Today is supposed to be the day that I preach on Stewardship, or giving to the church. I had the sermon written and prepared. It was an acceptable stewardship sermon, full of examples and stories – perhaps you will hear it next week. You know the point of it anyway, the church can’t survive without you. You are the church, and therefore we need all of who you are. Blah Blah Blah. Important stuff? Of course.
But it isn’t what is important today. So last night after being glued to Facebook on and off throughout the day, to friends’ posts about the news and to news sources themselves I realized the sermon I’d written had to be tossed, or at least postponed. Because that’s not what we need today. That’s not where we are today as a people. We are instead on Friday the 13th, 2015. As I understand it, within a 24 hour period we had terrorist attacks in Paris, an earthquake in Japan, a funeral bombed in Baghdad, Suicide bombings in Beirut and another earthquake in Mexico. Through these events and these events alone in a 24 hour period it is guesstimated that we lost 115,200 human lives. In 24 hours. And that does not count the murders and suicides and deaths to hunger, starvation, dehydration, kidnapping, spousal abuse, or natural disasters around the world other than the two mentioned that went on yesterday. It does not count the violence, the pain, the suffering that went on in the world that just permanently damaged individuals and communities around the world. It does not count those lost to disease and car accidents and SIDS and old age. There was suffering in that 24 hour period. And beyond that I understand there was an attack on a university in Kenya that ended with 147 dead, also from a fundamentalist group similar to Isis called Al Shabab. It goes on. And on. And the result is real suffering. Great suffering.
And not just in isolated pockets. There is a poem out by Warsan Shire, “later that night I held an atlas in my lap, ran my fingers across the whole world and whispered, “where does it hurt?” It answered, “everywhere, everywhere, everywhere.”
In the midst of all of that, what are we to do? How are we to feel and act and live? How are we supposed to respond? How are we supposed to get up each morning like the world is normal and fine and God’s beautiful creation? And then, and then, the passage our pastor decides to read to us is about loving our enemies! Is she nuts? Is she crazy? That is not where we are right now! That is not how we feel right now!
And the truth is, I’m with you on that. The truth is that feelings like sorrow, like forgiveness, like loving those who hurt us – those things feel weak in the face of what the world is experiencing. How is love a realistic response to what went on in Paris, Baghdad, Beirut, Kenya?! We know what happens to those who practice love in the face of stuff like this!! Martin Luther King Jr, Gandhi, JFK, Jesus! Look what happened to them? They ended up dead! Killed. All of them. Dead. And if it was just our lives on the line, maybe that would feel okay. But what about when it is our children? My children? My family? My community? Aren’t we supposed to defend the week and oppressed and downtrodden? Aren’t we supposed to do something? And mustn’t that something be violent so the point is made? Mustn’t that something be so huge and dramatically vengeful that we get the attention of those lousy Isis people and make them stop??!! They need to suffer as we have suffered. We want them punished. Anger feels strong! Vengeance feels strong! Retaliation feels strong! Those aren’t the weak emotions of grief, of sorrow, or of love! Right?
I found myself reading article after article written by people I respect, admire, value. I read argument after argument about the “correct” responses to all of this. All sorts of ideas are being expressed, as they always are. David is a Marine. And he admitted that that part of him fires up in the face of all of this. But he’s also now very close to a person who takes very seriously Jesus' call to turn the other cheek – I take it so seriously that I pretty much consider myself a pacifist. I agree with Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr when he said “darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” But what do we do with either of those philosophies when what is really under them all is simply raw pain. Grief. Loss. Incomprehension about what is happening to our world, in our world, around our world. In our communities, with our friends. With those we love….
Anne Lamott wrote this, “So where do we find grace and light? If you mean right now, the answer is Nowhere. It's like after a child dies. Grace always does bat last, and the light always overcomes the darkness--always, historically. But not necessarily later the same day, or tomorrow, after lunch. Wendell Berry told me 25 years ago, in Advent, the darkest shortest days of winter, "It gets darker and darker and darker, and then Jesus is born." But it is only November 13! It gets even darker. What is the answer? Gandhi is almost always the answer. Jesus's love for the poor and refugees is the answer. Adding a bit of light and warmth to these cold dark days doesn't hurt. Candles are beautiful and bring a soupçon of solace to our souls. People living on the streets could really use your old blankets and jackets. Grace will always show up in the helpers, as Mr. Rogers' mother used to tell him in times of tragedy. But today, right now, if you have a nice bumper sticker that explains or makes sense of what happened in Paris, it's probably best if you keep that to yourself”
Frankly, I was tempted to read to you her whole article instead of my sermon because her writing is so profound and beautiful and right on. But I realized that that would also not be helpful. Because in the midst of all this, in the midst of tragedy, and pain, and loss, and confusion, what we need most is each other. What we need most is to be together, to stand with one another, to support and love one another. And while distant writers and not so distant writers can help us, can be part of the guides that help us through this time, what we need is immediate, is here, is now. At a time when there is pain, and loss, and tragedy, “distant” is the opposite of what we need.
If there is any truth to the words of Jesus and Martin Luther King, then we have to start with love. And that love has to start with those we know. If you are a visitor, that love has to start with those right in front of you, too, from us to you, and hopefully you will feel surrounded by that in this place. We learn through loving and being loved by those in our midst how to love those who are not in our midst. We learn by loving and being loved by those we like how to take a chance and maybe, just maybe, love those we don’t like. We learn from loving and being loved by those we don’t like, the first steps in loving our enemies. But that, too, is jumping way ahead.
For today I don’t want to argue about the best way to both love our enemies and defend the powerless. Today I don’t want to explore what to do about what is happening to our world. For today, for today, I believe our call is simply to begin by being together, supporting each other, loving each other and those around the world. And I want to start by telling you that whatever you are feeling about what is happening in the world is okay. Feelings are just feelings. Those, too, are gifts from God, that help us know something is wrong, and help us move forward and into solutions at some point. We don’t grieve by pushing those feelings away. And we don’t move forward by denying them or deciding they are wrong. If you feel angry, that’s understandable. If you feel rage-ful, that’s okay. If you feel sad, that is absolutely normal. If you feel lost, or scared, or alone or confused – all of those feelings in the face of these tragedies make sense. And we are here for you, for each other.
And God? Where is God in the midst of all of this? I’m reminded of another passage. Matthew 2: 16- 18: When Herod knew the magi had fooled him, he grew very angry. He sent soldiers to kill all the children in Bethlehem and in all the surrounding territory who were two years old and younger, according to the time that he had learned from the magi. 17 This fulfilled the word spoken through Jeremiah the prophet: A voice was heard in Ramah,
weeping and much grieving.
Rachel weeping for her children,
and she did not want to be comforted,
because they were no more.
Where is God in this? It is God who is weeping, not just Rachel. It is God’s children who have been killed. It is God’s children who are suffering. Where is God when we are suffering? Right with us. Suffering as well.
Yes, we are called to move forward, to do something, to work this through. But today, for today, we are called to just be with our feelings, with one another, and with the God who is grieving too.