I was asked to put today's sermon text on my blog. This is what was written. Should you want to see and hear the text, you can go to the St. Alban's YouTube page, where it will be uploaded later this week. (Other sermons can also be found here.)
Scripture text: Romans 7:15-25a; Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30.
Scripture text: Romans 7:15-25a; Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30.
I title this, "Damned if you do. Damned if you don't."
Let us pray. Dear God, help us to remember that we are, in a sense, the very flesh and blood of Christ. Keep us mindful that the body still suffers, the very flesh and blood of Christ still suffer. And remind us that if one suffers, all suffer; if one is degraded, all are degraded. Amen. (adapted from Br. Mark Brown)
Being a priest, I often feel damned if I do and damned if I don’t.
I wonder who I am serving when I do or when I don’t do or say something. I’m damned if I bring up something controversial that someone thinks the church should not address; and I’m damned if I don’t bring up something controversial that someone thinks the church should address.
So, it’s hard to know if bringing up hot button issues, like health care or oil pipelines or police shootings or reproductive rights or gun rights or immigration, is a good idea, when I know that some will applaud and others will not, and may even want to walk out.
So sometimes, it’s just easier to talk about how we are all beloved children of God, created to share that love to the world because Jesus came to teach us how to love one another. I mean, that’s the message of the Gospel: that we are to love one another as Christ loves us, right?
All those times I struggle to talk about what’s happening outside those doors—about the hunger, the human trafficking, the abuse, the missing; about race, class, sex and money—all those times I struggle to talk about what could realistically be happening to any one of us in this place—the fear of losing health insurance, of losing a marriage, of losing a loved one to death or illness or in a custody battle, of fighting a battle with depression or addiction, of experiencing racial inequity, financial instability, fear, injustice and oppression…all those times...I ache with the desire to bring these problems, these often controversial issues, into our midst.
I don’t want to feel damned if I do and damned if I don’t when it comes to talking about what Jesus wanted us to take from his ministry of loving others as he loves us. I want us to talk about how Jesus was friends with and advocated for the lost, the hungry, the sick, the widowed, the immigrant—all the people who seem devalued because of their circumstance. Because, honestly, that is all of us.
We may never understand how someone’s circumstance has affected the way the world sees them; we may never understand the choices a police officer must make in a split second; some of us may never understand what it feels like to drive while black, be judged because of our weight, to work multiple jobs just to make ends meet, or to be homeless; we may never understand why someone has become a victim of abuse: sexual abuse, emotional abuse, spiritual abuse, substance abuse, societal abuse; we may not understand our own privilege or our own complicity or our own racism, sexism, classism, ableism. But they are there. No one is immune.
No one is immune.
Even in the days when Jesus walked the earth, no one was immune to developing their own opinion about others.
Even when John came on the scene, talking about God, the people didn’t like the way he looked or that he ate strange foods. God sent him to prepare the way for Jesus, but some people didn’t like him.
Even when Jesus came on the scene, talking about God, some people didn’t like who he talked with or that he ate heartily. God sent him to save us, but some people didn’t like him.
People didn’t understand God’s call to Abraham, Moses, David, Samuel, Jonah, Mary Magdalene, or any of the twelve apostles, either. Every one of them. Every one of us...are damned if we do and damned if we don’t.
It’s crazy, isn’t it? Throughout time, we sink our heels into the earth about certain things, certain people, certain ways of living, and we judge others based on our opinions.
I look around this sanctuary and I know that every one of us has a story to tell, has an opinion to share, has some circumstance or history that has helped define the way we see the world. And each one of us is damned if we talk about it, and damned if we don’t.
Friendships are forged and severed over opinions. People leave their faith communities over sensitive, controversial issues.
You know why?
Because when you don’t feel welcomed or you feel like no one cares about your opinion, it’s easier to remain in silence, stewing, or to physically walk away from the community, than it is to say what’s on your mind.
I know. In my circle of friends, who I have spent years and years with, who I love and who we raised our kids with…in THAT circle, I was afraid to talk about anything political or social, because if I expressed anything about what was happening in the world, perhaps needing to work out my own feelings about it, often needing to have healthy, interactive conversation…in THAT circle of people, I would be shut up, shot down and ridiculed for being, what? Ignorant? Naïve?
As we have gotten older, as we have matured in our experience called life, our group has become more able to talk about the tough stuff that affects the world. What is hard is getting to the point where we realize that through all the arguing and discussing and frustration we are usually not all that far apart in where we stand on an issue. The things we battle over in some very heated discussions, where sometimes, someone walks out, are about the process toward understanding.
Some people are well versed. But I have to say that being well versed may also mean the sources for information come from a particular viewpoint. So when you get ten or so people around a table and the sources are predominantly one-sided, and you are the person who has experience or resources from a different side, it is easy to be silenced, shunned and ridiculed. It can be hard to speak a complete sentence without being interrupted with brash and condemning outbursts.
We don’t want to listen to one another when our viewpoint or world view is being challenged. Even if being challenged is exactly what Jesus wants.
Damned if you do. Damned if you don’t.
Today’s Gospel began with Jesus recognizing that humans are incapable of understanding God’s purpose. It began with Jesus saying something like, “you didn’t like John. You criticize him because he didn’t eat or drink. You called him a demon. You criticize me because I do eat and drink. You criticize me because I eat and drink with people you don’t think I should spend time with. No matter what I do, some will like what I do and some will not. I’m damned if I do and damned if I don’t.”
Today’s Gospel ends with Jesus saying: “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
This is his invitation to pay attention to how he lived in this world with the marginalized: the poor, the widowed, the immigrant. It is his invitation to talk about the hot-button issues in our prayers, our sermons, and during coffee hour without fear. To be gentle and humble with one another in the midst of so much chaos. It is his reminder that we do not have to carry all these burdens alone. We have Jesus. We have God. We have the Holy Spirit. And we have one another.
Will you pray with me?
I am weary and carrying heavy burdens, Jesus. This world is full of so much fear and hurt and despair, but it is also full of so much hope and healing and love. The weight of the world is so heavy sometimes and I know I need to be able to tell people about it, but I struggle with knowing how to do it without creating division among your people. I feel damned if I do and damned if I don’t.
I trust that the Holy Spirit will guide me and help me know when and how to express my own societal concerns to this Body of Christ. I trust that when I do, it will be lovingly and helpful, hopeful and with support because, God, you know that the world doesn’t stay outside those doors when we worship. We bring it all inside with us.
Let this place be a safe haven to gather with all that we bring in with us. Let this place be a safe haven to talk and pray about those things that are happening that hurt this world. Let this place be a safe haven to enter into complicated conversations that will lead to greater understanding of one another, of our stories and experiences that bring us to this point in our lives, but Jesus! Don’t let us stop there. Move us into greater understanding of how we, as this Body of Christ, can be present, can be helpful, can be holy people sent to do holy work in this complicated creation—let us work side by side, even with our different understanding, to bring help and hope and love into the world. Help us to see the world, to see the whole, beautiful, messy, and complicated world, and give us strength and courage to act as your people in it.
And then, Jesus, give us holy rest. Give us peaceful rest. Amen.