Sermons on taking risk
I am so often drawn to the BBC period drama, Call the Midwife, which is about a group of nurse midwives working in the East End of London in the late 1950’s and 1960’s. The show is raw, real, and riveting to my heart. The nuns are courageous in their desire to do what is right, to notice and bring God into all situations, whether it is during their beautifully sung Compline or in the filth of tenement apartments where…
Borders can be places of danger and it is no surprise we want to avoid them- we feel vulnerable there, uncertain and exposed. Sometimes, our journeys into unknown regions can lead us across borders that are not physical. We may be afraid of the shifting borders in our families or our communities, may feel lost in regions of economic, social or political disruption. We may feel the pain of past exiles that have marked us individually or as communities, where the borders of race or gender or country of origin have marked us as “the foreigner.”
Here we are “Do not say, ‘I am only a boy’; For you shall go to all to whom I send you, And you shall speak whatever I command you, Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, says the Lord. In the name of God who is Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer, Amen. Well… look at us! Here we are. Our Sunday morning worship looks a little different than usual, doesn’t it? We are…
Living within the tension of what we believe the Kingdom of God is all about and the harsh reality of our world can be very difficult. We, like the many who marched alongside Jesus on the descent into Jerusalem, imagine a better world, one where love rules, where truth prevails, where people are respected, where voices of the innocent are heard, where the vulnerable are protected, where reconciliation is the only option, where God’s dream of love becomes real.
Sometimes I ask God to break my heart with all that breaks his in the hope that I may see with God’s eyes and feel with God’s heart— at least as much as any human can. On those rare occasions when I am able to muster the courage to draw nearer to God’s own broken-hearted compassion— in the face of profound suffering— it guts me, empties me out, and if I endure through this refiner’s fire of love, it ultimately transforms my heart. You know. This is part of the path all of us here walk when confronted with suffering that brings us to our knees.
Because I know that Episcopalians find truth and strength in knowing when and how to take the high road, making the hard choices and seeking God’s truth expressing God’s love to all people, and working toward healing and reconciliation. This was the emphasis at our recent General Convention — addressing the problem of gun violence in our country; standing with and praying alongside the people in the border detention centers; addressing God’s call for racial reconciliation; witnessing to the #Metoo movement and calling the church to own the damage done in her name. These are hard, politicized issues that our church is grappling with and responding to – and yet, we also find truth and strength in claiming and living into the broadness of God’s love, which means we meet people wherever they are, and have the ability to hold two opposite points of view in communion. In some cases, we use such odd phrases as “both/and” meaning we don’t need to choose one or the other, but can see the truth in each position. One of the most helpful things I learned in seminary was in our pastoral theology course. Our instructor taught us to practice replacing the word “but” with “and”. For instance, instead of saying, “I hear what you’re saying, and I know you believe you’re right, BUT …” We say, “I hear what you’re saying, and I know you believe you’re right, AND, … I have a differing point of view”. It’s amazing how that word shift changes the dynamic of a conversation, equalizing the power, so people can listen to each other, without the defensiveness charging in.
I know that because there was a woman who twice came through my line and actually said, “I want to have a countenance like yours.” I thanked her but found it odd. Countenance? Who says countenance? Anyway, I figured she was just glad that I was not a grumpy teenager throwing canned goods on her bread. She came through my line a third time and this time she actually said, “I know what it is. Jesus is in you.” I knew that. But I didn’t think someone else would. Most assuredly, I am not a dwelling place for Jesus, but when I am prayed up and open, he can be there for others.
“Look within yourself,” Jesus implores them. But they don’t. What we would have hoped would have been the turning point in the story– the disciples’ transformation into a living and breathing faith — doesn’t happen. When the seas calm and Jesus begs them to go into the dark and foreign places within their own souls, to examine why their fear has overridden their faith, they don’t. Instead, they focus their attention on understanding Jesus, rather than understanding the difference Jesus makes in their lives of faith.
“Grant us the strength to cry for justice, to be angry for love. Grant us the grace of a strong soul, O God, grant us the grace to be strong.” John Phillip Newell, a contemporary Celtic theologian, offers these words in an evening prayer from his psalter, Sounds of the Eternal. In our gospel reading today, Jesus reveals the strength to cry for justice, to be angry for love, and “live and move and have his being” as coming from the place of a strong soul. Jesus is focused on overturning that which distracts or inhibits people from fully worshiping God, be it the unjust sacrificial temple tax system that excludes the poor from entering the temple he found in Jerusalem or the many priorities we place in our lives over that of worshiping God. Jesus knows that when we worship God with all our heart, mind, and soul, we can do no else but acknowledge and embrace a holy anger set deep within us that empowers us to right the wrongs, to overturn the imbalance in an oppressive political or religious system, to fight for justice and peace, and to care for the least among us, as Jesus did.