We enter the new year with unfinished business, with mourning and repentance. The new year is that liminal space where we are invited to consider all that we have been, all that we have done and left undone, and so we enter this year with a call for mourning and repentance.
The ground cries out with the blood of our brothers, our sisters, and will not be still. We wish to run, to turn away, to state loudly that we are not our brother’s keeper and that this has nothing to do with us…but deep within we know this is a lie. Rachel cries for her children and will not be comforted. We feel within us the need for tears, for repentance but it’s hard to maintain a level gaze when looking at this. It feels like it is just too much, and what can we do anyway? But the disquiet in our souls won’t let us rest easy.
We enter this year with more than 1000 documented deaths of young black men despite the fact that they make up only 2% of the population of the United States. Rachel weeps. We struggle to understand this, because how can this happen in our society, in this day and age? The people we know, our neighbors, our friends, they are good people, so where exactly, are all those people who are causing such harm, such distress, in our society? Have we not gotten past this? Somehow, there must be someone to blame because if there is, we can take care of them and then things will be all right again, and we so long for things to be all right.
We weep with Rachel, because weeping and mourning is not separate from love but is a deep reflection of love. It is to know love so well and let it affect us so deeply that we cannot pass by without being touched. It is to hold sacred the bonds of relationship, to hold sacred the deep connections that unite us.
This is one of the gifts of this church, that this church has stood with those who suffer, those who are oppressed and will not turn a blind eye.
We dare not pass by Rachel as she weeps as if her weeping was not, is not, our problem. To do so would be an affront to all that is sacred, all that is holy, for our God is a god of love. Our God is a god who weeps and if God weeps and mourns with those who suffer, who are we not to? So today we weep and we mourn with the parents of Tamar Rice, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Sandra Bland, Laquan McDonald and so many, many more. We weep with the parents of Syrian children drowned at sea. We weep with the parents of the 276 girls kidnapped in Nigeria who have been gone now for 629 days. We dare not pass by Rachel as she mourns but must weep with her even as we long for things to be all right.
Demagogues see our pain and are quick to tell us there is someone to blame. It’s them, it’s those, it’s the other, it’s not us. Riding on waves of fear and pain they rise in popularity and we have seen this before my friends, we have seen it before. Herod in his high places, surrounded by guards and walls and armaments was no less afraid. Living in fear, dwelling in fear, knowing who he was when he was afraid and believing the whole world was just as scared as he was, “What might they do”, he must have thought, “to get rid of that fear, to be safe like I am safe.” But he did not feel safe and the cost of his safety was more sacrifice, more death.
God has another path in mind for us. Listen to the words of scripture:
Long before he laid down earth’s foundations, [God] had us in mind, had settled on us as the focus of his love, to be made whole and holy by his love.
To be made holy and whole by God’s love. But we cannot do this by turning away from Rachel as she weeps. We cannot do this while we dwell in fear. Fear that we are not good enough, that we have failed or are incapable of being the people God calls us to be. Fear that we are alone in our efforts.
“For I know the future I have in store for you”, says God, “plans to prosper you and not to abandon you.” We, unlike Herod, do not need walls and armaments, men with weapons, and the sacrifice of innocents to keep us safe. We are held in the loving arms of God and can, therefore, walk the path of Jesus.
Even as we enter a new year knowing that our society has declared that it’s OK to kill a child if you are really, truly scared, we are asked to live in another paradigm, living not the way of the world, but the way of Christ. We are called to live rooted and grounded in the love of Jesus Christ which emboldens us, which encourages us and insists we live from a place of love and not fear. Be made holy and whole, center yourself in God’s love for you. For God knows you so well, knows the secret places in your heart and soul, has knit you together in your mother’s womb from stardust and love. Long before the foundations of the earth were laid, God had us, had YOU, in mind, knew you, claimed you, called you into being.
What pleasure God took as he dwelt in loving reflection on you.
God’s love for you is written in the DNA of your soul. It is embedded in your very bones. Let that soak into your awareness, pray on that, meditate on that.
For the world calls to us from a place of fear. The world tells us we’d better figure out who’s to blame so we can take care of them once and for all, and then, and only then, we will be safe.” Kill them all,” Herod said. “Kill them all, then I will be safe.” And the world would have us join this hunt for the ones who threaten us. It would stir us up in fear and anger…but wait, but wait, God’s love for you is written in the DNA of your soul. It is embedded in your very bones. Rest in that for a moment. If God is for us, who should we fear?
The world offers us a frightening paradigm but it is in Christ that we discover who we really are and what we are living for. Not a life of fear, sheltering behind tall walls and arming ourselves with weapons, but a life abundantly free, gloriously free. What might you attempt if you were not afraid? Who might you be if you allowed yourself to live from this place of deep, eternal love and freedom? And who are we, if we decide to turn our back on this incredible freedom and love and instead reside in fear and anxiety, as if it all depended upon us, as if we were the only ones who could create safety, and success.
We stand on the cusp of a new year, a place where we are invited to look long and hard at who we have been, what we have accomplished, and who we might yet be. Fear lays out one path before us; a life of safety and security if we accept certain limitations. Stay behind your walls and gated communities, arm yourself against the other, and only hang out with those who look like you, who sound like you, who agree with you.
The God we meet in Jesus Christ lays out another path, a reckless, loving, abundant, life-giving path and asks only that we surrender our fear in deep faith that God holds us securely and safely and we do not need to be afraid. Fear is the great illusion that would hold us captive—do we dare to believe this? We do not need to figure out who’s to blame or to take control, and fix everything. We are asked only to love, to show forth the same grace and forgiveness that we have been given. To share the light of Christ with all who hunger for it. We are to become a city on a hill, one that shines forth with such light, such love and faith, that all who see it will be warmed, will be encouraged.
We are to be a people so loving, so committed to walking in the path that Jesus showed us that we withhold not even ourselves, especially not ourselves. We are to be a people who so shine with the light of Christ that all those who hunger for healing, hunger for love and belonging, who hunger for a place where they are accepted, wounds and all, will gather around us, knowing that Christ is here with us when we gather.
Love has created us like itself, tender and holy.
We have been created in relationship for relationship. That we are all one body is both beautiful and mysterious. How can we not weep with Rachel, she is part of us and we would not have it any other way. We will not leave her alone and isolated in her grief, but will hold her and her pain gently as a sacred act of love.
All the world tells us that it is a kill or be killed kind of world and that even the death of children is acceptable if the fear be great enough, but we are the beloved children of God and we must act differently. We must not buy into that paradigm. We follow another path, one that is not fear-driven, but love-guided; we are the ones who are held securely and safely in the arms of a loving God, one who will not falter nor fail, and while the world screams at us that we ought to be afraid, we do not tremble for knowing who it is that holds our hand as we go forth, we cannot be afraid.