All Saints Episcopal Church
The Rev. Josephine Robertson
How many of you have watched the drama unfolding in Thailand, where this week the whole soccer team, and their coach was rescued from a flooded cave? And yet: nearly three thousand immigrant and refugee children are still separated from their parents in the United States. Indeed we found out this week that many of them may never be reunited with their families because their identities and that of their parents were never properly recorded, or were destroyed.
Every week it’s something new, some new horror, some new reason to despair.
Our world is filled with Herods, corrupt and obsessed with power, who every time they are presented with the choice to chose grace turn once again toward power. And evil flourishes.
It’s enough to foster despair. We might just see ourselves as disciples of Love showing up again and again to collect the dead body of our teacher.
And in the midst of all this it’s maybe a relief to me that the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu are talking about despair. Yup. I wasn’t really sure how in heaven’s name the lectionary this summer was going to work with a book on Joy but these two aren’t teaching some pie in the sky fluff, this is real life.
The question that I think resonates this week came from a woman named Dawn. She asked about how, in the midst of a world filled with such suffering and despair we could possibly find joy?
The Archbishop’s answer I think is a little of how Jesus reacts to John’s disciples at John’s death.
The Archbishop points out what a gift it is, what a miraculous thing, that human beings might feel despair, compassion, pain at the suffering of someone who is not family in any conventional way. How counter intuitive! That we should be upset by someone who isn’t supposedly connected to us. This isn’t an evolutionary trait, that only cares about those who share our genes.
This, the ability to despair, is a piece of the heart of God, of what makes us human. When we see parents wailing, reaching out for their children and we are moved. When we hear the cries of children taken from their parents, and we want to hold them. When we see disaster and heartache and feel for those who suffer part of the Kingdom is revealed: we are family.
Without a shred of biological evidence, we are family.
The Archbishop used an example of trapped Russian miners, that even folks who can’t find Russian on a map felt connected to those men. How many of us were Thai parents this week praying for those boys trapped by flood waters? How many of us are desperate immigrants fleeing violence and poverty, who now don’t know where their children have been taken?
In the gospel story today all sorts of characters had the chance to chose compassion, to chose grace over personal gain or power. And every one of them failed. And in those moments what had been hidden was revealed. Herod had arrested John, but sort of secretly, and he’d stashed him away. When the rubber hits the road, when he is given the choice between grace, and saving face…
We are offered the chance daily to chose grace.
In their discussion of despair the Dalai Lama and Archbishop speak of this choice (even if they don’t use those words). Of all the times when we are given that choice between really despair and hope. The Archbishop told stories of forgiveness and reconciliation that came out of horrific violence during the struggle to end apartheid. He pointed out that those people all had a choice: hope or despair. They could have chosen not to forgive. They could have chosen retribution and judgement.
But they did not. They chose compassion. They chose the hope that is founded on our faith that all people are made in the image of God. That evil and violence is the aberration, not our human nature.
And what is hope?
What kept that soccer coach leading his team in meditation, giving them his food, keeping them safe until help arrived?
What is it that leads parents to cross dangerous terrain, risking imprisonment or death to try for a better life for their children?
What is it that keeps Jesus’ feet on the road after his cousin’s death?
Hope my friends.
Hope stood outside the detention center in Hutto Texas this week and prayed and sang, while the immigrant women inside pressed their faces against the glass and sang along.
The Archbishop summed up hope this way: He asked their interviewer what had led him to propose to his wife? How did he know he loved her when such a thing cannot be measured. How did he know she loved him? How did he know it would last?
It wasn’t optimism.
It was faith.
This in what joy looks like.
In the course of our lives we will collect the body many times. When our leaders chose power over grace. When those around us choose judgement over love. And yet. Our God remains, offering us at every opportunity the chance to make a different choice, to see our shared humanity in those around us.
If Mark’s story has anything to tell us it is this warning: when we do not choose love and grace death is the result. The death of something. When we take the risk to choose grace, who can predict, but it isn’t death that will follow.
This is joy, to live into the grace of the hard choices. To live, to love as the family of God; flawed and broken and yet whole.