Our opening prayer today tells us that the Holy Spirit is gathering us together in unity so that we, as the Church, may offer the gift of God’s power among all people . . . quite encouraging considering what’s going on all around us and throughout the world.
For those of us who are participating in the National Episcopal Church program, Sacred Ground, and also those who have met in the reparations book groups, we are learning so much about racism throughout the world and wherever we may have lived and our families before us – because it is all interconnected. So the idea of the Holy Spirit gathering us together in unity so that we may offer the gifts of God’s power among all people sounds breathtaking!
What we are learning over and over is that until we can learn to listen to one another, to trust God enough to shed our masks – masks we may have been wearing for so many generations we do not even know they are there – and come together in humility recognizing that we do not know all there is to learn, let alone experience what it is to live in someone else’s story.
To do this at all we must be willing to let God show us how to love one another, discerning God’s call to us in how we order our lives, and trusting God’s promises.
The late Rev. Howard Thurman, renown preacher, author, spiritual director for The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, and many more, first black Dean at a white university and co-founder of the first interracially pastored intercultural-congregation church in the US.
Rev. Thurman often said that we must be willing to become vulnerable enough to let God show us how to love one another. Thurman said, “One of the central things I learned about love was that the experience of being understood by another was of primary importance. Somewhere deep within was a ‘place’ beyond all faults and virtues that had to be confirmed before I could run the risk of opening my life up to another. To find ultimate security in an ultimate vulnerability, this is to be loved.”
. . . and very likely impossible to be reached without placing God at the center of our lives.
Step by step in our Sacred Ground confidential small group discussions generations of both conscious and unconscious privilege and exclusion are being painfully, shyly brought forth, confirming what our Presiding Bishop says in his introduction to this program, that whenever we are blessed to be able to listen to one another telling our stories we are on sacred ground.
And as The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King once said, “To reconcile people across racial lines, black people, white people, all people, is to stage a showdown between the power of God and the depth of the damage within us as human beings. It’s been my experience that the power of God wins.”
In today’s Old Testament reading from Isaiah, written in the prophetic tradition, the poet is telling us about God’s blessings in store for all of God’s people; that Israel must stay rooted in God’s promises, that God’s promises are with them even in exile, and that they must remember their sacred stories in which the Temple is indeed very sacred ground. Yet, throughout the full span of the book of Isaiah, Jerusalem is under threat and suffers endless chaos from the Assyrian, Babylonian, and Persian empires – approximately 500 years of threat and chaos. ( possibly makes our frustrations with this pandemic time seem not quite so long )
Our Psalm today is telling us that nothing can stand in the way of God’s loving purpose. Our Epistle, from Paul’s letter to the Romans, echoes and also spells out our opening Collect that, yes, we are all united on common ground, each of us with different gifts of Grace given to us by God calling us to faithfully discern and follow God’s will for us all.
Our Gospel today, known as “the great confession of Peter” when Peter is asked directly by Jesus, “Who do you say that I am?” Peter identifies Jesus as “the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Jesus blesses Peter, calling him the rock on which Jesus is promising to build His community and on all who, like Peter, make this confession.
Jesus reminds Peter, and us, that Peter recognized Jesus’ true identity because of a revelation from God, not from human testimony. Then Jesus reminds them, and us, that this City of Ceserea Philippi, where they are all gathered, is filled with pagan shrines. Its river, which flows from an underground spring, is seen as an opening to Hades and the underworld and the River Styx. Yet none of this will prevail against Jesus and his community because they are called by God, and, as our opening prayer says, “gathered together in Unity” to show forth God’s power among all peoples.
In the uncertainty and confusion, frustrations and impatience of this pandemic time it is so important for us to remember and also discover our earliest stories from ancient times, to sing out those hymns calling us to recognize and listen to God at the center of our lives, especially because one of the painful yet essential treasures within this pandemic time is the vivid exposure of long-continued systems of privilege and exclusion now increasingly revealed, calling us together to seek without ceasing the life-giving changes so desperately needed. Rooted in prayer and faithful discernment, and remembering God’s promises, will give us the spiritual and moral strength we need to expect and insist on recognizing God’s direction for us all.
I’d like to close with a Franciscan blessing that is very old and which some of you have been hearing from time to time during our weekday prayers because it is so very current for us today:
May God bless us with a restless discomfort about easy answers, half-truths and superficial relationships so that we may seek truth boldly and love deep within our hearts.
May God bless us with holy anger at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people, so that we may work for justice, freedom and peace among all people.
May God bless us with the gift of tears to shed with those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation, or the loss of all they cherish, so that we may reach out to comfort them and transform their pain into joy.
May God bless us with enough foolishness to believe that we really CAN make a difference in this world, so that we are able, with God’s grace, to do what others claim cannot be done, to bring justice and love to all our neighbors so that, together, we may all share the blessing of God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit always with us. AMEN