Angel Mischief

January 25, 2015

by Rev. Dr. Donna Schaper
Senior Minister

It is not a coincidence that I celebrate my fortieth ordination anniversary this year and Micah celebrates his first. It is not a coincidence that my daughter-in-law got two emails in a row at 5:39 on Thursday, one saying that her organization was denied a ten thousand dollar grant and the next saying that an anonymous contribution of that size had just been received. Nor is it a coincidence that the Governor gave his state of the Union Address on Tuesday and Speaker Shelly Silver was arrested on Wednesday. These are just things that happen next to each other. You might call them companion events.

A coincidence is more like angel mischief, meaning that we sense the simultaneity and companionship of an event and figure the angels are having fun with us. The bible only uses the word coincidence once and it was by Jesus himself in theparable of the Good Samaritan. In Luke 10:31, Jesus said, “And by a coincidence a certain priest was going down in that way, and having seen him, he passed over on the opposite side.” The word coincidence is translated from the Greek word synkyrian, which is a combination of two words: sun and kurios. Sun means “together with,” and kurious means “supreme in authority.” So a biblical definition of coincidence would be “what occurs together by God’s providential arrangement of circumstances.”

What appears to us as random chance is in fact overseen by a sovereign God who knows the number of hairs on every head (Luke 12:7). Jesus said that not even a sparrow falls to the ground without our Father’s notice (Matthew 10:29). In Isaiah 46:9–11

Many people have no problem believing that God is in charge of the “big things” but assume that such a big God would not trouble Him or her self with the seemingly miniscule events of our everyday lives. Many people actually do worship a Sparrow watching God but don’t admit it. We love to say that things happen for a reason because it is so comforting to believe that “all things work together for the good to those who love God and are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28

We love to control what is actually haphazard with explanations that something larger and smarter is in charge of events. I do believe in angel mischief but unfortunately not in coincidences. I do believe that God is in charge but not by a sparrow watching methodology. Let me tell you why.

First of all I have extraordinary respect for the haphazard. I have deep love for the mysterious, the un and in explainable. I have worked with many people who have lived after the suicide of someone they love. There is nothing so exquisite as a difficulty. You are condemned to live. My first experience with this was as an intern in the chaplain’s office at Gettysburg College. Both of my supervisors were away at a conference. The head of the student body electrocuted himself on the electrical grid just south of the Campus. I knew him but not well. What I observed was that everybody had a reason for why he did it. The police, the college president, his parents, his roommate. Their reason helped them control their grief and guilt. The reasons multiplied as the terror of young life hanging itself electrically multiplied. Unfortunately whatever the reason was for his death by his own hand no one ever really knew. Or could know. We use coincidences and explanations to control material. It helps us. It is often easier to get through suicide by having an explanation than it is to stare at the absence of an explanation. Mary Ellen Baldwin comes to mind. Some of you remember her. Was it a coincidence that her daughter killed herself a few months later? No, it was not a coincidence. It was a companion event.

Alain de Boton also likes to show us how we take responsibility for everything we can. We even make huge distinctions between the unfortunate and losers. Hear the language. One implies that we are responsible for our behavior, the other doesn’t. Coincidence thinking joins sparrow-watching versions of God to remove human responsibility and agency from the scene.

You see, if you have a sparrow watching God you also have a puppeteer kind of God. You may be able to give God the credit for good things but you want to be careful when God takes a powder on the bad.

I like to think that we are always walking along the side of the road, always seeing a poor man in front of us. Good Samaritan behavior can be planned as well as haphazard. I like to think that every day gives us an opportunity to see a sparrow fall, every day gives us a chance to see our own fall – or rising – our own foot slipping or our own foot catching hold of the ground.

So Switching Gears. Let’s get through this thing called ordination because we are in for a year of it. April 26 we will celebrate my 40th ordination anniversary. February 14th we will ordain Ros Gnatt. March 3 we will ordain CB Stewart. I am a little concerned about the over clericalization of the scene and thus my words today. We like to say that God called Micah and Me and CB and Ros. And I think that is true. But God also calls all of us, in a kind of companion event. These are not coincidences, They are simultaneous happenings.

I want to start a new program here at Judson. It will be a lay consecrecation movement, what I might call Simba. Simba is the name of a car repair shop near Seattle. Their two Afghani brothers have been living and working for over forty years. Their reviews on Yelp are startling. People love this repair shop. They love it because the two Simba brothers not only repair their car at a decent price but sometime even repair things the owner didn’t know needed attention. They do preventive maintenance. They always clean out the car. They are dedicated to the safety of the car and its drivers. Why? In their words, “because we look at every car and like to think that the Prophet himself will be driving it away.” They have a vocation in car repair.

Each of you also has a vocation. I loved watching Holly work the punch yesterday in the kitchen and then put on her stole for the clergy processional after leading a team of parishioners in developing the new job description for our new administrative hire. Holly is as much called by God to punch and job descriptions as Micah and I are called to pastoral work. Ordination is not a special gift so much as it is one of a gazillion gifts that stand along side each other. They are companion gifts.

In the Simba program, I will wonder if any of you would like to have an ordination service. A dedication event. Recognition of your calling as a lawyer or professor, artist or kindergarten teacher or psychotherapist. I wonder how we can sacralize vocation itself in our season of ordinations and their remembrances. I wonder if we can get to the God who can’t be controlled but who is present, working through us and calling, calling, calling all of us to watch the Samaritan and the sparrow.

I know that pretty soon the Catholics will ordain women and I am quite sure the next Pope will be a woman. Or at least that will be the case if God is truly in charge. Or if we get fierce in the nature of our hopes. But between now and then our own responsibility for our own work will have to have a tune-up. Maybe at Simba’s?

So much work has been desecrated. I think of politics, a work that has to be as important as preaching a sermon. In every single issue I care about in the New York Legislature, I have been depending on Speaker Silver’s control of the Assembly, his willingness to stand up to the Governor and the Senate, and—dare I say it?—his vocation? Issues like women’s’ equality and reproductive freedom. Like raising the minimum wage, interrupting the school to prison pipeline, universal Pre-K, and higher taxes on the 1%. Like fairer funding for public schools for all of New York’s children, justice for immigrants and the New York State Dream Act. Like renewed and strengthened rent laws that protect tenants more than landlords and slow, steady gentrification.

Am I really willing to put up with politics this degraded? Yes I know I knew. I even know that billions of the dollars we spent in Afghanistan were lost or stolen. I know from corruption. But where does it start? Corruption is not a coincidence. Nor is it something beyond our democratic power to tame. It starts with people like you and me who try to trust that God is working together with us for good.

What do you think about the day after my 40th anniversary we have a Simba service? Where we imagine our own ordination to the work and word of God? Not coincidental but planned. Between now and then those of us who want a consecration of your own purposes could just let me know. We’ll do a google date search. We’ll write personal mission statements. We’ll throw a party that declericalizes the joint. The ordained clergy will make the punch and do the childcare and set up the chairs and take out the garbage.

The event will be angel mischief indeed.




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