Luke 7:36 - 8.3
Dr. Carol Franklin
As some of you know, the last few months have been… I could be profane here, but I’ll opt for saying they have been trying at the very least. I’ve been in a weird place since my father died 33 years and three days short of the day in April that my mother died. This all amplifies thoughts about family relationships and commitments, about love and loss and the ties that bind us. It brings so much of my life full circle, and of course it’s set to a musical theme. As I reflected on the gospel lesson a thread of music, really what I thought was a lyric kept running through my head “what we do for love.” Of course the song really is “What We Won’t Do for Love,” but nonetheless, it gave me a focal point to reflect on my journey these last few months, and indeed most of my life.
This journey is about we do out of love and thankfulness for God’s grace and His singular gift of peopling our lives with such extraordinary personalities. Though I won’t talk about them in this sermon, it includes my four footers. A child of divorce, I was raised among a company of women who gave me a unique perspective on self and service, on love and commitment, on struggle and self-worth, in essence those things that make a life of worth. Like the women in our gospel, they gave a full measure of themselves, their gifts and their talents, without counting the cost. They loved expansively; supported each other; served with grace; nurtured and gave direction to me and countless children and adults. They taught me and challenged me to understand that life is full of good and one must be open to seeing and accepting that goodness. They also taught me that walking by faith and in the spirit is more difficult than following an outward law. It’s about listening for the voice of God and then responding obediently to his call.
Many colleagues have said, “Carol you could have been a college president if only you had been willing to do this or do that.”
Nobody understood that the kind of ambition they mentioned is not what shaped the choices I made. Now don’t get me wrong – I am ambitious (or I was before I retired). I wanted to do a good job, be recognized for it and advance in my profession. But what mattered (and matters most to me still) is serving and relating to others – being present in their lives and in their need, helping them to grow and find their way. Whether on the job, in the classroom or among family and friends, I have always valued being among us, being among a company of folks striving and journeying together.
While most of the company of women I knew were not blood relations, they were family. In most cases, I was their only family. It was more important to me to be present in their lives than president of some college. I learned firsthand that caregiving is not an easy job. Nor is it easy as they near the end of their journey to affirm to them that they have been a good and faithful servant and it’s okay to let go. But that is why I needed to be present, not out of duty or obligation, but out of love – their love for me and our love for each other. It may not be an alabaster jar of ointment, but what is more priceless than the gift of self to others? It’s about modelling God’s extravagant love in the gift of His son to redeem our lives. It’s what we do for love that matters.
It’s about relationships, about caring for each other in the best and worst of times. Caring when it’s easy and when it’s damn hard. It’s about acknowledging that no matter how alike or different we are, we are shoots from the same tree abiding on the same bank, the bank along which the river of living water flows. Yes, there are the outward facets of the law – honor thy father and thy mother. But that is not why I travelled cross country to abide for a weekend with folks I barely know. For the adult Carol, it was not about what had been done or left undone to Carol, the child of divorced parents. It was about living into God’s love for me. Though I did not have a relationship with my father, I did and do have a relationship with God. Out of that relationship of love, acceptance and grace, I was called to honor my father, to acknowledge his place in my life, and to be open to the gift of life he helped to give me.
God knows what our lives can become. It’s not about the law or others’ judgements or expectations of us – it’s about what we do for love. God’s intention is to heal life and restore relationships. A life so restored is focused not on hedging our bets, but focusing on what we do out of love (not duty). The lesson of today’s gospel is that if Christ has taken up residence in our lives, we can’t have it both ways. God’s reign is about love and grace, mercy and forgiveness. If you love God, you can’t love only some of his children. It’s about allowing God to do in and through us what only He can do – love extravagantly.
Rev. Peter Faass
In his book Spirituals and the Blues, James Cone quotes an African-American spiritual titled “A Mother’s Pride.” One stanza reads:
Weep no more, Marta,
Weep no more, Mary,
Jesus rise from the dead,
The spiritual’s lyrics reference Jesus’ closest women friends, Mary and Martha, who would clearly have been distraught and weeping when Jesus died. The lyrics to the spiritual paraphrase the angels consoling good news proclaimed to other women followers of Jesus at the empty tomb that first Easter, “He is not here, but has risen.” (Luke 24:5a)
They are words of comfort, compassion and hope to those who are profoundly bereaved by a loved one’s untimely death: “Weep no more, weep no more, the one whom you loved is alive. “
We might imagine Jesus singing those lyrics to Nain’s widow as he encounters her only son’s funeral procession. As the text tells us, “When [Jesus] saw [the widow], he had compassion for her and said to her, "Do not weep." In other words, Weep no more, dear widow, Weep no more . . . Your son will rise from the dead, Happy Morning!
Then “touch[ing] the bier . . . he said, "Young man, I say to you, rise!" The dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother.”
Textually, the healing of the widow’s son occurs immediately after the healing of the Roman Centurion’s sick slave in Luke’s Gospel (which we heard last week). The healing of the dead young man is an escalation of Jesus’ healing capabilities over the healing of the Centurion’s slave. This is not just a healing from an illness it is the resuscitation of a dead person.
In both instances, Jesus heals by simply speaking. Unlike the prophets before him who needed to physically heal an ill person, Jesus does not with the centurion’s slave or the widow’s son. Jesus has the power heal and resurrect, as the centurion states, by “only speaking the word.”
From these stories, we know Jesus’ words are powerful. The power evident in his healings continues to be present today. Jesus is omnipresent through the Holy Spirit and responsive to our needs. He is compassionate toward our sorrows, pains and losses, ready to heal and comfort as he tells us, “Weep no more.”
We live in a time of profound weeping, similar to the weeping heard after the slaughter of the innocents by Herod after the Magi refused to disclose the location of the infant Jesus. Enraged, Herod sends his soldiers to murder each male child in his realm under the age of two, to try and eradicate Jesus, a perceived threat to his throne.
After the innocents were slaughtered, “A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.” (Matthew 2:18) These are the voices of the mothers of the brutally murdered.
Today, mothers weep and wail loud lamentations as their children are brutally murdered by our nation’s gun violence epidemic. Unlike the Holy Innocents, we know their names
The list goes on and on.
All of these dead are black people. While whites are impacted by gun violence, research by the Brookings Institute finds that 82% killed by guns in this nation are black. This gun violence has devastatingly impacted the African American community.
According to the Brookings report:
“Gun violence can have a series of serious snowball effects in education, health, incarceration, family instability, and social capital. To take one example, anxiety levels rise and cognitive functioning worsens among school children following a violent crime within half a mile of their home . . . Individuals who witness violence are also at increased risk for a variety of mental health issues, which can manifest as post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, poor academic performance, substance abuse, risky sexual behavior, delinquency, and violent behavior. And . . . these costs weigh largely on the shoulders of black Americans.
‘Gun violence is part of a vicious cycle of race and inequality in the U.S., reflecting existing social inequalities, and also making it even more challenging for young black people, especially young black men, to escape poverty and violence.”
These startling facts and figures are due in large part because much gun violence, especially against black Americans, is inextricably intertwined with the pernicious racism that infects this nation, especially in its white residents. Whether we actively support the NRA’s war on reasonable gun control, or we sit benignly watching the violence that engulfs this nation, we are complicit in gun violence. That is a reality, and one that those of us who are white must grapple with if we are ever to address the gun violence that infects our nation.
Today is Gun Violence Awareness Sunday. Clergy in many Christian churches are wearing orange stoles today to mark this theme. But it will take more than wearing orange to address this issue.
There is no easy road to address our racism and the gun violence that finds its genesis in it. It’s hard work. The road to healing will require patience, listening to very hard and painful truths, laying aside other interests to work for justice, and most of all, forgiveness.
I have recently read two profoundly moving and well-researched books on racism and gun violence in the United States. One is The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander and the other is Stand Your Ground: Black Bodies and the Justice of God by Kelly Brown Douglas. I commend both books to you so that the hard work of healing can begin in you, and compel you to action, as I believe they have in me.
In Stand Your Ground, Kelly Brown Douglas writes that after the shooting of Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin’s mother, Sybrina Fulton, wrote a letter to Michael’s parents. In it she said: “We will bond (as parents of slain children) we will continue our fight for justice and make them remember our children in an appropriate light.”
The great power of Jesus’ words to heal are embedded in Sybrina’s letter. Hers is the call we remember on this gun violence awareness Sunday. All of us are called to fight together for the justice of all our children, the slain and the living.
Ultimately, it is the power of the ever-present, healing, life-giving word of Jesus that will sustain us in this call. His voice will heal the brokenness we all experience around the issues of racism and gun violence. One day, through the compassion and love of Jesus, our weeping will cease. We will all be raised from the destruction and death of gun violence, as we hear him say, “Happy Morning!”
The Reverend Peter Faass
The Reverend Peter Faass was born in Delft, Netherlands. He is a graduate of the General Theological Seminary in New York City and has been at Christ Church since 2006.