Following Liz’s sermon from last week, the chaos in our world has not diminished in the last few days. If anything, it seems to have picked up a little bit and moved closer to home for some of us.
Tarishi Jain was an undergraduate student at UC Berkeley. She died in the terrorist attacks in Bangladesh on Friday. A world away and so close at the same time.
And there are other kinds of life and death struggles, some right beneath the surface. We are stunned into silence. We cannot even begin to grieve.
I’m finding this week hard to stomach. I am finding today…hard.
All week I’ve been struggling to shoehorn the readings we have assigned to us with our current events…as if that’s all the Bible was good for…and it’s just not working for me. Sure, there’s a geopolitical spin in the story about Naaman. Very appropriate for July 4th.
And in the Gospel we’re sent out in an interesting way and…demons get cast out. Cool. There’s a lot here on hospitality and Lord knows our nation needs a lesson in hospitality.
I even dig the epistle and how we can only boast about one thing…the cross of Jesus Christ. I could get really Baptisty about that if you want.
Yet, none of it sticks. Maybe that’s not what preaching is about after all. Maybe…just maybe the preacher is given a word that does not move them much either…as if preaching were only meant to make us feel a certain way. The reality is that sometimes all we’re left with are hard truths.
But I do want to feel a certain way.
I do want to stand before you and proclaim good news. I want to say it’s all going to be alright. I want to say with confidence that Jesus is here and we’re going to be fine and the world is going to be fine and, chin up, people! Smile!
But that’s not the Gospel of Christ…as much as I may try to make it so.
You see, they’ve been burying the dead in Istanbul and Bangladesh. The University of California, Berkeley community has lost a fine young scholar.
Lament seems the only right course of action in such moments.
I’m with Nobel Laureate and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel on this one, God’s face is often haggard and tired. The lines along God’s cheekbone are deep and Her cheeks are hollow. God is exhausted. God is so very vulnerable where human violence is concerned. Scripture shows us this in the life of Jesus. God is vulnerable to our violence.
There’s just so much striving in this world. So much eye-for-an-eye, so much end-it-all-now that I imagine God, who is always with the suffering and bereaved, is simply exhausted. She’s done in. His tears must have dried up for all the weeping.
So, where do we turn?
What kind of Herculean task will we have to undertake to move things in a different direction?
You see, this is the thing: I’m looking for a prophet. I’m Naaman and I need someone to tell me what to do. Give me a quest and I’ll move mountains to make it work. But instead, some anonymous girl (Another problem that we need to address, why are the women always anonymous and why are the anonymous people in the Bible the best God-Bearers?)…some anonymous girl challenges the great general and says, “It’s simple. There’s no great task. Wash and be healed.”
It’s simple.
So simple.
Water. Human need. Healing. Grace, a flood of grace.
There is something blessedly simple about water and the rite of Baptism. We say a few words, we trust the Spirit to come, and then we get wet. It’s so blessedly simple. The sacraments meet the complexity of our world in graceful simplicity, courageously, head on. They do not shy away.
I walk right by this font every time the choir processes in and I marvel at the courage and hope it represents.
“Do you renounce the evil powers of this world which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God?
I renounce them.”
The world is spinning and people can get so lost and in response we offer water and spirit?
Yes, exactly. That is courage. That is hope.
Have you touched the water today? Have you taken the opportunity to remember your baptism? Take the time if you like after the service. Spend some time. Reach in. Remember to whom you belong and that you are never alone in this. Never alone.
Remember your baptism.
That’s what our anonymous heroine reminds us about water and Spirit. This is what our Baptisms are all about. It’s so simple. It’s so uncomplicated.
Wash. Be made clean. But our stories don’t end there. That’s the challenge of following Jesus, in the end. Our stories don’t end with water, they begin there.
We begin in water.
And we leave it. Somehow.
We have to leave the friendly confines of our communities with nothing but a fellow traveler’s hand to hold. Our proclamation is simple: Peace. Peace be with you.
But Peace is what we have. It’s our only offering.
We are called to offer Peace. No more and certainly no less. Incredibly challenging. Impossible to some. But this is the thing about the Peace that we offer, the Peace of the Kingdom of God. It’s vulnerable like God is vulnerable.
That peace will be embraced by some. Denied by others.
It will be denied even by those who proclaim it.
And many will offer terror instead of peace. They will bring pain and injury and death.
They will proclaim a monstrous God, turning pure love into a weapon.
But Peace is what we have. It’s our only offering. Peace.
We stand between the font and the table and proclaim an end to death and suffering. We proclaim Peace.
Resurrection is our promise.
You see, the readings this week aren’t so much about current events but, perhaps…perhaps they are about us, those of us who call ourselves Christian. They are about what it might mean to stand in the midst of chaos and meet it with water and peace, with healing of hearts, bodies, and even whole communities.
This kind of simplicity will take courage, of course. And the water we use to recall our baptisms might be the water of tears.
God’s own tears watering the earth, mingling with our tears,
reconciling all things once again
with tears.