Homily From Service On Sunday, August 14, 2022 – Tenth Sunday After Pentecost
by Mary Urban Keary
Sermon preached by Mary Urban Keary
Below is a DRAFT text of the homily. It may vary considerably from the recorded version. Please excuse typos and grammatical errors, and do not cite without permission.
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable to in your sight, O God, faithful gardener and truth teller. AMEN
As some of you know, we spend part of every summer at the Chautauqua Institution, sometimes described as a summer camp for NPR listeners and as of Friday, yet one more place that has been visited by violence when Salman Rushdie was attacked and grievously wounded, shattering the peace in a place committed to peace and justice. As Michael Hill, the president of the institution said at a vigil the day of the attempted assassination “this was a violation of one of things we have always cherished: the safety & tranquility of our grounds and our ability to convene the most important conversations, even if those conversations are difficult.” I want to give you a sense of that Chautauqua..…the one that we have experienced for 20+ years, for three weeks this July, and plan to experience again next summer. While we were there, among other things we attended: two operas, one play, a stunning performance of Mahler’s 1st Symphony with a 145 piece orchestra, saw the Denzel Washington, Frances McDormand Macbeth, and more sermons than I care to count except for the six homilies by Fr. Greg Boyle, whose message of redemption and inclusion informs much of my theology.
But the best part of being at Chautauqua is the meals we share at the United Methodist Missionary Vacation House. It’s not that the food is good, although it is. It’s the prolonged, sometimes heated conversations over 7:00 a.m. coffee on the porch and during and after dinner with the other 20 guests that create intellectual stimulation and intimate connections. One morning over coffee on the porch I was lamenting the challenge of this morning’s gospel…at least it wasn’t driving pigs over a cliff, but I was having trouble discerning the wisdom in the husband against wife, mother against daughter stuff. One retired UM minister, with a twinkle in his eye said, “I’ve always wanted to preach a sermon on “Things I Wish Jesus Hadn’t Said,” adding that this passage from Luke would be featured in that sermon. He quickly accepted my offer to be his co-author.
That said, here’s my understanding of what Luke is telling us. In researching this reading, I came upon a commentator who likened its beginning to a scene from The West Wing. (for those of you who don’t have a clue about The West Wing, it was a tv show that portrayed the drama of an ideal presidency). There has been an assassination attempt on President Bartlett. His aide Josh Lyman is seriously injured. Upon his too-soon return to work, Josh, suffering from unrecognized PTSD, explodes in rage at the president, a staggeringly disrespectful act that leaves his colleagues stunned and confused.
I can imagine that the disciples’ reactions were something like the president’s aides when Jesus expresses his frustration that the fire he brought to earth was not yet kindled. He minces no words when he speaks his truth and tells his twelve brothers that he is stressed because they weren’t getting it. Stressed? Jesus? We know from what lies ahead that there are people unhappy with his teachings…that he was not a “business as usual” kind of guy. This angry, stressed, truth-telling Jesus was not the gentle Jesus meek and mild some believed him to be or wanted him to be. Jesus continued to speak truthfully (perhaps with a tinch of sarcasm) by telling the disciples that they are better meteorologists than truth tellers.
And what is this truth that Jesus wants to be told? To follow Him. To speak truth to power, ask the tough questions of ourselves and then of others. To be a teller of truth, not a meteorologist…
And here’s where I think the fractured family fits in. There are two ways we can respond to fractured relationships. We can treat them the way a meteorologist thinks about the weather: there’s nothing we can do…it’s out of my hands… wait 10 minutes and it’ll change. Similarly, the meteorologist in a fractured family believes that there’s not much they can do to heal or transform it…there’s nothing I can do to change them. They treat relationships like the weather and wait for them…for the other person…to change. Michelle Obama, in her thoughtful memoir Becoming writes about how shocked she was when their couples’ therapist suggested that she focus on how she needed to change to improve their marriage rather than on the extensive list of changes she wanted her husband to make.
I know of a family where during Viet Nam, one son captained a gunboat down the Mekong River while another declared himself a conscientious objector; another where a mother and daughter were jailed during a Black Lives Matter protest, and neither father nor son would post their bail. Yet another where parents disagreed so strongly with their 20-year-old children about the right of the LGBTQ people to marry that they have cut off all contact with them. …families that no longer have family reunions or holiday gatherings because folks cannot tolerate each other’s raw and painful differences. I do not doubt that you, like I, have your list of family fractures based upon different beliefs, often based at their core on Christian teachings. And in the background drones the meteorologist: “It’s on them…there’s nothing I can do to change them.”
Another way to approach fractured relationships is to be like Jesus: a truth-teller …In a subsequent passage in Luke, we learn about a withering fig tree and a debate about its future. Some in the story respond as meteorologists: “cut it down…it can’t be saved……there’s nothing we can do.” And then there’s the gardener: the truth-teller who says, “let’s give it another year…nothing may happen, but it’s worth giving it a shot.” The truth-teller doesn’t give up…believes in opportunity and new growth…is a faithful gardener. The faithful response, the response of a truth-teller, is to engage in those prolonged, sometimes scary, sometimes hurtful, ongoing conversations. Who knows? Those conversations could be just what a person needs to assess what God is calling them to do.
And how about you? Meteorologist? Truth-teller? What being you being told? What truth do you fear hearing? And how will you answer?