10th Sunday after Pentecost, August 18, 2019
– Hebrews 11:29-12:2, Luke 12:49-56
– The Reverend Dr. Arnold Isidore Thomas –
“His name was Lou Ferris, and he was the neighborhood bully who loved robbing kids of their lunch money,” Dad said with a grin, “and for whatever reason he loved bullying Michael out of his.” Michael, by the way, is my older brother. Dad continued, “I never could understand why he allowed this boy to take advantage of him, especially since Michael was taller and stronger. I guess I’m to blame,” he confessed, “since I never condoned fighting. Still, there were times when I had to make exceptions to this rule.”
Dad recalled a time growing up in a roughneck segregated town on the Chattahoochee River in eastern Alabama when that exception to the rule applied to him. He ran a profitable distillery during Prohibition. A local white businessman felt he was encroaching on his clientele and hired two thugs to eliminate his competition. However, Dad, who was a pretty rugged individual capable to defending himself when necessary, wound up single-handedly nearly ridding these men of their lives. So, while Dad never condoned looking for trouble and starting fights, he felt that sometimes circumstances required the need to finish them. That’s why he decided to teach Michael and all his children how to fight. And once he felt Michael, in particular, was ready to no longer be bullied, he told him, “The next time I drop you off at school, I’ll be watching.”
Sure enough, the next day Dad watched from a not-too-distant location as Ferris and a couple of his cronies met Michael on the playground expecting him to hand over his goods. And while Dad couldn’t hear what was said, he noticed his son stop, calmly turn around and lean into his adversary with an expression that confidently refused to tolerate his bullying any longer. Ferris was now the one clearly intimidated as he tried to save face and back away never to bother Michael again.
What a difference it makes when someone you love, respect and prepares you for life is also watching you.
Faith is an intuitive sixth sense that believes we’re being watched by some unseen spiritual force, watching and communicating with us in ways only we can comprehend. Some people have written and spoken of spiritual visitations from loved ones who have helped them through difficult situations in the lives; and while I believe in spiritual and divine intervention, I also believe that God has entrusted us with an ability to embody God’s bidding in the flesh and come to each other’s aid as physical earthy angels.
But the Prophet Jeremiah warns that God’s way of compassion and justice is often confused with competing voices and visions claiming to speak for God when, in fact, they represent evil attempts to turn people away from God (23:25-27).
Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoyevsky may have been influenced by Jeremiah when he wrote the chapter in The Brothers Karamazov where Ivan Karamazov questions the existence of a benevolent God that offers freedom to humanity, which he believes is incapable of assuming the weight of its responsibility. In a meeting with his brother Alyosha Karamazov, a novice monk, Ivan shares a story of a Grand Inquisitor during the height of the Spanish Inquisition who confronts a prisoner, whom he soon discovers is Jesus. Instead of asking his forgiveness, he admonishes Jesus for resisting Satan in the wilderness. Convinced that humans would sell their soul for food and safety, the Inquisitor declares that the church, in Christ’s name, accepted from Satan the offers Jesus rejected promising us food, spiritual and physical protection if we abdicated our freedom and simply did as the church demanded. When the Inquisitor is finished, the Christ kisses him and quietly leaves as the cleric insists that he never returns.
One gains the impression from this story that God is continually watching humanity, and wondering, “Where are you when I need you?”
The Epistle to the Hebrews reminds us that we are being watched and surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses. In a world where our nation represents about 6 percent of the global population, yet consumes about 25 percent of its natural resources; where drought, floods and a lack of clean water caused by climate change will cause significant global instability and conflict in the coming decades; and where water may, in fact, become a weapon against other nations, especially in South Asia, North Africa and the Middle East, must we, a nation still rich in natural resources, resort to the bullying tactics of Lou Ferris and the Grand Inquisitor to force the compliance of others nations to our will, or is there a more cooperative, compassionate way that will no longer tolerate the bullies of our past?
What is our will as disciples to Christ and children of God, and how might our faith reflect and shape the character and course of our neighborhoods, nation and world? How we relate to one another interpersonally ultimately informs how we relate to one another inter-religiously, interculturally, interracially, and internationally. As Christians who convey an intuitive sense that an unseen spiritual ancestry has paved our way in this world, we must continually ask ourselves the crucial question, “Where are we when God needs us?”
How we answer that question is being watched by a great cloud of witnesses. Amen.