A sermon by The Rev Linda Harrison
Proper 21-Ordinary 26, 2018
Numbers 11:4-6, 10-16, 24-29; Psalm 19:7-14; James 5:13-20; Mark 9:38-50
I gave an extemporaneous sermon on the Ford/Kavanaugh hearings this week and being stumbling blocks in our response… what follows is memory and expansion of that sermon.
It was a hard week; my sermon preparation and writing time were taken up in following the hearings. For many people, old wounds were opened, memories dredged up, trauma relived. I heard from clergy sisters how they were dealing with their own flashbacks while hearing from parishioners who were deeply troubled. I have my own stories and remember the stories of dear friends.
Yes, like Dr. Ford’s, these stories are decades old, but no less traumatic, no less disturbing. We’ve pulled the bandage off a festering infected wound in our society. For the purpose of this sermon, it matters not if Judge Kavanaugh is guilty. The truth is that the events recounted by Dr. Ford and the culture portrayed therein are very real – then and now. That was the culture when I was in high school – jocks drank to excess at parties because they needed to “let off steam”, and girls got groped, mauled, and assaulted at those parties. And I have it on very good authority that it is as bad today in middle and high schools and colleges.
Retelling her story in a public forum exposes this culture and mindset – one that has been hushed for decades and cannot be addressed until it is brought to light.
There are a lot of hurting people now in the wake of the hearings this past week. Families in turmoil, individuals feeling battered and bruised.
Both women and men have been abused. Both men and women have been the abuser.
What is our response to all this hurt? How do we engage in the public square so as not to be the stumbling block to the little ones?
When Jesus speaks of the little ones in this text, he isn’t referring to children. The little ones are those who are new to the faith, or the ones just coming to the faith, the ones whose faith is shaky and needs nurturing.
The vitriol I heard in the public square regarding the hearings – from self-professed Christians – was appalling. Christians, calling Dr. Ford an untruthful female dog; Christians, calling Judge Kavanaugh a lying anus aperture. And worse – from Christians. Christians wishing the most heinous of events to befall both parties involved and upon Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle.
How in the world does that behavior model the love of Christ? This is no way to nurture the faith of anyone. If Christians are acting like that, who would want to come to the faith? Who would want anything to do with us? Talk about a stumbling block! Vitriol is not Love. Hate does not heal.
Like Moses in the very comical scene with God, I just want to throw up my hands and yell at God, “Really? If this is the people you’d have me deal with, just kill me now!”
How do we remove the stumbling blocks? As Christians, how do we make space for the hard conversations that engender repentance and reconciliation in Love? That allow for forgiveness and Life in Christ?
I have heard and read accounts of young women and girls who say that they are worthless in this society as they witness how Dr. Ford is treated in public. I have heard men express fear regarding their own behavior decades ago while too drunk to remember.
How do we open the space of Love to move toward healing and forgiveness?
Toxic masculinity is the cultural norm in the West. Society teaches our boys and young men what it means to be a “real man” and that men are in charge and in power. In order to be in power and powerful, real men do not show emotion, except anger. They do not show fear, feel remorse or empathy, and they most certainly do no cry. To show and keep power, it is acceptable to use verbal and physical force. Risk taking, competition, and bravado are encouraged. Anything that falls beyond the scope of “appropriate” male behavior according to this cultural norm is devalued, denigrated, and dominated. Toxic masculinity perpetuates the flawed excuse that “boys will be boys”.
Women and vulnerable groups – children, otherly abled persons, elderly persons, people of color – are not the only victims of toxic masculinity. The fullness of humanity as God intended in creation is denied men in this atmosphere. Men cannot become fully who God has called humanity to be if society at large nearly demands they oppress others in order to be of value. Humanity cannot live into the abundant life – for which Jesus came to offer to all – if so many people are wounded and hurting, oppressed and abused.
I’ve quoted Brené Brown before, and it is worth repeating her words here … Call out the bullshit, but be civil. With Love and in civility, call out the false premises that perpetuate behaviors that hurt the image of God in every person. With Love and in civility, call out the vitriol and fear, call out the shaming, blaming, and name-calling, call out the either/or thinking.
Love restores. Love opens dialog. Love facilitates conversation and removes stumbling blocks. As Christians, it is our duty to Love; to extend the healing and wholeness offered by God through Christ to all people. And we do that through our words and actions.
We must embody the Love of Christ. To borrow a quote from Gandhi, We must be the Love we wish to see in this world.
And because Jesus – the Incarnation of Love – died for the sake of love for all humanity and rose again, I will declare with my dying breath, that Love will win. Love will win.
Blessed be God forever.