Beloved: I want to give a warning that some of the content in today’s reflection talks about domestic violence and sexual assault. Please do what you must do for your own self-care if this is a trigger for you.
I thought that this morning I was going to talk with you about the line in the Gospel reading: But their eyes were kept from recognizing him….
It was the line that jumped out and stuck with me, and when I talked about the Word with my colleague Susan on Wednesday, it was the line that was resonating in her brain, so I thought: well, that’s that then. And it stuck with me because I wondered what was going on in that moment.
I think their eyes were kept from recognizing Jesus because of their expectations. Their expectations of who God is and how God moves in the world. Their expectation of who they thought the Messiah was going to be and who Jesus was, who Jesus is….
Their expectations kept them from seeing God, Love in the flesh, revealed to them as they walked and talked, as they shared their story with a stranger.
I thought I was going to preach on this because I think this is our truth. How our expectations of God and of church prevent us from seeing God and love right next to us in the face of the stranger who joins us on the journey.
Expectations—they can fuel us forward or freeze us in our place.
Expectations can be sourced by fear or love, by anger or hope.
Expectations are shaped by what we consume and who and what we trust.
But, on Friday, I was struck by another line from our readings; this time from the reading in the Acts of the apostles. When Peter says: Be saved from this perverse generation. Another translation of the same line is: Get out while you can; get out of this sick and stupid culture. And one other is: Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.
All of these translations seem so apropos for our world, our nation right now…..perverse, corrupt….get out while you can.
This past week we heard the horrifying and sickening stories of people—all young people—being killed because of simple mistakes: Knocking on the wrong door; trying to get into the wrong car; mistaking a long driveway for a road.
I have done all of these things—more than once, in fact. Probably all, or most of us, has. So–what’s different now? Why these three senseless, sick deaths in the past week? Guns. An overabundance of guns. And the mentality that violence saves us. There are roughly 100 million more guns in the United States than there are Americans. We win the gun bonanza by twice as much as any other country. I know, I know that some people want to argue that guns are not the problem. People are the problem. But we keep giving people—the supposed problem—guns. Even at the cost of the well-being of our community. At the cost of now having gun violence as the number 1 cause of death to our nation’s children. Gun violence kills children in America more than any other cause. Something we can stop; something we can decrease; something we can prevent. If we have the will.
But when profit is God in a nation, as it is in the United States, then the profit of the gunmakers and ammunition producers, and the power they carry over our elected servants, is apparently more important than the lives of our children.
Through his parables, his conversations, his questions, Jesus continually challenges us to consider: Is your expectation that the individual is more important or is the community more important? In America it seems to be the individual. In the Gospel—In God’s dream, it is the community. Is it any wonder we don’t recognize Jesus who is in our midst, who calls us to a new way, who tells us to overturn the tables of the unjust systems we have built?
Get out while you can; get out of this sick and stupid culture.
About a month ago, Murray and I watched the movie: Women Talking. It tells the story of a Mennonite colony, based on a true story—where females—from little girls of four to elderly women—were knocked out with cow tranquilizer while they were sleeping in their beds. And then they would be sexually assaulted and find themselves bruised, bleeding and battered in the morning. Sometimes they would end up pregnant or infected. The religious elders told them it was the Devil or ghosts—and even chalked up the women’s story to fantastical imaginations.
Much like what we hear in the Gospel when the women who first witness the resurrection are not believed and they are told that their experience is just an idle tale. As one character in Women Talking says: They made us disbelieve ourselves.
Because women’s realities have been shaped by others’ expectations of them and for them since time began. Mostly because women were not the ones who told their own story, who wrote down their experience to be shared throughout time. Men have been the official historians and storytellers of truth. At least in the published, authorized version of things. Women have always been told their purpose by others: by the Church, by the job market, by their husbands, their fathers, by advertisements, by the culture. And while we now allow women to work outside the home, what that has meant is that women are generally expected to do both: home and work. And the structures, systems and institutions that women have been allowed to become a part of—for lesser pay, mind you; can’t have them make equal pay—those structures, systems and institutions haven’t changed to make room for women. Instead, women are expected to make themselves smaller, misshapen, in order to fit into these male-dominated, male-oriented structures.
While doors have opened for women in my lifetime, the rooms are still decorated and fashioned for men.
Think of it: the word that we were all supposed to accept as a “stand-in” for humanity is “Man.” It was all over our prayer books, songs, and liturgies…..For example, from the Book of Common Prayer’s Rite One Prayers of the People:
Let us pray for the whole state of Christ's Church and the world. Almighty and everliving God, who in thy holy Word hast taught us to make prayers, and supplications, and to give thanks for all men
This language is still in the Episcopal prayer book. It is still prayed by some. And when God was written about and described, by those male historians and storytellers, they made God male. So much so that many people still think God is male—or they can only imagine God as a male—and they are annoyed and uncomfortable if you use Mother or She or They…..
This past Thursday we hosted a gathering for Women Only in order to show the film Women Talking. We put it in our weekly email; I announced it in church, and we put it out on Facebook. But, I didn’t know what to expect. I was thinking that if 20 women showed up to watch and talk about the movie, that would be fantastic. There were 50 of us. 50 women! Younger and older and middle-aged. And what a conversation we had.
Because we are tired and angry and wounded by being seen only through other’s limited expectations. We are tired of our experiences not mattering enough. Enough to not change the systems. Not just to access the systems, but to recognize that this world was built by and for men, and it’s time to re-dream and re-build it for all of us.
Just as many folx are tired and angry and wounded because their loved ones who have been shot by assault rifles in first-grade classrooms don’t matter enough to change our gun laws. That we don’t really believe that the community’s welfare is more important than an individual’s wealth or a corporation’s wealth.
In today’s reading from Acts, when Peter is preaching at Pentecost and the folx who have experienced Holiness in their midst ask the disciples: What should we do? Peter tells them: Change your hearts and lives. Get baptized.
Baptism wasn’t a ritual, as we know it, in the church yet. Peter wasn’t talking about a ritual; Peter was talking about the true meaning of baptism: ending one way of life in order to live a new way. Or as Julia Gatta put it in her book entitled The Life of Christ: “The goal of baptism is to restore us to the human we were dreamed to be.” To replace our expectations with God’s expectations: Community eclipses individualism. Love defeats hate. Hope beats fear. Equity triumphs over privilege.
The women in Women Talking had to make a decision when the men violating them were finally caught and were brought into the town to be tried. They were given 24 hours to decide if they would forgive the men. The women saw it as three choices: Stay and do nothing. Or Stay and Fight to change the colony. Or Leave.
I think this is the same fight that is taking place within the Church. Stay and do nothing: keep everything as it has always been. Or Stay in the Church and fight to change it. Or Leave.
I struggle with these choices pretty much on a daily basis. Well, let me be clear. I am not interested in Stay and do nothing, change nothing. But I would never leave my relationship with Jesus, or abandon my hope in God’s dream. I cannot give up my absolute trust that this is the Way I, that we, are called to live……but when we try to live this faith out in a culture where there are more guns than people and women and their experiences are still doubted and diminished….it can be a long and weary road.
Recently I heard the priest Barbara Brown Taylor say this: “The church gives me a community to figure out what is happening to me in the world.” And, that, perhaps, is the biggest reason I stay and fight…..That and this loveliness from the 2nd chapter of the book of the prophet Isaiah:
There’s a day coming
when the mountain of God’s House
Will be The Mountain--
solid, towering over all mountains.
All nations will river toward it,
people from all over set out for it.
They’ll say, “Come,
let’s climb God’s Mountain,
go to the House of the God of Jacob and Rachel and Leah.
God will show us the way she works
so we can live the way we’re made.”
Zion’s the source of the revelation.
God’s Message comes from Jerusalem.
God will settle things fairly between nations.
She’ll make things right between many peoples.
They’ll turn their swords into shovels,
their spears into hoes.
No more will nation fight nation;
they won’t play war anymore.
Come, family of Jacob and Leah and Rachel,
let’s live in the light of God.
Jane Johnson is the pastor and priest of the Beloved Community of Intercession Episcopal and Redeemer Lutheran.