Hi everyone, thank you for gathering with us today.
As you know, today is the 14th Sunday we have worshipped at home.
I don’t know about all of you but I’ve recently noticed that since the coronavirus became the huge thing that it is on our planet, writers in all kinds of media have been using a lot of adjectives to characterize our times. According to these writers, our times are:
and that doesn’t begin to exhaust the list.
Back in February –
before attempts were made to limit the spread of Covid-19,
before a white Minneapolis police officer knelt on a black man’s neck until he died,
all of us have been trying to figure out how do we navigate through this ever-changing world filled with tipping points of challenge and opportunity.
Let me say a portion of that last sentence again:
“… all of us have been trying to figure out how do we navigate through this ever-changing world filled with tipping points of challenge and opportunity.”
Opportunity. What an interesting word.
Opportunity is a choice we make.
As we daily absorb and ask God to help us through the uncertainty,
may we also view today’s troubled times, through a lens of opportunity.
It’s a choice. Not an easy choice. Fear is always easier.
Opportunity takes muscle. And muscle takes time to build.
The world needs the church now more than ever. With tensions high, people need a lens of faith through which we can process what’s happening around us and how we can be part of the solution. Whether it’s food insecurity, financial hardship, racial reconciliation, or a number of other persistent realities, our church has the capacity to contribute to the enduring solution. It’s an opportunity. Today is an opportunity.
Yes, I know you’re tired, maybe a little weary, and perhaps even overwhelmed by all the change happening around us. You recognize that what the world looked like before the medical pandemic (coronavirus) – that when this is behind us, your world, our world, will look a little different. Maybe that’s not all bad. Maybe some of that change is going to be a good thing. Right?
I’m reminded, with all due respect to all of the wonderful Dad’s in our lives, that since the coronavirus hit, I’ve never seen so many Dad’s in my neighborhood spending such quality outdoor time with their kids. I literally see dozens of Dad’s taking walks with their children as their kids ride bikes, skate board or race past them on kick scooters. It’s a beautiful and encouraging sight to behold. For as much as many people would like for us to return to life as it was before – I don’t actually want to see kids alone on my street never accompanied by their Dads. Moms, for far too long, have born the mother-load of responsibility for kids. If my Mom were alive today she would insist I insert here that in her opinion young Dad’s have never been so involved, something she always admired about my brother and my brothers-in-law, as they parented and were present to their kids. It’s all a matter of perspective, right? So, kudos to those parents who are making so much time for their children today. I can’t imagine any parent wants for everything to return to “life as it was before.”
Maybe some change is a good thing? What do you think?
Take the systemic racism we’ve all participated in unwittingly and unintentionally all these years. I sincerely hope none of us want for that to continue. It’s not necessarily any one of our faults, per se; yet, as we’ve been hearing, IF we’ve been listening, it’s time for change. The opportunity for change is now. I’d like to offer some context and an example:
Remember Sandy Hook? Go back to your life in December of 2012. For many people December 14 that year was a day filled with picking out a Christmas tree, deciding what gift to purchase for someone you love dearly, or trying to figure out how to recreate Aunt Sarah’s delicious Egg Nog recipe! Hanukkah had just ended for our Jewish friends.
For others, there simply are no words to describe what happened that day.
And in an abundance of caution, recognizing that young ears may be listening, suffice it to say, a horror occurred that day and as a country, we’ve never been the same since. Sure, for many people, life did return to “normal;” but for those 26 families who lost children and loved ones that day – Sandy Hook, was, for them, an AD / BC moment. Life before the massacre. And life after. But certainly not life as usual. It couldn’t be.
Here’s what I have learned in preparation for this homily. Please let me first share a couple of things:
This is not a homily about gun control.
As a local Baptist preacher likes to say to his congregation, “please don’t hear what I’m not saying.”
Please don’t hear what I’m not saying.
When I was in college, along with two of my three younger brothers, we went to visit our aunt and uncle down in North Carolina. Mary and Joe are just 13 and 20 years older than us. They’re more like much older siblings than aunt and uncle. There are a lot of great things to say about Mary and Joe. Both teachers. Educators. Both wonderful parents. Great people. Wonderful grandparents.
Joe loves to ride his motorcycle and shoot guns. One day Joe invited my brothers, Kevin, and Brian and me to accompany him to some land they own where we could shoot guns all afternoon. I’d never shot a gun before and after some quick instructions I took a few shots at some random bottles, cans and plastic buckets Joe had set up a hundred feet away. Then I received some more instruction from Joe, a few adjustments to my approach, then took some more shots. After an afternoon of obliterating all of my targets in front of me, I surmised that I could enjoy target practice as often as the opportunity presented itself. I was weirdly good at it. Dare I say, “I loved it.” Target practice was a ton of fun and we had a ball all afternoon.
I’ve never shot a gun since. Just haven’t had the opportunity to do so. Nor have I sought out the opportunity.
I have nothing against guns and gun ownership and I applaud all of the rights and responsibilities all of the gun owners enjoy. I’m all for allowing guns in the hands of responsible law abiding individuals and keeping guns out of the hands of those who should never have access to a gun.
Where am I going with all of this? When I started to do the research for this homily I wanted to find that nothing had changed in terms of gun legislation in the United States since Sandy Hook.
What I found was that, in fact, change has occurred. In fact, in the seven years since that shooting 21 states in our country, including Virginia, have enacted legislation gun control advocates applaud. AND responsible people who want access to guns have still had their rights protected and maintained.
Change did occur.
Not enough change as far as I am concerned, but to my surprise, I am happy to see that some change has occurred.
But, before you get too excited …
In the seven years since Sandy Hook – 81,540 people have died in our country from gun violence.
81,540 children to some one.
There’s no other way of looking at this. All of those people were shot dead. Some of them, as we know, as many as eight times. All of them – their lives snuffed out – as if they were a wax candle.
Yes, change has occurred in the world of gun legislation; but not nearly enough for my taste.
To which of the mothers of any of these murdered people would you say enough change has occurred?
So, all of this to say that while change does not come easy, nor swiftly, it all begins with listening and a conversation.
When it came to gun legislation:
People who needed to talk spoke up to have their voices heard.
People who needed to listen stopped talking long enough to absorb what they needed to hear.
People in positions where they could affect positive change did so. Legislation evolved.
Today, due to a series of unthinkable abuse, we find ourselves with another opportunity. The opportunity to address systemic racism in our own lives, our community and our country.
When it comes to systemic racism it’s time to again:
Absorb what we hear.
Confess whatever our part is in all of this.
Commit to being a part of positive action towards a solution for those who have been so wronged.
Change is possible.
It just takes time.
We can do this.
We’ve done it before; and
We can do it this time with racism.
We first have to: CARE.
Let’s not waste this opportunity to right the wrong of systemic racism long over due for correction.
Our children are watching.
They’re not happy, nor should they be, with where we are on this social cultural pandemic.
They’re expecting action.
Our children’s children will read in history books how we responded to just this time.
Let’s not squander this crisis.
Today’s Gospel lesson is about being sent forth by Jesus as modern day disciples. Sent forth out into the world to be Jesus’s hands, heart and mind.
Jesus’ original first century disciples were [also] sent out into a world wracked by social, religious and political division. Later in our passage from Matthew, Jesus makes clear that the disciples were being sent out as sheep among wolves … Jesus warns that they will face persecution, flogging … and in the midst of these times of trial, Jesus promises that God will be with them, that God’s very spirit will give them words to speak … will work through them.
In this Gospel today Jesus was moved to pity over the lost sheep of Israel. His heart was filled with compassion. Desperately wanting to help – in every possible way – Jesus saw potential in His small band of followers. Jesus knew that the harvest was ready – all He needed was for disciples to be sent.
Please allow me to finish this homily with a story. In a book titled, Mary, Called Magdalene, written by Margaret George, the author masterfully interprets the white spaces between the lines of scripture. I’d like to paraphrase one of the scenes for you here:
Before Jesus sends His disciples out to do their work of healing, loving and serving members of the community where Jesus would send them, first Jesus gathered the disciples all around Him in a circle.
Jesus stood in the middle of the circle and slowly began to turn so He could lock eyes with each of the disciples, including Mary Magdalene. Jesus looked tenderly and possessively at each of them. Then He approached one of the disciples and gently cupped the disciples face in His hands and looking directly into the person’s eyes, Jesus said, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” Then He took a breath and breathed directly on each one of them, murmuring as he did so, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”
I think sometimes when we read scripture we’ve heard it so many times that we are so familiar with what we’re reading that the awe of it all has diminished.
I think we forget just how much Jesus loved His disciples.
How much He loved Mary, the one, after all, from whom He drew out the seven demons.
I think we forget that Jesus loved them so much that He literally laid down His own life for them,
so that they would have eternal life too.
Jesus knew where He was sending them.
Out into the highways and byways. Into city streets and fields made of corn.
Out into a world ripe with it’s own political and social unrest.
He knew some of the people along the way would accept the disciples, and others would not.
Jesus knew what would be the life of those original disciples and
Jesus knows what will be the life of those of us who call Him, “Lord, and Savior” today.
Like the original disciples, try to imagine Jesus looking deeply and possessively into your eyes, cupping your face in His hands, breathing the Holy Spirit into your being and then sending you on your way, to spread the Good News everywhere you go.
That’s our call friends. Nothing more. Nothing less. We were made for such a time as this.
So many people feeling harassed and scattered. So many people sick and ill.
So many people crippled by the scourge of racism.
Won’t you please help them to know they have a Shepherd and He calls them each by name?
Won’t you please know that YOU too have a Shepherd and He calls you by name?
It is personal. He’s calling you. To action. To discipleship.
Can you feel it? Can you sense God’s prompting in your life? I sure hope so.
Faith is an action. Action needs to be our response to this given time.
Imagine Jesus standing in front of you. He locks eyes with you. He looks tenderly and possessively at you. Then He approaches you and gently cups your face in His hands and looking directly into your eyes, Jesus says, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” Then He takes a deep purifying breath and breaths directly into you, murmuring softly into your ear, loud enough for you to hear, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”
Now go. Moved with pity. Filled with compassion. Filled with love for those who are standing right in front of you. And filled with a desire to take action to help those all around us.
Let us pray, for me, and for you:
Lord, have mercy on us, according to your unfailing love. Shine your light into the dark recesses of our lives, that we might see our sins and mistakes for what they are. Give us the courage not to hide our failure to live up to your standard; but to admit it to ourselves and to you, confessing our faults to one another, and making restitution to those we have harmed, that we might be cleansed and healed. In Jesus’ name, we pray, Amen.
- Peace friends, chuck.
The Rev. Joani Peacock, Editor for Emmanuel Voices: A Parish Blog