A SERMON PREACHED BY
THE VERY REVEREND CANON
(1LT SEP, USAR & LTC RET, RCSO; DEAN EMERITUS, CHICAGO SOUTH AND ST. MATTHEW'S CENTRAL BROOKLYN DEANERIES; CANON, ST. PETER'S CATHEDRAL, KIGEZI DIOCESE, THE CHURCH OF UGANDA)
ALONZO CLEMONS PRUITT,
TSSF, MSW, M. Div., D. Min., D. D.
THE CHURCH OF ST. JAMES THE LESS, NORTHFIELD, ILLINOIS,
THE EPISCOPAL DIOCESE OF CHICAGO,
THE EIGHTEENTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST,
THE YEAR OF OUR LORD, TWO THOUSAND SEVENTEEN,
BEING OCTOBER 8TH
May the words of our mouths, and the meditations of
our hearts, be always acceptable to you, O Lord,
our Strength and our Redeemer. AMEN +
it seems like........
it seems like we are again and again standing behind the
curtain, with Dorothy, The Wizard, the Scarecrow, and the Lion,
being the Tin Man and hearing ourselves say, “And now I know I have a heart, for I can feel it breaking.”
The horrid news of the massacre in Las Vegas is a
nightmare come to life all by itself, but when one considers this madness took place not long after hurricanes inflicted death, and destruction that will take years to repair, and after two earthquakes, while forest fires continue to blaze, and war with North Korea perhaps coming any day, it is possible to see this as a time like none we can remember at all, and to wonder why so many tragedies this summer and this fall.
Who can make sense of madness? What could be said that would explain the commitment to kill unarmed, unknown, human beings? And how can one comprehend the level of hate descended to, to march through Charlottesville, seeking to terrorize Blacks and Jews? And if once it was wise to wear hoods and so hide, today's miscreants let us know who they are, not fearing retribution from near or from far. And if the Mayor of Las Vegas refuses to say the shooter's name, we can only begin to understand her deep, deep, pain.
A 66 year old woman named Jamey Eller said that she and friends dropped to the ground when they first heard what some thought were firecrackers.
“We began to crawl”, she said, “we did not know where we were going”.
We can certainly understand her not knowing where to go, on a day that began like so many others, just seeking to hear music, she witnessed the death of sisters and brothers.
And the bullets rained down and the screams went up.
My Sisters and Brothers in Christ Jesus, days after the slaughter, still shocked and hurting, we thank God that we know where we are going.
WE ARE GOING TO LOVE.
We are going to caring and peace, to understanding, and the ease, that often takes place when people feel tenderness is the currency exchanged between them. We, like St. Paul, are pressing “on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.”
We know, like the writer of the Song of Solomon, that “many waters cannot quench love, neither can floods drown it”, and so the crashing waves of hatred and madness, the devastating flood waters that have taken both lives and land, will not overcome us, if we make love our stand.
Please take a moment, and look around the church. Please look at the people next to you, and the people in front of you, and the people around you. Please take just a moment and look.
Did anyone see anyone who does not deserve our kindness and respect? Did anyone see anyone who is so thoroughly and completely loved and understood, so carefully and consistently listened to, that we need not take the time and effort to bring peace and warmth to their lives?
A further aspect of the tragedy in Las Vegas is that other desperately needy people and places will be crowded off the stage of the world's attention, and focusing on the latest devastation will cause earlier ones to lose even a mention.
The Trappist monk, Thomas Merton, born in France but a gift to the whole world, once wrote,
“PARADOXICALLY, I HAVE FOUND PEACE BECAUSE I
HAVE ALWAYS BEEN DISSATIFIED. MY MOMENTS OF
DEPRESSION AND DESPAIR TURN OUT TO BE
RENEWALS, NEW BEGINNINGS.”
It was never necessary for me to take the Graduate Record exam. Since I had a Master's in Social Work when I entered seminary, and I earned a Master of Divinity when I began my doctoral work, it was determined that the assessment of my ability had already taken place.
A friend who did take the exam told me that what made the test so difficult was that one only had a certain amount of time for each section of the test, and this induced a particular tension.
We sometimes live as if we have all the time in the world to deeply or better love the people we care for, as though tomorrow is assured, and as though when it arrives, both we and they will be there.
Among the things we are reminded of by the Route 91 Harvest Festival is that not even our next breath is guaranteed, much less next week.
Are we doing all we can to love those we love? Are we doing all we can to love God by caring for people we don't know, but who are known by God?
Have we put love on automatic pilot, and so knowing that butter pecan ice cream is our dear one's favorite, we just assume that that is the delight of choice when comes the time to make a selection. Is it possible that for this birthday, what they really want is to try pralines and cream, or our embrace of their new dream, or to partner with them in some adventurous scheme?
Dare we part without a hug and a kiss, or letting them know that when not at our side, they are greatly missed? And is it possible that if someone had invited the shooter for dinner one Thursday night, our land would not be awash in blood or know the terrible blight of being in the throes of darkness?
And even if that madman was unwilling to alter his evil agenda, aren't there people in our lives, and in the world we cannot refuse to invite if Jesus has been invited to our hearts?
President Nelson Mandela once said,
“NO ONE IS BORN HATING ANOTHER PERSON BECAUSE
OF THE COLOR OF HIS SKIN, OR HIS BACKGROUND,
OR RELIGION. PEOPLE MUST LEARN TO HATE, AND IF
THEY CAN LEARN TO HATE, THEY CAN BE TAUGHT TO
LOVE, FOR LOVE COMES MORE NATURALLY TO THE
HUMAN HEART THAN ITS OPPOSITE.”
Mindful of the lesson from Matthew's Gospel, this morning, I wonder if for some of us, the three people beating the heir, are all one person; one person who is assaulting himself, the three concurrent realities abusing herself.
Some people still beat themselves with the memory of what they did wrong in the past, or of how at one time they could not do something, and so they still limit and punish themselves for what...........once........was.
And it seems there are some who beat themselves today for what they are not, or do not have. A neighbor or a colleague or a family member has a riding mower, or a high paying job, or a son who is a doctor, and some, not having these blessings, berate themselves in their present moments for the blessings they do not have, for the different achievements of their own children.
And yes, it is clear there are those who mistreat themselves when considering what tomorrow will bring. Will I have enough money, will I find or keep true love, will I be loving cared for in the winter of my years?
Drinking from the well of doubt, they are poisoned, and live within ongoing attack.
One writer suggested that
“TO BELIEVE IS TO BE IN ONE MIND ABOUT
ACCEPTING SOMETHING AS TRUE. TO DISBELIEVE
IS TO BE IN ONE MIND ABOUT REJECTING IT.
TO DOUBT IS TO WAVER BETWEEN THE TWO, TO
BELIEVE AND DISBELIEVE AT ONCE, AND SO BE
IN TWO MINDS.”
Senator Robert Kennedy quoted George Bernard Shaw when he said that,
“SOME SEE THINGS AS THEY ARE AND ASK WHY?
I DREAM THINGS THAT NEVER WERE AND ASK,
As has been noted, to make your dream come true, you have to stay awake!!!
Awake to the truth that we all benefit from your love; awake to the truth that only God needs no improvement in loving; awake to the truth that reliving the past, bemoaning the present, and doubting what can be in the future, are their own forms of slow and painful death.
Awake to the truth that God's love for us calls us to serve others.
You are a gift of God that has a value beyond measure. You are beautiful and capable and strong. You are God's answer to the questions in the world and in the world around you.
What you achieve is only limited by what you choose to be believe, and if you can conceive a better life, a finer way, a brighter day, these will surely be yours.
There IS a darkness that prowls for us as a hungry lion, but God's love, and your love, are stronger than any foe, and brighter than a million midnights.
And we are wise to again and again consider how we might best love others, but wise too, to reflect on how we might better love ourselves.
We might shun doubt and consider the much we can do without; we might consistently speak and only shout as runs are scored or great wine poured.
There is only one you in all the world, and God, who so deeply loves this world, decided it would not be complete, unless you were in it.
A Sister of ours, a member of this church to whom I took Holy Communion this past week, said she was almost afraid to go to sleep at night for fear of awakening to more bad news tomorrow.
What if the people in your life were excited to go to sleep because they were happy to anticipate the way you would love them in the new day? What if you longed for tomorrow because it is another opportunity to better care for yourself and for all the things of God?
Our pains and problems are invitations to love. Invitations to seek God's love, and invitations to share it, for when darkness comes, only in God are we able to bear it.
Mass shootings, hurricanes, earthquakes, fires, and floods.....we do not know all the reasons “why” but we do know love will conquer if only we will try.
+ IN THE NAME OF GOD THE FATHER, GOD THE SON,
AND GOD THE HOLY SPIRIT, WITH GRATITUDE FOR
THE HOLY CROSS OF CHRIST. AMEN +