A Sermon Preached by the Rev. Susan Allison-Hatch
The Kingdom of God is like.....Those are the words I’d planned to use to begin this sermon. But the week got in the way. The words would not roll out. The images would not recede like the waters that flooded our streets earlier this week.
Villagers in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia turning back aid workers trying to care for people threatened by the Ebola virus.
Children at our border—right here in New Mexico—subjected to the chants of angry crowds demanding their deportation.
My friend’s face etched with worry and fear and such deep sadness as she sits with her granddaughter in Tel Aviv at what her daughter calls “Grandma camp on the road in Tel Aviv.” You need to know my friend’s daughter and granddaughter live on a moshev not far from Beersheva where rockets are falling (or failing) daily.
Closer to home—a sister struggling for words as she tries to tell her brother’s story, tries to share her brother’s life. Tears choke off the words. The pain is still too raw. The wound too deep.
The face of a young woman—not more than twenty—as she says to me, “I was the one who found them. I checked on them every morning” and then turns to look at the photo of young Allison Gorman, one of the men murdered in an empty lot on the West Side.
There is no turning back the clock or rewinding the tape or starting again at the beginning.
There are no words to ease the pain—no words to ease the pain we read about, the pain we witness, the pain we experience in our lives.
Words don’t heal those deep wounds.
Wounds like that call for a different balm.
Do you remember what meets Jesus when he comes down the mountain? Do you remember what he encounters after he meets Moses and Elijah and turns into a dazzling white and God says, “This is my beloved, listen to him”?
Jesus meets the rest of his disciples gathered around a father and his son. The disciples and the father are at their wits end. They don’t know what to do. They’re stumped. The boy is possessed by a wicked demon and nothing the father or the disciples have tried has rid the boy of the demon. The disciples turn to Jesus and say, “What shall we do?” Jesus replies, “This kind can come out only through prayer.”
I’ve always been disappointed with what follows. The conversation does not continue. The disciples don’t say (or they’re not recorded as saying), “We tried that. It didn’t work.” They don’t even ask, “What do you mean by prayer?” And yet, that’s the question, isn’t it—How do you pray when words don’t do honor or justice to the pain and suffering there before your very eyes? How do you pray when words fail?
Paul answers, “The Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs to deep for words.”
Sometimes all you can do is stand in silence.
Sometimes all you can do is sigh.
Sometimes all you can do is stretch out your hand and make contact.
The kingdom of God, the reign of God, is like a planter who sews seeds and overnight they grow.
The kingdom of God, the reign of God, a mustard seed—a weed really—that meets the soil and grows like wildfire.
The kingdom of God, the reign of God, yeast fermenting in dough and making it rise.
The kingdom of God at work—silently, imperceptibly in the silences of our lives.
The poet May Sarton once wrote,
Can we not start at the small roots again,
Build this “we” slowly, gently, one by one,
From each small center toward communion?1
The kingdom of God, working silently, gently, one by one, in sighs too great for words and in deeds of kindness, gentleness and love.
A son nursing his mother through her final illness.
A father reaching out to other fathers who also have lost their sons to violence or to war.
A young woman checking on people sleeping on an empty lot.
A silent prayer.
A sigh too deep for words.
The kingdom of God come near.