Monday, August 25, 2014

What Sister Sarah Has to Say

This morning, my friends, gave new meaning to the phrase shitstorm, and while I will probably blog about it that won't be for at least a few days yet. So I'm posting a guest blog, sort of. Sarah Randall is one of my childhood best friends, one of my current best friends, and my daughter's godmother. She's also an Episcopal priest and an Episcopal nun. (For those of you who didn't think Episcopalians had nuns: sure they do. How else could Sarah be one?) Sarah is part of why I need to go to Haiti--she lived there for several years--but she's now living with her community in Duxbury, Massachusetts, and this is part of a sermon she preached yesterday in Quincy. It's partially based on my earlier post about the book Interrupted.

"n this morning’s gospel reading, Jesus asks his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” After a variety of responses, he continues, "But who do you say that I am?" Simon Peter answered, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God."

Now that is no small claim.  Simply claiming he was a true prophet would have already been making a stand. Prophets deserve respect and consideration, though that’s rarely what they get at the moment they’re speaking. But if Jesus is the Son of the living God, the stakes are suddenly much higher.

If we stake our faith on Jesus Christ in any way, shape, or form, it will have an impact on our lives. Christians may agree on very little these days, but all of us claim to be followers of Christ even when we live it out differently.[1]  What we believe makes a difference because it will impact the way we live and the choices we make.  Someone who believes Jesus is a great moral teacher will consult his words on ethics. Those of us who believe he is the Son of the Living God may suddenly realize that he’s not just someone to be consulted; he’s the one who calls us to follow him in giving our whole life to God. And that can mean we end up going in some unexpected directions. The path we’re following can take us to some unfamiliar places, into situations that make us uneasy, alongside people who make us uncomfortable. If we take Jesus seriously, we’re in for quite a ride.

A writer friend of mine recently put up a blog post after reading Jen Hatmaker’s newest book, Interrupted: An Adventure in Relearning the Essentials of Faith. She writes,
 I realized lately that I'm on the way to becoming an activist, and I can't tell you how much I hate that. It's a lot more comfortable on my farm, with my animals, thinking happy thoughts. I can even think nice religious thoughts, thanking God for the many blessings in my life. Except there's a flip side to both religion and happiness. There's a point where you start remembering the Bible verses on poverty or social justice, and you start getting pushed out of your comfortable little shell. It's not fun. But it's good. And while I pretty much hate all politicians--I'm a fiscal conservative with liberal social leanings and a woman with a brain in my head, which pretty much rules out liking any of them--I suddenly seem to care about social issues. I want a bigger minimum wage. Civil rights for LGBTQs. Racial justice. A global economy where my affluence didn't rest on the backs of developing-world laborers that make less than a dollar a day…
Jen's prayer, "Raise up in me a holy Passion," is honestly a bit hot for me. I'd like "raise up in me a moderate enthusiasm," perhaps, or, "Raise up in me the chance to do a bit of good and feel smug while returning to my comfortable life." I don't know, though. I'm afraid, especially after last week, that I might be stuck.[2]
Let’s not kid ourselves. Scripture is dangerous. The more you read it, lots of it, the more you get the larger picture of what God is up to, the more you realize that something has to change – and that you have to be part of it. I can’t speak for others, but I’m a cradle Episcopalian. A Midwesterner. My father is a priest and my mother a teacher. It’s a perfect storm in terms of confusing NICE with HOLY and POLITE with JUST.  When controversial topics arise, one should murmur something noncommittal.

That’s very nice.  

It’s not what God calls us to. 

The past couple of weeks, I’ve been in impassioned discussions about Ferguson with family and friends back in Indiana. Never thought I’d see the day. What a blessing. But not easy.  But how many more unarmed black men will die because we’ve been taught to fear each other? Something has to change. All of us need to do more. Those of us who are white need both to speak up where there is silence or indifference, and to be quiet and listen when there is someone of color sharing the story of what it’s really like in this country. I guarantee you it won’t be comfortable. And some days change doesn’t seem possible. But remember South Africa? No one thought anything could ever change there, and it did, in large part because of the sharing of terrible stories in their Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Desmond Tutu said, “True reconciliation exposes the awfulness, the abuse, the pain, the hurt, the truth. It could even sometimes make things worse. It is a risky undertaking, but in the end it is worthwhile, because in the end only an honest confrontation with reality can bring real healing. Superficial reconciliation can bring only superficial healing.”[3]  When we don’t know what else to do, we can always start by seeking out the stories of others and listening. In this way we begin to build that unity we pray for as we build relationships, real relationships built on the rock of truth rather than the sand of polite avoidance.

In today’s gospel reading, Jesus says, “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” Make no mistake: that’s ALL of us. High time we started asking ourselves what exactly we’re binding up and what exactly we are loosing. What barriers do we not even see that need to be knocked down so that the kingdom of heaven might be a little more present on earth? What do we need to do so that we might truly gather in unity to praise God? Jesus came to set the oppressed free and to break every yoke… We’re supposed to be part of this work, too. Look at your hands. YOUR HANDS are the hands that are to be building the kingdom. YOUR HANDS are the hands that hold the power of God to set others free, to make life a little better for everyone. YOUR HANDS are the hands that hold the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Sisters and brothers, unlock that gate, open it wide, and let the light shine in. Amen."

Amen. Thanks, Sarah. Love you.