Year C, Easter 4
April 21, 2013
The Reverend Dr. Brent Was
Let’s all turn to page 476 of your BCP. We’ll read the 23rdPsalm, the one on the bottom of the page. “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.”
It has been quite a week in Boston, my home town. The five deaths and 180ish wounded and who knows how many traumatized. Terrible. I’ve been more shaken up by all of it that I would have expected. It is close to home. We lived in Cambridge for years and Windy worked in Watertown for a year and a half. The ten year old niece of Windy’s best friend was at there on Bolyston Street, and another close family friend was on the bleachers right there at the finish line. They are OK in body, at least. Time will tell for the rest of them.
There is a violent attack at a great athletic event, then more or less martial law was declared in Boston, one of the great “free” cities of the world, the cradle of the rebellion celebrated on Patriots Day. It was shut down by paramilitary police forces. The People’s Republic of Cambridge and the surrounding towns out to the tony suburb of Newton, shut down. What is the world coming too?
And the explosion of an anhydrous ammonia plant in Texas? Anhydrous ammonia is horrible stuff. Much of the erosion of the topsoil across the mid-west of this country is due to too much anhydrous ammonia. It is the ubiquitous fertilizer in industrial agriculture and it kills soil. It kills every living thing it touches until it mellows out and then grows corn and soy beans quite nicely, for a while at least. And producing it is dangerous, too, particularly in a state with such lax industrial safety regulation as Texas. Sixty, eighty dead?
And then the Senate disgraced itself, again, in failing to do anything about gun control. How can that be? In the face of Newtown and over 90% of people polled in a few national polls agree that some increased regulation is needed, and nothing happens. 88 people per day die as a result of gun violence. We get a background check to open a bank account, we need ID to get a job, to drive, but not to buy a gun? What is our world coming to?
It is moments like this, convergences of bad news, of what some take to be further signs of the end times nearing, of incidents, patterns, trends that fill me with righteous rage, it is moments just like this that I am most grateful for my faith, that I am most grateful for the Gospel, that I am most grateful for the Living God, for Jesus Christ residing in my heart. I am grateful because once again I am remembering that Jesus Christ saves, because I, like so many, can be filled with rage, and rage, righteous or not, does not save. That is a gentle lesson that the horror of this week is teaching me.
Those young men from Cambridge, 26 and 19, nothing will convince me that they were, are bad or evil, they are probably not even pathological. Misguided to epic proportions; very possible. Heart-breakingly near-sighted or naïve or selfish; probably. Contorted and distorted by a consuming hatred; that is nearly certain. What anyone in the military, law enforcement, medicine, social work, teaching, ministry, anyone who comes in contact with suffering, which is all of us, we all know first hand that perfectly good people, perfectly fine, loving, upstanding people do horrible, stupid, misguided things. That is just obvious. A whole generation of Germans coming of age in the late 30s and early 40s were not evil. That is too convenient. Nice boys were at Mei Lia, and good kids drove the tanks into Tiananmen and worked at Abu Ghraib and continue to work at Guantanamo and in Barshar al-Assad’s army and in the IDF and in the al-Aqsa Brigades and at Monsanto and Smith & Wesson. Good people do these things, but good people blinded by hatred in some form.
The making of anhydrous ammonia is a hateful undertaking. Its use empties the soil of anything that is not directly useful to industrialized human beings, and then only for the short term. Anhydrous ammonia is incredibly dangerous when it comes in contact with moisture. It heats uncontrollably when water is introduced to it, like if it gets in your eyes or on skin, or when injected into soil, which inherently has moisture in it. To inject a poison such as this into our soil birthright… the only explanation I can come up with that isn’t totally unforgiving is that this is a hateful level of ignorance.
And guns in our politics? I can’t even begin to wrap my head around that one in any way that makes sense besides greed. Our “leaders” are so greedy for their station in life, they so want to maintain their own power that they disregard the will of most Americans and defy any measure of common sense in order to be acceptable to a tiny special interest, primarily the manufacturers and dealers of weapons, of firearms. Putting our own needs above the needs of others, above the common good, above what is right, those are the loci of greed, and greed is nothing but disregard of the other in favor of the self, and that is hateful by any definition.
As I wrote these words I kept flipping back to the news in Watertown and looking at photos of West, Texas and reading the names of the Senators that failed us, and my temperature rose. I was angry. The news casters gloating over the dead older brother and the wounded younger one and all the waving flags; the utter absence of questions about industrial agriculture and its dangerous sides; the smugness of NRA agents and proxies, urrgh. Because obviously I know better than those people, those vengeful, mindless, greedy people. (I added a few choice adjectives in the privacy of my own home). If they just listened to me, or to people who think and act like me, probably look kind of like me, if it went the way I wanted it to go it would all be better; how could it not be…
And then, I remember the words of the 23rd psalm. “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for thou art with me.” And what does that look like? What does God’s presence in the shadow of death look like? A table prepared for you. Your head anointed with oil, an ancient sign of welcome and hospitality. The abundance of a cup running over, now there is a vision of security. Sure, there is a rod and a staff, but for the shepard the rod and staff are tools, not primarily weapons, certainly not offensive weapons. God being with us, the psalmist assures us, is goodness and mercy following us all the days of our lives. When everything thing is as it should be, we are dwelling in the house of the Lordfor ever. It is pretty simple in the end.
And then I think of the words of Cardinal Sean O’Malley, Archbishop of Boston (not someone I often quote). At the prayer vigil on Wednesday, he spoke on the Sermon on the Mount, saying, “The Sermon on the Mount, in many ways, is the Constitution of the people called to live a new life. Jesus gives us a new way to deal with offenses, by reconciliation. Jesus gives us a new way to deal with violence, by nonviolence. He gives us a new way to deal with money, by sharing and providing for those in need. Jesus gives us a new way to deal with leadership, by drawing upon the gift of every person, each one a child of God.”
Our world is complicated, and I fear getting more so. More complicated and less stable, more precarious and less sure. But Jesus Christ remains. And so long as our faith remains, Jesus Christ will remain, remain as a reminder that love is the strongest medicine available, and always will be. Jesus Christ will remain as a sign that generosity is a reasonable, a holy expectation of ourselves and others. Jesus Christ will remain as a fact that the old leaven of malice and evil are no match for the new powers of sincerity and truth. Jesus Christ alive in our hearts and minds and bodies will not lead us to victory, but to humility, not to domination, but to cooperation, not to invincibility, but to resilience. In times like these, Jesus Christ leads us to be angry and gentle, assured and humble, resolute and flexible. In the days and weeks and years to come, may we always remember this and all will be well, all will be well, and all manner of things will be well. AMEN.