Sermon preached on Sunday, April 9, 2017
The Rev. Stacy Alan
I have a confession to make. I haven’t been able to look at what’s been happening in Syria. It’s not just that I haven’t seen any of the videos. Beyond glancing at comments in social media and reading headlines, until last night, after I wrote these words, I hadn’t read an article, I hadn’t looked at photographs. I changed the radio when the story came up. I can’t. I won’t. A little of both. I also haven’t been able to look at the U.S. response, our launching of missiles: didn’t read an article, didn’t listen to an analysis.
Until this morning, I didn’t know that 18 people had been killed last week in Chicago, or dozens of worshippers in two churches in Egypt. I know it’s happening, but I’d rather not look.
I’m not proud of this. Neither am I proud of how little I understand of the situation. I have been supportive of Syrian refugees and would like us to receive more families. I would love for us to find a just solution to the violence suffered disproportionately be young people of color in our city. But it’s in the abstract, at a distance. I can’t look. I don’t have to look. I can close my eyes.
So I read that long narrative from Matthew, and I got to the part about Gethsemane, where Jesus takes Peter and James and John and is grieved and agitated—even to death. I read
Then he came to the disciples and found them sleeping; and he said . . . , “So, could you not stay awake with me one hour? . . . [T]he spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak”
And I felt like Jesus was looking straight through Peter at me. “Can you not stay with me?” he said. “Can you not look?” “I needed you.” No, Jesus, I said. I can’t. Like Peter, I can’t sit here and know that you are in pain, see your grief and your struggle and not know what to do. He just looked at me and turned back to his prayer.
It’s hard to look. So hard. Jesus wrestling with God when he’s the one who is supposed to be in charge, he’s the one who knows what we’re supposed to do. So hard to know of children suffering, and not to know what to do. So hard to know the gunshots fly a short bus ride from where I stand.
And it’s hard, not just because, as human beings, we are supposed to feel compassion. It’s hard because I, like the disciples, have already made a commitment. I already told Jesus I’d follow him. At this point neutrality and ignorance and apathy are not options. Jesus has already told me that he is to be found in those who suffer. But all I can do is close my eyes.
But, as usual, Jesus has shown me that there is grace, even as he invites us into the really hard stuff. At the end of the three exchanges Jesus has with Peter and James and John, he says this, “See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Get up, let us be going. See, my betrayer is at hand.”
“See,” Jesus says. “Look now,” he says. “Look there,” he says. “Yes, I know you couldn’t stay with me back there, but stay with me now.” And so I do. And somehow it’s different. Somehow I can keep my eyes open.
This is why we read these hard things, why we tell this awful, beautiful story. This is why we gather here, in this beautiful building, so far from the poisonous gas, but not so far from the bullets. This is why we went from Hosanna to Crucify him! It’s because it’s hard for me to look, because I want to close my eyes. Because I need Jesus to say, “See, it is time” and “Look, I am betrayed.”
We tell this story, this confusing and painful story to be reminded, not only that we need to look, but that we do not need to see it all alone. I need him to call my name and break my heart so that I can wake up and love.
I don’t know what we do about Syria. I don’t know what we do about Chicago. I don’t know what to do about the myriad struggles and griefs contained in this very space. Not doing is not an option.
But to do, I need first to look. I need Jesus to wake me from my escape of sleep and to say, “The time is now. See. Let us be going.”