Sunday, August 13, 2017

Homily for Charlottesville, Virginia

The events of Charlottesville, Virginia are truly disturbing and we remember those who have died or are injured during this weekend’s events. Our nation suffered a great moral loss in light of the Unite the Right events. It is unfortunate that people have lost their lives for the sake of removing a statue of a regional figure that represents a challenging part of our national history. Our prayers are needed for our nation and our church as we struggle to relate to people who hold different political or moral positions as we do. As a Christian, we have to ponder how to move forward.

Deep anger exists in our nation. For many, there is no American dream anymore. The virtues of dialogue and respect for others are being put aside as people deal with their frustrations. Even moderate Democrats and moderate Republicans cannot talk to each other anymore and the rise of fringe groups are finding ways of acting badly out of anger. This is not the way forward. The governor of Virginia yesterday said, “Hate has no place here.” He is right. Hate has no place in the Kingdom of God or our Church, and we have been avoiding the tough work that we need to do. We need to pray for our courage and energy to bring about the kingdom of heaven here on earth. That is our responsibility.

So how do I integrate the readings into the homily? Poorly, but I’ll try. We are presented with two images that depict responses to an encounter with the holy. One is humility through silence; the other is fear and disbelief. In the first reading, Elijah is told to go up into rock caves where the Lord will pass by. Elijah, while looking for the Lord, does not encounter him in the expected ways. God is not the storm god, which is often the way the Israelites, Greeks and Romans thought of their gods. In fact, we cannot comprehend God’s mysterious actions in our lives. Like many, we want God to speak to us plainly, but as in Elijah’s encounter, God often speaks in the silence that follows the whisper.

What do we learn about God? God does not act in violence, and therefore we cannot act in violence or force. Even in our homes, schools, or workplaces, when someone raises her voice or his hand, we cannot let be controlled by irrational anger or bullying. Force at the national level cannot he accomplished until we first learn to effectively confront it in our personal lives. Force, violence, bullying has no place in God’s kingdom.

The story about Jesus walking on water in the midst of a storm ought to wake us up. The miraculous event happens right after he mysteriously feeds the crowds. The disciples quickly fail to remember and to understand the significance of the feeding and they resort comfortably back into their fears when something unexpected happens. Isn’t that quite like us? We come to Sunday Eucharist where we are mysteriously nourished and then we walk out the church doors holding onto our worries and fears. We fail to remember and to understand the significance of the meal we just ate. This is a reason we relate to the disciples so easily. We act just like them. Perhaps, Jesus is saying to us, “Why are you doubting? What level of faith do you have?”

Fear has no place in God’s kingdom. Fear is not faith, and we cannot let others control us by instilling fear into us. Jesus teaches us to banish our fears and to trust that he is always on our side. When we finally realize it, we live in the type of world he is constantly creating – a world without hatred and division. I also heard this quote yesterday, and I believe it. “You have to be taught to hate, but love comes naturally.” Our hearts are designed to love, and Christ’s death on the cross has soundly defeated the forces of sin and death, so fundamentally, we have no worries, which means we can act boldly but with charity to confront the evil we face. God is for us, and we call him Father. The God who is alongside us, we call Jesus. The God who is within us, we call the Holy Spirit. This God is the eternal mystery that enables, enfolds, and enlivens all things, even us and even me. This is the God we are called to trust.

This is the God who Elijah meets in the cave. Absolutely mystery. His response can only be respectful silence. This is the type of God Jesus was representing to the disciples when he calmed the storm and ask Peter to step out onto the water. This is a world in which fear cannot exist because God is always, fundamentally, for us. When we allow ourselves to be swept up in the mystery, our worries cease. This is what happens when we accept God into our life. God’s very nature is to draw us into communion and friendship. Suddenly, this is a very safe universe. You have nothing to be afraid of. God is for you. God is leaping toward you. God is on your side, honestly more than you are on your own.

So, now, go conquer the world with your love.