Homily preached by the Rev. James La Macchia
Trinity Parish of Newton Centre
June 18, 2017
The Second Sunday after Pentecost – Proper 6A
Unless you count yourself among the reported thirty-five per cent of the electorate who would support Donald J. Trump even if—in his own words—“I were to shoot someone in the middle of Fifth Avenue,” you may well be among the many who are telling area clergy that they are feeling unusually anxious, stressed, and helpless since the November presidential election. The numerous missteps, scandals, and almost daily misadventures that have erupted since his January inauguration as the nation’s forty-fifth president likely have done nothing to allay those anxieties and fears. In fact, if there were not so much at stake for our nation and the world, the daily melodrama and pending constitutional crisis, including their improbable cast of characters, might even prove humorous. Who needs House of Cards when reality itself provides so much, as they say, “must see TV”!
Now, it is not my intention—very tempting though it is—to launch into extensive political analysis and commentary this morning. This is neither the time nor the place for such discourse. I merely observe that very many in these parts are reporting deep anxiety and genuine fear over the events of this last incredible year in our national life. Who among us would not be at least somewhat concerned that a leader so apparently impulsive and mercurial, and who seems to thrive on grievance, victimization, and hyperbole, possesses the nuclear codes and has his finger on the “Armageddon” button 24/7? Moreover, the mass shooting of lawmakers in our nation’s capital this week is just one more reminder of the tragic wages of the deep divisions, trenchant partisanship, and crass incivility into which we have sunk in this country over the last decade. So it is not a stretch or an unwarranted exaggeration to observe this morning that Saint Matthew’s description of the Galilean people in today’s Gospel is a fair portrayal of our own time and circumstances as well: “they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” And yet, there is also much “good news,” and even direction, for ALL uncertain and frightening times in the life of God’s covenant people—Jews and Christians alike—in today’s readings from Holy Scripture.
We find this hopeful and wise counsel in the episode of salvation history cited in this morning’s reading from the Hebrew Bible; in the psalm appointed for today; and in Jesus’ own words and actions recorded in the Gospel according to Matthew. Saint Matthew reminds us that Jesus, the incarnate Son of God, “had compassion” for the lost and agitated crowd. For us, God is ultimately the “commander of history” and his “hesed,” his “steadfast love and mercy” are eternal, and “his faithfulness endures from age to age” according to Psalm 100. God proves such abiding concern for Creation over and again in the concrete events of salvation history, such as the one recounted in today’s passage from Exodus. There, we hear that, through Moses, God gives the Jewish people the great gift of the Torah to guide them at the beginning of their forty, penitential years of wandering in the wilderness. And in our Gospel this morning, Jesus who is, in Saint Matthew’s Gospel, portrayed as a “new Moses,” renews the twelve Tribes of Israel and sends his apostles into Roman-occupied Galilee with the mandate to “go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” to “proclaim the good news: ‘the kingdom of heaven has come near’” in Jesus Christ and his redemptive work. As proof and sign that the messianic age has now dawned in the Christ, they are empowered, like Jesus, to “cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, [and] cast out demons” in Jesus’ name.
My sisters and brothers in Christ, if I may speak my own word of consolation this morning, we must always remember that the people of the one covenant—Jews and Christians alike—have a deeper and broader horizon than our politics and civil society, the “powers and principalities” of our historical time and place. God sent Jesus the Messiah to inaugurate the “kingdom of God” through his teaching, ministry, passion, death, and resurrection. We are living in the messianic era, so history—no matter how confusing, perilous, and grim—is moving inexorably toward the full realization of that “kingdom of God.”
We may have confidence that history is not, in the words of Irish author James Joyce, “a nightmare from which I am trying to awaken”; rather, it is, according to Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, “the circuitous path for the footsteps of the Messiah.” In the words of Saint Paul, we Christians have “another country” toward which we are moving as partners with God in the perfection of God’s ongoing Creation. In the meanwhile, we, the baptized, have been sent into our world to heal the sick, to raise the spiritually dead, to minister to the outcasts of our day, and to confront the besetting demons of our age—whatever their guise—in Jesus’ name. In other words, we Jews and Christians must always be about the vital work of “tikkun olam,” the “repair of the world,” in season and out of season, and regardless of our transient political fortunes. And we must do this without any expectation of any sort of personal reward for, as Jesus reminds his apostles today, “You received without payment; give without payment.”
So, I have another of my “modest proposals” this morning—a sort of contemporary “guide for the perplexed,” if I may be so bold as to invoke the great Maimonides. Today’s Psalm 100 is also known as the “Jubilate,” a staple of Morning Prayer according to our Book of Common Prayer. I recommend it as a prayerful way to begin each day—especially during these anxious and frightening times. It is a powerful reminder at the head of the day of God’s providence, of God’s steadfast love and mercy, and of the task God daily sets before us as God’s creatures. It also serves as a daily remembrance of the One to whom we ultimately belong amid the chances and changes of this passing and fleeting life. It has the power of the Eternal Word to remind us of who we are and where we are going, regardless of the tumult and tides of the times and, right now, the antics of our political and cultural elites. Listen anew to its words in a fresh translation from the original Hebrew:
Raise a shout to the LORD, all the earth; Worship the LORD in gladness; come into His presence with shouts of joy. Acknowledge that the LORD is God; He made us and we are His, His people, the flock He tends. Enter his gates with praise, His courts with acclamation. Praise him! Bless His Name! For the LORD is good; His steadfast love is eternal; His faithfulness is for all generations. (NJPS)
These are biblical words of hope and consolation for all of us as we, like the Israelites in Exodus—our elder siblings in the covenant—sojourn through the wilderness of this world, no matter the time, the place, and the circumstances. And let us, like our forbears in the covenant, also respond “as one” to the Divine mercy: “Everything that the LORD has commanded, we will do.”