2021 02 21 Alan Storey: A Confessing Church
June, 14 2020 The Sermon this week comes to us through the words of Rev. Victoria Safford, a minister in the Unitarian Church. They are words from 2005 but I believe them to be very connecting with our times. You decide if that is true for you. You may also want to see how the scripture readings for this week connect with her words. [Genesis 18:1-15 (21:1-7); Psalm 116: 1-2, 12-19; Romans 5:1-8; Matthew 9:35-10:8, (9-23)]
See you tomorrow at 11h11 for CMM Chat … “the holy occasion of hearing one another, of beholding one another.”
Psalm 116 begins:
1 I love the Lord, because the Lord has heard
my voice and my supplications.
2 Because the Lord inclined his ear to me,
therefore I will call on the Lord as long as I live.
Basically, the psalmist is saying: Wow I have been listened to!! Being heard is the basis for the psalmist’s love and lifelong commitment. What is so wondrous according to the psalmist, is that the All-Powerful One, who by rights does not have to listen to anyone, has indeed listened to this psalmist’s cry.
The Lord heard my cry, is no small claim. In fact, it is this very claim that sparked the liberation of the Hebrew slaves back in the day. Back then the dominant theology of Empire taught (as Empire theology always does) that God only spoke and listened to the king who then represented or incarnated God on earth. It was treason to suggest that God listened to anyone besides the king. In Exodus 3:7 we read the radical declaration from the lips of the Lord: “…I have heard their cry…”. Being heard by the Lord helped them to discover and trust their true identity. They were the Lord’s “treasured possession” (Exodus 19:5) and not Pharaoh’s slave. On the basis of being heard by the Power above all other powers, the Hebrew slaves demand their freedom and are prepared to walk through oceans and deserts to get it.
The declaration that the All-Powerful One listens to the lowly and trodden upon, is one of the most radically subversive statements of the Scriptures. It is also the primary instruction for those in positions of power to imitate. Listen longest to the lowliest. In truth most of us practice just the opposite.
One of the reasons “power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely” is that our desire to listen seems to decrease in direct proportion to the increase of our power. Perhaps this is because listening and humility go hand in hand and if anything tests our humility it is power. After all, “why do I need to listen to you, if I have the power to just tell you what to do?” This is especially tempting when we are pressured and rushed or feeling vulnerable and afraid ourselves.
If power is not bridled by accountability, we can be almost certain that there will be abuse. The refusal to listen is the beginning of this abuse. It is to treat another as if they do not count. And if they don’t count, it raises the question why do they exist at all? From here it is a slippery slope to doing them further harm.
When institutions constantly cover for those among their ranks, right or wrong, then a culture of impunity soon saturates the structures of that institution which make the abuse of power by members of the institution not just possible but probable. We have witnessed this among the police and army, both here and abroad in recent weeks. We have also witnessed it within religious institutions who have covered up sexual abuse over many years. And in recent days we have heard again of how multiple forms of discrimination are routinely ignored and go unaddressed within elite schools. This occurs when institutions exist to protect and preserve themselves above all else. The moment an institution closes ranks to save itself in this way, it begins to die. And while dying it causes death. This is the public law of self-destruction that Jesus spoke of in personal terms: “If you want to save your life you will lose it.”
Conversely, to listen to another is to affirm their existence and honour their being. To listen is to help another discover and trust their true identity as precious. To listen is the beginning of the liberation journey.
Many are asking, what can we do? We can start by checking who we give our ear to. We can start by listening. We can start by listening to the cries of people, especially the people from the margins of society. And in these June days we are called to listen especially to young people. To listen without argument or the need to answer. To listen to feel and to learn for the sake of liberation.
Please email email@example.com if you want the link to Sunday’s chat.
Grace to you
Over the past two weeks we have reflected on the radical resistance story found in the book of Esther. We tasted early on that it is marinated in masculine entitlement and further sauced with religious, cultural, ethical and nationalistic supremacy. If we are honest, much of Scripture is marinated and sauced with both – and many since have sought to justify both as the will of God because of their prominence in scripture. Yet if we take our cue from Jesus, we will notice how he constantly subverted the marinade and sauce of the dominant class – choosing rather to salt it with a flavouring of those considered the least and lowly and left out to specifically remind us that God has no favourites.
The Psalms – as beautiful as they sound are very often extremely violent and patriarchal – perpetuating a false understanding of God that Jesus came to correct. According to Jesus God is not violent, but vulnerable. God’s purpose is to gently restore rather than vengefully destroy.
One of my favourite authors who is able to re-salt the scriptures in this Jesus-like-way is Nan Merrill. In her translation of the Psalms she replaces the militaristic patriarchy with profoundly beautiful images that remind us that our real enemy is fear within rather than foes without. This enemy within is only ever defeated through acceptance and love for only “love can cast out fear”. Here is her translation of Psalm 91 (in part):
Those who dwell in the shelter of
Who abide in the wings of
Will raise their voices in praise:
“My refuge and my strength;
In You alone will I trust.”
For You deliver me from the webs
from all that separates and divides;
You protect me as an eagle shields
Your faithfulness is sure, like
an arrow set upon the mark.
I will not fear the shadows of the night,
nor the confusion that comes
Nor the dreams that awaken me from
nor the daily changes that
Though a thousand may deride this
ten thousand laugh as I seek
to do your Will,
Yet will I surrender myself to You,
abandoning myself into your Hands
~ Nan C. Merrill, Psalms for Praying