The Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost—Proper 18—Year B; The Rev. Cynthia K. R. Banks
Proverbs 1:20-33; Wisdom of Solomon 7:26-8:1; James 3:1-12; Mark 8:27-38
I am going to say upfront—this is not a sermon. I don’t even know what to call it. We’ll just call it me talking to you as your priest and pastor. This has been a hard week. Starting with this circle of St. Luke’s, there is a lot going on in our little community of faith right now. Sometimes, we go through seasons where we are fully aware of the pain around us—someone is ill, someone is dying; we can see that. Other times, we go through a season when there is a lot of pain, but it’s the kind of pain you can’t see, burdens known only to those who bear them. We are in one of those seasons where we actually have a whole lot of both. We, as a community, are holding a lot right now. Please, please be gentle with your brothers and sisters; there is much on many hearts.
And then, in the middle of the week, the world exploded. I must admit, I have been several days behind this news this week because my focus has been on our community, but slowly, I am catching up. I am still processing what has happened. I think we all are. I read through the events in TIME magazine yesterday. Friday night, I watched the 13-minute YouTube video of the movie trailer for Innocence of Muslims, the biopic (I had never even heard of that word—it’s a biographical movie), it was this biopic about Muhammad that sparked this violence. And somehow, Terry Jones, that pastor from Florida that promoted the burning of the Koran on the 9/11 anniversary in 2010, is back in the mix—a fan of this film. He created a video that put the prophet Mohammad on trial. Innocence of Muslims has been around a little while but didn’t make a splash until Morris Sadek, an Egyptian-American Coptic Christian picked it up and mass posted it on an Arabic-language blog leading up to this anniversary of September 11th.
As I watched it, I kept saying to Jim, “This has to be a hoax.” It was that bad. It was a really, really, really bad movie from a movie production standpoint, but it was also inflammatory and offensive at every turn. If you could think of all the things that would be unbelievably offensive to a faithful observant Muslim, this movie had all of them. I tried to imagine how I would feel if someone made a similar movie about Jesus. This movie trailer was a match to a fire.
Now hear me clearly, I absolutely condemn the violence that got unleashed. To react to this abhorrent film with violence is buying into this whole avenge-revenge-myth-of-redemptive-violence worldview that is perpetuating the hate and rage and violence that is killing us, all of us. The taking of the innocent lives of Ambassador Chris Stevens and his colleagues at the American Embassy is wrong, WRONG, and it is tragic beyond belief, especially since Ambassador Stevens had actually worked closely with the leaders of the uprising in Libya who were seeking a different way for their country. We have diplomats all over the world that really do believe in diplomacy; they put it on the line every day in often dangerous parts of the world. We are grateful for their service, and we grieve their deaths.
And I am especially grieved, I don’t even know if that is the right word, I am sickened by the fact that religious hatred is at the root of this. There are radical extremes in each religion, and they are fanning the flames of hatred all over the world. And we have to raise our voices and condemn the hate. There has to be room in this world for all of us, and this will not be so until we stand up and say, “No more.” Christians need to call Christians to account. Muslims need to call Muslims to account. Jews need to call Jews to account. These incendiary actions are not the true heart of Christianity, or Islam, or Judaism. But if we are not proclaiming what that true heart is, those who are perpetuating this hate will fill the vacuum, and this past week shows us what the carnage looks like.
We need the wisdom figure that we hear about today in Proverbs. Hear what Proverbs says, “She is crying out in the street; she is raising her voice in the squares. She is crying out at the busiest corner and at the entrance of the city gates.” The scoffers, the fools, they have always been there, and when their voices are the only ones heard, panic, calamity, distress, anguish—these are what ensue. We must seek her counsel. Wisdom of Solomon reminds us, “For wisdom is a reflection of eternal light, a spotless mirror of the working of God, and an image of his goodness. Although she is but one, she can do all things, and while remaining in herself, she renews all things.” Could it be that wisdom lives in each of our traditions, secure in herself, renewing all things? Wisdom continues, “In every generation she passes into holy souls and makes them friends of God, and prophets; for God loves nothing so much as the person who lives with wisdom.” No tradition has a lock on this—there is no triumphant doctrine here, only holy souls willing to receive her. “She is more beautiful than the sun, and excels every constellation of the stars. Compared with the light she is found to be superior, for it is succeeded by the night, but against wisdom evil does not prevail. She reaches mightily from one end of the earth to the other, and she orders all things well.” This is not the God of vengeance that seeks to destroy, a God whose face that, as Christians, we have to admit, is there in our tradition, but this is the God that has been there all along, a God whose face has been hidden, the feminine face of God who only seeks life for all of God’s creatures. We need this God now. Because James has it right—the tongue is a fire and it can set the world ablaze. We are seeing this all too clearly. Hear James, “But no one can tame the tongue—a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so…,” so says James.
We must seek Wisdom, we must stand up to those who spew hate, and reach out in love to those who are its target, be they Muslims, Christians, or Jews, or people of no belief at all.
This really is about learning how to love the other, and honest to goodness, we don’t know how to do that in this world. I was privileged to spend all day yesterday in a workshop with several members of our community and several members of the Junaluska community. We have been at this work for two years now, and we just knew it was time to take a step back and look at our relationships with one another. Part of the day was spent in racial caucauses. White people talking with other white people about what had gone well, and where the rubs where; black people talking with our black people about what had gone well, and where the rubs were. Some of that feedback was painfully, painfully hard to hear. With the best of intentions, we still do things that hurt each other deeply. But we are committed to the long haul with one another, and we are committed to learning how to be with each other. We are committed to confessing what we don’t know, we gave each other permission to call us on the ways we blow it, and we are committed to giving and receiving one another’s forgiveness. This is hard work, but this is what we are called to do. This is the labor that gives birth to wisdom.
This week has been overwhelming, on every score. I don’t have it all worked out in my head. It’s too much, but I do know this. God is weeping, longing, yearning for us to reach out to one another. Jesus is hanging between heaven and earth holding all the pain of this week with us. He didn’t strike back with violence, but with forgiveness and with a life that death couldn’t defeat. I know it looks like evil is winning the day, but the scriptures promise us that evil will not ultimately prevail. Bring all the brokenness of this week and lay it on this altar. And when the bread, when Christ’s body, breaks, know that all this brokenness is somehow taken into his body—and there, he holds it. He doesn’t fix it, he doesn’t resolve this tension in favor of one over the other, he just holds it—and somehow, all this pain will be transformed—somehow the brokenness becomes the very bread of life.
And as we leave this table, full of the bread of life, let’s double down and search out Wisdom. Let’s let her show us what it means to be friends of God and friends of one another. Let’s join her and reach out mightily from one end of the earth to the other because we’re just not going to make it if we don’t. Amen.
The Rev. Cynthia K. R. Banks
St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Boone, NC
September 16, 2012