June 14, 2020 – sermon

Posted by on Sun, Jun 14, 2020 in Season after Pentecost, Sermons

When Things Go Viral

June 14, 2020

We are living through harrowing times, and we hardly know what to do. Last February Covid-19 took up residence among us, and it literally went viral.  Medical and political leaders pulled the emergency brake on public life, and we catapulted headlong into social distancing.  Workplaces turned out the lights.  Schools, libraries and parks went on lockdown, as did restaurants and stores. All the familiar places we gathered were gone. Not only that, but personal relationships we’d spent decades developing went on hold, now that our own coworkers, neighbors, friends and extended family were deemed hazards to our health. Our world was no longer safe for habitation.

This trauma extended three long months into May when the brutal suffocation of George Floyd was captured on cell phones. Given the saturation of social media, especially following three months of immersion in Zoom and FaceTime, the violence literally went viral.  The shock of Floyd’s death played endlessly across the internet, sending shock waves throughout a nation whose souls were already fraught.  It was all too much to bear, and millions poured into the streets in passionate protest. Our world was no longer safe for habitation.

Yes, we are living in harrowing times, and so we sigh and nod as St Paul brings up the subject of suffering and vulnerability. Paul draws on his own experience here, recalling how, over time, adversity had gradually strengthened his own character, and how his restored character had dared to hope for a better future. But that kind of renewal takes time, he acknowledges, and today you and I are not even halfway through this crisis-ridden year of 2020.  We’re still in the raw stage of feeling beaten up and beaten down. And so Paul compassionately puts aside considerations of self-improvement, and simply commends us to God’s healing love, which holds us whenever we are hurting.  It all sounds wonderful, this break in the storm, so how do we prepare our souls to receive this grace?

The story continues in our Gospel, as Jesus watches the crowds.  He can tell they are harassed and helpless because they are wandering around aimlessly like lost sheep, with no shepherd in sight.  He gathers his disciples and directs them to wade into the hapless flock, knowing that in the moment they will find power to cure, raise, cleanse, and cast out whatever ails the sheep. We would gladly flock to this kind of restoration, so how do we ready ourselves to receive this power?

In the wise words of healer Dr. Bonnie Henry, British Columbia’s Provincial Health Officer, “This is our time to be kind…. This is our time to be kind.”  It’s true. Whenever we find ourselves hurting, the kindnesses we selflessly bestow on others miraculously bring a balm for us too. It’s just the inner power of Christ’s Golden Rule in action: doing kind things for other people releases God’s grace into circulation. We Christians are given this incredible power to make the world a better place for everyone, including ourselves, one self-giving gesture at a time. Notice that in today’s Gospel Jesus does not equip his disciples with rods and staffs to whip harassed sheep into shape.  Certainly there is a time to focus squarely on what others have done wrong, to judge them and hold them accountable.  But for now, when so many are struggling and suffering, Dr. Henry resists the impulse.  Instead, when she gets pushed to go tough on anyone who violates social distancing by entering closed parks or protesting in the streets, she keeps her focus on compassion. “This is the only way,” she counsels, “that we as a community can get through this without traumatizing people.”

I hear Dr. Henry’s voice echoing in our Gospel hymn today:

Jesus Christ is healing, healing in the streets
Curing those who suffer, touching those he greets.
Listen, Lord Jesus, I have pity too.
Let my care be active, healing just like you. *

Although you and I are living through harrowing times, as Christians we’ve been given an antidote for the fear and frustration which would enslave us.  Salvation comes as we reach out to one another in simple kindness. Kindness bestowed personally on those who are near and dear to us, and beyond that full-hearted kindness flung far and wide over a harassed and helpless world, still seeking its good shepherd.

Our hymn’s closing verse lays out our beginning:

Jesus Christ is calling, calling in the streets,
“Who will join my journey? I will guide their feet.”
Listen, Lord Jesus, let my fears be few,
Walk one step before me; I will follow you.  Amen. *

© 2020 The Rev. Dr. Ann P. Lukens. All rights reserved.

* – Hymn text from Jesus Christ is waiting, waiting in the streets, by John Bell (b. 1949) and Graham Maule (1958-2019) and is © 1988 WGRG / The Iona Community, admin. GIA Publications Inc. Used by permission. ONE LICENSE No. A-706794.

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