Such a lovely room

Such a lovely room

Sunday, June 26, 2022

YEAR C 2022 pentecost 3

Pentecost 3, 2022
1 Kings 19:15-16,19-21
Psalm 16
Galatians 5:1,13-25
Luke 9:51-62

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Well . . . I really do not want to talk about this.  But part of being a priest is talking about things that nobody wants to talk about.  Particularly when it comes to grief and mourning or political and social controversies.

But let’s start here.  Back when I was in college, in one of my writing classes, we were told to choose a topic about which we had strong opinions, and to write a good-faith argument from the other side.  So, in my case, that meant I had to do research and make the case for why capital punishment is a good thing.  And a fellow student—though he was in favor of capital punishment—had to write an argument against executing people.

The obvious point of the exercise was to teach us how to do research beyond our opinions, and also to understand that there are good-faith arguments on both sides of most controversies.  Most controversies.  But the unspoken benefit of this task was that it moved us from extreme positions.  To a person, we came to see that the truth is always somewhere in the middle.  And, now, well this all seems sort of obvious to me.  Most people are somewhere in the middle on most things, and very few of us take extreme positions on things.  Because extreme positions are unworkable, unpopular, and only result in division and disagreement.

But Friday morning, the Supreme Court of the United States paved the way for extreme positions on one of our nation’s long-standing controversies.  Many states, including Ohio have legislated draconian measures that will now begin endangering women’s lives.  Endangering girls’ lives, in fact.  

Of course, there are two extreme positions on abortion:  On the one hand, abortion on demand up until the moment of birth, and on the other hand, absolutely no exceptions for the life of the mother or the origin of the pregnancy.  Those are the extreme positions, positions which very few people hold.  And one of these two extremes is now given full license to run rampant, on a state-by-state basis.

Sure, there is a small minority in this country who think allowing states to do this is a good thing.  But as with any controversial issue, the vast majority of Americans are somewhere in the middle.  And the extreme fringe has now made life much more dangerous and difficult for women and girls in fourteen states . . . and counting.  And given the basis of the Justices’ reasoning, marriage equality, access to birth control, inter-racial marriage, and even protection from forced sterilization are all at risk, should someone decide to bring a case.

I feel it is necessary to talk about this, because for many people it is the only thing they are thinking about right now.  People are grieving.  And we can’t pretend the church is not a place where people grieve.  Because, in fact, it is exactly the place where people come to grieve.  

However . . . since 1967, The Episcopal Church has maintained its “unequivocal opposition to any legislation on the part of the national or state governments which would abridge or deny the right of individuals to reach informed decisions [about the termination of pregnancy] and to act upon them.”  In 2018, the General Convention declared “that equitable access to women’s health care, including women’s reproductive health care, is an integral part of a woman’s struggle to assert her dignity and worth as a human being.”  That is the official position of the Episcopal Church, which means it is also the position of St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church.

So to those who are frightened or who are grieving over these changes in our country, I want you to know that I grieve with you, and I am frightened for you.  We now live in a country where a radical extreme minority is in charge of the levers of power in most states, and they are enshrining their extreme views in legislation to assert control over the private choices of women and girls.  How I wish these state legislators had taken that college class with me, and had to write papers from the other side.  Because extreme positions are unworkable, unpopular, and only result in division and disagreement.

Now, in today’s gospel reading, Jesus sends out an advance team to get ready to welcome him to a Samaritan village.  But Jesus doesn’t go to that village, because he is heading for Jerusalem.  And then, James and John ask him, "Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?”  Now there’s an extreme position for you!  The Jews and Samaritans were sworn enemies, because they differed on how and where to worship the same God.  And Jesus and his fellow Jews are walking past a Samaritan town, so James and John naturally ask, "Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?"  The opposition must be destroyed, you see?  There is no middle ground.  You are either on our side, or we will ask for permission to command fire to come down from heaven and consume you.

And what is Jesus’ response?  How does Jesus answer their request to ruin the lives of complete strangers?  “He turned and rebuked them.”  That is Jesus’ response to the extremism of those who claim to speak for God.  If I stake out an extreme position and claim to be doing so because it is what God wants . . . Jesus turns and rebukes me.  Jesus does not want extreme violence and death to our enemies.  And Jesus rebukes those who do.

And then let’s look at Paul’s letter to the Galatians.  There are two lists of characteristics Paul writes about.  The first list, the works of the flesh, are all over the place, including sorcery, carousing, and licentiousness.  And the second list are the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, and so on.  The first thing to notice is that none of these things define you.  They are activities and actions.  They are not you.  And the second thing to notice is the focus of the two sets of things.

The first group, the works of the flesh, happen when we are turned inward.  The second group, the fruits of the Spirit, are the work of God within us, turning us outward.  And did you notice who does not produce those works and fruits?  You and me, that’s who.  Paul very intentionally calls them the works of the flesh, and the fruit of the Spirit.  There is nothing about you and me in there.

We could say that flesh is to self, as Spirit is to neighbor.  When we turn inward, and focus on our own desires, the flesh is hard at work sowing division and discord.  When we turn outward and focus on loving our neighbor, the Spirit produces fruit that includes “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”  But, we can also turn on our neighbors.  As the dissenting Justices in Friday’s opinion note:  As Texas has recently shown, a State can turn neighbor against neighbor, enlisting fellow citizens in the effort to root out anyone who tries to get an abortion, or to assist another in doing so.  Yes, we can love our neighbors, but we can also turn on them, sometimes with the blessing and encouragement of the state, and the rebuke of Jesus.

But as Paul writes, For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." And he adds . . . If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.  

We are living in a hard time.  An especially hard time for women and girls living in what we now call “red states.”  No matter what we think about abortion rights, we will be surrounded by extreme people who disagree with us.  There are certainly people in this room who disagree with the position of the Episcopal Church.  But we would do well to remember Paul’s words:  If you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.  There will be disagreements and arguments and protests . . . as there should be.  Some will say this court’s decision is a great advance toward protecting life; and there are many who see this as the darkest and most dangerous time in our country’s history, especially for women and girls.

These are difficult days.  And, to be honest, all I have to offer right now is to remind us of Paul’s words:  Take care that you are not consumed by one another.  Because the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  May God help us to love our neighbors as ourselves, and may God’s Spirit bring forth in all of us the fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  Because we are going to need them, now more than ever.


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