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    Jun 14, 2020

    The 2nd Sunday of Pentecost

    Passage: Matthew 9:35-10:8

    Preacher: The Rev. Canon Patricia Grace

    Series: Year A 2020-2021

    Category: Pentecost

    Detail:

    Keep, O Lord, your household the Church in your steadfast faith and love, that through your grace we may proclaim your truth with boldness, and minister your justice with compassion

    Collect of the Day – 2nd Sunday of Pentecost, Proper 6

     

     

    We have had a time of it – haven’t we?

    Between the virus, and the economy,

     the protests and the politicizing of everything…

    we have had a hard time of it.

     

    Like me, perhaps,

    you may be aflood with many different images

    penetrating your waking and your sleeping…

    Images reflected in the numbers of those who have died from the virus…

                in scenes of the excruciating grief and pain of this time…

    in the sight of a man being choked to death…

    gasping for air and crying out for his mother…

    like Jesus asking for his father from the cross…

    in the scenes of so many acts of random kindness offered by strangers…

                in the brutal senselessness of looting and shooting

    and verbal violence.

    So many hard, beautiful, frightening, heart-wrenching images.

     

    In the midst of all those pictures,

                there is one that stands out for me…

    an image that has called me to ponder, to wonder, to weep, in fact…

    And that is the sight of those police officers

                who have taken a knee in solidarity with the protestors.

    An action that prompted tears all around, and spontaneous

                hugs and handshakes between people who just moments before

    thought of themselves only as adversaries.

     

    What an evocative symbol to choose in the midst of confrontation…

                maybe a PR stunt as some have said.

    But if you looked into the faces

    of those who assumed the unconventional posture of taking a knee –

    and listened to what was said by the chief of police in Charlotte, or Washington DC or many other big, harsh, hard, rough cities …

    Well, it might be true…

    perhaps there is a way forward

    with people of good faith

    that represent all sides of the situation.

     

    I could not stop thinking about that symbol this week…

    And it reminded me of so many stories about Jesus.

    About Jesus, kneeling down to get to the eye level of a child;

                wrapping his arms around the sometimes bothersome children,  

    welcoming them whenever they appeared.

    About Jesus, as he knelt to lay hands on someone who was crippled, blind,

                lost or cast off…

    and that amazing story,

                of his kneeling down, drawing in the sand

    when confronted with the crowd which was fixing to stone to death

                the woman caught in adultery.

    How I have often wondered, longed to know

                what he wrote in the sand as he knelt there…

    Before coming back to them with an amazing response…

                reflecting a depth of understanding,

    of love for everyone in that scene...

    Okay, he said, go ahead and stone her…but the one who should go first,

                must be the one without sin.

    In all those stories,

                and so many more,

    the starting point for Jesus,

                was to change his position – his orientation to the world,

    by sinking to one knee or two –

    giving him time to consider all the people,

    all the factors in a situation.

     

    Our Gospel today is the same.

                As we hear the story of Jesus sending out the 12 disciples,

    the story does not start with the instructions for going out…

    but with an observation.

    Jesus looked around at the people he had come to save…

                and he felt compassion for them, the text says…

    compassion – for they were like sheep without a shepherd.

     

    He had reached a point where he understand their suffering –

    because he had been with them in that suffering –

     going about, curing every disease and sickness, 

    listening to their cries, binding up their wounds,

    sharing their tears and their fears.

    He had compassion for them…

    the feeling of suffering with.

    Not sympathy, but empathy,

    …of suffering with….

    Because Jesus understood the effect of suffering,

    which produces endurance,

    and endurance produces character,

    and character produces hope,

     and hope does not disappoint us,

    because through all of that, says St. Paul,

    God's love has been poured into our hearts

    through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us. 

    And then Jesus talks about sheep.

    As a priest, one gets to learn a lot about sheep. 

    Because Jesus loved to tell stories about sheep. 

    And when he says, “I send you out like sheep in the midst of wolves” –

    well, you need to know something about sheep

    to understand his real meaning.

    When confronted with a predator, like wolves,

    sheep do something very interesting –

    an individual sheep’s first instinct is not to protect him or herself –

    but to get with the herd – and protect each other. 

    For them, it is all about the community. 

    When they detect the malevolent presence of a wolf or coyote,

    sheep will literally move to be able to have each other’s backs…

    they form a circle, with their backs to each other –

    providing as near to 360 degree perception as possible:

     so they can see and are covered on all sides. 

    Predators are too smart to attack a crowd –

    those who would destroy or kill,

    they do that in private, through deceit and treachery –

    by separating sheep – and people – of good will

    and then taking them out.

    Predators find the soft and vulnerable edges of a herd –

    where the weak end up;

    they look for the straggler,

    the one who seems lost or confused,

    the ones who get separated from the flock…

    They go where the sick, or the lonely, or the expendable hang out –

    and where there is no one willing to have their backs.

     So when confronted with wolf-like danger – deadly danger,

    Jesus says, buddy up – put your back into it –

    watch out for each other; take care of each other.

     

    Take a knee for each other.  Take a stand for each other.

    This symbol of taking a knee –

    we know it well – and not from NFL football coverage. 

    Many of us were raised to go down on one knee

                as we entered the sanctuary, before taking our place in the pew.

    A sign of respect, of humility, of submission to God.

    We hear about taking a knee or two

                in sermons, in teachings, in learning about spiritual practices.

    In Canticle Fourteen,

    a prayer we use in the service of Morning Prayer,

    we say the ancient words of Manasseh, an idolatrous and evil ruler

    who experienced the grace and goodness of God.

    In his prayer of repentance,

    the newly changed king promises to bend the knee of his heart…

    to take a knee to the Lord, his maker…

    as a sign of respect, of humility, of submission

    to the One who has shown such generous forgiveness and love to him.

    By so doing, he says,

    we may then show forth God’s goodness in our very selves.

    We who try to follow the way of Jesus know all too well,

     the need to take a knee, to bend the knee of our heart.

    There is something in that action that has value…

    the benefit of taking a new position          -

     a shifting of perspective that can happen when we change

    our orientation to the world.

     

    Perhaps taking a knee or two

     can provide enough of a change in perspective that we might see – rather than our differences,

    the inherent goodness in all of God’s children…

    protestors, police and, well, maybe even politicians…

    I’ll have to think a lot more about that last one.

     

    Perhaps taking a knee – or two –

    can enable us to find that nearly 360 degree perception –

    which might reveal a new way forward, for everyone.

     

    Perhaps taking a knee, or two…

    can give us enough space, time and quiet

    to hear the still small voice of God’s Holy Spirit,

    offering suggestions, ideas, opportunities, dreams…

     

    Like Nathan said last week, I don’t know the answers…

    and you don’t know the answers,

    but perhaps we, together, having each other’s backs,

    might discover a path forward,

    if we can listen harder,

    respond more generously,

    live more openly in the truth.

     

    It may be that we need to take a knee – or two –

    and spend some time there,

    in order to know how to stand up in the way that Jesus would.

    Perhaps he was writing the word “compassion” in the sand that day,

    as he knelt to struggle to figure out how he could stand with everyone – the woman caught in adultery

    and those who would kill her with stones.

     By shifting the positions of all –

    he opened up a pathway to life versus death;

     to the potential of new relationships,

    of new understandings of each other. 

     

    For whatever reason, the action of those police officers, to take a knee –

    to shift to a new position,

    was sufficiently surprising,

    that the protestors responded in kind –

    offering hugs and handshakes…

    conversation erupted…

    invitations to “walk with us” were uttered spontaneously,

    and the police officers said, “we’ll walk!”

    The starting point was compassion…

                perhaps we, too, can start there and rise to the occasion

                            by first, taking a knee.

    In that spirit, we begin and end our prayers, standing or kneeling,

    with the words of our collect for today:

     Keep, O Lord, your household the Church in your steadfast faith and love, that through your grace we may proclaim your truth with boldness, and minister your justice with compassion.

     

    May we, like Manasseh,

    strive to bend the knee of our hearts

     sure of God’s gracious goodness…

    that we might stand,

    demonstrating in all that we do, think and say,

    God’s very own goodness and love for all. 

    By so doing, may we participate with God

                in renewing the face of the earth.