St. Paul’s Congregational Church
June 14, 2020 – Proper 6A
Genesis 18:1 – 15; 21: 1 – 7; Matthew 9:35 – 10:8
Rev. Cameron Trimble wrote in one of her daily devotions this week, “Yesterday in a meeting, my colleague said, “I wish 2020 would just be over. Let’s get to 2021 because it has to be better.” I suspect we can all relate to this sentiment: this year so far feels like it has had 1,245,011 days and it’s only June. Cameron says she’s been playing a game for the past few months to keep herself curious and open to what these days might teach us. She calls it, “What becomes possible?” It goes like this:
The economy is shut down…what if this gives us the chance to create a more just, sustainable economy going forward? What becomes possible?
We are in lockdown…what if we rediscover the value of our families and communities? What becomes possible?
People can’t go to their places of worship for the forseeable future…what if this frees us from our obsessions with our buildings and sets us loose in the world? What becomes possible?
George Floyd’s murder seems to be waking white folk up…what if we will finally take meaningful steps to protect and honor black and brown lives? What becomes possible?
Cameron continues, “every day I try to make as many observations as I can about the changes happening among us and to us. Then I ask, what if? And then, what becomes possible? It’s been a great teacher for me, keeping me curious about this strange time.
A friend sent her a poem by Leslie Dwight that drove all this home for her:
What if 2020 isn’t cancelled?
What if 2020 is the year we have been waiting for?
A year so uncomfortable, so painful, so scary, so raw –
That it finally forces us to grow.
A year that screams so loud, finally awakening us from ignorant slumber.
A year we finally accept the need for change.
Declare change. Work for change. Become the change.
A year we finally band together, instead of pushing each other further apart.
2020 isn’t canceled, but rather it’s the most important year of them all.
What if? What becomes possible?
Great questions, aren’t they. Great questions that encourage us during these days of uncertainty, anxiety, pandemics of covid19 and of violence and then protest against racism. Great questions that hopefully do force us to grow – to grow in our vision of the future, to grow in our vision of what can be, to grow in our vision of our ministry here at St. Paul’s and beyond our walls.
On Monday afternoon 11 of us gathered on our lawn to participate in a National Moment of Silence sponsored by the Poor People’s Campaign to honor George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmad Arbery, and all those who have been killed by systematic racism and poverty. People around the country stopped at 5pm for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, took a knee or sat or stood, in silence remembering the time George Floyd had the literal knee of the state on his neck. Following this seemingly incredibly long time, we had a short time of prayer and reflection – it was a profound and moving time for us all – an empowering time too as we talked afterward about how we might continue to participate, not only in witness such as this, but in continuing the work for change – feeling called to being the change, and growing in our vision of our ministry here at St. Paul’s and beyond our walls. Wondering what’s next.
My friend, Cheyenne, who you remember teaches at an inner city school in Waterbury, CT, wrote this week:
“I see less fire spreading across social media lately about the issues facing our nation, fewer postings about how black lives matter. I see more of you slipping back into the comfort and normalcy of day to day life. This fire and this fight cannot die out.
I’ve been quiet the past few days as well. The spark that brought me back today was a Google Meet with my 4th graders. After some general chit chat, I asked a question that terrified me.
“I want to talk about what’s happening in the world. Have you seen the news lately? How do you feel? What are your questions?”
I sat behind my computer screen drowning in a myriad of emotions: Fear: How would I answer questions that my students have adequately as a white woman. Would I say the wrong thing?
Pride: Students shared honest feelings, asked raw and honest questions, and spoke proudly about their race and their families.
Hope: As students expressed confusion as to why adults can’t look past the color of someone’s skin because after all, “if someone’s a jerk Miss Walent—it has nothing to do with their skin. They’re just a jerk.”
But what struck me most was heartbreaking devastation as two students told their stories:
First was a black student, who talked about how when she was 6 and her brother was 2 they went to work with mom. A white man said to her mother “Why don’t you go put that monkey in a cage?” when her brother wasn’t behaving to his standards. This child is now ten years old; the first thing that came to her mind was when she was six, racism forced her mother to have discussions with her that made her grow up far too quickly. Conversations and discussion that no white families have to have with their children.
Then, a student of Asian descent, shared that after the coronavirus had started making the news and panic was spreading, her neighbors started to treat her and her family differently. Some even stopped talking to them, because they were Asian and the racist panic had spread that it was a virus spread by Asian people. At ten years old she’s having a discussion with her ICU Nurse mother about how this virus is not just an “Asian spread virus.” In the middle of a pandemic—when her life was turned upside down and her parents were both essential workers in the medical field—she was worried about what she looked like and how her neighbors would treat her.
Cheyenne ends her reflection, renewed in her commitment: Please don’t tell me racism isn’t taught. Every child that ever came in contact with that vile white man who said “put that monkey in a cage” was taught how to hate and degrade.
Please don’t tell me that All Lives Matter. Because until you care about the souls of those two 10 year olds, the trauma they and their family suffered at the hands of racist fueled hate and fear—and until you care enough to fight for them, then you certainly do not think that all lives matter.
Please don’t tell me you haven’t experienced white privilege because you had a tough life. Would you like to know how privileged you are? You learned about racism through textbooks, films, and white-washed history—you didn’t learn about racism by experiencing it.
In both of our readings this morning we have some examples of how God works in our world, often in unusual and surprising ways. In Genesis, God – in the guise of 3 strangers – meets Abraham and Sarah. These drop in guests are treated like royalty – the rules of hospitality are clear and Abraham offers a meal of freshly baked cakes. Now, both Abraham and Sarah are old – and when these strangers promise that Sarah will have a baby, they both laugh! But despite the odds, God will establish a new future through them – God keeps the promise: hope and a baby are born. The baby is named Isaac – meaning laughter.
And in the gospel reading, Jesus observes the people – like sheep without a shepherd. He declares the need for helpers to spread God’s healing word of new life – helpers who are ordinary people with no special education for their tasks – but the harvest comes – new life comes from chaos.
Like Sarah and the disciples, we too have been called to trust in God’s promises and give birth to God’s realm in our lives, in our community, and our world. We too are called to trust in God’s timing, and to be open to God’s surprises. After all, we too have witnessed grand examples of great odds being overcome through the radical love of God. Against the violence and racism and fear that agonizes us and our world is also the thrilling hope that change can and does come. Walls do break down. Our broken world can heal. And we can hear the sounds of laughter again as we grow in our vision. Really, there’s not enough laughter these days is there.
Listen to these words from a friend and colleague, Eric Anderson: