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Sunday, August 13, 2017

What is for you here?

What is for you here?
Pentecost X – Proper 14 A – August 13, 2017
Christ Church, Ridgewood, NJ
(the Rev’d Dr.) Elizabeth Kaeton

I'm fairly certain that 99 44/100% of clergy who are scheduled to preach this morning are not preaching the sermon they initially prepared.

I had a lovely sermon on "spiritual discernment" which I wrote on Thursday and finished on Friday. I knew Saturday would be spent traveling from my home in DE to visit my grandchildren and then to spend a lovely afternoon at their home with them and then a bit of a trip to the petting zoo.

And then came Saturday evening. And, some time between a lovely afternoon of giggling and reading and petting goats and feeding cows, Charlottesville, VA happened. More specifically, the "Unite the Right" march happened. One woman is dead. Nineteen more are hospitalized.

And, my lovely, neatly typed, double spaced 14 point sermon was tossed into the trash and this one was scribbled on hotel paper at around midnight.

Now, you don't know me and I don't know you but I take my responsibility as a priest and a minister of the Gospel pretty seriously.  When I got back from a lovely day with my family and got into my hotel room, I saw the images on my television screen and immediately became ill.

Then, I tried to make sense of what I was seeing in light of the Gospel and the scripture lessons for today and knew I had to preach this to you today.

I thought the worst that can happen is that you'd listen politely (like good Episcopalians) and then never ask me to come back.

I figured, well, what the heck!?!

What I saw in the disturbing images from Charlottesville, unfolding, before my very eyes, was solid evidence that the very issue which ignited the Civil War in this country, on April 12, 1861 at Ft. Sumter, South Carolina DID NOT END with the surrender of Robert E. Lee at the Appomattox Courthouse to Ulysses S. Grant on April 9, 1865.

The harsh, painful truth is that we are still fighting the Civil War - and not just in the South or in the North. It is in the very soil of America. Everywhere.

Oh, we've all taken anti-racism training which the diocese and the national church offer. Or, at least, we've had "diversity training" in corporate settings.

I'm not talking about "racism" - as important as that is.

I'm not talking about "inclusion" of "diversity" - as important as that is.

I'm talking about the evil which must be named if we are to confront it.

I'm talking about White Supremacy - the belief that white people are superior to those of all other races - especially the Black race - and therefore, White people should be dominate over all other races.

This domination by Whites extends to the God of their belief - including their own brand of Christianity - which they believe is superior to other religions, and, therefore, anything other than Christianity in general and their unique brand of Christianity in particular ought to be eliminated if not annihilated.

Now, this impulse to dominate and annihilate is not a new phenomenon. It's not even an old phenomenon. It is, in fact, ancient, woven in the earliest stories of humans.

We see this in the first lesson from the 19th chapter of the 1st Book of Kings. We meet up with the Prophet Elijah in a cave on the side of Mt. Horeb. He had retreated there after a confrontation with the forces of King Ahab and Queen Jezebel who were devout followers of the God of the Phoenicians, the God known as Ba'al.

Elijah had set up a dueling miracle match of "My God is more powerful than your God" between the Phoenician Ba'al and the Israelites, Jehovah.

In short, Ba'al lost.

The deal was that 850 prophets of Ba'al were slaughtered at Mt. Carmel - but so had thousands of Israelites. Furthermore, when Queen Jezebel learned of the slaughter of her prophets, she vowed to kill Elijah.

So, Elijah leaves Mt. Carmel and retreats - alone - to the south, to Judah, where he then walks for 40 days and 40 nights - reminiscent of 40 years his role model Moses wandered in the wilderness - until he gets to the mountain.

Once there, he collapses in a cave on the side of the mountain and falls into an exhausted sleep. He is awakened by what this translation calls "a sheer silence". Other translations refer to this as "a still small voice". Still others translate it "the voice of silence."

This "voice of silence" asks him "So, Elijah, what is for you here?"

Today's lesson translates that as "What is here for you?" (Hear the nuance of difference?)

The literal translation is "What is for you here?" ("Ma lekah po?")

What is for you here?

You can hear the frustration and annoyance, the disappointment and anger in Elijah’s voice. “I’ve been working my heart out for the God of Hosts” says Elijah. “The people of Israel have abandoned your covenant, destroyed the palaces of worship, and murdered your prophets. I’m the only one left, and now they’re trying to kill me.”

He was told, “Go, stand on the mountain at attention before God. God will pass by.”

Elijah looks for God in all the ways he knows God has appeared to Moses, his role model. He looks for God in the midst of the great wind, the way God appeared at Mt. Sinai. But, God was not there.

Elijah looks for God in the earthquake when God gave the Ten Commandments to Moses But God was not in the earthquake. And then, Elijah looks for God in the fire, the way God appeared to Moses in the midst of the burning bush that the fire did not consume. But, God was not in the fire.

No God. No great revelation. No tablets. No commandments.

And, after the fire, there was, again, that sheer silence, that voice of silence.

And, what did that voice that made no sound say? 

Again, Elijah was asked, “What is for you here?”

What is for you here, Elijah 

- here in the desert where your righteous anger gets you nothing?
- here in the desert where here are no crowds to applaud your courage and your miracles? 
- here when the wind, earthquake and fire bring no revelation?
- here where you are left befuddled in desert silence, expecting to see God's glory, hearing a silent voice; waiting for an affirming answer, getting a shattering question

What is for you here?

It reminds me of what another Rabbi, one from a little village called Nazareth in ancient Galilee, said to his disciple Peter. 

In Matthew’s gospel version, the disciples are in the boat and Jesus has just come down from a time alone to pray. He was walking on the sea, we are told, which scares the literal bejesus out of his disciples.

Jesus calms them with his assurances but it is Peter who tests Jesus. “If it is you,” he says, command me to come to you on the water.” 

Jesus said, “Come.” And so Peter did and found himself walking on water. 

It was only when Peter was distracted by the wind that he began to sink. Jesus said to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”

I hear echoes of that voice that made no sound asking Elijah, What is for you here?” 

- What is for you here, Peter, in the midst of the strong wind battering the boat and the turbulent water? 
- What is for you here in the midst of this miracle? 
- Are there dreams of glory and honor and praise? 
- Honor and praise that are not deserved and so can be blown away as quickly as the next strong wind or washed away with the next wave? 
- Where is your faith?

What is for you here?

We have - or at least, I have - come to this day haunted by this same question.

As we look over the carnage in Charlottesville, VA, as we see that White Supremacy is still alive in this country, we may wonder about the so-called "progress" we have made. Indeed, we may have been fairly smug, thinking that we are the greatest civilized nation in the world.

I'm remembering that a reporter once asked Gandhi what he thought of Western civilization. After a few considered moments, Gandhi responded, "I think it's a good idea."

In moments like this our nation begins to face an identity crisis. Is this who we are? Have we been blind to what has been right before our eyes? By ignoring the evil of White Supremacy, have we allowed this cancer to grow? Stronger? And, metastasize?

In moments of identity crisis, faith is also shaken. And, when faith is shaken, we are often confronted, in an entirely new way, by the ancient question in that same still, small voice - that sheer silence - that voice of silence, which asks us:

What is for you here

- here in this country we call the "land of the free and the home of the brave?
- here where riots and violence and hatred spilled out and overflowed onto American streets in Nazi chants of "Blood and Soil" (Nazi chants on the streets of America!!!!)?
- here where we are left confused and befuddled, ashamed and outraged?
- here where we come to church for a word of comfort and an assurance of peace, only to hear a shattering question:

What is for you here?

I'm sorry. I don't have an answer for you.

Each one of us has some soul-searching to do.

Perhaps this is a sermon on spiritual discernment, after all.

Each one of us has to decide how it is that we will commit to dismantling White Supremacy. Because each one of us is convicted by the Gospel of Jesus who gave us the commandment to love one another as he loves us.

St. Paul reminds us that neither God nor Jesus care about nationality - neither Jew nor Greek - or gender - male or female - or rich or poor. God doesn't look on the outward person, but on the inward human being - into the heart and soul of what makes that person a contributing citizen of the cosmos.

Jesus said we are to love one another - as he loves us. Indeed, he said to love God with all our heart and all our mind and all our strength and to love our neighbor as yourself. We know that "neighbor" is not defined as "the person next door or on the same street". The world is the global village of God and we are all neighbors.

I will tell you this: Elijah and Peter did receive a gift from their encounters with the Holy. The answer to the question "What is for you here?" was the same for both Peter and Elijah.

That gift? Humility.

Elijah must now learn the greatest virtue of Moses, his role model - humility.
Elijah, the zealous warrior is given his most difficult mission: to confront his pride and see himself as he truly is.

Peter - the zealous follower of Jesus with his own illusions of grandeur, had to confront and accept his dependence on Jesus. 

What is for you here, Elijah? 

What is for you here, Peter? 

What is for you here? 

On this day after the riots, after the violence, after the hatred, after the "Blood and Soil" I urge you to sit in the sheer silence and seek what God has for you.

Turn off the TV - the continuous loop of doom and gloom from CNN and MSNBC and Fox News and NPR.

Sit in "sheer silence" for a while and let your thoughts be your only companion. Don't look for God in the grand and glorious. Or the dramatic or earth shaking.

Look, instead, for God in the unexpected. In the small and insignificant. In the mist and fog.

Just know this: in that silence, God has never been so close. As St. Paul reminds us "the Word is near you, on your lips and in your heart."

Listen to the sheer silence - the voice of silence. May we be made humble enough to see and understand and know a deeper truth about ourselves, our world, our God and God's call to us.

Perhaps then, after the fire and the fury, the violence and the hatred, we can surrender to humility and finally - FINALLY - bring an end to the Civil War in this country.

What is for you here?



Ann said...

Thanks for this one. Yes - sit in the silence -- and don't watch the loops of men with tiki torches -- ponder the hundreds of thousands of people -- saying NO - this not who we are or will be. We will be more like our ideal self and you (men with citron tiki torches and even your guns) will not prevail.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thanks, Ann. I know you mean this too but we must not avert our eyes from the reality of the ugly - the evil - but just not eat a steady diet of it. Give more energy to the great swell of good people on every side of the political spectrum who are saying NO to this evil Stage IV cancer that has metastasized to the streets of good places like Charlottesville, VA, and Seattle, WA. We need surgery and chemo and radiation and then hope there's not a recurrence.