Sunday, August 13, 2017

Where Was God in Charlottesville, VA?

August 13, 2017

Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Lectionary: 115

1 KGS 19:9A, 11-13A

PS 85:9, 10, 11-12, 13-14

ROM 9:1-5

MT 14:22-33

When Moses first encountered God it was in the crackling fire of a burning shrub somewhere in the mountains of the desert.  Later the Israelites would watch in awe and wonder as miracles were performed in their midst, water was transformed into blood, and the sea itself was parted to make way for the passing of the chosen ones.  Lightning, thunder, clouds and even trumpets heralded the theophany from the mountain where God gave them the commandments.  The prophets of Baal saw fire rain down from heaven at the prayers of a prophet, and in today’s reading, we see God appearing in the gentle whisper on the wind.  Again in the Gospel, we see Jesus appearing in the midst of the tumult of a terrifying storm only to calm the winds and comfort his followers.

In the Sacred Scriptures, we find an amazing thing about God.   He is present in so many ways, no matter where you find yourself.  Whether you are in bondage and slavery, free and wandering, or settled down for a rest at night.  G.K. Chesterton used the analogy from a poet to refer to it as the hound of heaven.  God’s presence calls to us in every event, even ones we don’t want to be a part of.  That is not to say that God wills bad things to happen, heaven forbid.   What it does mean is that even in the most horrible of circumstances, we can find God working to bring good out of them.   The difference in permissive and perfect will.  He permits things to happen, but He doesn’t always desire them to.

As we watch the news right now about Charlottesville, Virginia we see people behaving in such reprehensible ways.  Racism being disguised under the very thin veil of nationalism.  Hatred from both sides of the aisle.   What amazes me, even more, is the amount of blame going around.  Not just blaming, but almost a sense of justification coming from people who claim to be Christian.   “If the white racists didn’t rally none of this would happen!”  “If the Democrats hadn’t used such hateful rhetoric and stirred up the pot, it would have been a peaceful protest!”  “How dare they take away their heritage and tradition!"  "If the statues had been left alone, no one would have died.”  

How do we find God in such times?  There are so many waves rocking the boat.  The internet inundates us with so vast an amount of information that it’s hard to know what is the truth and what is a slant.  News articles that should be “just the facts ma’am,” are filled with political commentary and personal bias.  It becomes so difficult to discern truth in a time where hate seems to be flowing freely from both sides of the aisle.  The emotional turmoil that people are experiencing is real and should not be discounted.   Satan has long used fear to control the masses and in this case, it has worked exceptionally well.  Fear of our own safety, the safety of our children, having the money to feed our families, of encroaching ideologies that are different than our own.

Like Elijah on the mountain, we have to take our time listening and watching to find God’s hand.  His hand was not behind the wheel of the car that mowed down those poor people.  Nor was his hand guiding that helicopter to the ground.  None of that was part of God’s plan.  All of those events were the direct result of our own free will.  Our choices.  God lets us have free will in this world that we might choose to love.   Forced love isn't loved.   When we choose to love, with some sacrifice involved, it begins to look like true love.

Jesus met the disciples exactly where their fear was.  They were in the boat looking around at all the things that threatened to harm them.   The waves of hatred, the winds of pain and indignation, the waters of political correctness that sought to swallow their identities.   All of these things were seeking to draw them away from God, away from what Christ offered in the incarnation.  Jesus says to them “take courage.”   That word in Greek has a connotation of being joyful!  Be of good cheer!  Be happy!  It is I.    Do we realize why we should be happy?  The Incarnation is the key to understanding all of it.

It is of God becoming a man that we find a return to what Adam and Eve had in the garden.   They walked face to face with God.  They were able to see the beatific vision, to experience what we will experience fully in heaven.  God wants us to return to that.  To the place where joy reigns supreme.  All of these distractions in this world are trying to bring us away from that joy, to bring us to despair, to make us ask questions like “If no one else is doing it why should I bother?”  “Look at all those people doing the wrong thing, and how great their lives are!  Why should I fast and spend so much time at church?”  Because what God offers is so much greater than any temporal pleasure we can have here in this life.

Again, how do we find God in the darkness of a world torn by political intrigue, racism, and violence?  By looking for Him.  Starting with ourselves, we begin to work on who we are.  We become the change we want to see in the world.   Then we look each other in the eye, looking for the image of God that is in that other person.  The image that is present regardless of age, gender, working class, or skin color.  We listen to their story, their pain, their angst, and we attempt to understand.  We look for Jesus in them and try to show them Jesus in us.  Not rejecting their experience as invalid because it doesn’t match our own, but instead realizing that what Jesus did in dying for us on the cross was to offer a unity to all of humanity, in all of its shapes, forms, and rainbows of colors.

Pray for those hurt.   Pray for those who did the hurting.   Pray for those who do not have the ability to tell their story without anger.  Give your time to someone today when they need it.  Offer yourself as a sacrifice, forgetting your problems and needs and simply being there.  Listen to them, not listening to just find a time to speak of your own story, but listening to just hear theirs.  Realize that the humanity that is in them, regardless of how they treat it, is the same humanity that Jesus took upon himself in the incarnation.  The same humanity that He still possesses today in Heaven.  

That’s what it means to be the body of Christ.  We are bad to set up borders of them vs us.  The media in this country want that border to grow because it gives them ratings.  They aren’t interested in calming things down for the most part.  And yes, there are some in power who use their position to make inflammatory statements that don’t help the matter.  That’s on both sides of the aisle!  What we should agree with as Christians is that as members of Christ’s body, racism cannot be part of our lives.  Patriotism is a good thing when done properly.  Nationalism is a dangerous ideology, one that allows a nation to do whatever it wants regardless of who it hurts.  I am a patriot.  I want the best for my country, and that means the best for every person in it.  Not just the ones who look, act, and talk like me… but every person.

Above and beyond that, I am a Catholic first and foremost.  That means I am a Christian who believes that every human on this planet is infinitely valuable.  That the world doesn’t belong to you or me but is a gift from God that He gave us to be stewards of.  I also believe that one day each and every one of us will have to answer for every idle word that we say, every harmful and hurtful comment that we post, whether anonymously or not.   That you, every single one of you, is worth me giving up my time and my own pleasure to just get to know.  I also believe that as Scripture says so many, many times… the Kingdom of God is one of peace, not violence.   

We get the example from Christ himself on the cross of how the justice of divinity works.  Where as I, in my anger, might view justice often as someone being put in prison or murdered, Christ gives us a vision where true justice is self-sacrifice.   Today’s Psalm says “Kindness and truth have met, justice and peace have kissed.”  What a beautiful image that is, yes?  Are we ready to bring that into the world with us?  A place where justice and peace go hand in hand?  Where kindness and truth are both able to be done at the same time?  Where truth springs forth from the earth itself and justice shine down from heaven?   We have work to do Church, and it starts with our own hearts.