Friday, April 19, 2013

Bad News Week

It has been a rough week. In Boston, bombs at a marathon wounded more than a hundred people and killed 3. In Iraq, a bomb in a coffee shop killed 27 people and injured dozens more. In West, Texas a fertilizer plant exploded killing thirteen people and destroying homes and buildings. A massive manhunt closed the city of Boston. There was an earthquake in Pakistan, and violent fallout from an election in Venezuela. Here in Richmond, we heard the announcement that Freedom House is closing after almost 30 years of caring for those most in need in our community—closing not because there are no longer people in need of food and shelter in Richmond, but because they do not have the financial support they need to stay open. And that’s to say nothing of the ongoing problems of violence in Syria and tensions with North Korea that were bumped to the back burner by stories of destruction closer to home.

With all that going on, I didn’t want to write a sermon this week. I didn’t want to try to create anything, or do anything. I just wanted to pray, to cry out to God in anger and frustration, to read the news and weep for the victims, the survivors, and a world where such horrible things happen every day. I sat staring at the blinking cursor on my blank computer screen for HOURS.

Then I started to snap out of it. I remembered that the very reasons that I don’t want to write this sermon are the reasons that we, my congregation and community, need to have the word of God proclaimed. It’s when we’re surrounded by this sort of pain and brokenness that we most need the healing and restoration that God gives in worship, in prayer, and in Scripture. It’s when the bad news seems to be everywhere that we most need God’s good news to shore us up and spur us to action.

Yes, terrible things happen. There is bad news. There is suffering, violence, disease. There are unjust trials and crucifixions. But they are not the end. Those things do not get the last word. After the long night there is dawn. After destruction there is recovery. After torture, suffering, and death there is resurrection.

Yes, there were people who planted bombs in a coffee shop in Iraq and at the marathon in Boston. But there were also people who came running to help. There were more people who offered their help and their prayers than there were people who caused this destruction.

This is the Easter season. This is the season when we remember that a horrific death on a cross was overcome by an empty tomb. This is the season when disciples who denied Christ get a chance to proclaim their love for their Savior. This is the season when we face down death and rejoice, trusting that life is more powerful than death, that hope is more powerful than despair, that good will ultimately overcome evil—because that is the victory Christ has given, and that is the kingdom of God that has been promised. Thanks be to God!

Monday, April 15, 2013

One of Those Days

Today is one of those days. It's not that it's been a bad day for me, personally. My day in my neatly insulated world has been fine. No, today is one of those days when there's a voice nagging at the edge of my consciousness telling me that all is not well.

Today the local news affiliates are reporting that the Freedom House, one of this small city's homeless shelters, is closing. The Freedom House opened in 1983, and has served 83,000 meals since then. They have provided temporary shelter and helped people transition to permanent housing. You can learn more about their powerful work here. But without the necessary financial support to keep its doors open, this organization that provides warm meals to the hungry, safe housing to those without shelter, and transitional housing to help people on the road to self-sufficiency is going to close at the end of the month.

Today, too, an Op-Ed piece from yesterday's New York Times is circulating my social networks. The piece, found here, was dictated to a NYTimes reporter by a detainee at Guantanamo Bay named Samir. Samir describes the confinement he has endured for the last 11 years without trial. Arrested at age 24, he has had no opportunity to see his family in 11 years and, with right to trial suspended for "enemy combatants", he has no idea when he might be free again. He writes of being trapped with no hope of release, and of being force-fed when he attempted a hunger strike to resist this loss of liberty and human rights.

There is something deeply broken here. There is something very wrong in a society where we cannot bring ourselves to provide food for the hungry and shelter for the homeless here in our own community, but we invest in holding and feeding men and women against their will thousands of miles away. There is something wrong with our idea of what it means to be human. We are a country that promises the right to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness," but we allow our own citizens to die of hunger and exposure. We drag people halfway across the world into prisons, deny their freedoms, and forbid them even the escape of death. How does that in any way promote life or liberty, much less happiness?

It's sad and sick and sinful. And what makes my heart break the most is that I haven't done anything about it. These things are happening around me, and I haven't even tried to stop them. I know about Freedom House, but I have never actually been there. Our church youth collect money for them every year with our Souper Bowl Sunday, but aside from that small annual donation, we haven't done anything to help with this organization's vital work. I've read about the conditions at Gitmo and the human rights abuses of holding people without trial and without hope. I celebrated when, in 2009, President Obama signed the order to close Gitmo. But haven't kept careful track of the situation, I haven't utilized any of the avenues open to me as a U.S. citizen to speak for the prisoners whose right to speak for themselves has been stripped away.

There are men and women, people created and loved by God, who are hungry, who are homeless, who are in need, and I have done nothing. There are men and women, people created and loved by God, who have been taken captive and silenced, and I have done nothing. I follow the Christ who came to preach good news to the poor and proclaim release to the captives (Lk 4:18), and I have done nothing.

I have put on my privileged American blinders and ignored my brothers and sisters in need. I have stayed in my comfortable, insulated world and pretended that I didn't know better.

But not today. Today the Spirit is tugging at my soul, refusing to let me pretend that everything is fine. Today is one of those days, and I cannot sit by and do nothing.