The Sunday Sermon: Don’t Look Back

Click Here for the Service of Lament and Healing as referenced by Dean Penny in her sermon.

June 26 2022, 10:30 am Holy Eucharist
Penelope Bridges

From Psalm 77: “I will cry aloud to God;  I will cry aloud, and he will hear me. In the day of my trouble I sought the Lord; my hands were stretched out by night and did not tire; I refused to be comforted.”

It’s been a tough week. Several members of our staff came down with COVID, local case rates rose dramatically, and the US Supreme Court delivered decisions that were deeply upsetting for many of us. As a result of those decisions, gun control laws will be loosened, religious schools will have greater access to public funds, police officers will be protected from lawsuits when they violate the rights of suspects, and of course reproductive choice will be severely restricted. And, if that weren’t enough bad news, a concurring opinion opened the door to reconsideration of marriage equality and birth control.

Now I know that we are a diverse community, and that not all Episcopalians think alike on these issues, but the Episcopal Church has made clear its support of gun control, reproductive choice, and LGBTQ equality, so I don’t think I’m going out on a limb when I say that this was a bad, bad week for those of us working, praying and giving for justice, freedom, and peace in the world. It feels like we are trapped in a time machine that is still running backwards and will only stop when we return to an era of unchallenged white male patriarchy

Where is God in all this? How do we focus our grief and anger in positive ways so that we can find the energy to continue the work God has given us to do? Today’s Scripture readings deal with vocation: God’s call to work for change in the world, to oppose empire, to raise up the oppressed and give voice to the voiceless. In the face of disappointment and outrage, God continues to call us to this work.

From the Psalm again: “I will remember the works of the LORD, and call to mind your wonders of old time. I will meditate on all your acts and ponder your mighty deeds.”

Today we read about Elijah casting his mantle on his successor, Elisha. Elijah had faced tremendous opposition from the adherents of Baal, including the leaders of the nation, because he dared to speak God’s liberating word in a time of corruption and injustice, a time when the people of God had forgotten whose people they were. Elijah was persecuted and threatened, even when – especially when – he demonstrated that God was greater than the idols of the time and had the false prophets put to the sword. But he persisted in his prophetic call and in due course handed on that call, as we see today, to Elisha to continue the struggle for justice, freedom, and peace in a time troubled by war, famine, and faithless leadership.

Again from the Psalm: “Your way, O God, is holy; who is so great a god as our God?” In Luke’s Gospel we read that God’s holy one Jesus sets his face towards Jerusalem. He is committed to his inevitable confrontation with the powers of oppression and death. Along the way he encounters people who are hostile to his mission, and the disciples want to emulate Elijah in calling down fire from heaven to consume them; but Jesus is not Elijah; his way is not a way of violence: his way, God’s way, is a way of peace.

We read of three conversations that Jesus has with people on the road: people who all want to join the Jesus Movement but for one reason or another are unwilling to make a specific or full commitment. We know what happens when people don’t make full commitments to a cause: the cause falters. To quote Edmund Burke: “The only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.” Apathy in the face of evil encourages and supports that evil. In a time when evil seems to be triumphing, God’s call is to action, to commit ourselves to whatever it takes to bring us all nearer to the Kingdom.

One more verse from the Psalm: “You are the God who works wonders and have declared your power among the peoples. By your strength you have redeemed your people, the children of Jacob and Joseph.” The story of faith tells us over and over that God can and does work wonders, that even in the darkest night God’s light can shine and the darkness will not overcome it. The Gospel of Jesus Christ tells us that good will triumph over evil, that life will conquer death, that justice, freedom, and peace will ultimately prevail, and that we can make a difference, if we set our faces with Jesus to Jerusalem. This is not the time to falter or give up: this is the time to put our hands to the plow and move forward with renewed intention and commitment, confident that God’s promise of redemption will be fulfilled.

God calls us to action but first we lament and pray. I want to share with you a Litany, based on the Prayer of St. Francis, that a group of Episcopal lay people and clergy have created for this time. If you want to follow the prayer and repeat the petitions after me, one line at a time, it’s on p.833 of the BCP.

A Litany Based on The Prayer of St. Francis
Litanist: We pray for those who, near or far, are without peace today. We pray for all who partner with those in need of reproductive health care as they seek and strive to honor the dignity of every human being. We remember physicians, nurses, spouses, partners, friends, and strangers alike: may there be a great network of love and support to meet the demands of the times that lie ahead. May we learn to walk with each other without judgment or shame, knowing that it is through action that peace is found. Lord, make us instruments of your peace.

People: Lord, make us instruments of your peace.

Litanist: We pray for the hubris of humanity thinking that by acting legislatively, we assert that we can know the journey of another and deem it unworthy. We pray for an end to the dehumanization of those who claim autonomy of body and mind. May we be those who can love beyond our own needs and choices, knowing that it is within ourselves that we must first sow love if it is to grow through us. Where there is hatred, let us sow love.

People: Where there is hatred, let us sow love;

Litanist: We pray for those who have already been shamed and belittled and harmed by their choices to seek reproductive health care. We pray for those who have already been harmed by state legislation that limits education and access to safe care. We pray for those who, because of fear or shame, cannot gather with us now in community.  Where there is injury, pardon.

People: Where there is injury, pardon;

Litanist: We confess, Lord, that we are a Divided United States. And we wish that we were in perfect harmony with you and with each other. But that is not so now. In our discord, may we find grace for each other. In our discord, may we offer supportive and caring companionship to each other. In our discord, may we find union with you, the God who loves us. May we be committed to unity in the face of imperfect circumstances, imperfect relationships, and imperfect democracy. Where there is discord, union.

People: Where there is discord, union;

Litanist: We pray for an end to legal actions, rhetoric and violent acts that target reproductive health care providers. We pray for the day when women and their families can exercise their rights to reproductive choice in security and peace. We pray for those who are not of the same mind regarding reproductive rights and choices, that all may be led to wise actions and safe choices. May our earthly faith, combined with the faith of the great cloud of witnesses, be strengthened to meet the days and demands that lie ahead. Where there is doubt, faith.

People: Where there is doubt, faith;

Litanist: We pray for those who are afraid, lost, and suffering from turmoil of spirit and mind. We pray for those who lament the loss of bodily autonomy, for those who fear the loss of other critical civil rights, and for those who fear the unknown future. We pray for all who will be disproportionately affected by a lack of reproductive rights, especially people who are Black, Indigenous, Asian, Brown, People of Color, trans and nonbinary individuals. We pray for all who live in poverty or in rural areas, who will also be disproportionately affected. May we be resolved in our commitment to hope, knowing that to hope in God is to never hope in vain. Where there is despair, hope.

People: Where there is despair, hope;

Litanist: We pray for those who have died because they lacked access to safe health care. We lament the loss of life yet to come from forced childbirth and illegal abortion. We lament the continued assault on the respect, dignity, and citizenship of those in need of reproductive rights. May we remember that there is no darkness too dark for you, O God, and that your presence is never-failing. Where there is darkness, light.

People: Where there is darkness, light;

Litanist: We pray for the most vulnerable among us, especially children and families who will be affected by this decision. May we remember and make sacrifices to care for all who will face economic hardship, hunger, and difficult choices because of these new rulings. We pray for those in grief and sorrow as they look to the future with dread and trembling. We pray for those who do not see the promise of hope, and those for whom life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness will never be realized. May we be comforters of those in sadness and bearers of joy to those who have none. Where there is sadness, joy.

People: Where there is sadness, joy.

And together:

Grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen.

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