Mother Katherine’s sermon preached on May 29, 2022

Posted by on Sun, May 29, 2022 in Easter, Sermons

The Seventh Sunday of Easter
The Sunday after Ascension Day

May 29, 2022

Hymn for the Hurting 

Everything hurts,
Our hearts shadowed and strange,
Minds made muddied and mute.
We carry tragedy, terrifying and true.
And yet none of it is new;
We knew it as home,
As horror,
As heritage.
Even our children
Cannot be children,
Cannot be.

Everything hurts.
It’s a hard time to be alive,
And even harder to stay that way.
We’re burdened to live out these days,
While at the same time, blessed to outlive them.

This alarm is how we know
We must be altered —
That we must differ or die,
That we must triumph or try.
Thus while hate cannot be terminated,
It can be transformed
Into a love that lets us live.

May we not just grieve, but give
May we not just ache, but act;
May our signed right to bear arms
Never blind our sight from shared harm;
May we choose our children over chaos.
May another innocent never be lost.

Maybe everything hurts,
Our hearts shadowed & strange.
But only when everything hurts
May everything change.

Amanda Gorman, NYT Friday 5/27/22

Paul and Silas were taken to the magistrates for ruining the means of money-making for owners of a slave who could tell fortunes. They accused them of disturbing the city. They were stripped of clothing, beaten with rods, put into the deepest prison cell and their feet placed in stocks. What else is there to do in such desperate circumstances but pray and sing hymns to God?! We are told the other prisoners listened.

Five days ago we had the 27th K-12 school shooting in 2022 so far. We aren’t even half way through the year. Those 27 school shooting events are included in the total of 212 mass shootings since January. That’s not the number of people, that’s shooting incidents. Counted up that 807 who were injured and another 242 dead. Today, like Paul and Silas, we too are praying and singing hymns to God because it is part of our faith, our response to God. Calling out in prayer our grief and brokenhearted shock, our rage and frustration, our deep deep hope given us by Christ Jesus. I found myself offended and fuming at reading so many cynical comments dismissive of prayer and eschewing it for not being an ‘action’ or making a difference. Their legs in shackles, in a locked prison cell, Paul and Silas sang and prayed, showing their faith and calm to those in prison with them, including the jailer it seems. Their prayer was an action. After the earthquake broke open the stocks and cells they continued to act, not by jumping up and leaving, but by staying put. They show compassion and mercy even to their jailer (who stood ready to kill himself out of shame and fear) by reassuring him they are all still there. 

None of these occasions for sharing or showing their faith was planned, they were spontaneous, even accidental. Or is there more to it than that? As we read the Book of Acts we see that Luke repeatedly leads us to consider God’s ‘visitations’ or self-revealings are enabled by just such human situations and experiences. This is not to suggest God causes disaster, pain, or trauma to make a dramatic entrance, nor that the presence of God in such times is part of a Grand Chess-master plan. Their response in that moment was to sing and pray. As I was writing last night I kept trying to find a way to ask or suggest that most of us wouldn’t react that way—but I kept thinking you probably would! I hope we all would. Because God can use us when and wherever we are, and it is best as a partnership. God sets about healing and shaping a better world by holding us in his hands as the finest tools. We are co-creators by listening and being ready to bring our gifts to bear when any opportunity presents itself, even if it appears ‘accidental.’

On Wednesday night, David Reed, Episcopal Bishop of West Texas, said, “We must pray. Ignore the cynics, and pray with all your heart. Let your cries reach to the heavens. Let your anger and despair be your prayer. And listen to God answering in return. Look for God’s tears revealed and listen for his perfect and righteous anger. Give yourself over to opportunities to join in the Spirit’s work of binding up and healing. Love with all you’ve got, and never, ever surrender to the darkness….Because I believe in Jesus, I am convinced that sin and death are defeated and will never prevail over the light of resurrection. Because I believe in eternal life, I trust that the senseless murder of these innocent children is not the final thing to be said about them. If the Gospel is true, it is true in all times and in all places, including in Uvalde tonight. If God is with us, then he is with us even in those times and places where it seems that death and darkness have prevailed.”

When I consider the children, teachers, staff, and families of the Uvalde school and the other 26 schools since January, I can only imagine the impossible pain of those families. Sadly several of you have had a child die, and no matter how young or old they were or how it happened, you know those feelings first hand in a way no one else can. If you are one of them help others of us understand how to help, how to support another in such unconscionable loss, how a human being can love so deeply and be filled with so much pain, rage, emptiness. Help us by sharing your faith, and how it brings you here pray and sing hymns and act—incompatable with pain as it may appear.

Brother Curtis Almquist, SSJE wrote about joy last week and called it “this melding of delight and gratitude, freedom and hope – [Joy] goes without saying when the burdens of life are lifted, when the flow of life turns into a beautiful harmony or a consoling fragrance.” Our psalm today goes on to say, “Light has sprung up for the righteous, and joyful gladness for those who are truehearted.”

Joy goes without saying when everything is going well and it seems life is good and the sun is shining, birds sing and buds bloom. This type of joy is real and yet short lived, we saw it change with horrible speed when those happy last days of school gave way to tragedy in Uvalde. And that is where joy is such a paradox. Paul moves from walking free and healing a young woman of a dark spirit — to being stripped, beaten and imprisoned. He writes repeatedly of Jesus’ teaching about joy in the context of suffering. One poet spoke of pain and suffering as carving a chasm for joy in our souls. Brother Curtis adds, “this is not to say we should go looking for suffering. No need. Suffering visits us, as does joy.” We need not wait to earn or afford it. It doesn’t wait for all to be right with the world or for us to be old enough or smart enough to appreciate it. God gives it freely, and we who are already broken open by pain and suffering, are also open to hold great joy. 

When Jesus prays for his disciples we hear his great love for them and his abiding trust in God. He prays first for them and in the same breath “also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word.” It does not end with them. Finally he prays for a unity that we can scarcely imagine; “that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one…” He isn’t speaking of agreement or like-mindedness in all things, rather that they enter a unity in which they know they are loved by God the way God loves Jesus—that no matter what our differences we may be one by virtue of being beloved of God. This may be the only way we are all the same; by being loved by God, and it is certainly the hardest thing for them, and now for us, to do. We think we are defined by our differences, and it’s the biggest argument the early church wrestles with; who can be one of them and who cannot be. Jewish first or not? Are gentiles who follow Christ’s Way less a part of the whole, less legitimate? 

Did Jesus really come for “us” and for “them”? When weapons are turned on each other how are we defining who they are aimed at? Race, ethnicity, nationality, political party, sexual identity,… religion? When is the list more frightening than the unity is daunting? How on earth are we to take action on the ways we destroy each other and the failure to live as if each is beloved of God? The poem by Amanda Gorman I read almost wasn’t written because she found it “hard to find the words to write poetry about horrific, intelligible tragedy”. Like many of us she felt daunted, humbled at the prospect of being able to do anything to affect change. Our puny prayers can be actions? Her meager words? The handful of thoughts she posted before she could knit them together as poetry were the beginning of her action and she was moved by seeing how much they moved others. How much? One million dollars worth, raised for @everytown for Gun Safety in just three days. When it is dark she says, she writes, and will keep doing so even when people tell her poetry makes no difference against a gun. We might think the same of our own ability or efforts, our prayers or small kindnesses, our votes if only one each. This is why Jesus prayed for both his disciples and those who would come because of their words and witness. It is why Jesus asked God “so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”

May the prayers and hymns of our lips, the actions of our faith, and the presence of Christ be known and embrace us all. Amen.

© 2022 The Rev. Katherine Sedwick. All rights reserved. Posted with permission.