Pentecost 18 September 23, 2018

The Rev. Janet Campbell

PENTECOST 18  Proper 20  Year B

Jeremiah 11:18-20; Psalm 54; James 3:13-4:3, 7-8a; Mark 9:30-37

 

Christ Episcopal Church

Tacoma, Washington

Sunday, September 23, 2018

The Rev. Janet Campbell

 

 

Who knew,

after last week,

that yesterday

I’d be writing

a third pastoral letter

about more vandalism

to our building?

 

Or that I would need,

after last Sunday,

to say something in a sermon

about it again,

 

but here we are:

 

on Friday,

more rocks thrown

by the same homeless woman,

another glass panel broken,

 

on Saturday,

an even-more-boarded-up entryway . . .

 

and it does seem that something must be said.

 

This time,

the police caught the woman,

and now, from them,

we know a little more

about her . . .

because, apparently,

they have frequent encounters

with her.

 

She suffers from

severe mental illness,

hears voices,

rages out of control . . .

 

 

We don’t know

her name,

the word that is a symbol

of her personhood, her identity,

of the hopes and dreams

of the parents who gave it to her.

 

Perhaps the police report,

when it comes,

will tell us . . .

 

But for now

we can only call her

“the woman who attacked our building,”

a thing she did

which is not

who she is . . .

 

 

What happened to her,

to those hopes and dreams?

 

 

So,

here we are

proclaiming the readings

assigned for today

in our lectionary.

 

Readings not specially chosen

to address this situation

and yet,

perhaps, they have

something to say to us

about it.

 

For scripture

is a living word

that speaks

to the needs and concerns and situation

of every generation . . .

if we only have ears to hear.

 

A living word born long ago

in a certain context,

vital and relevant

to our own.

 

 

 

Take the writings

of the complaining, curmudgeonly

prophet Jeremiah . . .

 

please!

 

He did have a lot

to lament.

 

He preached and wrote in

a time of upheaval and disaster.

[the first half  of the 6th century BCE]

 

Much of what we call

the Middle East

was at war,

with tiny Judah

at the mercy of

whichever neighboring kingdom

was in the ascendency.

 

In the uncertainty of that time,

a succession of weak Judean kings

turned to Egypt

for protection against other enemies,

 

and the people

turned to Canaanite gods

who seemed to them

more attractive and dependable

than the one God

who had chosen them

to be God’s own people.

 

 

Eventually,

the Babylonian army

defeated Egypt,

conquered Jerusalem,

destroyed the temple,

and carried off most of the residents

into exile.

 

Jeremiah saw in this disaster

God’s punishment

for Judah’s lack of faith,

the Babylonians

as agents of God’s displeasure.

 

Over and over,

he announced

God’s harsh judgment

to rulers and a people

who didn’t want to hear it.

 

Throughout his ministry

he suffered for it,

was rejected, persecuted,

proclaimed a heretic . . .

 

and he lamented long and loudly

about it.

 

 

And, as we heard in today’s reading,
in his distress

called on God to avenge him

against his tormentors.

 

A tit-for-tat theology of God.

 

In the same way,

the psalmist speaks of a God

who will “defend the psalmist’s cause”

by “rendering evil

to those who spy on him,”

a God whose faithfulness

will finally result in the destruction

of the his enemies.

 

A God who

punishes a wayward people

by sending enemies to conquer them,

and then,

as soon as the people straighten up

and fly right,

takes revenge on those enemies.

 

 

 

If that were our theological framework,

we might mistake this sad, tormented woman

who keeps attacking our building

for God’s instrument,

her mental illness used by God

to reveal God’s displeasure with us.

 

Then, in our self-righteousness

we might pray God to turn

and wreak vengeance on her.

 

If that were our cruel interpretation,

our theology of this

series of unfortunate events

would be woefully wrong,

 

far from the God

we have come to know

in Jesus the Christ.

 

In Jesus’ time,

this woman who hears voices

and rages out of control,

attacking our building,

would have been thought

to have a demon.

 

 

If Jesus had encountered her

throwing stones

at the synagogue in Capernaum,

would he not have entered into her pain,

approached her

with love and the desire to

heal her,

make her whole?

 

Jesus . . .

who proclaimed

a merciful and loving God,

even when Love

led him to a cross . . .

 

and who,

on that cross,

cried out to Love

not to take vengeance

on his tormentors,

but to forgive them . . .

for they knew not

what they were doing.

 

 

 

In today’s Gospel,

Jesus tells his disciples

for the second time

that he will be betrayed and killed,

and after three days

rise again.

 

And they don’t understand . . .

 

Why would they?

 

He so frequently spoke in parables,

those stories that required his listeners

to dig down below the surface

to get at what he was saying.

 

This was no parable,
there was no hidden meaning,

he was speaking literally:

 

he would be betrayed, killed

and rise again.

 

 

But they kept searching

for a meaning hidden

under the meaning . . .

 

because they still hoped

he would engineer

a triumph over Rome,

proclaim himself the new king

of the Davidic line . . .

 

and they would ride his coattails

to places of honor in his court.

 

Which was why they were arguing

over who most merited those places.

 

No, said Jesus,

there are no special honors

for those who follow me . . .

true greatness comes

not in setting oneself over others,

but in serving others.

 

 

He took a child,

someone of no status

in that culture,

equivalent to a slave,
one with no power, no privilege,

 

and told his disciples

that it was to such a one

that they must show hospitality,

because in receiving such a lowly one

they would receive him,

and in receiving him,

they would receive

the one who sent him.

 

God who dwells with and in

and among God’s people

showing no partiality . . .

 

It is human beings

who seek special honors,

establish hierarchies of status and privilege.

 

In God there is only

beloved-ness for all.

 

 

 

Beloved-ness for a child

in first century Palestine . . .

 

beloved-ness for a broken, homeless woman

in 21st century Tacoma . . .

 

a woman with no status in our society,

no power, no privilege . . .

for whom, it seems,

there is little hope,

 

a human being

who in helplessness and rage

strikes out at us and our building.

 

As I said

in my pastoral letter,

it is increasingly difficult

not to feel

victimized by her.

 

However, it is she

who is truly the victim.

 

We have the resources to move on

and we will.

 

 

We have homes

and a church home.

We have financial resources.

We have each other

and can rely on one another.

We have the prayers of friends.

We are well in mind and spirit.

We know the presence and mercy of God.

 

What resources does she have,

given the inadequacy

of public mental health care?

 

Will she be sent to jail?

Will there be a place of treatment for her?

Will she simply be turned out on the street?

 

She is our neighbor,

not our favorite neighbor,

but our neighbor nonetheless,

 

God’s beloved,

with whom we’ve become oddly entangled

in a situation that harshly reveals

our society’s failure, our failure,

to provide for the most needy and vulnerable

among us.

 

 

It is in welcoming,

loving, and forgiving this suffering neighbor

that we are truly challenged

to live the gospel of Jesus.

 

Welcoming this woman

who takes out her anger on our building

does not mean we should

invite her to continue

to wreak havoc

on it and us.

 

But it does mean exploring

if we somehow

might be advocates for her,

agents of Jesus’ healing

for her.

 

Welcoming this woman

means seeing a particular person

with her own particular name,

learning that name,

and calling her by it . . .

 

and seeing in her suffering

the pain of so many,

nameless to us,

who suffer

the incapacity of their society

to care for them.

 

 

It means speaking out about it

in the places of power,

and doing something about it

on the streets.

 

Our path and the path of this woman

have strangely converged

under the cross

that looms over our courtyard.

 

It is that cross

that shows the way forward.

 

The way of self-giving love and service.

 

 

Who knew our hulking concrete building

would be so vulnerable?

 

that we would be so vulnerable?

 

For forty-nine years,

those glass panels have stood intact.

 

Now panel after panel,

three times

in two months,

almost all of it destroyed.

 

As stewards of this building,

not just for ourselves,

but for those who will come in the future,

how do we respond?

 

As stewards of the hospitality of Jesus

in this place,

how do we respond?

 

That vulnerable glass:

 

it is our openness to the world,

it is how people see in

to what may be here for them,

it is how we see out

to the world into which Jesus sends us

from our worship

to be his presence.

 

It is a symbol

that what happens in here

has everything to do

with what happens out there.

 

The value of that glass

becomes so very clear

when it is covered in boards.

 

As we move through

the necessary conversations

about our wounded building,

and about our wounded neighbor,

 

may we heed the words of James

in our dealings with one another

and with her.

 

 

May we seek “the wisdom from above:”

wisdom that is “pure, then peaceable, gentle,

willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits,

without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy.”

 

For

“A harvest of righteousness is sown in peace

for those who make peace.”

 

As we prayed in the collect,

the prayer with which we began

our liturgy:

 

Let us not be anxious about earthly things,

but love things heavenly,

and even now,

while we are placed among things

that are passing away,

hold fast to those that shall endure:

 

Compassion,

mercy,

forgiveness,

faithfulness,

trust,

love.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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