Sunday, June 14, 2020 – Compassionate Action
Bird watching brings me pleasure – it is relaxing, it hones observation skills, it nudges me to find out more about a particular bird’s habits or song or flight patterns or nest. It’s an innocent low-cost pastime.
I’m on the email list of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology (one of the few non-church related emails that I receive!). This week’s email featured an article about Black Birders Week. 5 Key Lessons to Take Home from the First Black Birders Week. I encourage you to read it as part of awareness raising. (See also this clip that was on WCAX that was aired after I wrote most of this!)
Even an activity that is stress-relieving for one person has stress associated with it for another person who seeks the same joy and engagement with nature. When a person has to ask, “who will be threatened if they see me, what will they do, what will I do,” every time an innocent activity is undertaken, it takes a toll. Blood pressure goes up in order to do something that should bring blood pressure down. Just because of the color of a person’s skin.
We cannot think that we are immune to racism or that it doesn’t affect Vermont. We dare not be apathetic or ignorant.
So what can we do? What are we called to do as Christians, as members of the Body of Christ?
“What does it mean to be the Church in this time and place?” is a question we should always be asking but it is even more important today.
What does it mean to you to be part of this sacred Body?
What does it look like to be part of a body where a part has been suffering for centuries?
These are not questions that we can quickly answer but I hope you will wrestle with them and search for answers.
As Christians and as United Methodists, we promised when we were baptized and joined the church to resist evil in all its ways. These are the questions we answered affirmatively then:
- Do you renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world, and repent of your sin?
- Do you accept the freedom and power God gives you to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves?
- Do you confess Jesus Christ as your Savior, put your whole trust in his grace, and promise to serve him as your Lord, in union with the Church which Christ has opened to people of all ages, nations, and races?
Evil powers and forces of wickedness. We don’t talk about these very often. We so rarely do baptisms or new memberships that these words jump out when we hear them.
We accepted the freedom and power God gave us to resist evil, injustice and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves.
Today’s reading from Matthew is the story of Jesus sending the 12 disciples (called apostles here – “apostle” meaning one who is sent) into the towns and villages of Israel. We may have heard it many times, and different ideas have been emphasized depending on the sermon of the day. “like sheep without a shepherd,” “the harvest is plentiful but the workers few,” “take nothing with you,” “shake the dust from your sandals,” “…like sheep in the midst of wolves.”
Today, we’ll work mainly with verse 36: “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless…”
Jesus had compassion on the crowds. Compassion – com pathos, with passion – passion has its base in one’s gut. Another way of saying this would be that when Jesus saw the crowds he felt a deep caring from a gut level, or he had a gut reaction of caring. One’s “gut” is the seat of action, to feel something at this level is to be propelled to action.
Why did he have such a strong reaction? They were harassed and helpless – the literal translation is they were oppressed and thrown down or thrown to the ground. Thrown to the ground.
This crop of people who were oppressed and thrown to the ground were ready to be harvested, and God needed workers to go to them and tell them the good news that God’s Divine Order (kingdom) has come near. This message would not be well received everywhere and the apostles were warned that they would end up being dragged before authorities, those in power. At this point most of us hearing the verses that follow shut down.
But today, let’s stay with the call to go to the people who are oppressed. Let’s not shut down.
What is the good news of this Order to people who are oppressed? In Jesus’ time it was to be revealed in the curing of every disease and sickness and casting out demons and unclean spirits.
What might this look like today, this day in June 2020, in the year of pandemic and Black Lives Matter? Where is God sending us today?
It is important to remember that it is God who sends. It is God’s mission and it is God who equips. God’s Spirit speaks through the ones God sends. These are daunting times, but God is in charge.
Is today’s crop a captive people ripe for the good news of release from oppression?
Could the “crop” also be people who are in need of being cured of sickness of heart and the disease of racism? Is it people in need of having the demons of fear and deception and hatred cast out?
This message will not be popular with everyone, but is this not the role of the Church in this time and place? Is it not time for compassionate acts of faith? Jesus was moved by compassion, we also should be moved by compassion.
We promised when we were baptized and joined the church that we would resist evil in all the ways it presents itself.
There are oppressed people who’ve been thrown to the ground – we’ve seen the image of George Floyd over and over. Some folks are growing numb to it and are “ready to move on,” but this is a time to sit with this pain and discomfort and look at what makes us uncomfortable or angry or sad or appalled. It’s time to look for whom or what we haven’t seen or noticed or given attention to.
It is a time to truly value black lives and to realize that for so many, there is constant traumatic stress. There is no “post” traumatic stress. Generation after generation has suffered from inadequate and often hostile healthcare, educational, criminal justice, housing and economic systems. Even activities that should relieve stress have stress associated with them and black people are tired.
Into this place we are called as Christians. Jesus would send us and by our actions bring the good news of the kingdom of God which includes release for the captives of injustice. We have the holy calling and power to do this work together with people of all colors.
“As you have done it unto the least of these my children, you have done it unto me.”
Let us repent of having failed to listen to cries for justice and for not seeing and denying that racism exists. Let us repent of assuming that because we are safe and free to go where we want, when we want, and achieve what we want that all live this way. Let us repent that we have taken this for granted not because we earned it or deserved it or are better than anyone, but because of the color of our skin. Let us repent and ask God for forgiveness, and then, moved by compassion, let us ask God to send us to act, to be God’s agents of change to harassed, oppressed, thrown to the ground people.
The killing of George Floyd reminds us that cries for justice and equity continue today; awakened hearts and active bodies are needed to join the cause. … I, Richard—like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.—believe that “the arc of the universe bends toward justice,” but it depends upon our participation. What is your work to do today to bend the universe a little more towards justice?Richard Rohr Daily Meditation, June 12, 2020, Center for Action and Contemplation
~ Evie Doyon, June 2020