Sunday, May 29, 2022
Coping with difficult times
The Rev. Mark D. Wilkinson, Rector
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church
7th Sunday in Easter 2022
There are times when events take over a carefully laid out and prepared series of sermons. Today is just one of those time. Sadly, these almost always surround some sort of tragedy and this week is no exception. I had planned on a very upbeat sermon introducing Josh and the wonderful plan for our community garden and Josh will talk in just a few moments about that. Because it is in living into our mission that we have the best chance to make a positive difference in a negative world.
We have had several horrible mass shootings in a grocery store in Buffalo, a church California and a school in Uvalde, in the past two weeks and I feel that as your priest I need to address theological issues that these raise. First of all, I am aware of how deeply these have touched many of us, including some who have relatives in Uvalde or know the town. Many of us feel overwhelmed with what is happening and I will come back to that in a minute.
I am going to urge you to contact your legislators and our governor to take actions that will help reduce this violence in whatever way you feel appropriate, but we are past thoughts and prayers. Thoughts and prayers without action are pointless and that is what we continue to see. The last funeral for the Buffalo supermarket shooting was yesterday, before the bodies of the children had even been released to the funeral homes. Thoughts and prayers for a couple of weeks and then on to the next concern or just ignore it and hope it goes away. I’m sorry but that’s what is happening in the halls of government to a large extent. We call it gridlock or whatever, but that’s just an excuse for doing nothing and both political parties share the blame. There is one thing that we can all do no matter our politics. We need action not just thoughts and prayers.
Bishop Curry in a prayer that he sent out this week and is on our Facebook page, reminded those who hold power in our government, who are in their places of power to protect our right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness that was laid out by our founding fathers. Those in the halls of power need to act like they take that responsibility seriously.
As I was struggling with this sermon Thursday afternoon a link to a blog written by The Rev. Nadia Bolz-Weber1 showed up on Facebook and the thoughts in it really resonated. Now it’s from last August but it is even more true today. She compared her capacity to handle all that is going on to the fuse box in an old apartment she had at one time. Built long before all the “modern” electronic devices she had learned that she couldn’t run her hair dryer and the stereo at the same time, the breaker would flip. She says that’s how she feels right now. She doesn’t have the capacity to handle all of what is coming at us. She wrote:
“Every day of my life I ask myself three discernment questions I learned from one of my teachers, Suzanne Stabile: 1. What’s MINE to do, and what’s NOT mine to do? 2.What’s MINE to say and what’s NOT mine to say? And the third one is harder: What’s MINE to care about and what’s NOT mine to care about?
To be clear – that is not to say that it is not worthy to be cared about by SOMEONE, only that my effectiveness in the world cannot extend to every worthy to be cared about event and situation. It’s not an issue of values, it’s an issue of MATH.”
So how does she suggest we hold it together and process what is coming at us that we feel we need to face. She writes that it is like fighting a fire and you only have so much water. You put the water on your fire. Focus on your fire, but then go take care of it.
She continues: “I’m not saying we should put our heads in the sand, I’m saying that if your circuits are overwhelmed there’s a reason and the reason isn’t because you are heartless, it’s because there is not a human heart on this planet that can bear all of what is happening right now.”
So how do we decide which fire we need to focus upon? Here is where the Ignatian concept of holy indifference or detachment in decision making comes in. Ignatius in his teaching on discernment teaches to step back and look at the decision without the pressure of your bias. Look at it like the balance point on an old-fashioned scale. That arrow that points to the middle when the scale is balanced. This is not to say you don’t care, but you are consciously looking at the decision, the problem from a point of calm.
In his prayer, Bishop Curry called us to look for the seeds of hope, courage and resolve. So how do we find them? For St. Paul’s as a parish I believe we need to go to the Core Values we have just developed and pick our fires based on ones that resonate with our values.
I believe that we must do what our Baptismal Promises say and preach the gospel by word and deed. We must in all times respect the dignity of every human being. The answer to hate is love, that deep abiding love that Jesus taught us, the Jesus shows us in our gospel passage today. The love that connects to God, Jesus and each other even when we get on each other’s nerves.
We exist not just for our own sakes, but for the sake of all those outside these walls. This is why for the future or our parish we need to increase our efforts to reach out to those who desperately need us. To meet needs in this community, a place where we can make a difference.
A way to live that out is found in the prayer of St. Francis. Please turn in your prayer book to page 833 and let us say it together.
Now onto some good and exciting news. One of the things we stress in our Core Values is loving relationships, with God and with others. Caring for others within our church community and in the greater community. A new venture that we are beginning is a community garden that I mentioned last week. We now have the paperwork done with the diocese so that we can move forward. As Josh will tell you in a minute I hope and pray that this garden will build relationships within our parish and with our community. So with that let me introduce Josh Singleton who has formed a new non-profit whose goal is to build community gardens for the people of Katy and ours will be the first.