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There’s an Indian writer named Arundhati Roy. She penned one of the most beautiful lines I’ve ever heard for a 2003 speech. She wrote: “Another world is not only possible. She is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing. She is on her way.”
I used that same opening last year in a sermon I offered from this very place. It was the Sunday after the Orlando massacre. I haven’t been with you all two years yet and this is the second time I’m preaching after a major national tragedy involving guns.
Another massacre. Another reason for our hearts to be broken.
Another opportunity for us to grapple with the world’s violence.
I struggled a great deal with this sermon, mostly because I’m so tired of this. I’m so tired of mass shootings and massacres. And I’m tired of hearing people talk about gun laws and gun rights and reading articles, watching people get self-righteous and angry, speaking our opinions as if that solves the problem when, I think, we’re all just scared out of our wits. And I’m tired of all the conjecturing and theorizing and postulating and lobbying and the blaming. I’m so tired of the blaming.
Because nothing is changing. We can say all the things we want and we can say them as many times as we want and we can be as indignant and as angry and as fearful as we want… but nothing is changing. People are still dying.
So I stand before you today, a very worried priest – your worried priest.
I worry that the sheer magnitude of dreadful and vile stories coming across our newsfeed on a daily basis will have a long-term effect on our congregation’s collective mental, emotional, and spiritual health… if it hasn’t already.
Many of us are going through a lot in our own personal lives: aging, relationship issues, family divisions, financial burdens, health concerns. And now, almost daily, the news gives us something enormous to worry about. It’s all a lot for us to shoulder. I’m worried for our health.
I worry that maybe the part of us that earnestly wants to live into another world, a peaceful world of God’s love and justice, is being overwhelmed by the part of us that remains unwilling, for whatever reason, perhaps it seems hard or inconvenient, or we might offend or anger people we like/love, or it might just scare us to get too involved in things that seem political and beyond our abilities. I’m worried for our souls.
I worry that just talking about the massacre in Las Vegas is going to make some of you feel uncomfortable. I’m aware that many people come to church with the expectation that it will help them feel good, that it will be something they enjoy. And I hope that on most Sundays we enjoy our lives together. And, believe it or not, I don’t like it when people feel uncomfortable. My personality seeks to be a people pleaser. Making people feel uncomfortable is not fun or sporting for me. It’s actually quite painful. I’m worried for our relationships.
I really don’t want to talk about things that make people feel uncomfortable. But I have to. Or rather, I’m compelled to. Because the Gospel doesn’t really give us a choice when we are faced with the circumstances of “the world.”
“The world”… this world… can be a nightmare, so loud in its horror that it drowns all the quiet. But it doesn’t have to be that way. I believe with all my heart, with all that I am… that it doesn’t have to be this way. Otherwise, there is no way that I could be a priest. There is another world.
The Gospel talks about “another world,” about the kingdom of God, a world of love and justice. We know that Jesus was a Jewish man who talked about the in-breaking of God’s Love into the world. And through his ministry, he came to be known to us as the Rabbi, the teacher, sent to teach us, his disciples… to teach us what that that world is, what it looks like, how we will know it.
He taught his followers about this other world by using parables – stories that spoke about God’s dream of peace for all of Creation. Matthew’s parable today is about the unwillingness to recognize and accept the in-breaking of God’s Love, the unwillingness to produce the fruit of the harvest, the unwillingness to give ourselves over to God’s dream of peace and justice.
In this parable, the landowner is God, giving the vineyard – giving Creation – to people, to tenants, to watch over it with the intention that they will cultivate a fruitful harvest, a harvest that belongs to the God of Love, the God of Life.
When it’s time to gather the harvest, God sends two groups of people, slaves as it says, who are the prophets – the former prophets and the latter prophets of the Hebrew Scriptures. And the people refuse to acknowledge the teaching of the prophets. Instead, these people have decided, “No. The vineyard is ours, to do with as we please.”
The vineyard, intended for the purposes of God’s love and justice, is being used for other purposes.
Then, God sends the son – for us, as Christians, we believe this to be Jesus the Christ, the anointed one. And the people reject the son, killing him on sight. They continue their prideful insistence that it’s their vineyard. The people have refused to recognize and accept the in-breaking of God’s Love into the world.
The result is that rejected becomes the cornerstone. And those who rejected the cornerstone are unable to participate in the Kingdom of God – not because God seeks punishment, that is not the God of Love – but because they are unwilling to participate in God’s Kingdom, God’s dream of peace and justice.
They have turned Creation into their world.
They have turned themselves into gods.
I was over at Congregation Emanuel on Friday night. Rabbi Yael and her congregation invited all the houses of worship to join in their Festival of Sukkot – the Festival of Tents. People from Holy Cross were there, people from Christ the King were there, people from Vida Real were there, people from the Kingston Muslim Mosque were there… all there to pray for peace together.
I listened as Rabbi Yael reminded us that praying for peace is so important, but what’s more important is that we have to be willing to live into our teachings. And we must be willing to make hard choices sometimes in order to do that.
And when the world becomes the nightmare it can be, hope can be hard to imagine. This is where prayer is vitally important. But let me remind you of something:
The power of prayer is not that it has an effect on something out there… the power of prayer is that it has an effect on our own hearts, on our own souls and bodies and minds. The power of prayer is that we are changed and we become willing servants, devoted tenants of God’s vineyard who seek to reap a harvest of justice and peace, not for ourselves alone but for the whole of creation.
Prayer is meant to change us because it is we who change the world, who are Christ’s hands and fee in the world, who usher in another world.
I agree with Rabbi Yael that peace needs our willingness in order to become real, to be made manifest, to be made incarnate among us. Our hope is in our willingness, in our devotion to something greater than ourselves, greater than the world we have created. Our hope is in our commitment to participate in being shepherds for Another World.
And St. Francis knew this too.
Today’s cover image is a depiction of St. Francis, surrounded by animals, bowing his head in humility and reverence. Francis has become known to us as the Patron Saint of animals because he had a deep awe for God’s Creation, believing nature to be the mirror of God, the God of all Life, and calling all the animals his brothers and sisters.
Born into wealth, Francis grew up enjoying all the fine things and spent money lavishly. He saw the world as his own and was unabashed in his enjoyment of what his wealth could buy.
But a meeting with a beggar opened his heart and gradually, he became a willing servant. Because of this, he was mocked by his friends, and scolded and rejected by his father. And yet, he started a way of life that hundreds of thousands after him would come to follow over centuries and centuries on all continents around the world.
Franciscans are noted for living a deeply simple life, taking vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience in recognition that their lives and all their work in the world belong to God. In this way, they are icons for us, a way for us to remember our place as tenants, not owners, of God’s Creation.
Because of his willingness, Francis became the rejected cornerstone. One who felt as if he owned the world, came to see another world that was different than the one he grew up in, a world in which he didn’t need what the world told him he needed and he led others to see the same world. He is sometimes called “another Christ” because his life so closely resembled the ministry of Jesus.
Not all of us have the same dramatic calling that Francis had. But I bet most of us, if we allow ourselves to, can imagine another world.
Take a moment now. Close your eyes and imagine another world. What does it look like for every creature to have exactly what they need? What does it feel like to not be scared, but to trust that all will be well? What does peace sound like? Taste like? Smell like?
I suspect that each person sitting in this room, in this holy sanctuary, has a dream of peace that is much, much bigger than we are but we just don’t know how to make it happen, how to speak it into being.
Here’s what I know: Even in the midst of the nightmare that the world can sometimes be, it is our willingness to serve God’s dream of peace that matters most. There lies our hope. Our willingness to try, our willingness to show up, our willingness to give ourselves over to becoming what we are called to be: Christ’s hands and feet in this world.
Because we all have ministry. Even if our bodies are not as capable as we’d like them to be, even if our minds are not as sharp as we want them to be, we all have something to offer in service to the in-breaking of God’s Love. Even if we’re scared and feeling a sense of scarcity, we all end up having more, the more we offer ourselves.
And so today, let us do something radical in the face of terror and violence: Let us celebrate the God of Life, the God of all Life – especially as we honor the love we have and have been given by the animals in our lives.
Let us refuse to give in to terror and violence, denying it’s power to hold us in chains.
Let us, if only for one moment, allow ourselves to dream of another world – one that is filled with God’s Love, in which all life is honored and respected.
Let us surrender ourselves to that harvest, a harvest of peace and justice, for these are the fruits of the kingdom.
And let us be willing servants of this world, this other world that we dream with God.
May we hear her breathing. May we know she is on her way.
And may we have the courage to make it so.