Sunday, August 20, 2017

From Strangers to Kindred: Sermon for Proper 15, Year A

This week, my son, who has a very eclectic taste in music, was listening carefully to the Simon and Garfunkel song “The Sound of Silence.” He asked me what it was about, and I talked about it being written during the protest era for civil rights in the 1960s.

I started really listening to the lyrics of this song again, and what struck me is the power of the sound of silence, particularly when that silence is in the face of hatred and prejudice. We live in a time of distractions by the neon gods we ourselves have made, things that distract us, things that entertain us, things that we try to use to fill the holes in our lives that should be filled by real, honest relationships with each other. Silence, like a well, can swallow hopes and dreams when no one dares to break it and speak the truth. Silence can infect our common life together and spread like a malignant force, encouraging complacency in the face of injustice and oppression.

Our gospel account of the Canaanite woman asking Jesus to heal her daughter reminds us that silence often gets you nowhere. Society at that time expected her to be silent, as a woman and as a Canaanite speaking to a Jewish man. Canaanites and Jews had been enemies for as long as people could remember. Yet in her interaction with Jesus, powered by love, she does not stay silent but pleads for healing for her child. And in her approach to Jesus, she betrays a deep understanding of who this man was, regardless of her different ethnicity and religious background. The Canaanite woman asks for healing for her child, will not be denied, and actually argues back to make her case. Only one who believes that Jesus could actually do something, that he is a powerful healer, would be so determined.  

Her actions are also deeply liturgical. She uses the language of intercession, words that we repeat in our prayers of the people and in the Kyrie eleison: “Lord, have mercy.” She kneels before him, humbly yet defiantly, demanding that he see truly see her. And yet, unlike other stories we hear in scripture when confronted by people who seek healing, Jesus at first does not respond to her, and then when he does, he insultingly rejects her request. Yet, this unnamed woman alone of all the people who interact with Jesus in the Bible manages to go head to head with Jesus in a debate, and win. When he insults her, she doesn’t deny it, but turns his words to her advantage. Powered by love, she resolutely keeps demanding that Jesus see her and her daughter as worthy of acknowledgment, and of the blessing of wholeness. Although at first Jesus answers rudely to our ears, her great faith and love eventually turns his heart—and that faith makes her daughter well.

Throughout Matthew’s gospel, the plea “Have mercy on me, Son of David!” is used by people asking Jesus to be healed. In each case of healing, Jesus makes it clear that their healing comes about through their faith, and this Canaanite woman is no different. Her faith is so great that she believes that Jesus can heal an outsider’s daughter regardless of distance. Her powerful love for her daughter and her faith in Jesus overcomes all obstacles, and wins her the healing for which she prays. Love wins.

Here is where also we see the tie with the claims in Romans by Paul—God’s grace and mercy is for everyone, and no one is left out, not Gentile or Jew or anyone. Where we might expect Jesus to proclaim this himself, here we see an outsider CLAIM this for herself and her daughter. The teacher is taught something by the student he is inclined to disdain. This epiphany to Jesus reminds us again that he was fully human as well as fully the Son of God, and could learn things and be surprised by them.

It also reminds us that far too often are we prone to see others of different backgrounds as the enemy when in fact they are our brothers and sisters, with just claims upon us that should stir just responses, grounded in empathy and mercy rather than resentment. God’s grace and mercy are universal, not limited to just people who hold the correct sets of beliefs or lineage. The healing of the Canaanite woman’s daughter, brought about by her, yes, “dogged persistence” and great faith fueled by love, bears this out.

This woman was not willing to stay behind the barriers that were placed between her and her dreams for her daughter to be restored to wholeness. Her assigned gender role, her religion, her ethnicity and her location all were supposed to serve to prevent her encounter with Jesus. Yet she relentlessly breaks through every one. She learns of his approach, and goes out to meet him in the margins in between Jewish and Gentile territory, and loudly places her claim upon Jesus’s help, refusing to let anything get in her way.

Our communities today are in desperate need of healing, and it seems at times that there are just too many barriers that are placed in the way for that healing to begin. To some of us, it is obvious that there is a demon that has seized some of our brethren, and especially the events of the last few days from Charlottesville to Barcelona have raised the specter of fascism, prejudice, religious divisions, and hatred.

In the face of this threat, some people choose silence, wrongly equating silence with peace. But the kind of peace silence would create leaves the wound in our communities in place. It does not lead to healing. It leaves far too many groups feeling abandoned, isolated, and physically threatened by those whose deadly ideologies. Too many people who already HAVE a voice and take their voices for granted, and just like Jesus’s disciples, they don’t want to hear the voices of those they consider to be a stranger, or worse, an enemy, claiming the need for healing and reconciliation from them. They want to portray those protesting against the open or hidden cultivation of hate-filled ideologies as being the ones who are out-of-bounds, as strangers, as enemies.

Yet the fact that some of us march in the streets gives me hope, for such actions cannot be rooted in destruction or despair. Instead, I am convinced these protests are acts of faith just as strong as the faith of that Canaanite woman. Faith that we CAN be better than this. Faith that we can overcome our divisions and meet together at the margins. Faith that, here in the US, we can live into our nation’s motto of E pluribus unum—from many, one.

What would it be like if we allowed the surprising faith of those on the margins, despite all the odds, to grow into the spaces that currently divide us, and help create bridges and unification instead? If even Jesus can grow into new understanding through the claims of the Other and overcome his initial rejection, can’t we have hope that as disciples of Jesus we can look at our own refusal to see the full beauty of God in others, and learn how to do better? We CAN defeat the forces of hate if we remember the power of the love that drove that woman to her knees before Jesus, demanding that he see her and hear her cry for healing as a child of God as well.

We talk an awful lot about feelings nowadays in our society. And that’s fine—except when we talk about or privilege feelings above reason, facts, or the quest for justice. Feelings of superiority and inferiority, fears of losing status or rights if others gain them drive much of the current backlash against the drive for full civil rights for oppressed or marginalized peoples within our society and throughout the world. Yet rights, like blessings, are not diminished by more people having them: it’s not pie, as the punchline goes. Rather the extension of rights and equality to others makes the continued possession of rights by those who already enjoy them MORE secure, as equality leads to justice and freedom for all—the very bedrock principles we espouse but still struggle have yet to fully achieve for all.

In Jesus’s time and in our own, there are multiple man-made barriers that separate one group of people from each other, contrary to the common heritage we all share as beloved children of God. Our faith that we affirm in our baptismal covenant calls us to renounce the forces of evil and respect the dignity of every human being. Those are not just empty words. They are part of a sacred call and covenant which we reaffirm repeatedly throughout our lives not just at Pentecost or All Saints’ Day, but in our words and actions. We are called not only to believe in the healing and saving power of Jesus, but, as the motto of the Diocese of Missouri puts it, to make and be disciples of Jesus for the life of the world. A world that is too shattered by hate and violence.

The fact of the matter is, many of us in this particular section of the Jesus movement don’t talk much about what “being saved” means. We ARE Episcopalians, after all.

Here’s one part of it: God created us in freedom, and that freedom includes the freedom to love, and the freedom to hate. One part of this problem may lie in our difficulty with accepting that we NEED to be saved from our tendency to resent and fear each other. Another part comes from the other direction, internally in each one of us, where we cannot believe we are worthy of God’s love and attention, that God would be interested in us either as individuals or as members of communities that are struggling to find peace, justice, and hope.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu is not only a great theologian, but also a great leader in the struggle against hatred and division in South Africa and around the world. In his book God Has a Dream: A Vision of Hope for Our Time, he says this:
“MANY OF US can acknowledge that God cares about the world but can’t imagine that God would care about you or me individually. But our God marvelously, miraculously cares about each and every one of us. The Bible has this incredible image of you, of me, of all of us, each one, held as something precious, fragile in the palms of God’s hands. And that you and I exist only because God is forever blowing God’s breath into our being. And so God says to you, “I love you. You are precious in your fragility and your vulnerability. Your being is a gift. I breathe into you and hold you as something precious.” But why, we ask in our disbelief and despair, would God care about me? The simple reason is that God loves you. God loves you as if you were the only person on earth. God, looking on us here, does not see us as a mass. God knows us each by name. God says, “Your name is engraved on the palms of My hands.” You are so precious to God that the very hairs of your head are numbered. ‘Can a mother,’ God asks, ‘forget the child she bore?’”

As I pondered those those words, I thought of this unnamed woman in our gospel today. God loves us as a mother, as the very best mother any of us could ever hope for. God loves us as fiercely as that Canaanite mother loved her child. And like any mother, God has dreams for us of healing and wholeness and unity.

Archbishop Tutu concludes with these words to summarize the promise of the gospel for us today: “We are those precious things that God carries gently. God carries each one of us as if we were fragile because God knows that we are. You are precious to God. God cares for you. “

These are simple words, yet they are powerful. They are words that, if we dare to hope and believe in them, call for the transformation ourselves, and then of the world around us, because if they are true of you and me, they are true of everyone. And that hatred that is spilling out into our streets here and across the worls is rooted in a denial of the truth of those words. Each one of those torch-carriers and bombers has lost sight of God’s love for them, and God’s love for every other living thing in creation. And yet God loves them, too, the lost as well as those who are trying to be found.

But the story of the Canaanite woman and Jesus remind us that ALL are beloved children of God, worthy of recognition, worthy of being heard when we cry out to God and to each other from the depths of our need. But we also have a part to play in tearing down the barriers of suspicion and fear that lead us to deny the humanity of others. We are called to recognize the beauty of God in ourselves, and in others. As Christians, we are called not to remain silent but to turn to God when we are in need of healing, and have faith that the power of God is more than enough to heal the wounds in ourselves and in our communities. The power of God is the power of love.

And love heals. If we will let it.

Our readings today promote the idea of justice, mercy, unity, and above all love as being the foundations of the beautiful dream God holds for each of us, and for ALL of us. As we have watched the protests against racist and fascist ideologies in Charlottesville and Boston and across the nation in the last many days, we can hear an echo of the Canaanite woman’s cry and make it our own:

Have mercy, Lord, for we stand before you in need of healing.
Have mercy, Lord, for we have denied our brothers and sisters and kindred the hearing and response their claims deserve.
Have mercy, Lord, for we have denied your goodness in ourselves, in each other, and in the world around us.
Heal the breaches that divide us, not through our silence, but through a willingness on our part to examine our hearts, and live into the promises of freedom that have hung over us, waiting to break through the clouds of injustice and prejudice for too long.

I dream of a day when we can break through the silences that seek to cover over our divisions in the name of a false peace that is grounded in denial of justice to those oppressed by evil systems of exploitation.
I dream of the day when we too can sing of how good and pleasant it is when brethren live together in harmony, when we listen to each other with open hearts and recognize our common humanity.
I dream of a day when we live into taking seriously God’s promises of abundance, grace, and healing, and responding in kind to each other.

We can break through the silences that serve to divide us. God calls us to real unity, grounded in justice. If we have faith, and believe in the power of love to bring us together, strangers no longer, but beloved kindred in God.

(Preached at Christ Church Cathedral, August 20, 2017)

Prayer 1668: 11th Sunday After Pentecost, Year A

Most Merciful God,
we come before your altars today
in faith, hope, and love,
trusting in your mercy.

Have mercy upon us, Lord,
and bring us to unity in You.
Have mercy upon us,
and forgive us for our denial of your goodness
in ourselves and each other.
Have mercy upon us, Lord,
and heal us of the fears that possess us
and separate us from You and each other.

Through the power of love,
may we be reminded of our kinship
with each other and all creation, Lord Christ.
Place the blessing of your peace,
O God our Mother,
on each of us as your children, those for whom we pray.


Saturday, August 19, 2017

Prayer, day 1667

O Loving One,
may we make our home in You today,
and love You with our whole heart.
May we open our arms in embrace
to the amazing gifts of your creation.
May we be guided by the light of compassion,
walk the path of wisdom,
and dance to the song of justice.
May we rest upon your breast like a child
when we are in need of comfort or ease of mind.
May we listen more than we speak,
learn more than we profess to know,
and give more than we take.
May we make ourselves a family of those we meet,
and always celebrate the chance to love and be loved.
We ask your blessing upon your beloveds,
whose needs we lift up to You,
especially those we now name.


Friday, August 18, 2017

Prayer 1666: for renewal in the face of hatred and terror

Waterfall and rainbow, Yosemite.

Creator God,
whose Spirit moved over the waters of creation,
we thank You for our life and breath to sing your praise.

We ask your Spirit to move over us
and create clean, restored hearts,
purged of violence, prejudice, and hatred.
We ask the light and love of Christ to dwell within us,
that we be healers and helpers to those in pain.
May we stand resolutely
in the breaches of our common life,
renouncing terror, malice, and exploitation.

Spread the wings of your comfort, Lord,
over all those in pain or in mourning,
in fear or despair or awash in loss.
Be with the sick, the weary, and the abandoned;
may we act to ease their pain in your Holy Name.
Lord, we place our cares and concerns before You,
and ask your blessing on those whom we now name.


Thursday, August 17, 2017

Prayer 1665: for transformation

God of Love,
cast the mantle of your mercy over us,
and bring us to peace and harmony.

Help us cast away our sinful impulses to disunity and division,
our worship of self and power.
Lead us from the base instincts of fear and anger
that we may be wise, just, and compassionate.
Beloved Jesus, we have wandered far from You:
let us hear your call to us,
and open our hearts to your truth.

Lord, you are the champion of the dispossessed
and the hope of the hurting:
take us by the hand, we pray.
Pour out your Spirit of Holiness upon us, O God,
and bless and keep those in need of comfort.


Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Prayer, day 1664: for hearts open to love

O God Almighty,
open our eyes to your wonders
and open our mouths to speak your praise.

O Christ, you opened your arms to embrace the world
from the heights of the cross:
may we be drawn into your embrace.
Open our minds to your wisdom,
that we may walk on paths of righteousness and justice.
Open our hearts to receive your words,
and allow them to take root in our hearts.
Open the clenched fists we nurture
that we may let go of fear and hatred
and join hands with our brothers and sisters
to seek peace. 

O God, your Mercy is as vast as the night sky,
yet your love shines as the noonday Sun:
hear our prayers we offer before You.


Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Prayer 1663: for courage and repentance

Grant us the courage to step out on the troubled waters.

Most Loving God,
You have generously given us life and breath:
may we use it to serve the cause of equity and truth.

Let us seek to love our neighbors as ourselves,
and fight alongside them against hatred,
for so we show our love for You,
O Merciful One.
Help us put on the armor of light
and cast off the works of darkness
as true disciples of your Word.
Let us renounce accomodation of evil,
confessing our feeding it through silence
or excusing it for our own comfort.

Let us not be so blinded by our own hurts or fears
that we lose compassion and empathy for others.
Lord of All Hope, create in us clean hearts,
and grant grace and peace to all for whom we pray.


Monday, August 14, 2017

Prayer, day 1662: on the feast day of Jonathan Myrick Daniels, martyr for civil rights

On this day 3 years ago, we marched for peace and justice in Ferguson after the murder of Mike Brown, and I thought of the witness of Jonathan Daniels as county police pointed automatic weapons at us and watched us through scopes.
THIS is what the march looked like, and we were met with a military response.

O God,
You tenderly hold our souls in your hand:
hear our prayer.
Teach us, O God,
to act so that we are a blessing to others.
Bring forth in us perfect love,
in which we see all life as connected and mutually dependent.
Make us more prone to wonder than to wander,
grounding us in your Wisdom,
uplifted by grace.
Strengthen us
to offer our lives to one another,
and ground ourselves in your Beloved Comunity.

Cradle us to You in our pain, despair, or fear,
and brush away the tears of those who mourn,
O Loving One.
Open our eyes to the blessings we have
even in the midst of trouble.

Help us hold fast to your hand as little children,
trusting always that You are with us.
Hear the sighs of your beloveds,
and send your Spirit to comfort and bear up those we now name.


570, adapted

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Prayer 1661: The Tenth Sunday after Pentecost

Faith in action in Charlottesville. Photo by Christopher Mathias.
Lord, we give thanks to You,
and we come before your altars
to be strengthened by your Word and sacraments.

Forgive us our sins:
our hard-heartedness in the face of need,
our abandonment of your law of love.
Lord, let us not keep silence
when brethren conspire to kill
or sell their brother into slavery.

Let us remember your voice, O God,
is not in the storm,
but in the linked arms of those
whose embrace stands against hate and violence.
Give us faith, O Holy One,
to know that all is possible through love,
especially victory over evil.

Reach out your saving hand to us,
that our faltering hearts may be strengthened
to stand for truth and hope.
Let us go forth into the world
inspired to take up our cross
and step out onto the turbulent waters
in the name of Christ.

May the power of the Holy Spirit
seize our hearts and minds
and lead us to redemption.
Holy One, we lay our cares and anxiety before You-
pour out your mercy on all those for whom we pray.


Readings for today: Proper 14, Year A

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Prayer 1660: for renewal and strength

Holy One,
You have guarded us in the depths of night,
and we turn to You like a child in her mother's arms.
Spirit of the Living God,
hover over us and renew our souls,
as You seek to work creation anew within us.

Revive and restore us,
planted firmly in hope,
that we may rededicate ourselves to You, O God.
Lead us to examine our hearts,
and purify our intentions,
that we may serve You
and each other
and all creation with joy.

For it is in giving that we receive,
and in serving that we lead,
as You teach us, Lord Christ.
Receive the whispered prayers of all who turn to You,
we humbly pray,
especially for these beloveds
whom we now place before You.


Friday, August 11, 2017

Prayer 1659: Confession and Repentance

Most Merciful God,
Author of Our Salvation,
let our prayers come before You
as we praise and bless your Name.

Pardon us, Lord, for our offenses,
our careless exploitation of others,
our heedless abuse of your creation.
Bring us out of error into truth,
and strengthen us to will to live humbly together,
in justice and in peace.

Lord Jesus, we put our trust in You:
may we devote ourselves to your healing ways,
empowered by love, not hate.
Place your hand of blessing, Lord,
over all who seek comfort in your embrace.


Thursday, August 10, 2017

Prayer 1658: that our lives be testimony

Blessed Jesus, we thank you for the gift of this day:
make us worthy of bearing your Name in it.

Let today be a day in which we remember
the mercy shown us in all our failings,
and be ourselves merciful and kind.
Let today be a day made holy
by how we reflected God's mercy and compassion for all.
Let today be a day in which we act
renewed by our hope, faith, and trust
in God and each other.
Let today be a day
of reconciliation, liberation, and humble service.
Let today be a day in which it is known
that we honored and glorified God's love in all things.
Let today be a day
for acts of healing where there is pain,
and understanding where there is fear.

Let our lives be testaments
and living offerings to your saving help, O Holy One.
Almighty God, Creator, Savior, Life-giver,
open wide your hand and fill us with grace.


Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Prayer 1657: for discipleship

Loving God, we rise with songs of thanks and praise,
for you have brought us safely to this new day.

May your word, O Lord, be a light to our path;
may we trust in your guidance
and be led by your law of love.
Sustain our hearts in fath and hope, Lord Christ,
and unify them in fulfilling your work in the world today.
Spirit of the Living God,
fill us with the power of grace and holiness
that we may serve God in gentleness.
Give us strength to choose good and renounce evil:
make us peace-makers and healers in your Name.

Extend your saving help to those who seek You, O God,
and bless and keep all those for whom we pray.


Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Prayer 1656: for a revolution of hope

Glory to You, Most Holy God,
we rise to give you praise and honor.

Open our eyes by faith
to see your radiant truth;
open our hearts by hope
to nurture your law of love within us.
Lead us, O Jesus, in paths of compassion,
that we may take up your healing work with joy.
May we resist the works of darkness:
injustice, enmity, and falsehood,
and denounce all who profit through greed.
By the power of the Holy Spirit,
work in us a revolution of hope,
caring for each other as You care for us, O God.

Lord, we rely upon your saving help:
place your hand of blessing and protection
on those for whom we pray.


Monday, August 7, 2017

Prayer 1655

Praise to You, O Creator and Preserver of Our Souls,
who holds our lives in your protecting hand!

We thank You for bringing us safely through the night,
giving your angels charge over our rest.
We remember before you our sins,
and ask your forgiveness, O Holy One.

Give us the wisdom and will
to restore the bonds of fellowship and love among us.
Lead us in ways of justice and peace,
and make us healers and reconcilers among all.

Lord Jesus, abide in our hearts,
and grant your peace to those we now name.


Sunday, August 6, 2017

Prayer, day 1654

O God, we bless You and thank You for your manifold works.
Loving One, we raise our grateful hearts before You,
rejoicing for all our blessings.

Reconcile us to You and to each other,
that we may truly love as Christ loves us.
Guide us in the way of peace,
and give us tender, discerning hearts
to serve You and glorify your Name.

Help us to never cast aside love
when we have the chance to give it,
but bear us up on the wings of hope and trust.
Precious Lord, hear our prayers and petitions
as we lay them before You,
and consecrate and bless these, your beloved children.