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May 17, 2020 — The Rev. Sam Owens

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“Blessed be God, who has not rejected my prayer or withheld his love from me.”

May I speak in the name of God: Father Son and Holy Spirit.
Hello and good morning to my friends at St. Michael’s Church.
I greet you in the name of our risen Lord Jesus Christ on behalf of
The Haitian Congregation of the Good Samaritan in the Bronx.
My family and I live in Croton on Hudson,
The Bronx church has been closed since mid March.
Like you, we long for a time to return from this exile
When we can see each other, hug each other, sing with each other.

We are doing a lot of praying and worshiping on line and on the phone,
And I thank God that we have the technology to do at least that.
Thank you Rev. Kate for inviting me to share the Good News
of God’s love for us in Jesus Christ.

Paul’s 2nd letter to Timothy means more than ever to me today
When he says I long to see you so that I may be filled with joy.
This last verse from Ps 66 gives me a lot of comfort.
Blessed be God, who has not rejected my prayer or withheld his love from me.
During difficult times like these when we see a lot of suffering,
It’s easy to despair and wonder if God is really here.

But this verse reminds us that
God never rejects our prayers, God never withholds his love from us.
All through Holy Scripture God never says believe when you see.
Blessed are those who believe who haven’t seen, Jesus says to Thomas.
God is with us when we don’t see evidence.

On the other hand, for many of us,
it can actually be easier to sense God’s love and presence
Because our choices are more limited.
We slow down, our perceived safety net has shredded and frayed.
We can’t rely on many of the things we used to.
We certainly can’t rely on our own intellect and cleverness,
Because one thing seems clear to me
Is that the experts have no idea what to do
In the face of this virus that seems to attack us in a new way every day.

But we can rely on God, the God of Abraham,
Isaac and Jacob, God who gave us his only son Jesus,
To show us how to live and die and live again.
He gave us his son to show us that no matter what the question or problem,
love is always the answer.
Love of God, and love for each other.
Even when we are being accused and attacked and spit on
and crucified…the answer is love and forgiveness.

Today, as in Jesus’ time,
We live in a brutal world of injustice and inequity.
This pandemic is shining a light on a problem that has been right in front of us.
It’s nothing new really. People of color suffer disproportionately.
You know the stats, I don’t need to tell you.
But I want to remind you
That when rich countries like ours cough,
Poor countries like Haiti get sick.

We are suffering today, but the suffering for Haiti
and Guatemala and others… is only just beginning.
The virus is spreading to Haiti.
Famine is spreading there because domestic agriculture
and foreign food assistance are both diminishing.
This was happening before the pandemic, but the food crisis is accelerating.
Haiti has the real possibility of a complete collapse,
With widespread starvation and anarchy.

What does this have to do with the Gospel of Jesus Christ?
Let’s talk about that.
Jesus said If you loved me you would keep my commandment.
The two greatest commandments being to love God
with all your heart and soul and mind and strength
and to love your neighbor as yourself.
Jesus doesn’t leave us alone in doing this,
Jesus said that he asked the Father
To send us the Advocate, the spirit of truth, to be with us.

God does not withhold his love from us,
And he certainly does not withhold his love from the people of Haiti.
Personally I feel very powerless about Haiti.
Normally we go there twice a year.
Civil unrest and pandemic block us from going.
But we are not Haiti’s savior, God is.
God is with them in their struggles just as God is with us in ours.

Ever since Jesus ascended to Heaven, those of us who believe
have been the body of Christ, which means we work with God
to accomplish God’s will, inspired by the Spirit of Truth.

A few days ago the church calendar commemorated Francis Perkins.
She was an advocate for the poor in urban and industrial cities, particularly NYC.
She was Secretary of Labor for 12 years.
Francis was an Episcopalian, and she spoke publicly
How the Incarnation of God as Jesus Christ
Informed her conviction that humans ought to work with God
To create a just social order.
That sounds like a tall order…
Sometimes it feels like what we do doesn’t matter,
That our meager effort and contribution is a drop in the ocean.

When we see an unjust society,
It’s easy to despair and think things will never change, that’s just the way it is,
It been that way since Jesus’ time,
My contribution won’t really make a difference.
We give, we volunteer, but we don’t really believe things will change.
Racism will always be here,
Economic injustice and inequality will always exist.
I think we have all bought into the lie
That things will never change.
We are all numb to the suffering.
All around us is suffering, but inside us is great suffering too.
Because so many of us long for a better world, but we’ve kind of given up.
So suffer inside.
But it doesn’t have to be this way.

Governments, corporations, all institutions including the church
Exist in part to resist change.
Part of their purpose is to maintain the status quo.
This pandemic has loosened the mortar on the bricks of our institutional structures,
Forcing us to ask important questions about our reality.
And we have an opportunity that only comes around
Once in several lifetimes.
We get to look at ourselves in the mirror and say
Who are we, And who do we want to be?

It hasn’t been all bad, this shutdown.
Look at some of the blessings that have come.
Cleaner air and a slower pace of life are just some of the benefits.
Most of us are spending a less money,
We’ve been forced to live more simply.
I wonder if we can sustain some of these changes long-term.
For too long we have all accepted injustice and inequality
As fact. It doesn’t have to be fact.

Perhaps the Spirit of truth that Jesus refers to today is telling us it’s time to wake up
And turn our will and our lives over to God’s care
Like we’ve never done before.
We who believe in the divinity of Jesus Christ
Have the Advocate, this Spirit of Truth, to guide and magnify our work.
This spirit never rejects our prayers and never withholds his love from us.
Things that seem impossible, like creating a just social order,
Can happen, we can make changes.

We already have a foundation to build on.
You all at St. Michael’s continue to feed 175 people weekly with grab and go meals.
In Haiti, St. Michael’s continues to support the NYHP,
And we pay the salaries of the teachers at St. Luke’s Episcopal School,
Teachers like Erose and Chilanca Dabrezil.
They are sisters who teach kindergarten and 1st grade respectively
at St Luke’s in Martel.
The salary we continue to pay them during this crisis
Helps them to feed their families.
But it’s really not enough, it really is a drop in the ocean.
If we don’t do more, those of us
who are well-intentioned followers of Jesus
are in danger of perpetuating a culture of dependence
rather than a culture of transformation, equality and justice.

How can we together create a just social order?
Jesus does not leave us orphaned.
Alongside this great struggle stands great opportunity.
I don’t know the answer, but I’m willing to ask the question.
I’m willing to listen for an answer.
If you’re willing to join me,
Ask God in your prayers to reveal God’s will to you
How we can create a just social order in the UWS, in Haiti and in the Bronx.
Ask God to show how you can keep God’s commandments.
Listen to the answer, and then follow where God leads you.

May God bless these words, may God bless each of us.
Amen.

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