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The Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 16)
27 August 2017

Grant, we beseech thee, merciful God, that thy Church, being gathered together in unity by thy Holy Spirit, may manifest thy power among all peoples, to the glory of thy Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the same Spirit, one God, world without end. Amen.

Isaiah 51:1-6
Romans 11:33-36
Matthew 16:13-20


Today’s Psalm and lesson from Isaiah continue to explore a theme that has been a fixture of our lessons this season: where and to whom are we to turn in times of trouble or crisis? For me at least, over these past few months, the events we see unfolding in the world around us continue to feel like a crisis and, perhaps, this is why I have so keenly heard the scriptures speaking to us on this theme.

I don’t remember much of any of the commencement speeches I have heard over the years, save one, my very first, when I completed eighth grade at St. Bernard’s School in 1981. Sir Brian Urquhart, father of one of my classmates, a decorated British army officer in World War II, Unsersecretary-General of the United Nations, and the main force behind the development of United Nations peacekeeping operations, spoke to us of the horrors of war and the prospect of peace. One of his most memorable points was that each generation believes that the terrors it faces are the worst that any generation before or after has or would ever face. When he was a boy, it was poison gas. As one of the first soldiers to liberate Bergen-Belsen, he witnessed the mass exterminations of the Jews and other marginal people in the concentration camps. Then, as one of the founding staff of the U.N., and still in that moment when speaking to us at the height of the Cold War, it was the looming threat of nuclear war. Since then we have shifted our anxiety to terrorism by rogue states and non-state actors, both large and small scale. Humans seem to have the uncanny ability, at every turn and with the development of each new technological advance, to develop schemes for our assured mutual destruction. At each moment, we believe that we have reached the heights of what evil has wrought.

So today as I write this and look at the headlines of the New York Times I am disheartened as I read the news of the destructive power that hurricane Harvey has unleashed on the Gulf Coast states, see our President flaunting the rule of law and abusing his power, read a story of the inaction of the police in the face of racist, anti-semetic, neo-fascist protestors in Charlottesville, and, of course, learn of further ballistic missile tests by the North Koreans. With all this happening around us, I, too, wonder whether we are facing a worse crisis than anyone else has faced before. Sometimes it seems like it and I understand why Sir Brian said what he did.

Again and again humans have faced adversity, both from the forces of nature and from the actions of other people. We have faced the threat and horrors of war, of oppression and injustice, we have faced poverty and famine, and we have used our freedom, compassion, creativity, and intellect to look for ways to overcome these challenges. At the heart of this resilliance, at the core of our ability to face what comes before us, what seems like an overwhelming force of opposition, is the knowledge that we are not alone, that we are part of something larger than our self, that we are supported and loved and empowered to act. In short, we know that we have a community that shares our values of love and justice and that we have been given authority to act on behalf of these forces by the author or all.

We can be reassured that we form part of a long line of people who have recognised that we are connected to, we are in relationship with, that we have the faith of God. Isaiah wrote, “Look to Abraham your father and to Sarah who bore you; for when he was but one I called him, and I blessed him and made him many.” We know that Jesus intended that his work continue in and through that of his followers. Jesus gave authority to his disciples to preach the Gospel, share this good news, create communities devoted to the works of love and justice. After Peter acknowledged that Jesus is the one to whom we turn, Our Lord proclaimed, “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” We are members of this community, the community of Jesus’ followers who have power to do the work to face the challenges we are presented.

Indeed, the Psalmist knew that we work in partnership with the source of all good, of all love, of all that is when he sang, “When I called, you answered me; you increased my strength within me.” We have the strength to face the horrors of this age, as those before us had the strength to face the horrors of their own. We do not simply wait for God to magically save us, our hope in God’s promises to us is that the cause in which we believe, and for which we act, is that which is at the very heart of creation and is in alignment with God’s purpose.

Isaiah gives us a promise that:

For the Lord will comfort Zion; he will comfort all her waste places, and will make her wilderness like Eden, her desert like the garden of the Lord; joy and gladness will be found in her, thanksgiving and the voice of song. Listen to me, my people, and give ear to me, my nation; for a law will go forth from me, and my justice for a light to the peoples. My deliverance draws near speedily, my salvation has gone forth, and my arms will rule the peoples; the coastlands wait for me, and for my arm they hope.

God reminds us that those who suffer are to be comforted—and we are called to be God’s arms. God reminds us that creation is to be cared for—and we are called to be God’s gardeners. God reminds us that justice and equity are the model for the governance of the people—and we are called to leadership and action to ensure the same.
So this, then, in the face of all our anxiety, in the face of all that we fear, in the face of the injustice we see and experience, is our prayer, our prayer in which we join, so we can act:

All the kings of the earth will praise you, O Lord, * when they have heard the words of your mouth. / They will sing of the ways of the Lord, * that great is the glory of the Lord. / Though the Lord be high, he cares for the lowly; * he perceives the haughty from afar. / Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you keep me safe; * you stretch forth your hand against the fury of my enemies; your right hand shall save me. / The Lord will make good his purpose for me; * O Lord, your love endures for ever; do not abandon the works of your hands.

With God’s love enduring for ever, knowing that God will never abandon that purpose, we are empowered in our own loving actions, never abandoning God’s purpose to face the worst that our age has to throw at us. Amen.

 

Andrew C. Blume✠
Barnstable, Mass.
Feria, 26 August 2017



© 2017 Andrew Charles Blume