October 23, Proper 25:
Draft text of the homily, please pardon any typos, and do not cite without permission.
And then the preacher stood up and told them another parable saying:
In a certain city lived a man who came home one evening and announced to his family that he was dead.
His family, and neighbors were stunned, and began immediately trying to talk him out of it…to prove that he was wrong.
“But you can walk…dead men don’t walk.” “You can talk, dead men don’t talk.” “You’re breathing.” But nothing they said did anything to change his mind.
He seemed to always be able to deflect their arguments and subtly shift the burden of proof away from himself and onto others—forcing them to prove he was alive—and when they though they had him pinned down, he would simply say, “If I’m dead, they you don’t exist either, since the dead have nothing to do with the living.”
Had he gone mad they wondered? Was he suffering from some form of dementia? Overwork? A tumor? But he said, “What’s the matter with you? How can a dead man be tired? or have a tumor?”
His family mired in fear and frustration despaired. Finally outside help was called.
A psychiatrist came. The two went into a room and closed the door. Silence at first, then the family listed as the psychiatrist’s voice grew louder and louder. Finally, the doctor emerged muttering, “Hopelessly psychotic, you should have him committed.” But the man replied, “I think you’re the one who has lost his mind…who ever heard of trying to treat someone who isn’t even alive.”
The called a priest. Again the two went into the room. Again the voices rose. Again the priest came out…shaken…crossed himself, and left. When the family looked into the room the man was resting in an untroubled asleep.
Finally a respected physician was called. When the physician arrived she asked the man, “Tell me, do dead men bleed?”
“Of course not,” he said.
“Then would you allow me to make a small incision in your arm…don’t worry I’ll treat it immediately, but this way we can see once and for all if you are truly dead.”
The man scoffed, “The dead don’t get infections…what’s to worry about…furthermore they don’t bleed…cut away.”
The doctor delicately slit an artery in the man’s arm and blood came spurting out.
Everyone was relieved…some applauded. The doctor dressed the wound and said, “I hope that puts an end to this foolishness.”
The man sat there stunned. Finally he said, “Huh. I guess I was wrong. Dead men do bleed.” [adapted from Friedman’s Fables, “The Power of Belief”]
Belief is a powerful thing. And we all can get entrenched in our beliefs…we can all become convinced that our way is the right way…the only way.
And it can sneak up on us in unexpected ways.
It feels like I’ve witnessed or been involved in conversations like this with people from all sides of political spectrum most of my life, but in the past year as this election has taken over our collective consciousness the volume of them has increased.
I see it on social media all the time, and on the news…individuals deeply entrenched in their thinking…and every new factual revelation being spun into further confirmation of what they already believed. “I guess dead men do bleed.”
But something happens to me almost every time I find myself in a conversation like this, with someone intent on simply reconfirming their own biases. At some point, as my frustration increases I find myself thinking: “thank god I’m not like that.”
“I’m not like others.” Not like “them.”
It seems to me that the real sin of the pharisee in Jesus’ parable is the sin of separation—the division of the world into me and everyone else—us from them.
None of us are immune to this.
The political campaign of the past year plus—as dispiriting as it has been—has also revealed some things about all of us that we’d rather ignore, but if we do we risk concluding that dead men do bled, or that “we’re not like that.”
In other words, I think there is a Gospel message in this political season that we can see if we view it through the lens of today’s parable.
What our political reality show continues to reveal—and what the prophets are always going on about—is how very, very far away we are from the reign of God.
It is a painful but important message, as our public spaces reveal over and over the sinful behaviors and structures that still stand in our way, that constantly trip us up, and cause us to fall.
Today’s parable also gives us a less and a more faithful response to this reality.
When women are sexually assaulted, groped, demeaned, maligned, ignored or disparaged, the faithful response is not, “well, that’s just the way things are.” The faithful response is, “Have mercy on us Lord, for we continue to perpetuate the sin of sexism.”
When people of color are profiled, denigrated, abused, or, God forbid, shot down in the street, our faithful response should be, “have mercy on us, Lord, for we continue to bear the sin of racism.”
When gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, or queer persons are endangered, or unwelcome because of who they are and who they love…have mercy on us, Lord.
When the poor are divided into “deserving and undeserving,” when the voices of any opposition are shouted down, when our youth are denied their voice—have their visions spurned—are not allowed to prophesy—when our elderly are silenced, shut away, or have their dreams deferred—“have mercy on us, Lord for we are sinners and far from your reign.”
If we ever forget that we are members of one body…the body of Christ…so if any of us are hurt, all of us are diminished, have mercy on us.
If we see the pain and anguish of others, the spilled blood of any, and turn away thinking they somehow deserved it, and refuse to recognize that we are all in this together, and therefore it is our pain and anguish…If our response is, I guess “dead men do bleed,” rather than, “that is our blood…God’s blood…the blood of Christ,” then have mercy on us lord.
The world this morning seen through the lens of today’s readings is a stark reminder that, as our Psalm puts it, “our sins are stronger than we are.” That we are far the reign of God…that we have been exiled to an empire of our own making, where we continue to mouth what we are told, that there’s nothing wrong with “us”; it’s all of “them” that are defective. “I guess dead men do bleed.”
I invite you to watch this tendency in yourself in the next few days and weeks. Pay attention to those times when you reach a point of saying something like, “Thank God, I’m not like that.” “Or thank God, I don’t think that.” Pay attention to how quickly you come to a decision about things that are “right or wrong” “good or bad.” And watch especially for times when you’re simply confirming something you already believe. And in that moment, I’d invite you to say to yourself…”have mercy on me.”
And then remember that Jesus says, it is the tax-collector—the one who recognized and confessed his complicity in the whole troubled system—who went home justified—acquitted—absolved—and therefore freed to begin the work of healing and reconciliation.
Because the work of reconciliation cannot truly begin until we acknowledge and confess our own part in whatever has been broken.
Reconciliation is the work that we are called to do. It is what the church is particularly charged with doing. And I believe that the church in general, and All Saints in particular, is being reignited, re-inspired, and recommissioned to this work. I believe the church is more and more being challenged to become a vital and necessary space in our fractured world, a space that is safe and resourced for all of us to do the transformative inner work that needs to be done so that we can move together…all of us…closer and closer to the reign of God…that dream of God’s where all are valued, and have enough.
We are being called to live more fully and proclaim more boldly new and renewed kind of community. A community that our world is crying out for. A community of love and graciousness, a community of truth and forgiveness, a community of beauty and acceptance. A community that not only practices faith, but from our faith teaches, and models and practices the virtues: virtues of patience, kindness, humility, diligence, generosity, justice, honesty, integrity.
Pledging time, and talent and treasure to All Saints is a virtue that each one of us can practice, and perhaps more importantly, it is a way of proclaiming that we are all in this together, and ensuring that others—all of us—can continue to have a community where confessed failings are forgiven, where biases are examined, where both faith and facts are tested and valued. And where we can continue to grow more and more into the full stature of Christ.