The Rev. Gail Wheatley is a retired Episcopal priest. She served as the supply priest for St. Hilda St. Patrick on June 26, 2022. Her sermon was a response to the texts for Proper 8.
I understand I have the privilege of “batting clean-up” at the end of your rector’s paternity leave. I don’t know how many different clergy you’ve had up here or how many were known or unknown like I am, but hopefully it’s been an enriching time for St. Hilda St. Patrick to hear a variety of voices and perspectives – and hopefully make you even more glad to have Joseph+ back next week!
But I confess that being a supply priest and being with a congregation I don’t know and who doesn’t know me, feels tricky at times. It can be liberating, because if you aren’t happy with what you see or hear you never have to invite me back again. And there is something to be said for that freedom. 😉
Because over the past couple months I’ve been in 3 different congregations and have come up against some tough Sundays in the life of the country; the Sunday after the mass shooting in Buffalo, NY; the Sunday after the slaughter in Uvalde, TX; the Sunday after the shooting in an Episcopal Church in Alabama. And today; the Sunday after the Supreme Court overturned the constitutional right to an abortion which had been in place for 50 years. All those Sunday sermons turned out to be different from what I thought they were going to be, because I believe people wonder where God is in these events and also what the church might have to say. If Jesus can boldly set his face to Jerusalem in response to oppression by Rome and religious authorities, we can confront the same.
So here we are. I can’t begin to assume I know what St. Hilda St. Patrick people feel about any social issue. However, looking through your website and seeing information on the Poor People’s Campaign (which will advocate for the women of color and poverty who will be most directly impacted by this judicial decision), a variety of links on social justice issues, a video from Presiding Bishop Michael Curry and links to “Pew to the Public Square,” I thought I might be safe sharing with you portions of Bishop Curry’s statement following this Supreme Court decision. You can look up the entire statement online.
While I, like many, anticipated this decision, I am deeply grieved by it. I have been ordained more than 40 years, and I have served as a pastor in poor communities; I have witnessed firsthand the negative impact this decision will have.
We as a church have tried carefully to be responsive both to the moral value of women having the right to determine their healthcare choices as well as the moral value of all life. Today’s decision institutionalizes inequality because women with access to resources will be able to exercise their moral judgment in ways that women without the same resources will not.
This is a pivotal day for our nation, and I acknowledge the pain, fear, and hurt that so many feel right now. As a church, we stand with those who will feel the effects of this decision—and in the weeks, months, and years to come.
The Episcopal Church maintains [since 1976] that access to equitable health care, including reproductive health care and reproductive procedures, is “an integral part of a woman’s struggle to assert her dignity and worth as a human being” (2018-D032). The church holds that “reproductive health procedures should be treated as all other medical procedures, and not singled out or omitted by or because of gender” (2018-D032).?The Episcopal Church sustains its “unequivocal opposition to any legislation on the part of the national or state governments which would abridge or deny the right of individuals to reach informed decisions [about the termination of pregnancy] and to act upon them” (2018-D032)….
… The impact will be particularly acute for those who are impoverished or lack consistent access to health care services. As Episcopalians, we pray for those who may be harmed by this decision, especially for women and other people who need these reproductive services. We pray for the poor and vulnerable who may not have other options for access. We urge you to make your voice heard in the way you feel called but always to do so peacefully and with respect and love of neighbor.
Certainly there are people in the country who are rejoicing about this ruling. We have family members and people we love who are. But I have culled my internet newsfeed over the years so all I have seen over the past couple days are words of grief, sorrow, despair, longing for different justices, wishing Ruth Bader Ginsburg had retired while Obama was still president so he could have appointed her successor…. Anger at the outcome of the 2016 election which presaged this result. Fear over the next domino of human rights to fall…. Even so, we must acknowledge and respect that people of faith are not always of one mind, on this or any other issue and the way forward must be together.
We heard a bit from Bishop Curry on where the Episcopal Church stands. Is there anything in today’s lessons which have something to say to us about this? What readings were serendipitously assigned which might give us some hope and that way forward?
Luke’s gospel has Jesus with his face turned to Jerusalem, knowing what is ahead of him, and not being very patient with those who want to turn back from the plow or bury their dead. As Bishop Stacy Sauls once said, this is “cranky Jesus.” But don’t we all want to do what is normal and expected of us? Who among us doesn’t long at times for the way things were and wish we could tidy up things at home or get a better job or a different partner or even clean the bathroom before taking the next step forward? Even the Israelites looked back with longing to their slavery in Egypt as better than the misery along the way to the Promised Land.
But here’s where we are, with respect to this particular issue, or climate change, or gun violence or the inflation rate. Looking back with longing will not benefit us in the long run. We may need time to grieve and breathe and gather and pray; and then we respond. We act in the way Jesus would have us act and by what we promise in our baptismal vows: to seek and serve Christ in all persons, to strive for justice and peace among all people. How? with God’s help.
Some tables may need overturning, when human rights are being trampled or human dignity is oppressed or creation destroyed. But Jesus won’t have us cutting off ears or raining down fire on those who don’t follow our ways or believe as we do.
Blogger Steve Garnaas-Holmes wrote a beautiful entry this week that I want to share with you in response to James and John wanting to call down fire on those who would not receive them when they passed through a Samaritan village. It’s called “No Fire.”
Don’t you just want to slap James and John for being such idiots?
In fact, why stop there?
Why not command fire to come down and consume them?
Funny how (a) we want to destroy people who disagree with us,
(b) we imagine we can do so, even if just by insulting them, and
(c) we assume Jesus likes that.
Wrong all three times.
(When fire actually does come down from heaven, as at Pentecost,
it doesn’t destroy people; it destroys our divisions, connects us,
and helps us communicate when previously we hadn’t.)
So when people won’t listen to us or even won’t accept us,
what do we do? Instead of calling down fire,
call up the fruits the Spirit has given you:
love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity,
faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
Practice this among your enemies and see how you are blessed.
That’s a lofty goal, right? We have been advised by Bishop Rickel that information has been received from federal authorities of credible security threats against clergy and churches around this Supreme Court abortion decision. There is concern that clergy who have advised parishioners about abortion access and their reproductive rights may face threats or violence. That’s the ugly truth about where we are today. It’s easier in many ways to rain down fire than engage in what former Representative John Lewis called Good Trouble. That’s Jesus’ kind of trouble. Advocacy, protests, get-out-the-vote efforts, lobbying, or baking cookies for those who do. We can all play a part in bringing about the Dream of God.
As Bishop Rickel wrote long before he was our bishop, it’s not about what you are doing or not doing; it is about what and who you are being. It is about what we finally put our hope and trust in every day. What difference would it make if, instead of finding the reasons we can’t follow Jesus right now, we made that bold request for a double portion of spirit and expected God to do something great for and with our lives today?
After St. Paul’s lengthy and tedious list of vices in his letter to the Galatians, some of which give us pause, there is redemption in the fruits of the Spirit Garnaas-Holmes mentioned in his blog: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Our work is to ensure there are no laws against these. We may feel we’re headed to Jerusalem and that the way ahead is bleak, but Jesus is right on that road with us, step-by-step. It reminds me of a book my congregation read together some years back, and the title of my sabbatical: We make the road by walking.
The Kingdom of God lies not behind us but ahead of us and the way will be shown as we walk it. Think about that row in the field you are plowing. Even if you look back and think it’s straight, the very act of looking back will put a crook in the row. Think of other images [+Tom Wright] such as singing a song. It’s no good wondering whether you sang the previous line perfectly. You’ve got to concentrate on the next line. Or the next jump in ice skating after you fall. Or the map you need is the one which tells you where to go next, not the one for the road you’ve just traveled. The challenge Jesus is extending is to move forward with him, into the future. Beyond Jerusalem, beyond death and the grave, there is resurrection, new life, and always hope.
Presbyterian pastor Jim Rigby from Austin, TX, wrote this week: “Hope cannot be defeated by any roll of fortune’s dice because it is not directed toward any one contingent goal. Hope is our embodiment of creativity itself. Hope beats silently behind the ebb and flow of events. Buried beneath a sea of ashes, the soul cannot but dream of beauty. Chained to the withered tree of sorrow, hope whispers we can still give ourselves as a gift to those yet to be.”
The entire quote by John Lewis is this:
Do not get lost in a sea of despair. Do not become bitter or hostile. Be hopeful. Be optimistic. Never, ever be afraid to make some noise and get in good trouble, necessary trouble. We will find a way to make a way out of no way.
We will, with God’s help.