God’s Megaphone

March 4, 2012

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Baseball Hall of Fame catcher Gary Carter recently died of brain cancer at the age of 57. Last week writer Andrew Klavan wrote about Carter in the Wall Street Journal, saying that though he never met the catcher, Carter spoke to him in his darkest hour.
The second half of my life has been so bright with blessings that it’s difficult for me to think back to the 1980s, when I could see no end to my emotional pain. Personal demons left me blind to the gifts that God had showered on me so generously. I began to think my beautiful wife and baby daughter would be better off without me. I can’t really say how serious I was when I began to contemplate suicide. But I remember one night, sitting alone in my room in darkness, smoking cigarette after cigarette as I considered the ways in which I might put an end to myself.
The radio was on, playing a Mets game. I’d been trying to listen before the dark thoughts took over. By the time the ninth inning came around, I wasn’t paying attention at all. One sentence ran through my mind again and again: “I don’t know how I can live.” Before I knew it, the game had ended and Carter—who apparently had beaten out a grounder to reach first base—was giving a postgame interview. The interviewer asked him how he managed to outrun the throw when his knees were so bad from years of playing catcher, squatting behind home plate. Carter was a devout Christian…He was forever thanking Jesus Christ in postgame interviews.
I was not a Christian then—not yet—and if Carter had preached religion at that moment, it would have gone right past me. But he didn’t. He said something else, something much simpler but also true. I don’t remember the words exactly but a fair translation would be this: “Sometimes you just have to play in pain.” Carter’s words somehow broke through my self-pitying despair. “Play in pain?” I thought. “Hell, I can do that. That’s one thing I actually know how to do.”
Playing in pain, literal or metaphorical, is the one thing that all of us must do. It’s the one thing that most of us try to avoid with every inch of our life, yet life is filled with people, places, events that cause us pain. Pain has been on my mind recently, or more literally in my mouth.  I’ve got some
tooth problems and have had to get a mouth guard to wear at night so I won’t grind my teeth down to the nubs. I don’t like pain. So I take Advil and go to bed at night as if I’m suited up for a football game. I’ve got a root canal scheduled for this week. But, for the moment, I’ve got play in pain.
Of course the kind of pain that Klavan experienced is emotional or psychic pain. And as long as sin being what it is and people being who we are, there will be no shortage of this kind of pain in my life or anyone’s life. It’s likely that you are experiencing a pain that you cannot understand. Or that there is some suffering that you have tried unsuccessfully to avoid. Although everyone wants to pop a metaphorical Advil to make the pain go away, sometimes the only answer is to play in pain.
Klavan continues,” I had been looking for answers but I didn’t know the answers. I had been looking for solutions, but solutions were for another day. It hadn’t occurred to me that maybe, for now at least, the only way to go on living was to do like the great athletes do and just tough it out. I did tough it out, and I got therapeutic help, and I abandoned lifelong self-destructive habits and thoughts.
Gary Carter didn’t save my life. He was just a ballplayer I’d never met. He didn’t have that power. But because he was how he was and played how he played —well, let’s say he lit a candle when a little bit of light made all the difference.
Sometimes when you’re in the dark, all you need is a little bit of light to make all the difference. In this morning’s gospel Jesus lights a candle in the dark.  And although it’s a candle bright enough to “give light to everyone in the world,” the disciples keep trying to snuff it out.
The candle Jesus lights first illuminates inevitability of pain. “Then Jesus began to teach his disciples that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.” Peter, who also does not like pain, tries to give Jesus an Advil.
Peter takes Jesus aside and rebukes Jesus for having such a negative attitude. “Look here, Jesus. Don’t be such a downer in front of these guys. They’re having a hard enough time as it is. Just between you and me, Thomas is already having some serious doubts. Don’t make it worse with
that self-defeating kind of talk about suffering and rejection. You’ve got to pull yourself together! You’ve just got to think positive.” To this little Norman Vincent Peale lecture, Jesus responds, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”
A mind set on human things tries to avoid pain. A mind set on divine things accepts pain, plays in pain. Jesus further illuminates the divine way: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.”
What does this enigmatic saying mean? We’re clearly not masochists
– Jesus isn’t saying to seek out pain for pain’s sake, or to literally lose your life in the way that Klavan was contemplating.
To lose your life in the way that Jesus is talking about here is to lose control of your life. It is to recognize that your way just can’t be pushed onto the world. Your way can’t be pushed onto the people you live with. Your way can’t even be pushed onto yourself. As David Brooks said in an article Friday in the New York Times, “the 19th-century character model was based on an expansive understanding of free will. Today, we know that free will is bounded. People can change their lives, but ordering change is not simple because many things, even within ourselves, are beyond our direct control.”
Pain is the primary way God gets us to see that we can’t really save our own life, to recognize what is not in our control. It’s been said that pain is God’s way get our attention. C.S. Lewis said, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks to us in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: It is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.
I wouldn’t have gone to the Dentist chair unless the pain drove me there. Last fall the dentist was all like, “you better take care of this now” and I then I was all like, “um…dude, I’m too busy.”  Hello root canal.  To play in pain is simply to recognize our need and dependence on God.
Those who save their life will lose it and those who lose their life will save it. Again, CS Lewis: “There are two kinds of people: those who say to
God, “Thy will be done,” and those to whom God says, “All right, then, have it your way.” Do you really want to have it your way?
     In the end we will all relinquish control. The last time I checked, the mortality rate was still 100%. In 1962, William F. Buckley responded to some high school students who asked him to talk about “final truths.” He said, “in the long view, we all stand sentenced to death, and whether it comes in 1995 or tomorrow makes no difference. All our techniques of social welfare, all our science, all our comfort, all our liberty, all our democracy and foreign aid and grandiloquent orations—all that means nothing to me and nothing to you in the moment when we go. At that moment we must put our souls in order, and the way to do that was lighted for us by Jesus, and since then we have had need of no other light.
Paradoxically, the candle that Jesus lighted for the darkness of the world shone it’s brightest at it’s darkest moment, even the moment it was completely snuffed out with the whips and the taunts, the nails and the thorns, the sponge and the spear.  “In him was life and the life was the light of men.” (John 1:4) When the light went out in Him, it went on for the world. For by His death all our lives our saved.
The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it. On the third day the light came back on, illuminating all who still play in pain, lighting the way for those of us who can only “see through a glass darkly.” (1 Corinthians 13:12)
For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.” Why not give up now, since we’ll all have to give up eventually? You might even find that losing your life will be the very thing that will save your life. You might even find, as we pray in the Holy Week collect that we find that walking in the way of the cross is none other than the way of life and peace. We have need of no other light. Amen.

Bible References

  • Mark 8:31 - 38

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