August 11, Propers 14

Preacher: 
The Rev. Katherine G. Dougherty
Sermon Text: 

Proper 14 – Year C

August 11, 2019

Isaiah 1:1, 10-20, Psalm 50:1-8, 23-24, Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16, Luke 12:32-40

 

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be pleasing to you, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer.         

           In the past, I have said, “Please know my door is always open.”  I’ve asked the Vestry to share with our congregation that anyone can come talk with me.  I think folks know that they can email me and set up a time to chat or swing by the office and talk. One of the aspects of my job that I love the most is spending time with folks …talking, listening, and pondering together.  This week I had quite a few requests to talk or people swinging by for a moment to chat.  What I heard was how folks seem to be wrestling with the same things I am.  They are hard things…they involve the events of the past several weeks, months, and year.  Our conversations have made me ponder even more as to what is my response…our response, as Americans, Christians, and Episcopalians to these events.

           A friend said to me recently... “You know, Jesus didn’t come to start a church.  Jesus – who was God in human form who walked among us – came to say, “This is hard.  Life and living is hard.  You need each other.  You ALL…every last one of you…need one another.” 

           My friend was right.  Life can be painful and hard!  Our lives can feel out of control and the world can feel like a scary place.  We can make plans and dream of how we want life to be, and for some reason, things may fall apart.  We can hope that the leaders of our country and our world make wise and peaceful decisions and not cause fear and strife.  We can love someone so dearly and not imagine life without them, and lose them somehow.  THAT…THAT is pain.  THAT is also part of this life.

           Life can also be so glorious and beautiful.  Life has moments when our feet barely touch the earth and our hearts soar.  Remember a time or two when you’ve felt that way in your life?  Remember what it’s like to look into someone’s eye and know you love them to your core?  Remember what it’s like to watch a beautiful sunrise or sunset and just know in your soul there must be a God who created that beauty?  Remember what it’s like to be filled with such joy and love that your chest feels like it could burst right open?  THAT… THAT too is life!  Life can feel THAT good sometimes.    

            “Fear not my children…rely on your God who loves you, reach out to one another, care for one another, love one another, and know that I am with you.”  Those exact words are not written in the Bible, but that is God’s message…was Jesus’ message.  In our Gospel today we hear Jesus tell the disciples,  “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”  In times of strife and suffering, times that are hard and scary, we must turn to God for guidance and comfort - turn to the scriptures for help – turn to our faith and to one another.

           Padraig O’Tuama ( /Pod-draig O’Tuma/ )  is a poet, theologian and social healer from Northern Ireland.  He is currently a leader of Corrymeela ( /Corey-meela/ ), which is a community that helped bring peace to Northern Ireland over many years and remains a beacon and a refuge for people around the world.  When asked in an interview if there was something in his spiritual background – his spiritual life during his childhood, or in his vocation that seemed especially present to him these days, he shared a story from his life.  He talked about growing up Catholic and the practice of following the Stations of the Cross.  In Catholic and Episcopal churches, there can be displayed in order…14 images from the time that Jesus of Nazareth was condemned to death to the time that his corpse was laid in the tomb.  They are 14 stopping points posted usually in the sanctuary of a church.  One might walk to each of them, pausing and gazing upon each of the 14 images along the way.  Padraig O’Tuama ( /Pod-draig O’Tuma/ )  shared that he did this practice of walking the Stations of the Cross every day for ten years.  In reflecting on this practice, he gave this insight…

“What I like about the Stations of the Cross is that they don’t say, ‘Oh, but then, there’s the fifteenth one, where it’s all lovely, fantastic.’

         In the traditional understanding, there isn’t a fifteenth station. The idea is to find hope in the practice of what seemed to be the worst. And it is the worst — there’s no pretense that abduction and torture and murder are anything other than abduction, torture, and murder; however, there is the understanding that within it, we can discover some kind of hope — the hope of protest, the hope of truth-telling, the hope of generosity, the hope of gesture — even in those places.”

           Where can we find our hope in a country and time when negativity and anxiety are rampant?  People have said to me, “I’ve been praying to God for help.  I’ve been praying to God for comfort and guidance.  I’ve been praying for God to change what is happening in the world, but nothing is getting better.” (pause) I’ve been praying too.  I understand the feelings behind those words shared with me.  I understand the desire to put my head in the sand and hope it all just goes away.  I also understand the anger and frustration that burns inside of me and others over more violence, over more immigrant families being separated, and over more pain and suffering of the people in our country and our world. 

           I don’t know about you, but I want that 15th Station of the Cross…I want God to tell me and everyone that everything will be okay…and I want it to happen…now.  I don’t want people to hurt and cry out in pain.  I don’t want to see another pile of flowers and candles burning in remembrance of those lost.  I don’t want to hear bickering and hatred spewing from the mouths of my countrymen. I want peace for everyone, and I want it now! (pause)

           And yet, that is not how life is.  THAT is why Jesus came to walk among us.  Life is glorious, and life is also painful.  And we seem to be in one of those times in our world’s history where pain and anger are rampant.  That is why we must turn to God for guidance and look to other people of faith for support.  

           Presiding Bishop Michael Curry…the bishop of our national Episcopal Church offers these words,

“Being a Christian is not essentially about joining a church or being a nice person, but about following in the footsteps of Jesus, taking his teachings seriously, letting his Spirit take the lead in our lives, and in doing so helping to change the world from our nightmare into God’s dream.”

           What is it that Jesus taught?  What is it that can guide our words, our lives, and our actions?  Matthew 22: 36-39 says…

“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?”  Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’  This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’”

         These are hard times for everyone – and I do mean EVERYONE.  What is happening in our country weighs on all of us…whether we realize it or not.  Padraig O’Tuama ( /Pod-draig O’Tuma/ ) said his practice of walking the Stations of the Cross helped him to recognize the importance of finding hope in what seems to be the worst moments.  We are a people of hope.  We are a people whose stories are steeped with examples of hope…the hungry being fed…the sick and dying being healed…the storms being calmed…the love, forgiveness, and grace given to us in the walls of an empty tomb. 

         What is our response?  How do we know what steps to take next?  There are no easy answers here.  No generic responses that are one size fits all, but let’s name what is going on.  Let’s name the tension in the air.  Let’s acknowledge the fact that our hearts are hurting, and we, as a people, are tired.

         Let’s agree to be gentle and kind with one another and with those we encounter...and let’s agree to pray.  Pray to God as if you are talking to a friend.  Ask God for guidance and be open to how you feel the Spirit moving in you, for there is hope in truth-telling.  There is hope in generosity.  There is hope in the gesture of love towards others even in the most challenging of times.

Amen+

1. “Choosing Words That Deepen The Argument of Being Alive”, On Being with Krista Tippett, https://onbeing.org/programs/padraig-o-tuama-marilyn-nelson-choosing-wor..., Sept. 2018.

2.  “Meet Presiding Bishop Curry,” The Episcopal Church, https://www.episcopalchurch.org/ , August 2019.

3. Matthew 22: 36-39, New Revised Standard Version, https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew+22%3A34-39&version=...

 

 

 

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