The Rev. Joel C. Gregory returned to the theme of synchronicity in his final sermon as Week One chaplain at Chautauqua. “It’s About Time: Follow the Man with the Jug on his Head” was his new sermon title and the Scripture was Mark 14:12-16, the story of finding the Upper Room for Jesus’s last Passover celebration.
“It was holiday time, and my wife and I were grocery shopping,” Gregory said. “She had a recipe that called for hazelnuts, and I had no idea what a hazelnut was. When we got home, I asked her to put a few in bowl for me and I sat down with a book by Richard Foster, the Quaker writer on spirituality. I opened it to a page by Julian of Norwich, and she was talking about hazelnuts. Something as small as a hazelnut, she said, God had made, cared for and used. It was the message I needed that day.”
Carl Jung invented the word .
According to Gregory, it happens when things with no causal relationship come together significantly. Jung was exploring the archetype of fish and was served fish for a meal, read a proverb about fish, saw a piece of embroidery with a fish, had a dream about fish, saw a picture of fish and was walking along a lake and saw a fish that had washed ashore.
“Jung took note of that kind of thing,” Gregory said.
In the Scripture, it was Passover and Jesus is in Bethany. He tells unnamed disciples to go into Jerusalem and, at a city gate, to follow a man with a jug of water on his head. They were to follow him to the house of the man who had prepared the room where Jesus would celebrate Passover.
“What if I would tell you to go outside Chautauqua’s middle gate, follow a man in a red SUV into Jamestown, stop at the house where he parks and go to the homeowner and ask ‘Is the barbecue ready yet?’ ” Gregory said.
Synchronicity is at the edge of this Scripture passage — only seen after the fact, he said. Carrying water was the exclusive work of women at that time. The disciples did not know they were going to one of the most famous rooms in human history, to one of the most famous meals in human history. It became the occasion for the beginning of one of the best known meals on the planet: the Lord’s Supper.
“Some of us think that the great moments in history happen with the sky splitting open, and a thundering voice saying ‘Now hear this; this is a big moment,’ ” Gregory said. “I have noticed that the things that have the heaviest weight in my life hang on the thinnest wire. I had no idea I was stepping into them.”
Gregory shared an example of synchronicity from his own ministry.
In his Baptist tradition, pastors and church members used to visit the home of visitors who had come to Sunday services on Monday. One cold winter night, he was the only one who showed up. In picking out one of the visitors’ cards, he got one from a man he did not like. Gregory tried to talk himself out of going but went to the man’s house.
When the man opened the door he had a Gideon New Testament in his hand and was reading Ephesians 2.
He said to Gregory, “How strange to see you. I have been reading Ephesians 2. Can you tell me about it?”
Gregory likes the original “Star Trek.” In that version, Captain Kirk and Spock play 3-D chess, on a horizontal and vertical level.
“God acts that way in our lives,” Gregory said. “God acts on many levels, and we only see it after the fact.”
In the Scripture story, no one involved knew what was happening or was directly connected with each other. The story of Moses is like that, he said.
“For the second time in human history, all God’s purposes were in a small ark,” Gregory said. “When the princess comes and discovers Moses, God’s purposes begin to unfold. The disciples walked behind the man with a jar and went to the house and everything was just as Jesus said it would be.”
Gregory said he wanted to have a walk like that. One day he was walking, listening to a book on tape, The Pilgrim’s Progress. He heard a portion where Faithful is giving testimony to Christian, and Gregory wondered what page it was on in the book. When he got home, at random, he pulled a book on 20 centuries of preaching off his book shelf, and it fell open to a sermon on Faithful’s testimony.
“The sermon began with the very words I had heard,” Gregory said. “Do these events happen every day or very often? No, but they happen often enough for me to believe that God is the God of divine synchronicity.
“I wonder if, later, the disciples thought about what Jesus said in John 14,” he continued. “Jesus said, ‘In my Father’s house are many dwelling places, and I go before you to prepare a place for you.’ If Jesus can prepare a lower upper room, maybe he can prepare an upper upper room.”
The Rev. George Wirth presided. Erin Sears and Peter Ori, scholarship students with the International Order of King’s Daughters and Sons, read the Scripture. Sears read in English and Ori in Hungarian. The Chautauqua Choir sang “The Sixty-Seventh Psalm” by Charles E. Ives. As the Massey Organ was still under repair, Jared Jacobsen, organist and worship coordinator, directed the choir from the Steinway piano. The Carnahan-Jackson Chaplaincy Fund and the Geraldine M. and Frank E. McElree Jr. Chaplaincy Fund supported this week’s services.