Sermons from St. Martin-in-the-Fields:
May 29, 2022 |
Where Do We Go From Here?| The Rev. David F. Potter
Where Do We Go From Here?
Listen in to the sermon from the Rev. David Potter for the Last Sunday of Easter, May 29, 2022.
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Where do we go from here?
The Rev. David Potter
May 29, 2022
On this Ascension Sunday, we commemorate the earthly departure of Jesus with these words. And through them, the Church is called to unity.
This prayer Jesus offers anticipates and responds to a question which will no doubt later surface for Jesus’ followers: “Where do we go from here?”
Throughout this past week, this same question has continually rumbled around in my own thoughts and prayers. And after completing seminary just last weekend, it is especially relevant. For myself and any others in this graduation season, what comes next is often a question posed to us—just as much as it is a question and discern we ask of ourselves.
And surely this same wondering is present here in this community at St. Martin-in the-Fields. Uncertainty is inherent in any search process for new clergy, to say the least.
But, still even more widely, in light of over two years of pandemic concerns and restrictions, especially now as they begin to ease, this question seemingly lingers everywhere. Where do we go from here?
We are in transition. A world lies behind us which is no more—and the world before us remains unknown. Now, living through these times of change like these is far from easy. At times it may even feel like simply too much.
The tension between what has been and what will be can feel like chaos. And in this place, I often find myself searching for some reassurance of stability—for some anchor to hold on.
So, for those carrying burdens here in this place this morning, receive this as permission to come as you are. In these brief moments, may we all know and may we remind ourselves that we hold these burdens with and for one another.
“That they all may be one.” In a moment of tremendous transition, Jesus prays these words. In the remaining instruction of his earthly ministry, his desire for the disciples, for his followers, becomes abundantly clear:
that they know they are loved,
that they love one another,
and that through them the world might come to know love.
Soon the disciples will no longer have Jesus with them—and they will face many challenges and much unknown. And it is in this context with great obstacles to loving one another, that Jesus admonishes his followers toward unity.
This kind of unity is a discipline to which he knows they will need to return over and over again—because apart from a resilient commitment to one another, the heavy burdens they carry will simply be too much to bear.
This kind of unity is no simple feel-good-warm-and-fuzzy feeling. And neither is it a demand for uniformity within the disciples. Rather, what Jesus calls them to, and calls the church to, is something essential to both their individual and their common wellbeing.
Now, I admit, in these polarizing times, my initial impulse is not always toward becoming “completely one” with those I disagree with. Perhaps this is something you can relate to. Because cultivating unity across the broad chasms of ideological and political difference can often seem futile and quite naive.
And when great potential for harm exists by remaining in relationship with others, especially with others who may not affirm our right to exist, appealing to unity can be quite dangerous.
In this past week, yet another mass shooting has claimed the lives of innocent children. This time at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas—merely weeks after the deadly and racist shootings in Detroit and Buffalo.
But in the numbing wake of senseless death and overwhelming grief, there are simply no adequate words... Where do we go from here?
Unity is risky business. There is much at stake in all that divides us, and there is certainly no lack of issues that divide our society.
As this all-too-common occurrence of gun violence becomes ever more increasingly politicized—it seems a deep groaning in my spirit is about all I can muster.
A phrase from the poet Nayyirah Waheed reminds me though that it is important to “keep the rage tender.” Stay tender in the sorrow, grief, and anger—because when God’s image in persons is destroyed, becoming desensitized is spiritual death.
The human tenderness required for unity is no easy task—and it would seem there are always obstacles and reasons to turn away from one another. But as James Baldwin writes, “One cannot deny the humanity of another without diminishing one’s own.” We need one another.
In these greatly divided times uplifting the value of remaining in right-relationship with one another is neither easy nor is it very popular. And yet... the Gospel of Jesus Christ invites all persons into common kinship.
We must remain tender, somehow or some way...
We don’t take on this task alone, though. While remaining in community with one another, walking hand in hand, we walk also with those who have gone before us. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. engages our present predicament in his seminal work entitled: Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?
Two options are present before us. As we midwife this new world and new ways of being, we can either 1) become community or we can 2) descend into chaos. Dr. King offered this still-relevant diagnosis and prescription of our situation in 1967. Either we learn to love one another with shared dignity and belonging, or we will unravel in competitive attempts to preserve an ever-increasing scarcity of individual privileges and liberties.
This same wisdom is shared by artists and prophets, visionaries and activists alike—along with anyone who has labored toward a vision of collective flourishing. And we know something in our tradition too: week after week in our liturgy we pray “Bless all whose lives are closely linked with ours...”
All of human life is interwoven in a web of mutuality.
The ability to know and have life in abundance ourselves is interdependent on each and every person’s ability. If healing, wholeness, and joy are to be made complete in our lives, we must recognize it is inseparable from that of our neighbors.
So, in this rising tide of polarization—of social transition and civic tension—where do we go from here?
“Righteous Father,” Jesus prays, “the world does not know you, but I know you... I made your name known to them, and I will make it known...”
Guided by the upside-down logic of our common faith, we hold these claims:
that enemies cannot be destroyed—but only transformed by love…
that liberty preserved at the end of a gun’s barrel is a false freedom…
that salvation comes not by instruments of death—but through their subversion...
When Jesus admonishes his followers toward common belonging like that love that is shared within the Trinity, he holds no illusions of calm, ideal circumstances.
Rather, it is within the midst of many obstacles—and his appeal to unity is made on a foundation of a radical ethic of love - love for one’s self, for one’s neighbor, for God. Because it is only through deep abiding love that we can remain in relationship and become community.
As we grasp for stability, it is this common faith in the Gospel of Jesus Christ which is and will be our anchor.
when we inevitably fail to dwell together in unity;
when the yoke of faith feels anything but easy and light;
when we are wearied and heavy laden:
Know that we do not walk alone.
Even in our weakness the Spirit of God, with sighs too deep for words, intercedes on our behalf, leading us into the way of salvation.
So then, that we might become “completely one:”
may our shared mourning and action and prayer through the Spirit empower us to become beloved community, and participate in the healing and salvation of this nation. Amen.
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