Sermon preached by The Rev. Jennifer L. Adams – October 4, 2015 – Proper 22, Year B: Mark 10:2-16
Well, I’d like to invite you to settle in for about three hours, because that’s how long it will take to unpack these texts, not to mention talking about things happening in our world! Now I know the pew isn’t the most comfortable furniture to ask you to hunker down on, but if the going gets a little rough, just lean on the person next to you and you can hang in there together. OK? Here we go . . .
First, if the text about divorce it what stood out for you this morning, I printed copies of a sermon I preached a couple of years ago that addressed this text head on. I think this gospel text is one that whenever it’s read in church needs to be addressed in church, because of the fact that all of us whether directly or indirectly have been touched by divorce. And these texts are bound to raise questions, or stir up feelings. And both life and this text are more complicated than they appear. And so I printed for you (linked here) what I believe to be a faithful attempt at acknowledging the brokenness that some of us have experienced as children of divorce, or as couples who have lived through divorce, or as friends or family of a couple, or even as people who have remained married for entire adult lives yet have walked through extremely challenging times. And so if you have questions about the text itself, or personal experiences that were touched by that part of the gospel passage please pick up that sermon. And to make today’s long sermon short(er), just know that ultimately whatever your journey happens to be, healing comes. Redemption comes. And this church community is committed to support and to that kind of healing and redemptive work.
Now I printed that sermon rather than preach another version of it because this week there were more shootings and more deaths in our country and we have to keep that in front of us. Now know that I will do that with care because we’re an intergenerational gathering this morning and this will remain safe space for kids. That’s one of the most important things we offer this world as Grace. If we’ve learned nothing else or are at least learning nothing else these past few years I hope it’s that.
This means that some of the necessarily explicit conversations we need to have about violence and our response to it won’t happen during Sunday worship. But there will be opportunities and we’ll find ways as church to address the call to conversation and action and the desire to pray no matter what age you are.
Our kids, even here in Holland, Michigan, Zeeland, Fennville, Hudsonville and West Olive, MI are taken through safety drills on a regular basis so they are not immune this. And of course, not every child has the privilege of living without first-hand experience of the violence in this world. Children from Syria, The Sudan, Newtown, Chicago, to name just a very, very few and now Roseburg, Oregon don’t have that privilege.
But every child should. In fact one of the greatest sins of our time, perhaps every time but absolutely blatant today, one of the greatest sins that we all have to own on some level, is that safety has become a privilege when it should be a given. Like it was in today’s gospel.
While the questions about divorce seem to get the most attention whenever this gospel passage is read, it wasn’t the most important thing Jesus said in it: “Let the children come to me,” he said. Do not stop them. Do not get in their way. Do not teach them to be afraid or give them reason to be afraid. “For it is to such as these as the kingdom of God belongs.” Jesus said. He made it absolutely clear that not only is it our role to let the children come, but that with children comes the kingdom of God. The kingdom is in many ways, theirs to give to us.
One of the most powerful experiences I had a last summer’s General Convention of the Episcopal Church was a prayer rally (I know an Episcopal Prayer Rally! Which was news in itself perhaps.) This was a rally led by The Bishops United Against Gun Violence, a group that was founded by the Bishops of Connecticut, Newark, Maryland, and Washington DC after the shootings in Newtown. This group of bishops is large and it ranges from the conservative edge of the church to the most liberal, and it includes bishops who are former academics, former lawyers, former teachers, our current Presiding Bishop and Presiding Bishop Elect, and the Bishop of Oklahoma who’s a former cop from LA. This particular event was called “Claiming Common Ground.”
And at that rally these Bishops led us in prayer. And they walked us around the city, singing and praying, prayers of lament and prayers of hope as we processed. And when we stopped we heard stories, first-hand stories from many people, including some of the Bishop’s themselves.
The most powerful story for me came from a woman who had been at a mall in Utah when shootings happened there. She told us about how she lost her daughter that day and how she lives with her own wounds of all kinds every day. And through all of this there were tears, and there were prayers, and there were lists of names read of victims, of police officers who have been lost too, and there were opportunities shared for individual and collective action that can happen now.
And these are straight down the middle kinds of actions – like reducing the numbers of guns that are out there, changing gun laws, and caring, truly caring for people with mental illness. I can assure you that if some of these bishops are behind it, there is nothing too radical being proposed! Just common, faithful sense.
These are actions that call us to some kind of unity, unity in response to something in our world that is not of the Kingdom of God. This is a call to unity because safety should not be a privilege. It should be a given, a gospel, kingdom of God given.
We need to learn how better to receive and work for that Kingdom of God, which is perhaps the most obvious thing a preacher can say, but probably it’s the most true thing we can say. Please continue to weep, because this news – this ongoing news that if we’re honest is reported everyday, not just when it happens in mass ways in American cities – this violence happens everyday and it is heartbreaking. So don’t hold back. Continue to weep for these losses.
But please also listen to the voices in this world that are giving us options in terms of our actions. And help us as Grace Church, as Episcopal Church be that kind of voice, that kind of responsive, compassionate presence in this world. The Bishops United Against Gun Violence are one of the groups leading the way. I will post their information on our website and Facebook page and you can find them easily through their own site linked here. We’ll print some sheets to have in the Commons. And, since I kept this sermon well under three hours, you now have over two and a half hours today alone to devote to finding a way to engage the work of making this world a safer place for our kids, for all kids. We will gather soon for further conversation, action and prayer.
Our job as people faith, our work in this world as people of faith is to help the world better resemble the Kingdom of God, to help it look and feel and be more like the Kingdom of God than it is right now. Our work is transformation and there are plenty of faithful ways to engage it.
“Let the children come to me,” Jesus said. Let all the children come. For blessings and with blessings for us all.