his way of life, is one that we are all called to as people of faith and as human beings regardless of our doctrines. Christopher searched for answers. And in his search God never rained upon him with fire and lighting no matter where or whom he took his stops with. Rather God waited patiently for Christopher to take as many different paths as he needed until he arrived at a place of love and hope. God does the same for you and I. And that final destination, while ultimately the same, is likely different for many of us in the ways in which we experience, perceive and practice it. For some it includes going to weekly Mass, being baptized and praying certain prayers. For others it’s being a Sikh or a Muslim or a Buddhist. For some it means, hold your breath, being an agonistic or atheist. And we can discuss that after the service. The ultimate destination is not about doctrine; it’s about allowing ourselves to love our neighbor as we first love ourselves. We must love and then love some more. Its about seeing the Divine in the faces of those who are most in need of help and then doing what it takes to responsibly aid them. Christopher couldn’t, or wouldn’t, pray and fast and do the typical religious practices but using his hands and feet and strength to honor and engage love was something he could manage. What is God, what is sacred love, asking you to do to make a meaningful difference in the world? Have you thought to ask? Have you paused long enough on your journey to see the symbol of love, perhaps the cross, beckoning you?

After several years of doing this river work, a little child came one day and knocked on Christopher’s door. He asked to be carried across the river. As always, Christopher quickly jumped to the opportunity and threw the child upon his shoulders. As he walked across the river it seemed as if the child became heavier by the moment. When he reached the other side he said to the child, “You almost killed me! I don’t think the whole world could weigh as much as you do!” The child smiled and responded to Christopher, “You carried upon your shoulders the weight of the whole world because I am the Christ and I formed and love the entirety of the world.” Then the child vanished and Christopher probably had a check up with the local psychiatrist. He then continued his work until one day, as with most legendary saints, he met his death because he refused to quit helping people most in need.

The story of St. Christopher rings true and has for all these centuries. Not because of historical fact or evidence but because deep inside we all know we are called to something grand, something bigger than ourselves, something that could change the world. We are each looking for purpose and meaning and understanding in a world of chaos. We are surrounded by pain, misery, fear, politics of hatred and bigotry, exclusion and racism and homophobia committed even in the name of God and yet we have hope and believe there is a ruler that is truly worth serving. I believe that ruler has many names, I call this ruler: + God, the Creator, God the Child and God the Spirit; for many others this ruler has a different name. And yet all these names are expressed most beautifully in one simple word: Love! The Christian Scriptures tell us, “God is love and those who do not love know not God.” May we each draw closer to God, to goodness, to holiness – not in religious acts alone but in physical deeds of mercy and grace. The task before us may be simple and yet it is never easy. To carry the weight of the world on our shoulders is profound.

In recent history we have saints such as Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Harvey Milk, Mother Theresa and Florence Nightingale who have modeled such inclusive love for us. May we take up a holy task as St. Christopher and these other profound individuals have and in doing so save the lives of many. May we become the hope of God in a world of chaos. May we stand up and declare that no longer will our bothers and sisters be allowed to drown in a river of hatred because our governments have forgotten to care for the least of these. God – Love - Holy Goodness is beckoning. Will we be the change? Will we have open eyes on our journey of life and join in this sacred work with St. Christopher and the many who followed him? Will we be one of these saints? May it be so… Amen.

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