Monday, Aug 12, 2019
A sermon preached on August 11, 2019, in All Saints Episcopal Church by the Rev. Hugh E Brown, III, D. Min, MSW, LSW, RCL, Year C, Proper 14, Hebrews 11:1-3; 8-16.
“Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”
Faith: AS IF!
Hope is believing in Spite of the Evidence, and then watching the Evidence Change!
A noted Christian spiritual author and witness to social change writes:
“On the morning of my mother’s 75th birthday, my sister Marcie went into serious labor.
Both went to the same Chicago hospital.
One upstairs; one downstairs.
They were two women on a mission.
As my mother labored for her life with each breath…..my sister labored to bring forth new life.
It seemed as if we had already lost mom twice to illness, but she was determined to hang-on—even this time.
My sister had two previous difficult deliveries; not this time.
Her labor was smooth and quick.
She knew what she had to do.
The doctor who delivered the baby commented that he had never seen a woman, in this instance, so in touch with her own body.
At 1:35PM, Kaylee Ruth was born on the first floor.
Her grandmother, Phyllis Ruth, was dying on the 5th.
As soon as they could, the doctor and nursing staff wheeled Marcie and the baby into Mom’s room, where we were all anxiously waiting.
The jubilation of the hospital staff was overwhelming.
As my mother opened her eyes, and held her new granddaughter, she smiled and said, “I’m very happen; I’m so very happy.”
Those were her last words; she very peacefully went to sleep and the ventured into a coma. She died nine days later.”
The spiritual writer Jim Wallis told this story in the spring of 1995 to a somewhat dejected and cynical staff in inner city Washington DC.
He did so right after the bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City.
After the story, Jim looked around the room, gazing at his staff.
He quoted the Letter to the Hebrews you heard this morning:
“Faith is the Assurance of things hoped for; the evidence of things not seen.”
And Jim continued, “This is what faith is…the hope of life in the very midst of death.”
Faith; not apart from death; but life in the very mist of it.
The image on the front bulletin cover conveys this theme; with its interplay of light and darkness; shadows and illumination.
I thought of this story often this past week.
Our nation reels once again from terror; dozens dead; one in a genuine act of domestic terrorism prompted by hate; another attack—perhaps, prompted by the same. El Paso; and Dayton.
Within these circumstances of life—Hebrews calls us to faith…..
………….the Faith that life always exists in the midst of death.
Faith is living AS IF life were being born in the midst of death.
Let us note the examples of those listed in Hebrews as exemplars of faith.
Abraham and Sarah; Isaac and Jacob.
They acted AS IF.
To quote the New Testament scholar Tom Wright:
“Abraham acted--as if--God were making a new world possible, and it was true. He was out of step with his time.”
But Abraham did move; he walked; he left; he ventured; he became the ultimate migrant.
Abraham acted as if God was going to provide; as if God would keep his promises.
This is the faith that enabled Abraham to obey—to move—when called; that empowered Sarah to laugh-not in mockery, but in joy—when an angel told her she would give birth to a son despite senior years.
In this Hebrews prefigures Luke’s Gospel and the faith that empowered a young, Jewish peasant girl in a tiny village to believe an angel who told her she would give birth to the Son of God.
We celebrate the feast day of Mary of Nazareth this Thursday
So—how do we live this faith in the very midst of a world……. where violence, hate, passivity, government inaction, excessive greed……seemingly have the last word?
The literary artist Toni Morrison died this past Monday at the age of 88.
Over a five decade career she chronicled the African American experience in stories that spanned from 17th century plantations to the Jim Crow-era.
But her work…..while absolutely giving voice to the context , violence and racism of the African-American experience…..was above all……about the human condition.
She once wrote that her work was about:
“The resources available to us for benign access to each other, for vaulting the mere blue air that separates us, are few but powerful: language, image, and experience.”
“This language, image, and experience thrusts us into one another’s worlds, commanding us to be worth one another’s attention.”
Language: Image; Experience—living --as if we—you and I—are connected across time and circumstance.
Living AS IF we are worth one another’s attention.
We remember, for example, her work Beloved.
Who has not mothered with a ferocity that surpasses imagination; who has not been haunted by such ferocious love in all of its power and all of its potential darkness?
Did you see the image of the little girl from Mississippi this week
Wailing for her parents who had been arrested in an ICE raid?
How did you feel; what did you think?
Perhaps there was some Beloved in you at that point.
Some ferocious capacity to mother; deep compassion that met the darkness?
Did you feel that child’s pain? Did you connect with her trauma? Across culture? Across Race? Did that image of that wailing child move you?
In that moment—could you just feel the Canaanite woman who demanded Jesus heal her child—across nation-race-religion—culture?
Jesus listened; to that woman.
That child became his child.
Can that little girl from Mississippi—traumatized and abused by our very nation—become your child and our child?
It matters not a whit were you stand on the policy of immigration.
Like Jesus, who reached across the divides of culture wherever he found them—and gave his life for doing so?
Can you, through language, image, and experience—imagine if—live if—that little girl—crying for her faith and mother, separated from all love and family—was your child?
That imaginative connection to that little girl in Mississippi….
This is Toni Morrison’s challenge to engage in Living Faith!
Toni Morrison’s work –Language, Image, Experience—lives the AS IF of faith; faith endures in the midst of trauma.
What is said of the character, Sethe in Beloved can be said of Tony Morrison’s AS IF faith:
“She is a friend of my mind; she gather me man; The pieces I am, she gather them and give them back to me—in all the right order.”
Toni Morrison’s life was, in the words of one commentary: “Gathering the pieces of a country broken under the weight of its own history—and meld them into a new story.”
Recreating new stories. Commanding one another’s attention. The AS IF faith of Abraham; Moses, Jesus, Paul—The Letter to the Hebrews.
I saw the faith of Toni Morrison in a therapy group at Penn Medicine/Princeton House this past week.
A patient, brave beyond words, living with trauma that you and I can only imagine through connections across experience—began sobbing uncontrollably—not only because of her illness—but because she had suddenly realized how much her mother loved her; how much anguish she had caused her mom.
“O God—she said—as if in prayer—how I wish my mom were here; how much I could tell her that I love her; that I am sorry; that I am sorry for the fight we had just before I came here; O God how much my mom loves me. O mom I wish you were here; I miss you so much.”
And, at that moment, a patient……different in race, culture and experience…..suddenly lifted up from her chair.
She almost ran across the room; hugged that patient with all her might—sat and held her hand;
She told her, “I’m a mom; I know your mom forgives you; I know your mom loves you; I will be like your mom today; you are not alone; I will be your friend as long as you are here.”
A little girl in Mississippi cries for her mother.
A patient living with mental illness cries for.
One receives love. One can.
If you and I become a friend of her mind—gather her pieces—and give them back in the right order…….
…….If she can become worthy of our attention.
If YOU can be her new birth of light and hope—in a world of death and darkness.
Faith is the assurance of things hoped for—the conviction of things unseen.