This is the sermon the Rev. Karen Calafat preached at the diocesan worship service on the Second Sunday after Pentecost, July 14, 2020.
June 14, 2020
Fred Rogers of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood gave his mother a lot of credit for inspiring his compassionate work. He said, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of ‘disaster,’ I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers—so many caring people in this world.”
In our gospel reading today, Jesus sent out 12 helpers, 12 disciples, to continue the work he had begun. 12… that is not very many. And just think of how many followers of Christ there are in the world today… all springing from those 12 who were sent out… those 12 helpers. They were “sent out” as representatives of Jesus to continue his work, his work as a shepherd, concerned most about the sheep that were lost.
You might wonder why the apostles are instructed to go only to the Jewish sheep and avoid Gentiles and Samaritans. They had to start somewhere – perhaps where the pain was greates – but by the end of Matthew’s gospel, the disciples are sent to all nations to make disciples of all peoples.
Part of Jesus’ instruction to these “helpers” was to preach the good news, the good news that God’s kingdom has arrived. The realization of God’s kingdom is demonstrated by the deliverance of the oppressed – the sick being cured, the dead being raised, lepers being cleansed and demons being cast out. Jesus ministry was that of compassion to the harassed and helpless – compassion to the lost sheep.
Theologian Guy D. Nave, Jr. says, “Compassion transforms the problem of oppression into an opportunity for deliverance.”
We are in the throes of opportunity for deliverance right now! 2020 has been an anxious, even disastrous year thus far. And we are certainly in need of helpers. We need helpers in response to the pandemic – we have seen compassionate, heroic efforts in caring for the sick, in working toward a vaccine, in caring for caregivers. .We need helpers who wear masks in public, who stay home when possible, who care about the well-being of others above their own needs and desires. Be a helper through this pandemic.
And now we have reached a boiling point around issues of racial injustice. We need helpers to move us toward healing of centuries of broken systems that do not treat people equally. We need compassion that can transform oppression.
We are living in an anxious time with a lot of hostility in the world. It is not unlike the time when Jesus walked the earth and cared most for those on the fringes, for the marginalized, the lost sheep. Jesus’ compassion was not directed at the rich, the elite, the political powers, but to the oppressed. Jesus challenged the status quo to enact God’s kingdom that was just and merciful. A kingdom Christ instructed his disciples to proclaim, a kingdom that would make us all more human, more equally human.
I wonder if we could see race relations like marriage where in we say that two people ideally become more than themselves when they unite, bringing out the best in each other. They do not diminish each other but enhance each other as they create a relationship where both parties thrive. What if we were to become a society where people of color receive the same treatment and opportunities as white people. A society where justice for all means we all become more than we are. This type of society would make us more of what God intends us to be and more like God’s kingdom, marked by justice, mercy and compassion.
It has been said that when Fred Rogers’ mother was asked which of her children she loved the most, she answered, “The one that is sick. The one that is hurting.”
Right now, in this Black Lives Matter movement, the ones that are hurting most are the ones that need the most love and compassion, the most attention, the most regard. I have heard many respond, and have even said it myself, that “ALL lives matter,” and that is true. ALL lives do matter, but the lives that are in most pain and danger are lives of color. Doug Williford’s explanation was an eye opener for me. Perhaps it will be for you, too. He said, “If my wife comes to me in obvious pain and asks, “Do you love me?” an answer of “I love everyone” would be truthful, but also hurtful and cruel in the moment. If a co-worker comes to me upset and says, “My father just died,” a response of “Everyone’s parents die,” would be truthful, but hurtful and cruel in the moment. So when a friend speaks up in a time of obvious pain and hurt and says, “Black Lives Matter,” a response of “All lives matter” is truthful, but it is hurtful and cruel in the moment.”
Eva Hart, a survivor, remembers the night, April 15, 1912, on which the Titanic plunged 12,000 feet to the Atlantic floor, 2 hours and 40 minutes after hitting an iceberg. “I saw all the horror of its sinking, and I heard, even more dreadful, the cries of drowning people.”
Although 20 lifeboats were launched – too few and only partly filled – most of the passengers ended up struggling in the icy seas while those in the boats waited a safe distance away.
Lifeboat No. 14 did row back to the scene after the unsinkable ship slipped from sight. Alone, it chased cries in the darkness, seeking and saving a precious few. Incredibly, no other boat joined it. Those already saved rowed their half-filled boats aimlessly in the night, listening to the cries of the lost, but not helping.
Imagine how many lives might have been spared if even 12 of those lifeboats had been filled to capacity.
Imagine what a difference we might make in this world if each of us just did one small thing with great meaning to help with injustices, oppression and other effects of racism. How can you help? What can you do? There are hundreds of possibilities. The first way to help is to learn more about Black Lives Matter, read a book or two, watch a documentary or two. Maybe do a little research on Juneteenth which is this coming Friday; maybe learn about the race massacre that occurred on that date in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Maybe listen to a friend of color and really hear their story. Listen. Listen with the ear of your heart.
We must stop ignoring racism and pretending it does not exist. We must stop making excuses and explaining how we are not part of the problem. We must acknowledge that our sisters and brothers of color are hurting, oppressed, drowning.
Jesus came to seek and to save the lost, the drowning, the hurting, the oppressed. And he commissioned us to do the same. Be a helper. Someone is looking to you, someone needs you. Be a helper. Please be a helper.