1 Advent B – November 30, 2014
Isaiah 64:1-9; Psalm 80:1-7, 16-18; I Corinthians 1:1-9; Mark 13:24-37
Homily preached by the Rev. Canon Linda S. Taylor
I think in pulpits all across this country a lot of preachers are talking about the decision of the grand jury in Ferguson, and I decided that I was not going to preach on that. Monday night, when I heard the news, all of me just kind of turned off. I didn’t want to go there, I didn’t want to talk about it, and I didn’t want to listen to it. I knew that all over this country there would be demonstrations—that there would be more hurt—more damage—more anger—more fear—and I did not want to go there. There’s no part of me that wanted to go there, so I didn’t listen to the news. When NPR would talk about it, I just turned it off. I didn’t read the newspaper; I just did my puzzle page. I didn’t want to go there.
And then on Thursday morning, my daughter’s sister-in-law posted on Facebook. She posted something by Benjamin Watson. Benjamin Watson. He’s a tight end for the New Orleans Saints. He’s way tall. He’s 34, he’s been married about eight years, and he and his wife Kristen have four children—aged four, three, two and not quite one. And he is a Christian. And after the decision was made known, Benjamin had to go play—he had to go work—he had to do Monday night football. And he needed to deal with what he was feeling and what he was experiencing, and there was no way that he could talk with people before he had to go to work, so he wrote about what he was feeling. He wrote about his feelings, and he wrote a line or two about the context for each of those feelings. He wrote about his anger, his fear, his frustration. He wrote about his sadness and his sympathy and his feeling of being offended. And he wrote about his introspection and his confusion and his hopelessness. What really drew me to these feelings was one particular one: his feeling of being sympathetic.
He wrote that he didn’t know whether Darren Wilson was doing the best he could as a peace officer. He didn’t know whether he was doing what he had to do in the line of duty or if he had provoked the argument with Michael Brown. He said: I don’t know what happened. And that really caught my attention, because we all always know. We read about something in the newspaper, and we know what happened. We know what they were thinking, we know what they were feeling, because that’s the way we work. When I meet somebody—you know, five seconds later, I know who they are, I know what they’re thinking, what they’re feeling, what their problem is, what they need from me—I know all of that—before I even start listening, because that’s the way we are. Some people might call it projection. That’s when we put all our stuff out there into somebody else. Things that we don’t even know we’re dealing with go out there into someone else. Our demons—we see in someone else. We see that in the reading from Isaiah this morning. The people cry: God has hidden from us, so we’ll transgress. When did God ever hide from us? God doesn’t hide from us. We hide from God. We hide our faces from God.
We don’t know what happened that day when Michael and Darren were in that conflict, but we do know some things about that day. We know, for instance, that neither of them woke up knowing what was going to happen. Darren didn’t wake up thinking “I’m going to kill somebody today,” and Michel didn’t wake up thinking, “This is the day I’m going to die.” We know that earlier that morning, Michael was talking with a group of workers about Jesus. We know that one of Darren’s first calls that morning was a 911 call, because a baby was running a fever, and I can imagine those parents not knowing what to do—I was a parent at 18, and I was lucky to have family around, but I can imagine what would have happened if I didn’t and my child was running a fever. So they called 911, and Darren was the one who showed up. And when you respond to a 911 call, you never know what’s behind the door, but he went to that door, and he opened it, and he helped that family.
There’s something else we know. We know that there was a moment—at least one moment—in that conflict that morning when it could have been turned around—when one of them could have said something that would take it away from that trajectory of death and turned it into life. Can you imagine if either of those men had said: “Wait a minute. We’re having some trouble here.” If they had—either of them—said “we”—that would have changed things. It was all about you! you! you! And we know about that, because we have been in those places ourselves in our lives—when if we had gone just in a little bit different direction, the course of our life would have been changed. We know about that, because we’ve all looked back at times in our lives and thought, “Oh, that’s not a good plan.” “That was not a good choice,” as we tell the children. That was not a good choice. We know about that, and I know in my own life, I look back and think, “Thank God there wasn’t a gun anywhere around here, because I might have used it”—because I was angry and fearful. We know about that.
And we know that there’s an environment of fear like at no other time, probably, in the history of this world, right here in this country. There’s an environment of fear that’s generated and pushed by people who gain power from our fear. We know all of these things.
Benjamin didn’t stop with talking about all the hard things he was feeling. He also spoke about his hopefulness, because at 34, he has already seen change in the ways people get along together. He’s already seen change since his childhood, and he’s encouraged. I’m going to read his words because I want you to hear his words—and, by the way, I do have copies of this post for you in both corners here. Benjamin wrote:
“I’M ENCOURAGED, because ultimately the problem is not a SKIN problem, it is a SIN problem. SIN is the reason we rebel against authority. SIN is the reason we abuse our authority. SIN is the reason we are racist, prejudiced and lie to cover for our own. SIN is the reason we riot, loot and burn. BUT I’M ENCOURAGED because God has provided a solution for sin through his son Jesus and with it, a transformed heart and mind. One that’s capable of looking past the outward and seeing what’s truly important in every human being. The cure for the Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice and Eric Garner tragedies is not education or exposure. It’s the Gospel. So, finally, I’M ENCOURAGED because the Gospel gives mankind hope.”
In today’s gospel, we hear Jesus saying we do not know the day or the hour. We don’t know the time when we’re going to be called into that moment—into that moment when the world changes and when who we are as Christians becomes very visible to us and to the world around us. We don’t know the time that we’re going to need to be really awake—to be really watchful. We don’t know the time, but we do know that that time is coming for each of us—it always does. No matter how long you live, there’s another one out there. I mean, I’ve lived a long time, and I know that there’s another one out there—at least one. One time when I’m going to be caught up in what’s going on around me, and I have a real choice to make. And if I’m not watching, I know there’s a real chance that I’ll make a poor choice. And I know that unless I practice making those choices—unless I practice listening to the other when I really want to just talk and say what I want to say—unless I practice looking for the Christ in every person I meet—unless I do those things that bring me closer to the way Jesus wants me to walk—I know that I’m going to make the wrong choice. So we practice. We practice, we practice, and that practice brings us to that moment with the knowledge that the Christ is with us and that we can do what he’s calling us to do.
Today is the beginning of a new year in the church. We’ve lit the first candle of Advent. We’re looking forward—we’re looking down these four weeks to the birth of the Christ Child, and sometimes we forget—we focus on this Christ Child and we forget that the Christ who always was and always will be is with us right now, and that Christ, speaking through Jesus, said “I am with you always, even to the end of the age,” and we forget that. So we come together, and we light the candles, and we’re reminded by our worship together, by coming together around this table, by singing together, we’re reminded that Christ is with us. We’re reminded who we are and whose we are, and we’re reassured that the God who loves us is always with us.
Thanks be to God.