Fifth Sunday after Pentecost
Eternal God, lead me now out of the familiar setting of my doubts and fears, beyond my pride and my need to be secure, into a strange and graceful ease with my true proportions and with yours; that in boundless silence I may grow strong enough to endure and flexible enough to share your grace. Amen.
–Guerillas of Grace, 28
These are tough days for those who mount pulpits to proclaim the Word of God. Sitting, as I am, on this Monday before Sunday, wondering how to write faithfully about these appointed texts for the week, I find my thoughts repeatedly drifting to my newsfeed. These stories cry out for the preacher to say a word about them, too.
This weekend marks the one year anniversary of the shootings at Mother Emmanuel AME in Charleston. Is there a word from the Lord for those who yet grieve the daily violence and injustice perpetrated against the black community in this country? Is there a word from the Lord for young women in the pews who watch these same newsfeeds in fear and disgust as a rapist walks away from his crimes with not much more than a slap on the wrist and we are all reminded of the power of privilege–or is it the privilege of power? Is there a word from the Lord for members of the LGBTQ community whose fragile (if they had it at all) sense of security was shattered yesterday when a gunman walked into a nightclub and perpetrated the largest mass shooting in US history? A word for those who might use this tragedy to pit this one vulnerable population against an equally vulnerable Muslim population? Is there a word from the Lord on days when the demons that threaten to break us are Legion and their names are racism, misogyny, homophobia, and religious extremism? Is there a word from the Lord on days like these when there are simply no words at all?
The Psalmist seems to be with us on our mourning bench this week and offers to lead us as he prays: My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and behold the face of God? My tears have been my food day and night, while people say to me continually, “Where is your God?” (v. 2-3) While we rightly cry out to God, “Why have you forgotten me? Why must we walk around mournfully while the enemy oppresses?” (v. 9), the Psalmist asks us to also look through the troubled surface of the waters of this life and into the calm that lies in the deeper realms. If God really is the covenant God of Israel, his question stands as both challenge and reminder to our disquiet and despair.”Why are you cast down,O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me?” (v. 5, 11)
Like Elijah, we have been chased into the wide barren desert by those powers and principalities who, like Jezebel, yet believe that through violence and coercion they might secure their place in this world. Much like Elijah we are chased into this emotional and spiritual place by fear, doubt, and despair. Our anger and desire for revenge isolate us. Our despair paralyzes us. We are, like Elijah, cast down and disquieted.
And yet, it is in this wilderness and not outside of it that Elijah discovers God’s steadfast love and grace have gone ahead of him. Maybe you, preacher, are the messenger who will offer the nourishment of bread and wine, visible signs of hope and God’s presence as you stand behind Christ’s Table this week and proclaim a love that transcends the distinctions we like to make between Jew and Greek, slave and free, male and female (Gal 3:28). Your job is to call your weak, famished congregation to “get up and eat something, because you have a difficult road ahead of you.” Maybe you, preacher, will be the only one in the midst of the noise of the 24-hour news cycle, the non-stop chattering heads, the gnashing of teeth preparing for retribution, and prayers for God to come against these enemies with all power of earth, wind, and fire to guide your people into the silence where God can be heard and we can finally begin to comprehend our true place in the order of things.
It is standing at the mouth of the cave in awed silence that Elijah truly grasps the power of the God he serves. He is reminded that neither is he alone nor is the battle his own. “Go back,” says God in 1 Kings 19:15. There is yet a difficult road ahead of Elijah and ahead of us who desire to stand on the side of love and gospel, hope and community. We will be called to stand courageously in these days with our black brothers and sisters, our female sisters, our LGBTQ brothers and sisters, and even our Muslim brothers and sisters. We will need the sustenance of our weekly gathering and the knowledge of how to find God in the silence when we go back into the roaring madness of this world.
We will need to remember, as the Psalmist writes, on these days when we pour out our souls before God, “how we went with the throng, and led them in procession to the house of God, with glad shouts and songs of thanksgiving, a multitude keeping festival.” (v.4) Our gathering as a visible community this coming Sunday in prayer and in praise, in the face of the powers that threaten to undo us, is witness to our confidence that God is yet at work in this world and will not leave us alone. The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases and God’s mercies never come to an end.
Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my help and my God. (v. 4-5)