Chalker: ‘Power, purpose and passion in the face of enormous difficulty’

Week Six Chaplain the Rev. Kenneth W. Chalker gives the sermon during Sunday’s morning worship service.
Photo by Adam Birkan.

Column by Mary Lee Talbot.

“June 6 is a significant day in our country’s history. Many think of D-Day in 1944 and the many thousands involved and the lives that were lost. But I am thinking of June 6, 2011, the day the late Steve Jobs gave his last major speech,” said the Rev. Kenneth Chalker at the beginning of his sermon at the 10:45 a.m. Sunday Service of Worship and Sermon. Chalker is serving as the Geraldine M. and Frank E. McElree Jr. chaplain for Week Six.

Jobs had gathered a group of engineers and scientists to talk about the lastest innovations at Apple. He introduced iCloud, an innovation that allows people to store five gigabytes of memory in a place that is not any specific place. Just one gigabyte of memory, Chalker said, can hold 4,500 books, 342 digital photos, 256 MP3 selections. Unsurprisingly, the engineers were asking how does it work, how does it function?

“Jobs said over 25 times in that speech, ‘You don’t need to know. I don’t know; it just works!’ The audience clapped. People have been lining up to use it; it just works,” Chalker said.

But he had questions: “What happens when the power is off, when the batteries give out and you can’t recharge? There is a dimension that goes beyond the iPad. There are events so tragic, so randomly awful and the power has gone out. What do we do then? What do we think then? When lives are shattered and lost, the power is out, the iPad doesn’t function, it doesn’t make sense in that situation.”

Last Monday, Chalker was watching the network coverage of the Aurora, Colo., shooting. News anchor Diane Sawyer brought in the network’s medical editor, Dr. Richard Besser, and asked him: What do we tell the children? What do we say to them to help them understand this tragedy? Besser talked about the age-appropriate measures parents could take to talk with their children, what they might be allowed to see and hear about the tragedy. Chalker said Besser ended his advice with the suggestion that parents take their children to a movie, so they would feel secure.

“‘Dr. Besser, what about the other children?’ I screamed and ranted at the TV screen. How do we understand the tragedy, the world at it is,” Chalker said. “It was so devoid of anything spiritual. What do we say to people who have cancer, Alzheimer’s, or children with juvenile diabetes in such a secular broadcast devoid of the nurturing of the spirit? What about social and financial injustice? What about the folks in love with Penn State? What can we say to help them understand — some kind of measured response? What about Syria? Can we say anything if we only have an iPad understanding that is not connected to something greater?

“In this context, I want to talk about Jesus Christ. I am not talking about all of us being Christian: I am talking about the difference between being a Christian and following Jesus. I am talking about the one with spiritual vitality, the ‘luminous Galilean,’ as Einstein called him, who speaks to the spiritual vitality and center in each of us. It is universal; our specific tradition may not have anything to do with spiritual vitality.”

Jesus articulated a spiritual vitality of life that is important when we face the world, Chalker said. When we face the world, it is important to have a spiritual center that is not overcome by evil.

“We need power, purpose and passion in face of enormous difficulty,” he said. “God created us for a great kingdom, and we do ourselves a disservice when we limit ourselves to what we can know and see.

“I am talking about the iCloud. We are hardwired with an immortal spirit, where our personality is. But we can upload ourselves anytime, anywhere. There is no data plan. We lift up our hearts and minds, and in those moments, we can download grace upon grace, mercy upon mercy and live beyond our hard-wiring.

“We can face evil because we are always part of a greater thing. Even when the hard-wiring is broken, we are uniquely remembered and stored in God’s promised care. That’s what we tell the kids. We are held in a kingdom that we don’t understand and we can be resilient in living. There was no applause when Jesus challenged everybody’s boundaries. The Spirit makes us unique — it just works.

“If technology is all there is, then we are silent. It is up to us to be excited by the vitality of living and the spiritual. It is up to us to tell stories to show how the Spirit bubbles up. In the name of Christ we can say it just works. Thanks be to God.”

The Rev. Joan Brown Campbell presided. Jared Jacobsen, organist and coordinator of worship and sacred music, played the Massey Memorial Organ and conducted the choir. Marshall Nelson read the scripture lesson, John 6:1-14. Chalker added Revelation 21:1-4.

The Chautauqua Choir led the congregation in a hymn-anthem, “The Servant Song,” choral setting by David Schwoebel and text adapted by David Gillard from Mark 9:35. The responsorial Psalm, No. 63, titled “Your Love Is Finer than Life,” used a setting by Marty Haugen. The composer of the offertory anthem, Stephen Crosby, played the “Greatest of These is Love,” while Jacobsen conducted the Choir.  Crosby was commission by Becky Spanos, a choir member, to write the anthem for her husband Tassos, in celebration of their 50th wedding anniversary, Nov. 11, 2011.