18th Sunday after Pentecost (Year A)
October 4, 2020
Exodus 20:1-4, 7-9, 12-20
Psalm 19:1-9, 14
“I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection…” Paul wrote these few words from our second reading to the Christian community in Philippi, hoping to share with them his greatest desire, his sincere yearning, to simply know Christ and the power of his resurrection. I’m willing to bet that many of us, who call ourselves Christians, are in a similar boat. We yearn to know more about Christ. We have read all about Jesus. We worship him. We remember him when we celebrate Holy Communion, in fact we believe that we are made one with him in the act. But, do we really know him? Well, we don’t yet know him fully, but we do know him.
In the Gospel of John, Jesus tells his followers that, “everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (Jn. 13:35). One way we show our knowledge of Jesus, our relationship with him, is through our actions. Therefore, if we proclaim to know Christ and the power of his resurrection, our actions should reflect that knowledge. Our actions should be actions of love.
Now, when I say love, I don’t mean a sentimentality. The kind of love Jesus taught and lived wasn’t sentimental. It wasn’t sweet or cute, nor was it warm and fuzzy. Rather the kind of love Jesus taught and lived challenged the status quo. That kind of love is about shedding our desire for power and control. It is about the powerful laying aside their pride and status. That kind of love calls us to care for others as much as ourselves. It calls us to pray for those who persecute us. This is who Jesus is and what Jesus was about. And if we claim to know him, or want to know him, and to be his followers, that is what we should be about.
Now friends, I’m going to confess something to you. I was not the best follower of Christ this week. I fell short of his ways. In a moment when I could have acted in love, I didn’t. Nor did I even act like someone who knows Christ. In fact, I don’t think I made him very proud. Shortly after learning that our president and first lady tested positive for COVID-19, I laughed. I actually laughed out loud. That vindictive part of me automatically went to that place that said, if only he hadn’t mocked science, if only he would have worn a mask, if only he did this or that, maybe this wouldn’t have happened. He brought this on himself. And you know what, maybe he did, but that’s not the point. The point is that he’s sick and my first inclination was to laugh. I know I’m not the only person who responded this way. In fact, many people who I consider faithful Christians responded in much the same way. I think its human nature.
That being said, I don’t think it’s the way that Jesus would have responded. Nor is the way he would have wanted me to respond. A friend of mine, and another priest in our diocese, summed it up beautifully in a Facebook post that she made on Friday morning. I want to read it to you now.
“It is what it is.” That is what you said, Mr. President, when reminded of the number of people dying from COVID-19.
“It is what it is.” That is what you said, Mr. President, when reminded of the number of people infected.
“It is what it is.”
As the news sank in that you and the First Lady — we remember her jacket, “Do I really care?” — had contracted the virus, my first thought was:
“It is what it is.”
And I wanted the both of you to suffer — to know the suffering experienced and being experienced by others– to suffer the aches, the pains, the nausea, the diarrhea, the breathlessness, the brain fog . . .
I wanted you to suffer, perhaps experience the death of a loved one from this virus, as so many have, so many who might not have died if you had taken this virus seriously.
I wanted you to suffer, to suffer as those who could not be with their loved ones who died alone, in hospitals, hooked up to machines.
I wanted you to suffer like those who have “recovered,” but are now in a fraternity called “long haulers,” those who still suffer from the effects of this dreaded disease.
I wanted you to suffer like those you don’t really care about because you only think of yourself.
“It is what it is.”
I wanted you to suffer like those who don’t have adequate health care; like those who are dying on our streets because they are homeless; like those who have died from the corona virus, but who are nameless, faceless, because they are out of our view.
I wanted you to suffer and for a brief moment I smiled.
“It is what it is.”
But then a voice came to me, “You shall pray for them.”
“Really? Not you, again.”
“You shall pray for healing.”
“I don’t want to. I want them to suffer.”
But, then, I prayed . . . for them, those who continue to be affected by this virus, and for our nation; that we might all heal and be healed.
That voice that my colleague felt come to her, that was Christ. It is clear to me that his desire for her was to break open her heart and free her from the anger, bitterness, hate, and disgust that she was feeling for another human being, who like her, is made in God’s image. It is clear to me that that is Christ’s wish for me too and for all of us who struggle with resentment. Christ wants to break open those feelings and make room for his all-consuming love to fill us and to flow from us in order to bring healing to our broken world.
When we dwell in resentment or hate towards another person, it is not the other person who is affected. It’s us. My response to laugh at his diagnosis did nothing to affect him, but it did affect me. It showed me that I was bitter. And I allowed myself to wallow in that bitterness seeking out others who felt the same way so I could justify my response when I knew it wasn’t one that Jesus would have taken.
Jesus said, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Mt. 5:44). Jesus didn’t say to only love those who think like you or act like you. He said enemies. To love an enemy doesn’t justify their bad behavior. And praying for someone does not give a pass to their bad behavior. It does not make anything they have done less wrong, less offensive, less dangerous, or less abusive. It does not overlook the pain they cause or any other negative consequences of their actions. In no way is it intended to minimize ANY of that, absolve anybody from wrongdoing, or preclude accountability.
Rather it changes us. It disrupts the chain of hurt giving us the power to actively transform our pain. It moves us from bitterness to openness and action. “They will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (Jn. 13:35). Remember that love that Jesus talks about isn’t a sentimental, warm/fuzzy emotion. That love is death-defying, life-changing, earth-shattering, and catalytic.
We live in a divisive time. And though it is tempting to give into despair, cynicism, or hate, we as people who know Christ and the power of his resurrection, are called to not dwell in those things. We are called to shine the light of Christ in our world. So, as it gets more and more tempting to not do that, especially in these days leading up to our national election, I want to challenge you to do one simple thing.
Pray. Every day, for the next month through Nov. 3, I invite you to join me in praying a specific prayer that’s found on p. 833 of our Book of Common Prayer. It is a prayer attributed to St. Francis, whose feast day it is today. I believe it speaks to us at such a time as this. I hope that when you pray it, it may it be a reminder to you of our collective call to live as people who know Christ and the power of his resurrection.
I am going to pray it now. I invite you at this time to listen to the words of the prayer. Let them wash over you:
Lord, make us instruments of your peace. Where there is hatred, let us sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is discord, union; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy. Grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen.
Join me in praying this daily. And as people who know Christ and the power of his resurrection, let’s see what kind of change it creates in us and in our world. Amen.
 Gayle Fisher-Stewart, Facebook Post, October 2, 2020