Sermon for August 22, 2021 381 499 johnpaddock

Sermon for August 22, 2021

What a time! 

  • There was the earthquake in the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere, with over 2,000 deaths. And then they got Grace . . . not Grace in a biblical sense but Grace  in the form of a Tropical Depression that dumped heavy rains in the earthquake zone. All this, of course, following the 2010 devastating earthquake, political instability as demonstrated by the assassination of her President just a month ago, and a medical system overwhelmed by a raging COVID pandemic. Haiti can’t catch a break!
  • Afghanistan: collapse of her military, her government, Taliban takeover, and horrifying images from the Kabul Airport.
  • There’s a surging Delta variant of COVID in many places—with so many of us reluctant to go back to practices that we know are effective (masking, distancing, isolating) and far too many unvaccinated and unwilling to serve the good of their neighbors. 
  • Global climate change is leading to droughts and fires in numerous parts of the world (1.3 million acres burned in Northern California alone so far this year)—storms and floods in other areas. Temperatures in the 100’s in normally moderate climes like Washington, Oregon, and Siberia. 
  • Five hundred miles above the Arctic Circle it rained for several hours on Thursday for the first time in the past 2000 years according the history recorded in ice cores. Six times since the time of Jesus, the temperatures there have risen above freezing—three of those since 2012. But this is the first time it has rained there since Jesus walked the earth.

A writer for Sojourner’s Magazine wrote this week: “I feel helpless, hopeless, as if a thousand lifetimes and mother’s prayers and daddy’s words and Bible verses could never prepare me for how fragile life feels.”[1]

Like Job, sometimes it seems that everything’s falling apart. And too often the Church isn’t much help. This summer’s deep concerns in the American religious community are: 

  • whether our Roman Catholic President can receive Holy Communion. 
  • The Southern Baptists are nervous about us learning that they were founded to provide religious support for slavery and that many of our founding Fathers owned slaves. 
  • Some of the Prosperity Gospel churches are preaching about how Jesus wants us all to be rich, what one theologian characterized in this way: “The Church is becoming a place where Christianity is nothing more than capitalism in drag.”[2]  
  • In some of our Episcopal parishes the hot topic this summer is when we’re going to get wine at the Eucharist.

The Rev. Otis Moss III has it right, when he says, “We are living a stormy Monday, but the pulpit is preaching a Happy Sunday.”[3] I would add, “An irrelevant Sunday.”

No way to sugar-coat the pain, loss, and despair in our world.

I feel it. I venture to say that we’ve all felt it throughout the pandemic, the political turmoil, the isolation, the sense that something is creeping up on us that is overwhelming—that we’re powerless to stop and control. 

With my mind’s eye I imagine the hopelessness of a slave in Egypt, the separation and isolation of an Exile in Babylon, the cry in the garden, “Take this cup from me.” No different than the fear and rumble of the shaking earth and the crash of buildings, the crackling and whoosh of the wind-blown fire racing toward the town, the distinctive clicks of the ventilator heard in the ICU, or the Hell on Earth when it’s 110 degrees and still rising.

The songs of lament fill the scriptures:

Psalm 12

“Help me, Lord, for there is no godly one left;

   The faithful have vanished from among us.

Everyone speaks falsely with his neighbor;

   With a smooth tongue they speak with a double heart. . . .

The wicked prowl on every side,

   And that which is worthless is highly exalted.”[4]

Psalm 13

“How long, O Lord?

Will you forget me forever?

   How long will you hide your face from me?

How long shall I have perplexity in my mind

And grief in my heart, day after day?

   How long shall my enemy triumph over me?”[5]

Or Psalm 137

“By the river of Babylon, we sat down and wept

   When we remembered you, O Zion. 

As for our harps, we hung them up

   On the trees in the midst of that land. 

For those who led us away captive asked us for a song,

   And our oppressors called for mirth:

   “Sing us one of the songs of Zion.”

How shall we sing the Lord’s song

   Upon an alien soil?”[6]

Zora Hurston was a sociologist, poet, and novelist of the Harlem renaissance. In one of her novels she gives a theological perspective about the experience of people up against the wall, so to speak. 

“The main character of the novel, Janie, who has taken hold of her destiny by marrying the much younger Teacake, seeks to find her place in the world. In one stunning section, Janie and Teacake take refuge from a hurricane:

“The wind came back with triple fury and put out the light for the last time. They sat in company with the others and other shanties, their eyes straining against the crude walls and their souls asking if He meant to measure their puny might against His. They seemed to be staring at the dark, but their eyes were watching the eyes of God.” (Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God [Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott Co., 1937], 191)[7]

As we look about and take the measure of our world, it’s tempting to give into despair . . . to allow ourselves to be overwhelmed by the darkness around us. 

There are lessons to be learned by those who’ve preceded us. The Psalmists lived in dark times. The Hebrews in Egypt faced deep gloom. The Jews in Exile couldn’t bring themselves to sing the old songs on an alien soil. Hurston’s Janie and Teacake, “seemed to be staring at the dark, but their eyes were watching the eyes of God.”

You see, it is from the dark, in the dark, on the verge of despair, that people have discovered . . . hope, God. 

So it was the slave, in the heat of the southern sun and under the whip of the overseer, could sing:

“Nobody knows the trouble I seen,

Nobody knows but Jesus.”

For it was in the suffering, in the dark, they encountered one who had been, is there, too. He had been whipped and beaten, poked and stabbed, and had come out on the other side—wounded and scarred—dying and dead. Good Friday gave way to Easter. But only after going through it. 

The temptation is to give into despair or to pretend that the storm clouds aren’t there and celebrate a Happy Sunday. But there’s a third way—to live into the stormy Mondays of life and discover in them, at the darkest moments, the presence of God. 


[1] Article by Dante Stewart, “When Everything Seems Fragile”, in Sojourner’s Magazine, accessed online on 8/19/2021 at 7 pm at https://us.e-activist.com/page/email?mid=579a62bd57cd4582b83396e31d0d5155

[2] Otis Moss III, Blue Note Preaching in a Post-Soul WorldFinding Hope in an Age of Despair, Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, 2015, p. 4

[3] Ibid, p. 4

[4] Psalm 12:1-2, 8 (The Book of Common Prayer, 1979, p 597)

[5] Psalm 13: 1-2 (BCP, p. 597)

[6] Psalm 137:1-4 (BCP p. 792)

[7] Blue Note Preaching, p. 9