Sermon for the 8th Sunday after Pentecost, July 10, 2016

Sermon for the 8th Sunday after Pentecost
July 10, 2016
The Rev. Evelyn Wheeler

Amos 7:7-17;     Psalm 82;                    Colossians 1:1-14;         Luke 10:25-37

The well-known Julian of Norwich, English anchorite and mystic was born around 1320, and probably died around 1416.  England was in the midst of almost endless wars during these years – with Scotland, and with France – the Hundred Years’ war began in 1338 when the English king claimed the French throne.  Ten years later, the great plague – the Black Death – arrived in England, and killed off as much as one-third of the population.  In succeeding years, there were coups and counter-coups affecting the English throne as well: the War of the Roses began in 1399, and didn’t end until 1485.  Meanwhile there was also a Peasant’s Revolt in 1381, rising from heavy taxation and a desire to end serfdom.  The revolt started in Kent, south of London, but spread as far north as York, and would have affected the area around Norwich as well.  People were burned at the stake in those days, too.

We don’t know a lot about Julian’s life, except that she herself wrote that as a child, she was very ill, at death’s door, when she experienced a series of visions of Christ on the cross.  After her recovery, she wrote down the visions, and over the years following, apparently engaged in extensive reflections on them, finally published in the early 1400s, called “Revelations of Divine Love.”  Julian is responsible for the comforting words I have often quoted: “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.  At some point, she chose to become an anchorite, and was walled into her cell in Norwich Cathedral, with a window looking out on the world, and a window looking into the church.

I give the context of her times and place because I want you to realize, however bad things are in the our own place and time – and there is plenty to complain about – it was equally bad and probably a lot worse in Julian’s time.

Yet she was able to find God’s love to be paramount, and God’s care for humanity to be comforting and grounds for hope.

So when we are in turmoil and trouble now – and we only have to look at the attacks in Baghdad and other cities in Iraq, the struggles in Syria, the bombings in Istanbul and Paris, the shooting in Orlando, the death of African American men in Baton Rouge and Falcon Heights, and the murder of five police officers in Dallas to see the turmoil.  We only have to listen to politicians, bloggers, and prognosticators to hear anger and fear and hatred expressed in dismaying array.  We have only to pay attention to the world to know we are in trouble, serious, heart-breaking, seeming unending trouble. 

What can we do?

During all the trouble and turmoil in England during Julian’s lifetime, her message to those who came to her for spiritual counsel was – “you are beloved of God, who holds you close.”

I submit to you, that message is the one we need to hear now, in this place, and the message we need to share with those around us who are trying to make sense of yet more deaths, like those of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, at the hands of those who swore to protect and serve, like those who are the victims of bombing and shootings here and overseas, including the officers killed in Dallas this week: Lorne Ahrens, Michael Krol, Michael J. Smith, Brent Thompson, and Patrick Zamarripa; and even like the deaths even of Owen Muteen and Micah Xavier Johnson and all those driven to kill people not like themselves.

O Lord God, of your mercy, send aid.

In my column in this past week’s E-Pistle, I wrote that when angels visited people in the Bible, the first thing they always said is “Do not be afraid.” 

Do not be afraid.  When all the world is falling apart around you – do not be afraid.  When terror and turmoil and fear are the messages of the world around us – do not be afraid.

Be instead assured of God’s regard and care.

It makes no sense at all, does it?

Faith does not guarantee safety.  God’s presence does not guarantee safety.  To be loved by God does not guarantee our safety, let alone our freedom or our prosperity, or anything else we might desire, wish for, or even need. 

When Jesus sent the disciples out in twos, he told them “take nothing with you.”  No sandals, no bag, no cloak.  They were to rely on the kindness of strangers, and the only return they were to seek was to share the peace of those who welcomed them.

And today, we hear the age-old story of that Good Samaritan.  And you’ve probably been told – I’ve probably told you myself – that the Samaritans and the Jews were not friendly to each other.  They despised each other.  Each thought the other was stuck-up and proud and ignorant and mean.  And they worshipped wrong, too.

But it was the Samaritan who helped the Jewish man who was attacked along the road and left for dead.  He owed his life and health to the hated Other, and not to the people he would have treated with respect himself, who left him there to lie and die, if that was his fate.

We’re always surprised when we read that a Muslim community has protected Christian worshipers in Egypt, or a local mosque has provided first aid and supplies to the victims of disasters here in the U.S.  We shouldn’t be.  It happens quite a lot, actually.

As some of you know, I went with Bert Fitzgerald a couple weeks back to see the Dalai Lama in Indianapolis, at the Indiana Farmers’ Coliseum.  The Dalai Lama told us that at the most basic level, human beings are wired to be compassionate, and that all the religions – Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, Judaism and Hinduism – and so one, all of them teach us of the need to be compassionate.

There are some videos on the internet that show demonstrators in Dallas lining up to shake hands with and give hugs to police officers, in shared mourning. 

We have the capacity.  We have the need to be kind.  We always have the option to choose to be compassionate.

Warsan Shire, a South African poet, wrote a poem called “What They Did Yesterday Afternoon.”[1]  It ends this way:

later that night
i held an atlas in my lap
ran my fingers across the whole world
and whispered
where does it hurt?
it answered
everywhere
everywhere
everywhere.

Compassion comes from pain – it literally means “suffering with.”  If we are willing to share the suffering of others, if we are willing to share our own suffering with others, compassion is the result. 

Henri Nouwen wrote:

“Our own experience with loneliness, depression, and fear can become a gift for others, especially when we have received good care. As long as our wounds are open and bleeding, we scare others away. But after someone has carefully tended our wounds, they no longer frighten us or others.

“When we experience the healing presence of another person, we can discover our own gifts of healing.  Then our wounds allow us to enter into a deep solidarity with our wounded brothers and sisters.”

Are we willing to share our pain and to share the pain of others?

Perhaps it would help if we remembered, as our own hymnal sings:For the love of God is broader
Than the measure of our mind;
And the heart of the Eternal
Is most wonderfully kind.T

here is plentiful redemption
In the blood that has been shed;
There is joy for all the members
In the sorrows of the Head.[2]

 

And so in closing, I bid you: 

Go forth into the world in peace;

Be of good courage;

Hold fast to what is good;

Render to no one evil for evil;

Strengthen the faint-hearted;

Support the weak;

Help the afflicted;

Love and serve the Lord,

Rejoicing in the power of the Holy Spirit.

 

In the name of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

 

 

 

[1] http://mbaliflower.tumblr.com/post/21975113001/what-they-did-yesterday-afternoon-warsan-shire

[2] There’s a wideness in God’s mercy, The Hymnal 1982, #460. Words: Frederick William Faber (1814-1863, alt. Music: St. Helena, Calvin Hampton (1938-1984).  Reprinted under RiteSong license.

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