You Must Also be Ready – August 11, 2019
Sermon preached by the Reverend Don Burr, Deacon
St. Paul’s on the Green, Norwalk, CT
The Ninth Sunday after Pentecost (Track 2)
Our family has just returned from a two-week camping trip along the coast of Maine–miles I have traveled all my life; and a trip my family and I have made together for the last 31 years straight. There were 65 of our family there at one point or another over that span of time (my siblings, our children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, with a few friends in the mix for good measure because there’s always room to welcome more), which requires a bit of orchestration to be ready for everything–especially for the annual family photo. We needed to gather up the matching lighthouses, lobster blankets, campsite buoys and signs, which are some of the treasures our family uses to remind ourselves where are hearts are and that we are part of something larger than ourselves. (Treasure… yes, yet the real treasures are the people and the time we spend together–diving deep in two weeks of life-giving love and family tradition–and that is where are hearts are.)
We were sure to assemble real camping supplies–like camp lamps with fresh batteries to keep them lit, life jackets, paddles, and tents. And, an item which has been bouncing around our campers for years… one of those foil emergency blankets. (You may have seen ones like it on the news recently… the US government is wrapping young children and babies in them on the southern border. It’s cold where they are being held.)
Now, I pray your summer vacations have not/will not be times associated with worry or grief. I hope they are times filled with recreation, rest, and relaxation. Ours was; and (of course) while we were away–through the magic of smartphones and the internet–we were able to keep-up with the news at home and around the country. Sadly, much of it was bad news; news that had me/still has me very afraid. Some of you may be feeling the same way. I am sure by now all are aware that in the span of our two weeks of family camping, some 30 people have died as a result of mass shootings with — fully legal and permitted– assault style rifles; and that most, if not all of these shootings were driven by hate–in particular hatred for people of color.
I do not imagine that I am the only clergy person wearing an orange stole this morning. I don’t imagine that I am the only person preaching on this text either; and while many will focus on not being afraid, the words which have stayed with me all week are… “be ready.”
(This stole, and several hundred others like it, have been loving crafted by Coleen Hintz, as a response to the continued loss of life to gun violence. On each of the stoles, material with artwork from the Eric Carle children’s book Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See is sewn between orange panels which remind us of the color hunters use so they will not be shot. Bishops United Against Gun Violence, and many others wear these stoles as part of being dressed for action when speaking out.)
My six-year-old grand-daughter will enter kindergarten at the end of the month, and we’re getting things together for her first day of a new school year, in the quaint village (in the farthest northwest corner of Connecticut) where she lives with her parents and two-year-old brother. Children’s size 11 sneakers. The new lunch box she received for her birthday last month. I wonder what her memories will be of her first day of school. We want to be ready for her big day with appropriate supplies; and because granddad has an Amazon account… guess who does most of the online shopping. Sadly, I couldn’t help but run across a few items which gave me pause during my internet searches. One in particular was a bullet resistant backpack which is available through Amazon (among other places) for about $99… and you too can have one on your doorstep by August 14 if you order it as you listen to the remaining words of this message.
What do you remember about your first days of school? I can remember meeting my first “school friend”, Mark Johnson, on my first day of kindergarten as we and our mothers waited in line to register for Miss Martha Tackas’ class at Marvin Elementary School. I also remember the unique sound a new pair corduroy pants made in the hallway on my first day of sixth grade at Nathan Hale Middle School.
You may know, the surviving first graders of the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School turned 13 recently, and will enter the eighth grade this fall. A grand-nephew of mine is one of them, and while they continue to deal with the trauma of the day when a young, white male showed no regard for life, I do wonder what their memories of the first day of eighth grade will be.
How could those sweet babies have been prepared for such an unexpected tragedy?
And, how could the children of 680 people who were taken into custody by ICE at several Mississippi poultry processing plants have been prepared? Their parents were rounded up while at work; all while those children were enjoying their first days of school. Many were not picked up at school by their parents, or they returned home to find their homes empty and the doors locked. What a tragic life event for all concerned.
Early news reports are saying that this series of raids had been planned for many months; IF so, it occurs to me that someone decided to wait until the children were at school. What a tragic memory of a first day of school. IF that is true, then perhaps the people planning those raids decided that some lives are more important than others. And that, is not the way of love: the liberating, life-giving love of God.
(I must be honest, leading up to this morning, I felt like I’d be preaching to the choir, because I know the hallmark of St. Paul’s on the Green is a Radical Welcome–with no exceptions. You are living proof of the Way of Love; and there is still more work to do.
How can ANY of us be prepared for things like this… hate, racism, …
Truth is, we can’t… really. Yet, we can try to prevent it.
Speak up, write letters; march; walk; call… and the rally cry has already gone out to be ready for action in November. Haven’t we had enough?
From Bishops United Against Gun Violence: “As Christians, we must work actively to dismantle the systemic racism that is part of our country’s founding narrative and that continues to fuel mass shootings and urban gun violence today. We must insist that both our fellow Christians and our elected leaders repudiate white supremacy and white nationalism and embrace humane immigration policies that follow God’s command and the Biblical imperative to welcome the stranger in our midst. And we must refuse to participate in scapegoating people with mental illness, a ploy too often used to distract from the urgent yet simple need to enact common sense gun safety measures.”
Toni Morrison used to tell her students, “When you get these jobs you have been so well trained for, just remember your real job is that if you are free, you need to free somebody else. If you have some power, then your job is to empower somebody else.”
The gospel tells us to be ready; and there are other ways to be ready… Welcome the stranger. Empower those with less power. Free those imprisoned. LOVE.
The gospel tells us this morning that Jesus assured his disciples that they should not be afraid; and so we must look for whatever good there is to be seen in these situations.
Jesus tells us there is something more: in the story of 11 year-old Ruben Martinez, who began what is being called the #ElPasoChallenge; which is a response to his fear of going to the store after the shooting at WalMart. Ruben’s idea is that folks would accept the challenge to do 22 acts of kindness to honor the lives lost. 22 acts? 30 acts? 26? 28? I think young Ruben is onto something; he’s onto The Way of Love.
We can see what Jesus is telling us in the story of the neighbors trying to gather the little ones in Mississippi to let them know they need not be afraid.
We may not be able to single-handedly change the minds of all three branches of the US government; yet we can individually (and collectively as the Church) decide not to get “spun up” in the rhetoric and the fear… and remain focused and unafraid.
Jane Goodall has been quoted as saying, “You cannot get through a single day without having an impact on the world around you. What you do makes a difference, and you (we) have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.” Amen.