August 12, 2012, The 11thSunday after Pentecost
Year B, Proper 14
The Rev. Dr. Brent Was
Good morning, everyone! It is very, very good to be home. We have been on vacation the past three weeks, a little time in the mountains of Vermont, a little time on retreat at a monastery, a little time on a lake in Maine, and all the while surrounded by our families. It was a good visit, but was phenomenally hot. In a very short order we seem to have lost our tolerance for humidity and we were wilting violets most of the time. And Hannah Maeve learned to swim and ride a bike. Returning to Eugene we have had the distinct feeling that that we have been returning home.
It has been a complicated few weeks in the world. Seventy people shot in a movie theater in Colorado on the 20th. The murders at the Gujarat in Wisconsin a week ago by a self professed white supremacist. The nation’s corn crop is all but lost as the heat in July surpassed the record set in 1936, the height of the Dust Bowl and parts of the mid-West suffer though the worst drought in a millennium. It snowed in Pretoria, South Africa, the first time in 45 years. It has been lovely here, though.
Then the Boy Scouts re-confirm their bigotry against gay folks and a fast food purveyor of bad chicken makes worse moral and business decisions also around human sexuality. Mitch McConnell declares that the economy is racing towards a cliff’s edge like Thelma and Louise… I don’t disagree with the metaphor, though I would probably identify different causality that he might. And the same day that McConnell said that and the temperature records for July were consolidated, and an overall shrinkage in the world’s economy was reported, I learned that a friend of mine, Mike Schut, Officer for Environmental and Economic Justice for the Episcopal Church, has been laid off and that office closed by General Convention due to lack of funding. The irony of it, the staff officer for economic justice being downsized in the middle of the worst environmental crisis in US history! It is all so disheartening. Right when the need for that witness in the churches and the world is at its greatest we shutter that ministry. Our Hebrew Bible selection for today fits just perfectly, the terrible story about Absalom getting his head stuck in crook of a tree then, if that is not bad enough, he is surrounded by soldiers who defy David’s wishes and finish off the helpless prince. Absalom couldn’t win for losing. Can we?
Maybe it was too hot back home; maybe it was too many family picnics in a row with soggy paper plates and mosquitoes; maybe it was that the only news we heard was the really big and bad stuff, I don’t know, but I came home disheartened. Truly, and I have not even mentioned the vitriol of the presidential campaign. What is going on in the world? Our psalm is fitting today, too. “Out of the depths have I called to you, O Lord; Lord hear my voice, let your ears consider well the voice of my supplication… My soul waits for the Lord, more than the watchmen for the morning, more than watchmen for the morning.” Who here has ever stood watch? The psalmist really gets it, right, no? That is the feeling, the monumental waiting. You have to stay awake, but you are bored to tears and exhausted beyond knowing and you cannot, must not fall asleep. It is the most claustrophobic feeling I have ever experienced, sitting watch on my tank many years ago. As the lieutenant I would do the 3 – 5 watch and I can confirm that it is in fact the darkest before the dawn. The ways things have been over the past few weeks I can almost get that feeling if I let myself wallow in the state of the world. “When is it going to change?” “When is that first glimmer of light going to break on the horizon?” Am I alone in this?
Then the week progressed. On Wednesday we had our potluck outside, lovely as usual, everyone is welcome, then went over to Tugman Park for the vigil in solidarity with the Sikh temple, the Gujarat right down the street. What, 300 folks joined together for the event? Resurrection was well represented there. Religious and community leaders offered words and there was singing and chanting and prayers. It was moving and the hosts from the Gujarat were incredibly hospitable. Quite remarkable. I was heartened.
On Friday we went down for the 30th coronation of Eugene’s SLUG queen. What fun. There were so many people there, hundreds, we saw Mike and Maron, and Kim Still, of course if right up in the middle of all of it. Good clean, completely outrageous fun. It is a community happening for the sake of community. I was heartened.
Then on Saturday, Eugene celebrated Pride down at Alton Baker Park. How great for people who have for so long suffered indignities and injustices due to who they love and their gender identity to join together and celebrate themselves and their place in society. There was a strong religious presence there, lots of Episcopalians and during the blessing and invocation for the festivities I shared my favorite retort to conservative Christian homophobes; Jesus said nothing bad about gay folks and nothing good about rich folks. That was well received. I was again, heartened by the sense of community.
Just as the bad news of the world matches the grim Hebrew Bible readings, Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus follows the more positive trajectory of these past few days. “…let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another.” This passage is about how we need to be in relation to one another in a very real way, in a very human way. Be angry, sure, we all get angry, but don’t let the sun set on that anger. Demons gnaw on us when we hold on to anger, it goes rancid. Thieves, stop stealing. You’ve got something to offer to this community so turn too. Use right speech, don’t gossip or slander, don’t be all negative and critical but use your words to build up the world, use words that “give grace to those who hear.”
These words of Paul are so right on and they so mirror the heartening events so many have participated in these past few days. What a healing response to a breaking world. Of course there is anger. Think of the bumper sticker, “If you are not outraged you are not paying attention.” I am angry about a lot of things. I am angry at that white supremacist who desecrated a place of worship and I am angry that he died so steeped in delusion and hatred that there is no chance for reconciliation. I am angry at the people who buy the racist music he was involved in. I am angry at the schools and the parents and the churches and communities that failed to teach him and so many others very basic ideas about right and wrong. I am angry with the lobbyists in the pay of weapons manufacturers and the NRA and our political leaders who at this point couldn’t lead us out of a wet paper bag let alone protect this nation from itself and our misguided ideas about freedom and rights. I am plenty angry and I am not even talking about climate change right now. But you know, when we find a positive expression of that anger, when we take actions to raise up different values, different moral structures, when we meet violence with kindness and another cheek, that cycle of evil is maybe not undone, it is not that dramatic, but that cycle of evil is weakened.
The same goes for how we do right after we have done wrong; thieves have something to offer and need the opportunity for redemption. It is the same in our speech, when used rightly, we may even give grace to those who hear. We’re talking about redemption. Brilliant.
We have very little control over the world that we inhabit. Ultimately we don’t have much to say about how our own city fares, it rains or it doesn’t and the Earth quakes or is still on someone else’s schedule. We all know how much control we have over our families or even our own bodies: bupkis. But listen to the words of Paul. “Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.” Everything he is telling us there, everything he is telling us to put aside, the bad feelings, ill intent, negativity… over that, we have ultimate control. We do not control our worlds but we do, or we can, or we might be able to learn how to control our response to our world. In the end, if there is a practical purpose to religion, that is it. This is the product of Christ as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
Let us end with the eternal words of Reinhold Neihbur:
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.
Living one day at a time; Enjoying one moment at a time; Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace; Taking, as He did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it; Trusting that He will make all things right if I surrender to His Will; That I may be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with Him Forever in the next. AMEN