Sermon for Proper 14, Year B
August 8, 2021
1 Kings 19:4-8 Psalm 34:1-8 Ephesians 4:25-5:2 John 6:35, 41-51
As we anticipate the beginning of school in the midst of a surge of Corona Virus cases that places our children under 12 at a far greater risk than last year, tempers are flaring over issues of masks and who should have authority over such decisions. I, too, have been frustrated and angry by what so many of us believe, this a surge that could have been prevented.
Reading today’s passage from Ephesians did give me pause to reflect on the debates. We are told to “speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another.” It hasn’t felt like we are one as we argue over individual rights vs. community needs. Are we a group of individuals or part of a community? Ephesians continues, saying, “Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not make room for the devil.” Being angry is easy, but resolving our anger in one day is not always possible. And, I dare say, it is not always desirable. What is possible and what is needed is for us to separate our feelings about the issues and the peoples whose points of view differ from our own.
Jesus calls upon us to love our enemy, and Jesus quotes Isaiah when he speaks of what he has come to do: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor (Luke 4:18-19).” As Christians, we are called to follow his example and speak out for the most vulnerable among us – to do what we can to help our neighbors in need.
In order to love those we disagree with and whose policies we may believe to be harmful to others, we must shift our focus away from the person to the issues. And, we must pray for the people. I admit that my prayers for them are not always for their health and wellbeing, but for God to open their hearts and minds to the needs of others. And, then I must pray that God will open my heart and strengthen my faith so that I may be able to leave judgment to God. Focusing my anger on injustice, rather than blame, is far healthier and more productive than speaking ill of people.
This week, I was feeling overwhelmed by where we are today when Pat Mulick mentioned that some of our healthcare workers are feeling defeated by this pandemic. I realized that was what I was feeling, defeated. Sometimes simply acknowledging our feelings enables us to see beyond them. The next morning at 4:30, I received a call from the hospital. They were looking for a minister to visit a patient who was nearing the end of her life and wanted to talk.
She was, unfortunately, unable to talk when I arrived. I prayed for her and not wanting her to die alone, I sat with her. In a few minutes, a patient care tech came into the room – she had been told to sit with the patient. I spent the next 30 minutes sitting with her listening to the pain she had experienced when she was caring for patients on the COVID ward. Seeing people suffer and die is difficult.
This pandemic tests our faith, especially now when the delta variant has forced us to take a step back from resuming “normal” activities – or at least reinstituting some of the precautions we had put behind us.
As a church, we are regrouping. We are continuing to offer Sunday services in person, but we are minimizing the risk by wearing our masks and reducing our “time of exposure.” Group gatherings and activities are being postponed, scaled back, or moved back online.
The Academy of Pediatrics recommends in-person school and activities for children, noting the needs for socialization for their development and mental health outweigh the risks of getting the virus. The parents I have talked with are nervous but plan to have their children attend school in-person. They feel we should offer their children a means of being a part of St. Paul’s. Therefore, we are moving forward with our plans for a combined youth and children’s ministry with the First Presbyterian Church. The groups and activities will be small and outside.
As always, being a parent requires us to seek balance between risk and the developmental needs of our children – I can’t think of a time when this is more true than today. This is true for all of us as well. How do we balance our need for socialization with our need to remain safe? I certainly don’t have the answer, but I do know that our lesson from Ephesians gives us some direction:
Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you. Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
If we are to be imitators of God, we will live in love and make sacrifices for the good of others. Bitterness will not be what drives us, love will be what enables us to do what we need to do.
Let us pray.
Loving and gracious God, help us, we pray, to find the balance that enables us to grow and learn and be as safe as possible. Be with our parents, teachers, and staff, as they prepare for the new school year; that they may find the balance that keeps our students safe and one another healthy. We offer our prayers in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.