Preached from the pulpit of the Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd, Berkeley, on Sunday, August 23, 2015, by the Rev. Deacon Ellen L. Ekstrom:
The last time I stood in this pulpit I invited you by way of Christ to go to a deserted place and rest a while, to pause for a bit in the ministry you’ve been given.
Did you do it?
Okay, not right away. I really, really, meant to go off somewhere alone in my heart and mind in order to hear that still, quiet voice, but this world of ours just begs and screams for right action and it’s hard to look a challenge in the face and back down. I think this true for me, perhaps for you as well, that this is a time when Christ speaks to us at where we are. For me, and for some of you, maybe all of you, it’s at the metaphorical barricades that is life in our country today.
In his closing remarks to the church at Ephesus, Paul gives the Christians tools to fight the darkness and inhumanity in the world: “take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm.”
This may ring archaic in our modern ears. We’re not meant to wear a full suit of armor nowadays. Besides, it’s heavy, weighs about sixty pounds and when you fall off a horse wearing it, you’re like a turtle on your back. Paul speaks to the church in terms they know. The armor of Roman legions was familiar. We only know them from art work, museums, books, movies and video games, but the analogy hasn’t changed. These metaphorical breastplates, greves, boots, sword and shield are ours with which we can confront and take on the injustice in a that has become more cynical, more dark, than the darkest of nights. Turn on your television, tap on your tablets, read the front page of a newspaper and you can see for yourself what we’re up against.
Paul is asking us to stand firm. We are being asked to stand on our convictions as Christians against bigotry, injustice, inequality, sexism, ageism and a host of ills – we all face it daily. We’re not being asked to take on something because it’s expedient and will win us popularity. Our choices will be difficult and sometimes, near impossible. Who is able to do this? Who among us can stand on convictions when the tide of popularity turns on us? Are we supposed to be rigid, intractable, Lone Rangers for Jesus righting the wrongs in society and demanding conformity to all things Episcopalian? We can’t get our fellow Episcopalians to agree with us at times; what makes you think we can persuade people in the elevator or the checkout line to accept living out the Gospel as it has been revealed to us?
We’re not being asked to be close-minded or stubborn, nor are we supposed to be wed to one opinion, again, we are Episcopalians. But, we are Children of God, we are followers in the Jesus Movement and we are asked to stand for something that is not transient, but something that is transcendent and life-giving, and that is God’s love through Christ. This means being willing to speak the truth, risk being unpopular, and call out those who, by their actions, seek to exclude, marginalize and harm people and to destroy creation because it suits their narrow and selfish way of thinking and agendas. It means taking risks, sometimes personal, like the three young men who stopped an attack on a French train this week, or making a ‘shield wall’ of bodies, hand-in-hand to protect a mosque, to put your life in danger fighting a wildfire. Or something innocuous like, losing so-called friends on social media because they’re of a different political party and you’re not and they don’t understand why you take a particular position.
It may mean speaking out, like, I’m sorry, certain members of Congress and Fox News and everyone riding in the clown car, I’m a woman and you’re not. You don’t speak for me, and you don’t tell me what I may and may not do with my body or my life. You don’t vilify the people you’ve made homeless because of your bad or greedy decisions where it comes to housing and finance. Come live on Market Street in a storefront entrance, or sleep in the Powell Street BART corridors on a rainy night, live without a home, food, or medical care, or live a day in the shoes of a parent trying to get by on minimum wage or less, then you’ll know what many of us go through. Know what it’s like to be hated or mistrusted because of the color of your skin. I’ll love you because I’m called to love you, because you’re one of God’s children, but I don’t have to agree with you. And I do not have to keep you in your cushy office where you can fatten up your big business friends and ignore the real problems that face most of us. You may have Wall Street in your corner, but I and so many like me have God all around me.
The whole armor that is God prepares us for struggle. Standing firm gives the struggle purpose and meaning. We may ask if it’s worth it, especially when it wears down our last nerve or if we’re not seeing results. The world was made in seven days. I suspect that our struggle to give true justice and equality to all will take a bit longer.
God, however, never ceases to be with us during these trials even though it may seem so at times. It is amazing when it happens. Our efforts will show that God is with us to the most cynical of unbelievers, and that with God nothing is impossible; that the love we offer through our actions is through God and we offer it willingly and without reservation. Even if, heaven forbid, the message doesn’t get through, we will still hear, “Well done, good and trusty servant!” We will have ministered to the least of the members of the community. It is that whispering in our ears that lets us know that God is paying attention and there is hope for a better world for all.
It is affirming and amazing when this happens.
And now my sisters and brothers in Christ, pray that we may declare it boldly, as we must speak.