The readings for Sunday, April 21, 2013:
First Reading: Acts 9:36-43
Psalm: Psalm 23
Second Reading: Revelation 7:9-17
Gospel: John 10:22-30
This week has been the kind of week where many of us might yearn for a shepherd. We’ve seen a bombing at the Boston Marathon and heard horrific tales. We may feel so stunned by the horror of it all that we feel ourselves wandering around at a loss for what to do, just like a sheep that is lost from the flock. It’s a week where we have many grim anniversaries: Waco, Oklahoma City, Columbine, and Virginia Tech. We may wonder when the violence will cease. We may grow weary of the bleating of bad news.
Our brains might return to T.S. Eliot who warned us that April is the cruelest month. Or maybe we should let our brains return to the modern Civil Rights movement, and take comfort from some of that powerful writing.
We have just passed the 50th anniversary of “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” Dr. Martin Luther King was infuriated by white, Southern clergy who advised King to proceed more slowly. But King knew how important his cause was. He said, “"I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly."
It’s important to remember that King had been working on this cause of basic human justice for years and years before writing this letter. It’s important to realize that he’d work many more years before he was martyred.
We are not in the Promised Land that King described for us. Maybe that Promised Land can’t exist until the final redemption of creation is complete. Although we live in an Easter landscape, we know that there are seasons when it seems that death will defeat us all and not just temporarily.
We, too, can be sheep who cannot hear the voice of the shepherd. But Christ still calls to us. Christ still insists on a vision of the poor being taken care of, the captives set free, the hungry fed. Christ insists on a world where we all have enough and we can live free from fear.
Unfortunately, we know that people can succumb to darkness and homicidal impulses. We must find a way to live with that knowledge.
In a week where so many of us feel helpless, it’s good to remember to pray. In the summer of 1986, I went to a multi-faith prayer service that marked the anniversary of the Soweto uprising. I was impressed by the dedication, but skeptical of the possibility that any of it would matter. I couldn’t even imagine what peace and justice would look like for South Africa. But I participated because people had invited me, and it seemed rude to sit sullenly.
Just a few years later, Nelson Mandela walked out of prison, and just a few years after that, he was elected president of South Africa. I will never dismiss the power of prayer again.
I can’t find the terrorists responsible for that bomb. But I can pray for justice. I can’t patch up the runners and the observers who were injured. But I can pray for healing.
We may not see the fruits of our labor right away. King’s letter only gained its power through the months as it was published in a variety of places. And it still took time to get the Civil Rights Act passed, and even more time before attitudes changed.
We can be the shepherd, helping to protect the flock. And on days when we lose courage, we can take comfort from knowing that we’re watched over by the most powerful shepherd who has a vision for creation that won’t let death have the final answer.
feeling the feelings…
6 months ago