Sermon: What Dreams May Come

RedHotRiplets[Given on Sunday, August 17, 2014 by The Rev. Fr. Marcus Halley – St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church – Kansas City, MO]

Isaiah 56:1,6-8
Matthew 15:21-28

 

In the name of our Great God who is Creating, Liberating, and Sustaining. Amen +

I’m angry. Actually, beyond angry, but “angry” is the only word I can use across the sacred space without losing my job.

The events of this past week all over the globe, all over this country, and even right here in our very own state have created a context of collective disgust. It seems that violence and upheaval are running loose all over this fragile earth, our island home. Beloved, I’m angry.

The situations between Russia and the Ukraine and in Iraq continue to hinge on uncertainty tipping everyday closer and closer to doom and disaster.

In recent weeks we saw Israel respond to minor and often ineffective rocket attacks from the oppressed people of Gaza with an overwhelming and disproportionate amount of force that has taken the lives of almost 2,000 people, mostly innocent civilians – women and children.

The police department of Ferguson, Missouri responded to protesters and journalists exercising their First Amendment rights with a show of military force that shocked our nation and has renewed a conversation about the perils of an overmilitarized police force.

And too many young men who look like me, Black men, are being murdered by police – Eric Garner, Ezell Ford, John Crawford, Mike Brown – all killed in the past 30 days.

And to top it all off, beloved actor and comedian, Robin Williams, died, taking his own life after a battle with depression.

Beloved it appears to me that the Dream of God has been supplanted by a nightmare, that the presence of sin has created an evil and divided world incapable of expelling/exorcising the evil that plagues it and I’m angry about it.

I’m angry because for far too many people throughout this world, the dream of God has been replaced by the nightmare of Hell.

A Hell lacking the necessities of life.

A Hell devoid of life possibilities.

A Hell cut off from our interconnectedness with one another and ourselves.

A Hell where too many suffer in silence under the weight of a world gone mad.

Can I make it plain?

Too many Black mothers are having to bury Black sons who have been killed because, 50 years after the Civil Rights Movement, 51 years after Dr. King articulated his dream, “being Black” is still a capital offense in this nation.

Too many children throughout this world hear the pop of machine guns, the hum of fighter planes, and the explosion of bombs as they cry themselves to sleep at night.

Too many people suffer from Depression in silence because our world is moving too fast to be present with people who need us.

I am angry because there are far too many people walking “through the Valley of the Shadow of Death” but there is no rod and no staff to comfort them.

What-Dreams-May-Come-posterIn the beautiful, 1998 adaption of the book entitled “What Dreams May Come,” Robin Williams plays a character, Chris Nielsen, who finds himself in a Heaven more glorious than his wildest imagination, but without his wife and soulmate, Annie, who, overcome by grief, committed suicide after his death. The plot of the movie is about his decision to risk an eternity trapped in Hell for the small chance that he would be able to bring her back to Heaven. Before starting his journey, Albert, who turns out to be his son who died years before, says “Everyone’s Hell is different. It’s not all fire and pain. The real Hell is your life gone wrong.”

Beloved, there are too many people trapped in Hell right here on earth. Too many people who spend their lives rehearsing and playing out their deaths over and over.

Be very clear, that’s what the unrest in Ferguson, Missouri is. It is the symptom of a people pushing back against the agents and the confines of their collective Hell, but unable to conceive of what Heaven could possibly be like. That’s Hell.

That might explain why Robin Williams and so many others take their own lives, because they would rather die than to continue to fail to live. That’s Hell.

That might explain why a small, destitute, and oppressed group of Palestinians continues to fire rockets at an overwhelmingly powerful Israeli state, because far too often Israel becomes the primary agent in creating their existential Hell.

But, it’s not just them, Hell is also people who are so stymied in the muck of disbelief and inaction that they are rendered immobile and impotent. Dr. Howard Thurman suggests that “No man can be happy in Heaven if he has left his brother in Hell.”[1]

Have you ever been in a place where you were hurt, and there was no one there to bind up the wounds, or in the dark and there was no one there to guide you, or in so much agony and there was no one there to hold your hand? Beloved that’s Hell.

We’ve spent too many years mythologizing the reality of Hell. We use images like fire, a scary red man with horns and a pitchfork. Do you want to know what Hell is? Hell is when you are suffering and when you are left alone. Hell is when the hungry are not fed, when the thirsty are not given anything to drink, when the stranger is not welcomed, when the naked are not clothed, when the sick and the imprisoned are not visited, when the depressed are not cared for, when the oppressed are not liberated, when the victims are not vindicated.[2] If righteousness and justice are the foundation of God’s throne, then where there is no righteousness and where there is no justice, there is only Hell.[3]

So what then shall we say to these things? How do we restore the Dream of God, not just for ourselves, but for everyone?

How do we make sure that little Black boys on the eastside can walk in confidence with their heads held high, not cower in fear?

How can we restore hope and wholeness to the 1 in 20 Americans who suffer from major depression?[4]

Isaiah 56:1 says, “Thus says the Lord: Maintain justice, and do what is right, for soon my salvation will come, and my deliverance be revealed.”

There are two words in here that are key to our understanding of what’s next – Justice and Righteousness.

All throughout the Hebrew Bible, Justice and Righteousness are twin attributes of God.

Justice – מִשְׁפָּט (mishpat) – has the same root word that we get the Hebrew word for judge. In ancient Israel, the Judge or the שופט (shofet), was a governor, a ruler. The justice of God has to do with the creation a just order or a just society.

Walter Brueggemann, emeritus professor of Old Testament at Columbia Theological Seminary, suggests that “We do well… to linger over the term justice. It is so much misunderstood in our disclosure, because we think it only means giving people what they deserve by their actions, so punish bad people, starve lazy people. That, however, is not what the word means in the Bible. The Bible means by justice that everyone, because they live in the community, because they are human creatures, are entitled to all that is needed for dignity, peace, freedom, health, joy, and security. ”[5]

The prophetic words attributed to Isaiah instruct the people to maintain מִשְׁפָּט (mishpat), to maintain justice, because there is a larger force out there, the force of empire, the force of oppressive, dehumanizing power that seeks to destroy, and if we don’t maintain justice for others we will soon find ourselves crushed under the weight of oppression.

So the prophet tells the community to maintain מִשְׁפָּט (mishpat), to maintain justice, but he also says to do צְדָקָה (tzedakah). The New Revised Standard Version translates this as to do “what is right,” but it actually means to do righteousness. Too often “righteousness” is understood as personal piety or some type of purity. But, in Jewish tradition צְדָקָה (tzedakah) was not about avoiding mess, but intentionally engaging in the messy reality of others in order to bring them out, it was about engaging in ministry on the margins. צְדָקָה (tzedakah) is an obligation, it was what each person had to do because they were a member of the community – it was supporting the poor, the needy, and the oppressed.

The prophet instructs the people to do צְדָקָה (tzedakah) because that’s what God’s Shalom is, a community where everyone is supported, everyone is cared for, everyone is loved and welcomed, where no one is left behind, no one is left to suffer in silence, where no one falls through the cracks.

Maintain מִשְׁפָּט (mishpat), maintain justice. Do צְדָקָה (tzedakah), do righteousness. “For soon my salvation will come, and my deliverance be revealed.” Those are the words of the prophet to the community of God.

So when we encounter Jesus and the Canaanite Woman, we can better understand why he responded to the woman the way he did. In Traditional Jewish understanding מִשְׁפָּט (mishpat) and צְדָקָה (tzedakah) were finite, only to be done to those within the community.

But she stood outside the community. She was on the margins of מִשְׁפָּט (mishpat). She was on the sidelines of צְדָקָה (tzedakah).

She represented the other – those whom we pity, but on whose behalf we are not moved to action.

This Canaanite woman lived in her own Hell, cut off from help, cut off from community. But what she did  have was faith – “faith that this is God’s world, and God will listen, faith the world will be changed.”[6] Faith in a God whose justice and righteousness could reach beyond limits, boundaries, walls, and divisions. Faith in a God who would pick her up even if he had to reach way down.

You see beloved, our call to “maintain justice” and “do righteousness” is not just not just for us, or people who look like us, or talk like us, or run in the same circles as us – our call to “maintain justice” and “do righteousness” is a call to change the world.

It is a call to ensure that all of our children – wherever they live, whatever their names are, whatever race, nationality, religion, or creed they profess – are educated and kept safe from gun violence, bombs, and abuse.

It is a call to ensure that people who are suffering from Depression know unequivocally that they are loved and supported, that we are here, and that we will do whatever is necessary to let them know that their lives matter to us, that they are not invisible, that they are worthy, that joy and hope and healing are possible.

It is a call to engage in God’s Shalom even as it is still being made.

That’s the only way we can end this nightmare. That’s the only way we can exorcise this demon. We have to be willing to enter other people’s Hell, to bring them back, and together create a Heaven that we can all enjoy.

It is “dignity for children, safety for families, homes for the homeless, schools for all learners, health care for the poor, food for the needy, respect for the abused… women and children, compassion for men wearied too long, access for the disabled.” [7]

That’s God’s Shalom – all of creation sharing in the bounty and fullness of God’s limitless abundance.

We are called to maintain מִשְׁפָּט (mishpat), maintain justice; and to do צְדָקָה (tzedakah), do righteousness because we have an assurance that God’s salvation, that God’s deliverance, that God’s Dreams will come.

E’en so, Lord Jesus, quickly come, and night shall be no more. They need no light nor lamp nor sun, for Christ will be their all![8]


 

[1] Howard Thurman. The Inward Journey (Richmond, IN; Friends United Press, 1961), 138.

[2] Matthew 25:41-45

[3] Psalm 89:14, Psalm 97:2

[4] http://www.adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/depression

[5] Walter Brueggemann. “When Nagging is Hoping” in The Collected Sermons of Walter Brueggemann (Louisville, KY; Westminster John Knox Press, 2011), 98.

[6] Brueggemann. The Collected Sermons of Walter Brueggemann, 98.

[7Ibid.

[8] Paul Manz. E’en So, Lord Jesus, Quickly Come.

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5 thoughts on “Sermon: What Dreams May Come

  1. Amen. I am glad I just happened to come across your sermon as confirms what I believe God has personally shown/spoken to me. This/these actions are what is/are necessary to do our part/live as God calls us all, His Children of God, to do his will and build up the Kingdom here on earth just as it is in Heaven. Thank you for sharing your heart and truths.

    1. Thank you Linda. This was a very vulnerable sermon for me, so I’m glad that others are able to find hope and God on these words.

      Pax +

  2. I am in rage myself about the plight of humanity. When I look at the spiritual forecast unfolding before my eyes I weep. Our black athletes self destructing and our kids of the future being exploited I ponder my inner man’s ability to sustain my faith and hope to deliver us from this body of sin. I am convicted because of the delusion I often find my faith suffering. My personal battles and desires that I thirst to engage this war of harassing thoughts of defeat pertaining to the condition of our existence as people of color is weighing me down beyond measure.

    I desire so bad to be a vessel of peace and love and honor. I desire so bad to find my purpose within God’s will for my life. I want to be a man who is driving change in my utopia, but all I find is doubt and doors closing at every attempt to make a difference in the lives of disenfranchised people. This sermon has assisted me to press onward.

    WE wear the mask that grins and lies,
    It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,—
    This debt we pay to human guile;
    With torn and bleeding hearts we smile,
    And mouth with myriad subtleties.
    Why should the world be over-wise,
    In counting all our tears and sighs?
    Nay, let them only see us, while
    We wear the mask.

    We wear the mask that grins and lies,
    It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,—
    This debt we pay to human guile;
    With torn and bleeding hearts we smile,
    And mouth with myriad subtleties.

    Why should the world be over-wise,
    In counting all our tears and sighs?
    Nay, let them only see us,while
    We wear the mask.

    We smile, but, O great Christ, our cries
    To thee from tortured souls arise.
    We sing, but oh the clay is vile
    Beneath our feet, and long the mile;
    But let the world dream otherwise,
    We wear the mask!

    http://www.gofundme.com/Empowering-Felons

  3. Reblogged this on "Fresh Oil" and commented:
    I am in rage myself about the plight of humanity. When I look at the spiritual forecast unfolding before my eyes I weep. Our black athletes self destructing and our kids of the future being exploited I ponder my inner man’s ability to sustain my faith and hope to deliver us from this body of sin. I am convicted because of the delusion I often find my faith suffering. My personal battles and desires that I thirst to engage this war of harassing thoughts of defeat pertaining to the condition of our existence as people of color is weighing me down beyond measure.

    I desire so bad to be a vessel of peace and love and honor. I desire so bad to find my purpose within God’s will for my life. I want to be a man who is driving change in my utopia, but all I find is doubt and doors closing at every attempt to make a difference in the lives of disenfranchised people. This sermon has assisted me to press onward.

    WE wear the mask that grins and lies,
    It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,—
    This debt we pay to human guile;
    With torn and bleeding hearts we smile,
    And mouth with myriad subtleties.
    Why should the world be over-wise,
    In counting all our tears and sighs?
    Nay, let them only see us, while
    We wear the mask.

    We wear the mask that grins and lies,
    It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,—
    This debt we pay to human guile;
    With torn and bleeding hearts we smile,
    And mouth with myriad subtleties.

    Why should the world be over-wise,
    In counting all our tears and sighs?
    Nay, let them only see us,while
    We wear the mask.

    We smile, but, O great Christ, our cries
    To thee from tortured souls arise.
    We sing, but oh the clay is vile
    Beneath our feet, and long the mile;
    But let the world dream otherwise,
    We wear the mask!

    http://www.gofundme.com/Empowering-Felons

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