February 25, 2018

2 Lent

Genesis 17: 1-7, 15-16; Psalm 22:22-30; Romans 4: 13-26; Mark 8:31-38

The Rev. James M.L. Grace

In the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

            “As surely as there are camels’ backs and straws to break them, moments arrive when citizens say they’ve had enough, when they rise up against political leaders who do not speak for them and whose moral fecklessness imperils lives.  We may be witness to such a moment now with the protests by American teenagers sickened – and terrified – by the latest mass murder at the hands of someone with easy access to a weapon fit for a battlefield, not a school.

            These kids have had enough of empty expressions of sympathy in the wake of the sort of atrocities they’ve grown up with, like last week’s mass shooting that took 17 lives at a high school in Parkland, Florida.  These kids have had enough of the ritualistic mouthing of thoughts and prayers for the victims.  They’ve had enough of living in fear that they could be in the cross-hairs of a well-armed and deranged killer.

            ‘I was born thirteen months after Columbine,’ a 12th grader named Faith Ward said this past Monday, referring to the school massacre in Littleton, Colorado in 1999, which ushered in the modern wave of school shootings.  Ms. Ward spoke to a television reporter outside her school in Plantation, Florida saying ‘this is all I have ever known, this culture of being gunned down for no reason, and this culture of people saying ‘oh, let’s send thoughts and prayers’ for three days and then move on.  I’m sick of it.’”

            Every word I have just said – all of it – does not come from me.  I wish it did.  I begin with those words today, which come from an editorial I read in a newspaper two days ago, because I don’t know what to say this morning. 

            We have many in this congregation who go to school, and we have teachers who work in schools that are a part of this church.  St. Andrew’s itself has a Montessori school which meets here during the week. Hamilton Junior High School which serves grades 6-8 is our neighbor just up Heights Blvd. 

            Like others here today, I am finding it difficult to make sense of the world.  
I find it more and more difficult to come up with something hopeful to give you this morning, because in many ways at least for me, hope seems so remote and so distant.  This is not the first time, of course, when hope has seemed to be so far from our grasp.  Humanity has known many of such times.

            Some of you have perhaps heard the quote which says that “the moral arc of the universe is long and it bends towards justice.” The quote is attributed to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., although others claim to have said it.  The point of it is simple: we see injustice, was see suffering, we see pain, and we want to give up hope.  The moral arc is long, and though it might seem that it is not bending towards justice, eventually it will.

            There are critics of this concept, including myself, at times.  I have often found a similar quote more truthful, if not more controversial, a quote which states that “the moral arc of the universe is short and it bends towards chaos.”  I don’t know who said that, but it has certainly been true in my life.

            So, which will it be: justice or chaos?  Will our country listen to the outcry of our youth or of gun lobbyists? 

            Jesus began to teach his disciples that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”  Those aren’t my words, either.  They are from Mark’s Gospel, the one we hear this morning. I select that passage because for me it is God’s response to the words I began with – that editorial.

            As a nation, we are suffering greatly.  Jesus suffered.  As a nation, the voices of our politicians drown out the voices of the persecuted, the children, the parents, the teachers.  Jesus’ voice was ignored by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes.  Our children are dying.  Christ was crucified.  It seems our nation wants to maintain status quo – to send thoughts and prayers, and then passively wait for it to happen again.  Jesus says “Get behind me Satan!  For you are setting your mind not on divine things, but human things.”

            Which direction does that arc really bend – does it bend toward human chaos or divine justice?  Where do you lean? 

            Last week our nation lost one of the great teachers and prophets of the Christian faith, the Rev. Billy Graham, a courageous man who did many great things.  I hold Rev. Graham in high esteem because of a courageous decision he made in 1953 to desegregate his religious crusades, despite the hatred this stirred up among Southern Christian segregationists.  Rev. Graham believed that if there were no separation ropes at the cross or in heaven, there should be none at his crusades.  He wasn’t perfect – none of us are – but he demonstrated a conviction, a belief, a hope, that in the midst of racial turmoil, the arc could bend toward justice.

            Tomorrow morning, I am meeting with principal of Hamilton Junior High School, our neighbor.  We’re meeting to get to know each other, and to see how Hamilton might minister to St. Andrew’s, and how St. Andrew’s might minister to Hamilton.  There are so many positive possibilities and outcomes that could emerge from a relationship between this church and that school. 

            The point is that whatever the direction that arc is bending – toward justice or chaos – I want to trust God and I want to follow God out of this church and into places like Hamilton School.   I want to see where God is leading, because I believe that this is the time. This is the season.  We shouldn’t be speaking about schools only when disaster strikes, we should be looking at them and saying “what is God calling us to do?” And that is why I continue to hope.  Because when night is darkest, that is when the sun rises.   AMEN.