Sermon: 3rd Sunday after Pentecost
21 June 2020 – Archdeacon Mark Long
Genesis 21:8-21 and Matthew 10:24-39; NRSV
Greetings, once again, as we continue to navigate an extending and difficult journey, one that all too easily magnifies fear and undermines courage.
I would be interested to know which journey came to mind as I said those words?
Dawn once worked for a boss who would often ask the question whenever an employ entered his office, “So what is this I hear?” It was a magic question that elicited the most amazing amount of information about what was going on in the life of the individual and the business. He of course had never heard anything, but ultimately heard everything.
So what journey came to mind, and what emotion is attached to that journey?
What fears or anxieties are magnified? How much of this were you aware of before I asked the question?
And what are you going to do with this knowledge now that you are becoming conscious of it? Do you have the courage to face it? There’s the rub.
We’re all on a journey with Lockdown, some of us staying obediently at home, others of us rationalising a less than strict adherence to the regulations, and others of us ignoring the dangers of the virus with reckless abandon. Note how people wear – or don’t wear – their masks in public: it’s a dead giveaway to how seriously they take the virus’s threat.
Systemic and institutionalised racism is another global journey shouting for our attention: a few of us feel its direct affect on our lives; others of us are looking to distract its attention on us by saying “But what about …?”; some of us are facing it, as disconcerting as that may be.
Femicide – the systemic murder of women – is also a global stain on society and another journey, highlighted again this week by no less than President Ramaphosa; and it’s global ramifications spotlighted by CNN and other media.
There are other journeys, too: having to accept a discounted salary, retrenchment, and worse; illness, be it Covid-19, cancer, or something a little less serious; death, the ultimate impact.
That is all a little depressing, and I’m sure like me you’re longing for a little hope, a little joy, and you’re doubtless thinking right now that I’m not helping you find it.
It is precisely at this point that the importance of our faith kicks in: life is tough at the moment, and we need a resource beyond ourselves; that resource is God. More specifically it is an awareness of God, of God with us; of a presence that embraces our fear and anxiety, our anger and rage, our depression and despair; and transforms it into an energy that renews and restores us, that heals and enlivens us, that connects us to a very deep source of creative joy. This is the invitation of Pentecost, and the nature of the post-Pentecost journey. It is about making sense of our life-struggles in the light of God’s presence and the call upon us all to deepen our faith, and to strengthen our spiritual journey while having this experience of being human for a while. It is a journey into relationship, and a journey into integrity.
Today’s Psalm (86) reminds us that we do trust in God to watch over us, to be merciful towards us, to gladden our souls, to attend to our prayers; and in our time of trouble to answer our cry for help. Let us trust that anew and afresh right now, whatever journey is the focus of our present attention. This is affirmed in today’s Gospel reading from Matthew 10, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. And even the hairs of your head are all counted. So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows” (29-31). There is something comforting about being reminded of the extent of our value to God, especially in a time in which we may be questioning our value to the world in which we live.
In celebrating and accepting our value, we need to do so with integrity. Integrity from a faith perspective necessitates living out our faith in such a manner that all with whom we interact are also able to embrace their value, and that who we are does not limit this for others. This is more difficult, because it requires us to step back from all the value add-ons we have attached to our lives in terms of culture and tradition, and see ourselves and others at our zero base. For me this is best described by one of Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu’s most endearing qualities: his ability to see himself primarily as a human being, and others in the same light. He is firstly a human being, and then an African, a Christian, a Bishop … it is precisely this integrity to who he is as formostly a human being created in the image of God that has made him such a profound example of reconciliation in this country and the world. Systemic racism and gender-based violence are precisely at odds with this perspective, and thus requires us to do some intense and consistent introspection around our own attitudes and behaviours that may foster such brokenness in our society. This takes courage, because when it comes down to it we are all quite wedded to the perspectives we hold on the world, and are not easily shifted from what we believe to be true, even if it undermines the humanity of others. The more put-out, upset, or even angry I become at such an assertion suggests the degree to which I am complicit with the heresies of my time.
Again, today’s reading from Matthew is instructive, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; … For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; … and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me” (10:34-38). The conflict reflected in these verses points to the disagreement that will ensue even within the strongest of family relationships over what is required of us by the Gospel. It is not about personal piety which all too often unthinkingly embraces conventional reverences, but it is about social justice, which we know only too well often brings us into conflict with those we know and love most.
I would love to sugar-coat this for us all, as much for myself as for you. I suspect you haven’t found my sermon today – or last week – an easy pill to swallow. Know that I struggle to speak my words perhaps as much, if not more than you struggle to hear them. However, for me the gift of faith and a personal relationship with God is of little value if it doesn’t transform and heal the world for others. Whatever your personal journey right now, I invite you to join me in what is a tough and difficult road to both personal and communal restoration, yet one that in the letting go we are able to find renewed life in and for the sake of Christ.
I again close with a prayer by Pádraig Ó Tuama, Irish poet and theologian, from his book Daily Prayer with the Corrymeela Community:
Jesus of the sheathed sword,
in your name, many swords have been used
and many people have perished.
Speak to us, teach us, again and again,
that violence begets violence.
Teach us. Again and again.
Over and over.
Because we keep forgetting,
and we need to keep
Over and over.