Text: Mark 13:1-8
Blessed are the poor in spirit
Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven
Blessed are they that mourn
Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted
Blessed are the peacemakers
For they shall be called the children of God
Blessed are which are beaten down
Blessed are ye—-
Though the political agenda will mostly define how our nation and world dialogues about the terrorist attacks in Paris over the weekend, it is not my intent this morning to preach a political sermon. In the days to come, our response to the terrorist attacks will surely require political action. But our worship today is not a call for political action. Our purpose today is to connect with the God who created the one human family. In the days ahead, if we truly care about all humanity, we will be challenged to ask ourselves where our sadness and indifference lies in the violence that happens daily – not just in France, but in places like Bagdad, Kabul and Aleppo. And yet, today our prayers and thoughts are for our neighbors in France. Today, I seek to offer a pastoral word. Today, I seek hold a light on how our faith calls to us to stand in solidarity as one people. Today, my invitation is for us to reflect on the path of kindness, compassion and justice-love that Jesus taught, that Allah desires, that Gandhi and Mother Teresa and Martin Luther King, Jr. lived.
Six months ago I began having breakfast once a month with my friend Manzoor, who is Muslim. Over our Bruegger’s Bagels we began a journey of getting to know one another. We talked about our families. We talked about the schools our children attended and our concerns about Wake County public schools. We shared with one another our work with inter-religious dialogue and our involvement with the Forward Together Movement. Eventually, our conversations turned to the topic of Islamophobia and racism. I remember one morning asking Manzoor if we should be doing something to encourage dialogue between Christians and Muslims. “Yes,” he responded. And then he said, “Your church, Pullen Church, is a safe place for Muslims.” With that we made a list of people to invite to join us in conversation.
For the past three months our group, which includes Christians, Muslims and one Jew, has been meeting at Pullen to talk about Islamophobia and racism. We have listened to one another. We have been honest in our questions and concerns, agreeing that in order to nurture relationships that are grounded in integrity, we must be able to voice and talk about the hard questions that inevitably must be asked by Christians and Muslims. We have agreed and disagreed on matters of substance. But at the heart of our meetings, we have sought to understand one another. We are learning, with each meeting, a deeper trust of one another. And we are faithfully seeking a path that diminishes ours fears, nurtures hope, and deepens our relationships. Together we are searching for God as theologian Carter Heyward describes God, “our power for generating right, or mutual, relation.”
Out of these conversations, and in light of the terrorist attacks in Paris, I come this morning with a question. What will be required of us—both Christians and Muslims—to understand God as “our power for generating right, or mutual, relation?” What will be required of us, Christians, to do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with God believing as we do that this is the mandate from our sacred text? How will we love God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength and our neighbor—Muslim, Jew, Buddhist, Hindu, atheist, agnostic—as ourselves? How will we give place to something new that leads us to paths of kindness, compassion and justice-love?
Though it seems unlikely at first reading, could it be that our gospel text for today gives us an insight into what might be required of us if we are to understand God as “our power for generating right, or mutual, relation?”
Clearly written as an apocalyptic text, the form of Mark 13 is dictated by a question posed by the disciples. The chapter begins with the disciples awestruck by the magnificence of temple building. “Wow” they say, “Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings.” But Jesus’ impatience with their wonder at the temple buildings is followed by a prediction that those very buildings are nearing the end of their life. Not understanding his prediction but afraid not to play along, they ask once they get him in private: “When will this happen and what will be the sign that all these things will happen?” To their question, Jesus gives no answer but instead goes on to warn them about not being led astray.
It’s easy to be led astray by the all that glitters. It’s easy to be led astray by impressive structures that portray power and privilege. It’s easy to be led astray by systems that protect our personal interest at the expense of those who are left out, not invited in, deemed too different to be one of us. Indeed, it is easy to be led astray by believing institutions are more important than building right, or mutual, relations with people who are different from us—the other. Yes, it seems to me that at the heart of this text is Jesus’ appeal to his disciples’ inner spirit of their faith over and against an institutionalism that had completely outlived its usefulness. It seems to me that at the heart of this text is Jesus’ call for bricks and mortar faith to give place to something new—a living faith that is lived out not in buildings but, yes, in “our power to generate right, or mutual, relations” with people who are different from us, who don’t look like us, or pray like us, or call God by the same name we call God. As people of all faiths, our way out of the darkness is not through our institutionalized religions that hide in impressive building—behind large stones—but rather through mutual relationships that honor the sacredness of every single life. If we simply stay holed up in our beautiful buildings, in our institutionalized faith systems that are no longer useful, only worshiping with people who look like us and think like us, wrapped up so tightly in our beliefs that have us killing one another we have no future. But if we dare to look deep within the inner spirit of our faith—be it Muslim, Jewish, Christian or some other faith—and reach to our innermost being for kindness and compassion and justice and right, or mutual, relations then the light will break forth like the dawn and healing can begin to appear.
This work, however, we cannot do alone sitting in our temples, our churches, our mosques. It must be done together. It can only be done in relationship—not just with people like us—but with “the other.” The young adult who is homeless and leaves all they possess tucked away in the safety of our chapel entrance. The middle-aged lady, a child of God, who sits underneath the cover of the building we just bought and shouts out obscenities because her mind is tormented by abuses that we can’t even begin to imagine. The young woman who we see at the grocery store or in the carpool line whose head and face are covered by a burka as a sign of her commitment to her faith. The man in the car in front of us who proudly displays a bumper sticker that reads “Make America Great Again.” The young woman who wakes five days a week, puts on her business suit and goes to work on Wall Street. The single mother or father who works two, sometimes three jobs to pay the rent and put food on the table for their children. The pastor who preaches every Sunday that Jesus is the only way. The sacred, inner work of giving place to something new can only be done together—people from every faith, every race, every gender, every orientation, every age. It is the way out of darkness and into the light. Relationship. Relationship. Relationship. From the first pages of our biblical text to its final pages our story is one of relationship—relationship with God and with each other and with “the other.”
I end with these profound and timely words from Carter Heyward. She writes in her forthcoming book:
“So here and now, we have something to do together—and that ‘something’ is to help give shape and voice to the Sacred, her wisdom and her compassion, her love and her liberation, so that we creatures can more fully enjoy and celebrate her presence and her movement in our midst, whoever and wherever we are, today…I am suggesting that God is never far away, and never entirely absent from anyone or anything and that, even in relation to the most egregious human behavior, those acts and attitudes that are evil beyond dispute, God is only one heart beat, one courageous creature, one movement for justice, or one well-placed word away. I am suggesting, moreover, that in God’s eternal ongoing Spirit, evil is only ‘relatively’ problematic because the darkness does not overcome the light, ever. How this can possibly be true is not ours to know at this moment on our journeys, nor even to imagine, but I believe it to be true, and deep in my soul, I know it is. I regard this as a terrible and sacred mystery.”
This journey that we face is something that we have to do together. May we have the courage to give place to something new as Christians, as Muslims, as Jews—as people of all kinds of faith and of no faith. And may this something new be housed not in buildings made of large stones that will eventually crumble to the ground. But rather in living mutual relationships that honor the sacredness of every life.
Jesus said: Blessed are those who mourn…Blessed are the peacemakers. Now is the time to mourn and to be peacemakers!