When Accompaniment Becomes a Calling
Grace and peace to you from God the Father, our Lord Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit. AMEN.
Picture in your mind three or four of your best friends. Maybe they are here with you. Maybe they are back home. What wouldn’t you do for those friends of yours?
A long time ago when I was in high school, Lyndi was one of my friends. She had the best singing voice in the whole senior class. She was on student council. One day Lyndi was called into the principal’s office and sent home from school. As she explained to me on the phone that night, she was sent home because she was wearing her gym shoes during the school day.
Back when I was in high school there were lots of rules about how one could or could not dress. You had to have a separate pair of shoes for gym class. Lyndi only had one pair of sneakers. It was all her family could afford. And she chose to wear them all through the day. The principal really embarrassed her, she said to me. Made her feel ashamed.
Now, if you think that rule was ridiculous, lots of us did, too. Ridiculous like rules about who can drink at a drinking fountain or swim in a community pool. Like rules about where you can sit on the bus or who can buy a house in a neighborhood. Rules like who you can love.
Long before texting, the word got around and the next day about fifty of us appeared at school wearing our gym shoes. The ridiculous dress code was changed. Lyndi was vindicated. What wouldn’t you do for a friend of yours?
St. Mark understands how far we would go. There’s almost nothing in his gospel that four friends cannot do. When it was too crowded to get a sick person close to Jesus, they carried the man on the stretcher up onto the flat roof of the house and pulled back the branches and thatch that formed that roof and lowered the man right in over the heads of that crowd.
Can you imagine Jesus at that moment? So focused on those around him. Healing this one. Comforting that one. Taking time to look everyone straight in the eye. Imagine his surprise when the pallet is lowered from above. Imagine Jesus looking up at the faces of those four friends, peering down through the make-shift hole in the roof above.
But if Jesus was surprised by that, he surprises everyone even more when he speaks about forgiveness. You see, we can repair almost everything in our lives – we can go to bat for each other, patch and mend the things we break. But only God has the power to forgive the things that are ripped apart deep inside of us. Who is this Jesus, who comes offering such forgiveness? Is he God?
Forgiveness has been in the news these past few weeks. I first learned about the terrible shooting of the nine persons at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston when I saw a post that very night from a young friend in that city. Khobonina wrote on Facebook, I am disgusted right now. A place of worship – whether it is a church or a temple or a mosque - should be a place of safety. Let us pray for everyone – the people who were shot, their families, the emergency workers, even the shooter.
In the days that followed, all around the world people were sad and bewildered, appalled and outraged. It was a crime of such senseless hatred. A killing that made no sense.
But if that kind of violence disgusts you, know that it also disgusts God. Whenever we humans kill each other – especially when we kill others because of their race or ethnicity or religious beliefs – it breaks the heart of God. But even in such awful moments, God does not write us off or stay away. God steps toward us with open arms of amazing grace.
Just hours after that church shooting, in a courtroom in Charleston, family member after family member rose and told a judge that they forgave the shooter. The families of Clemtenta Pinkney, Cynthia Hurd, Sharonda Coleman Singleton, Tywanza Sanders, Suzie Jackson, Depayne Middleton Doctor, Daniel Simmons, and Myra Thompson said – we forgive.
In the face of inexplicable hatred and cruelty, in response to a young man with a gun and a twisted, bitter heart, who said he wanted to stir up a war between races, nine African American families rose up to speak a deeper truth, a word more powerful than vengeance or violence. And that word is forgiveness.
I don’t know what passage those men and women at Emanuel AME Church were studying in the Bible that fateful evening as the young shooter sat in their midst, but it might have been Mark 2. For in this story, Jesus shows the power he has been given to change the world in which we live. The power to give life back where life has been crushed by illness or hatred or ridiculous rules.
Have you ever been the one on the stretcher? The one sent home from school? The one who feels ashamed? Do you know what it is like to be the one who has hurt or bullied someone else – on purpose or not even meaning to? Do you know what it is like to have huge regrets about something that has happened? Something you have done? Or a time you didn’t speak up?
That story about Lyndi – fifty of us did not show up wearing our gym shoes. We could have but we didn’t. We let her bear that embarrassment alone. I told her I was sorry. And later that spring the student council worked to change that ridiculous dress code. But I regret that back then I did not know what I know now about why we must rise up together. So I join you in being one who keep learning about proclaiming justice and community.
If you get recognize that in your own life then it is really good you are here. We have gathered in Detroit to tell the world we are ready to rise up! To rise up and live in a new way! To rise up with hope for justice in our world! To rise up and declare with courage and power that we seek a better way to live together – all of us -- on this planet earth!
But before we can rise up we must be raised up. Raised up by this amazing grace of a God whose love is more powerful than hatred or death or any of the mean things we have done.
So hear it now. You, dear one, are a precious child of God. Your sins are forgiven. You are set free to live with the most wild freedom of all, which is the freedom of your life in Jesus Christ. And nothing, nothing can take that freedom away from you because it is the deepest truth of who you are as a beloved and redeemed child of God.
So be brave. Be strong. Be ready to show the rest of us in the Saint Paul Area Synod what it means to rally against ridiculous rules and racism and any other meanness or stupidity that separates us from one another. Be the kind of friend who tears the roof off the house if that’s what it takes to save a life, because you know – right here – that that is exactly what God has done for you in Jesus Christ. Thanks be to God. AMEN.