Sermon for Second Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 7, Year C

Father’s Day – June 19, 2022

Isaiah 65:1-9                       Psalm 22:18-27                                  Galatians 3:23-29                              Luke 8:26-39

          We began this service today with the prayer, “O Lord, make us have perpetual love and reverence for your holy Name, for you never fail to help and govern those whom you have set upon the sure foundation of your loving­-kindness.”  It needs to be a prayer for our whole world today.  We need for our hearts to be transformed so that we do have perpetual love and reverence, not only for God’s holy Name, but for all people.

          Thursday night, three members of St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church near Birmingham, Alabama were shot and killed when a gunman started shooting people gathered for a potluck.  The gunman was subdued by a member attending the dinner, or the body count would have higher.  Robert Smith, a 70 y/o man, who attended St. Stephens, has been arrested and charged with the killings.

          Bishop Benfield sent out a special communique yesterday in which he wrote, “I ask that in our church services this Sunday we remember the victims (Walter Rainey, Sarah Yeager, and Jan Pounds), as well as the people of St. Stephan’s Church and the Diocese of Alabama.  Also, we need to pray for the . . . gunman even as we continue to be mystified why this hideous action occurred.”

I’ve heard it said over and over again “it’s a small world,” and that certainly applies to life in the Episcopal Church.  One of the priests in a neighboring church to St. Stephen’s was a person I lead through her discernment process and then served as her mentor after she was ordained.   I spoke with the priest in Conway yesterday who said he attended seminary with two of the priests at St. Stephens.  Another priest in our diocese who came to us from Alabama, said he has a close connection with that parish.  He wrote on the day of the shooting: “I’m praying for friends in Alabama tonight, especially those in Birmingham, after a shooting at a church I know well. Grateful for those who gather in person to pray and for those who join them by praying from afar. Please pray for those who are hurt—physically, emotionally, spiritually, psychologically.” 

The shooting effects all of us.  For some of us it affirms our worse fears.  The world we live in is not safe and life is unpredictable.  First, COVID drove us inside our homes and made us fear getting sick from gathering in groups.  And now the shootings in grocery stores, schools, churches and on the streets gives us pause whenever we make plans to go out.  We must, therefore, make a conscious effort to turn to our faith.  Faith can overcome fear.  I find comfort in the words of our opening collect, “[Lord], you never fail to help and govern those whom you have set upon the sure foundation of your loving-kindness.”  

This is our prayer for all of humanity, a prayer that through faith our hearts may be set upon the sure foundation of God’s loving-kindness.  We are living in a world where there are people who are driven by hurt and rage and hate.  I pray that we will remember to live, through faith, in the knowledge that with Christ as the cornerstone of our foundation, we can experience God’s loving-kindness – God’s peace in the midst of a world filled with violence.  Shootings in what we once considered safe places only emphasizes what we all know to be true – we are not in control of what happens next.  We will witness many things in our lives, and some of them are horrific. 

Living in fear and isolating ourselves from going to the store, or school, or church, or any other public gathering can be a symptom of losing faith in the one who gives us life and peace.    Yes, we can and should take precautions, but not at the expense of experiencing and sharing the love of God with others. Christ offers us salvation.  Salvation which means, among other things, deliverance from harm.  Allowing fear to rule our lives harms our soul.

Our response to the shootings in an Episcopal church, and to all shootings for that matter, needs to be one of love. We need to pray for all the victims, families, and for those whose lives have been forever changed by these horrendous acts – and we need to pray that we have the strength to continue to live as Christ taught us to live – loving and serving others.  After the shooting at St. Stephens, people came and gathered outside the church and prayed.

The Apostle Paul wrote in today’s lesson that before faith, “we were imprisoned and guarded.”  He was talking about following Jewish Law out of a sense of duty.  But Christ, he says, “came, so that we might be justified by faith.”  And through baptism in his name, he says, “there is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”  Our fear of becoming the next victim may be understandable because of all of the events that have occurred over the past month and past decades, but faith teaches us that being one with Christ Jesus means that we believe our life on earth is temporary and our life in Christ is eternal.

We need to be mindful of our circumstance and we need to live as people of faith.  There is one thing I learned when I first started attending the Episcopal Church that I think is important to remember now.  Sometimes when I attended church, I found myself simply going through the motions.  I was too distracted to worship.  I got very little out of being in church. Other times; however, I was attentive and opened myself to God’s presence and experienced God’s peace.  One day I realized that the discipline of attending was what made it possible for me to experience God’s grace.  I realized that discipline is an important and vital part of faith.

So, in this time of uncertainty, it is important and it is vital for us to be disciplined in those practices that open our hearts to experience God’s loving-kindness in our lives.  

Before I close, I do want to acknowledge that today is Juneteenth, the day we celebrate the news of slaves’ freedom reaching all slaves and today is also Father’s Day.  On this day I remember my father and the lessons he taught me and the love he shared with me.  One of those lessons was the importance of faith.  Though he was a minister, his example was the primary way he taught me to think beyond myself and be thankful.  Today, let us remember the men who, past and present, teach children (young and old) what gives our lives meaning – our faith that enables us to set our foundation on God’s loving-kindness and experience true life.

Let us pray.

          Heavenly Father, in you we live and move and have our being: We humbly pray to you so to guide and govern us by your Holy Spirit, that in all the cares and occupations of our life we may not forget you, but may remember that we are ever walking in your sight.  Today we give thanks for our fathers and those men who teach us to follow the path of love that Jesus revealed to us.  And, we pray for the families of Walter Rainey, Sarah Yeager, and Jan Pounds.  We pray for the people of St. Stephan’s Church and the Diocese of Alabama.  Comfort them in their time of grief.  Give them strength to face the days ahead and help them to experience your peace.  We offer our prayers in the name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.  Amen.