After last Sunday’s sermon I was asked to say a bit more about patience and action as people of faith.
Of the many upheavals we are living through right now, racial tension and discord is among the most pressing. Unlike COVID-19, race relations pull us out to encounter the world and pushes in to confront our own emotions. It is no wonder that people are feeling anxious and uptight.
To find Patience, we turn to God
We know what Jesus said in the gospels: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (John 24:27). As people of faith, we long for HIS peace; it is HIS comfort we desire. Throughout scripture Jesus made us this promise again and again, that He would care for us all and be with us, no matter what was happening in the world. Are these words not among the most comforting at times like these: “I am with you always, even unto the end of time” (Matt. 28:20).
Jesus consistently told us that we would be troubled by what was going on in the world and that it would never be quite right. Impatient for peace, we put on our “rose colored glasses” to see Jesus’ worldly life as portrayed by his words of love and peace in the hopes that we will feel what he is saying, and sometimes we do, but it is fleeting. In truth, Jesus three year-ministry is snapshot of confrontation and strife, discord and disruption. It makes sense, then, that if peace was not available to him through the world, it is not fully available for us, either.
To make matters more complicated, there is are a couple of paradoxes here that we must understand to allow for peace. First, try as we may, any peace we can find on our own, through our own efforts, is fleeting precisely because part of the strife we feel radiates from our relationship with Christ. As our relationship with Jesus grows deeper, we become more aware of the right and good and true; consequently, we are also more aware of the wrong and bad and false. In short, being able to see beauty means we are able to see past the ugly—which we see. But oh, how we get stuck on the ugly! Travelling on the highway, we call this rubbernecking, we can’t help but fixated on the ugly, sad, tragic, depictions of life.
It makes sense, then, that we would spend much of our time trying to avoid exposure to the ugly, so we are not so distracted (fixated) on it. Even Jesus “often withdrew to lonely places and prayed” (Luke 5:16), but Jesus always went back to the confrontation, the encounter, the distress. Our search for isolation and protection won’t work because, through the Holy Spirit, we will still see the ugly spiritually no matter where we are, and we will not find peace.
No matter where we grew up or when, racial discord has been a part of our lives. A woman told me just the other day that she “grew up in a place where she never knew any black people” but continued, “I am just now realizing that that means that I really don’t understand them at all.” (Bravo! Revelation in the heart of COVID-19! When we look back at this time with disdain, we must remember to credit it with the opportunity for introspection! It is a break from all that we knew a “regular and normal,” lets used this truth to dig deep into the presence of God!)
The discord (anti-peace) we feel spiritually is a constant low hum at the heart of being. That hum is a competing earthly note of hate and fear sounding an emotional tone that compels us away from God. It is a disruption in the flow of the Holy Spirit trying desperately to wash us clean in the Blood of the Lamb and to avoid the conflict; and in pain of this realization, we stay away. This is where we are called to patience, we must patiently (and methodically) wade through the murky and stagnant pools of complacency and self-doubt, in-action and fear, to truly encounter peace and Holy Presence. Now we see the second paradox, when we stay away from the spiritual clarity that shows us the pain, we are also staying away from the Spiritual presence that will show us peace. So, avoidance is not the answer; in fact, it is the problem.
God designed us as a creature of action
Rather than run away, we must move toward. We are affected and afflicted by the conflict, the bigotry, the hatred, the just plan senselessness of the world we live in simply by living in it. As people of faith, faith itself propels us to be spiritually aware of these things and the Holy Spirit engages them in us to hurt with the world and pray for the world and walk humbly with our God, who suffers it all. To find the peace of God which passes all understanding, we must engage with the Holy Spirit and encounter the ugly. But we do not do this alone—we are with the Holy Spirit, or out of desire to achieve anything other than God’s peace, which is everything. Remember, it’s called the Book of Revelation, not the Book of Destruction. Have faith, people of God. Better still, be faith.
Facing questions of racial strife, inequality, and woundedness (everyone’s) becomes not a chore but a blessing. We run to find the answer because spiritually we know we must! The peace that Jesus offers us is found in us, through the Holy Spirit. We are in communion with Christ inwardly and his love and peace mediate the tumult of our lives from the very core of our being. We want THAT peace—we must engage THAT tumult.
So, specially about our current race turmoil: go to the Lee monument and talk to the people. Wear a mask, don’t be afraid—hear what they say and feel how they feel. Read and watch the news, feel what you feel and then ask yourself why? Are you relying on the Holy Spirit or your past to draw conclusions? Do you hear yourself saying, “I don’t understand?” or making absolute statements about the way people are? Are your feelings and thoughts godly?
Now is the time to act. I am calling one aspect of this time “COVID CLARITY.” Like the woman I spoke with, we have all been given this time in which we can seek clarity within ourselves. Our own process is an action of reflection, relinquishment, curiosity, empowerment, and peace. The result will be our action in the world which is an extension of the Holy Spirit acting in us. The problem of misunderstanding, hate, and fear will not change until there is understanding, love and peace. Jesus’ life and ministry is a witness of action, and we are called to be “like Christ” in all that we say and do. This is not a mission; it is a WAY of life. Action is not an option; it is the answer.
“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:13
“And every work that he undertook in the service of the house of God and in accordance with the law and the commandments, seeking his God, he did with all his heart, and prospered.” 2 Chronicles 31:21
“I hasten and do not delay keeping your commandments.” Psalm 119:60
“Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.” Colossians 3:23-24
“But be doers of the Word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.” James 1:22
“Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” Romans 12:1-2
Father Bill Burk†