Twenty-Fifth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 28, Year B)

A Sermon from the Episcopal Parish of
St. John the Evangelist in Hingham, Massachusetts
Preached by the Rev. Timothy Schenck on November 8, 2015 (Proper 28, Year B)

“When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning of the birth pangs.”
 
On Friday, an earthquake hit Japan, bombings in Baghdad killed or wounded 50 people, CTuyLoTUEAAVQuMsuicide bombers in Lebanon killed over 40 people and injured 200 more, and over 120 people were gunned down in Paris leaving 350 more wounded, many in critical condition.
 
The last few days do indeed feel like we have entered into a time of biblically proportioned horror. Images from around the world weigh on our souls and hope seems elusive. And as we individually and collectively seek to process all that we have witnessed and encountered, we’re left with more questions than answers. How do we deal with these events, how do we go on living while others suffer; when will the killing end; what can we do to help?

We come to church perhaps to hear a word of comfort. We look to our faith even as words feel insufficient to express our outrage and fear and helplessness. We seek a place of dry ground amid the quick sand of global tragedy. And I think it’s helpful to be reminded of just what it is we, as Christians, are called to do in such situations. In my mind, there are three things: We pray, we love, we act.

We pray for those affected by tragedy. We pray with all our heart and mind and soul; corporately here on Sunday morning and individually throughout the week. We pray for those who remain in harm’s way; we pray for healing; we pray for those who grieve; we pray for our leaders; we pray for doctors and nurses; we pray for first responders; we pray for those in the grip of evil; we pray for our enemies. And when words don’t suffice we simply sit in silence and allow Jesus, who already knows what is on our hearts; to do the praying for us. So we pray.

And we love. We love those who differ from us; we love those who do not share our beliefs; we love those who are convinced they are unloveable; we love those near us; we love one another; we love God; we love those who hate us. And when our hearts feel too small to love so many beyond ourselves we remember that God is love. That God so loved the world that he sent his son Jesus so that we may believe in God through him. So we love.

And we act. We act by sharing our resources with those in need; we act by reaching out to a friend who is struggling with all that is going on in the world; we act by comforting a child; we act by sharing our faith with a world that may not comprehend it. And when we don’t know how to act we look to Jesus who reached out his hands in love and compassion to heal a broken and sinful world. So we act.

And all of these — prayer, love, and action — point to hope. That’s the hallmark of our faith. There’s no doubt that it’s hard to watch the news and hear about the carnage and not be discouraged and disheartened. And while some may view all that’s happening in the world and turn to utter despair, we cannot. And we cannot because we believe in a God of hope. We believe in a God who rises victorious in the face of death and destruction. We believe in a God who drives out evil with love. We believe in a God who relieves suffering and binds up the wounded. We believe in a God who is present among us even in the darkest of moments.
 
You know, in times like this, I often turn to the Baptismal rite. It stands at the very heart of our identity as people who seek to follow Jesus. And I’m immediately drawn to the six questions that get asked of the parents and godparents — three renunciations followed by three affirmations. And if there is ever a moment that reminds us that baptism isn’t a cute little rite of passage for babies but rather a powerful rite of commitment for Christians, it is found in these questions.

The harsh language of the renunciations make clear that there is evil in the world: Do you renounce Satan and all the spiritual forces of wickedness that rebel against God? Do you renounce the evil powers of this world which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God? Do you renounce all sinful desires that draw you from the love of God?

And the affirmations make clear that there is another way; that there is an antidote to the evil of the world: Do you turn to Jesus Christ and accept him as your Savior? Do you put your whole trust in his grace and love? Do you promise to follow and obey him as your Lord?

hqdefaultThese questions are familiar to many — not just regular churchgoers who’ve seen a lot of baptisms — but from the original Godfather movie as they make up one of the most dramatic scenes in cinematic history. Michael Corleone participates in a baptism as his nephew’s godfather. And as he answers the baptismal questions — the renunciations and the affirmations — his men are executing the heads of rival families to consolidate his power. The camera cuts back and forth between Michael renouncing evil and affirming his faith in Jesus Christ as the gruesome mob hits are being carried out. Violence is set against the backdrop of sacrament.

All of which highlights that evil is alive, well, and thriving in this world. And that it is our faith in Jesus Christ that is held over and against the evil of this world. It is also a reminder that what we have witnessed in recent days has nothing to do with anything remotely related to the divine purposes of God. There is a perversion of faith that has taken place in the name of God but this is not in the least of God. Christians have been and continue to be guilty of violence in God’s name — and yet this doesn’t adequately reflect our faith. Muslims have been and continue to be guilty of violence in God’s name — and yet this doesn’t adequately reflect their faith.

The many Muslim leaders throughout the world who have condemned the acts of terror in Paris keep pointing to this verse from the Quran: “Whoever kills an innocent person, it is as if he has killed all of humanity.” Islam is not synonymous with terrorism but terrorism is synonymous with evil. And we can and must join with our fellow brothers and sisters of faith across all races, creeds, and cultures to condemn it.

In the meantime, I will continue to encourage us all to pray, to love, and to act. It is the only way forward as we seek, with the help of our Lord, the Prince of Peace, to move from despair and darkness to hope and new life.

© The Rev. Tim Schenck 2015

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