Proper 28B: Zombies? This ain’t about zombies!

My sermon on Mark 13:1-8: Trust me, this is so not about zombies!

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I cry a lot these days …

“When you first got here, did you cry a lot?”

A friend asked me that as I prepared to lead yet another wake service the other night, the fourth wake service of five this week, for the three funerals I did just this week.

She wondered if all the funerals we did in the first months after my arrival on the Rosebud Reservation caused me to crumple with grief. 

“Wasn’t that overwhelming?” she asked.

I told her: It’s actually harder now, because I know so many of the people now. When I first arrived, I was burying strangers, people whose stories I did not know.

Now?

It seems I know most of the people I bury. If I don’t know them personally, I know their families. 

I cry a lot these days.85F73377-5B85-4CEA-8912-B11B8334D827

I cry for those whom I bury … so many of them, young and old, often in bunches so close together that it seems that all I do is wakes and funerals, and wakes and funerals, and more wakes, and more funerals. 

I cry for all the violence in the world: For the people of Yemen. And Gaza. And South Sudan. And Mexico. And Cameroon. And Haiti. And just about every place around the world where people settle arguments and confront fear with war.

I cry for all the violence in this country. Right now, my tears are for the faithful Jews of the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. For Vickie Lee Jones and Maurice Stallard, two innocent African Americans murdered in a Kentucky grocery store simply because they were African American. For police officers gunned down while doing their jobs. For women killed by domestic partners who had no business having access to guns. For our soldiers and Marines killed in combat. 

I cry for our children, especially this latest generation which one 18-year-old has labeled the “Massacre Generation,” because massacres – massacres! – make up the majority of their memories.https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/2018/11/01/i-am-i-belong-massacre-generation/?utm_term=.d09d6608d0a0

I cry for the migrants who so desperately want a better, safer life – and whose journeys end, instead, in death in the desert. Or separated from their children. Or thrown in jail. Or deported without their children.

The tears suddenly fill my eyes, and I have to take a deep breath, and – if I’m preaching – sometimes pinch my fingers together to make a focal point for my body.

I am not depressed.

This is not a medical issue that can be treated with drugs.

But I do have a big heart, a heart that sometimes is too filled with love, too filled with hope, too filled with a desire for goodness and grace and mercy and justice and simple kindness.

Sometimes, my heart breaks.2B091120-8D6E-4D93-9D9A-D5BE93B43CCF

And then the tears come, unbidden.

I believe in the inherent goodness of humanity, that we, who are all created in the image of God, really are good people.

I believe in that goodness because I have seen it, because I see it every single day, when people reach out to help each other, when a friend unbidden reaches out to me and asks, “how are you doing today,” when another friend texts, “You are loved.”

I think that because I know there is goodness in the world, when I see the bad stuff – the shootings, the racism, the hatred, the vitriol, the fear-mongering, the blatant lies, the attempts to make some people lesser than others – my heart cracks and the tears come.

I don’t mind the tears. 

They remind me that I am human.

They remind me of God’s love.

They push me to do better, to be better.

They remind me that I care.

They remind me to never stopcaring.

So, yes, I cry a lot these days.

And then I wipe away the tears.

I remember the quotation from the Talmud, tattooed around my left arm as a prayer: Do not be overwhelmed by the enormity of the world’s griefs. Do justice now. Love kindness now. Walk humbly with your God now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but you are not free to abandon it.

And with the tears wiped, I get back to work, to God’s work, trying as best as I am able to fulfill what Verna Dozier, quoting Howard Thurmans, called the “dream of God”:  “A friendly world of friendly folk, beneath a friendly sky.” 

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Last month, headlines around the world screamed that the Episcopal Church in the United States had been suspended from the Anglican Communion because of its stance on same-gender marriage.

AnglicanCommunion logoTo read those headlines, and the stories that ran below them, you would think that Episcopal Church was in dire trouble and had been sent to a three-year time-out for extreme misbehavior.

It took several days before all the rumors were squashed and the truth instead declared: The Primates of the Anglican Communion (the senior bishops in each church province) are not pleased that the Episcopal Church has approved same-gender marriages and want the Episcopal Church to refrain from participating in some of the discussions that take place worldwide. Apparently, the primates seem to think that asking the Episcopal Church to sit on the sidelines for three years will cause the Episcopal Church to change its mind on how to treat people with love.

There are two things to know about this whole contretemps:

First, the Primates who gathered do not have the authority to even make this request, because the Anglican Communion doesn’t work like that.

And second, but much more important, know this: The Episcopal Church is aliveTEC logo and well, and will continue to carry out its mission and ministry in the world, regardless of what anyone says.

Let’s be honest: This is a complicated story, because the Anglican Communion is a complicated organization. It is not governed by a set of church laws, and each province is independently formed and run. It is a relationship-based network of churches. For those of us inside the Church, we could spend hours, days, months, years, discussing what happened in England in January (and trust me, we will).

But trying to parse out what happened, and worrying about what might happen, is to miss the whole point of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which is to love.

Pure and simple, the Church is called to spread the love of God in the world.

And that is what the Episcopal Church continues to do, regardless of what anyone anywhere says.

This whole debate comes down to the fact that we – meaning, all the members of the Anglican Communion – interpret the Gospels differently. In the Episcopal Church, we formally have made the decision to declare, by word and deed, that “all means all,” that God’s love is not restricted by color, by gender, by sexual orientation or identity, by language, by ethnicity, or by any other thing that humans use to distinguish themselves.

Because in the Episcopal Church, we are firm in our belief that all of us are beloved children of God, and all will be treated with the same love.

That’s it. That’s our baseline.

You are a beloved child of God. And you. And you. Every single one of you. All of us are beloved children of God.

God loves all of you. And each of you.

TEC Jesus Movement bannerAnd since that is our baseline, our truth, that is what we as Episcopalians are going to do.

We are going to love you.

We are going to do our best to take care of you.

To treat you with dignity.

To welcome you in our churches.

To encourage you to be leaders in our churches, and in our Church.

To stand up for you when you need someone to have your back.

To do our best to right the wrongs of this world.

To bring you food when you are hungry, and give you water when you are thirsty, and visit you when you are in prison, and pray for you when you are ill.

To celebrate who you are, and how God made you.

To shout from the mountaintops that God’s love is more than enough to right the wrongs of the world, and then to act on that love.

Brass tacks: The leaders of the Anglican Communion are in disagreement with each other and with the Episcopal Church as to how we are going to love God and love one another as ourselves, how we are going to love one another as Jesus loves us.

But this disagreement will not, in any way, stop the Episcopal Church as a whole, and Episcopalians individually, from living into our Baptismal Covenant.

As our Presiding Bishop and Primate Michael B. Curry said following the meeting, “We are part of the Jesus Movement, and the cause of God’s love in this world can never stop and will never be defeated.”

Because no one and nothing can ever stop God’s love from being proclaimed and lived.

• • •

This column was written for InsideSources.com. For an alternative viewpoint, go to Counterpoint: Curing American Myopia.

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