Sermon given at St. Augustine’s Episcopal Church, Tempe, by Rev. Kate Bradsen, October 25.
One of the members of our community is two. In between her many dress changes and art projects, she is a great spiritual teacher. At a recent Sabbath meal, she decided to pretend to be a gecko, like the one we saw on the window. Someone told her that geckos ate mosquitoes, so she dutifully began eating imaginary mosquitoes. But then something happened, if only in her mind, and she ran out of imaginary mosquitoes. She became instantly devastated—crying, screaming, throwing her head onto the table. “I need more mosquitoes! There are no more mosquitoes!” We tried to give her pretend mosquitoes, but she was having none of it. She was out of mosquitoes. Two years old and she had already invented her own lack.
We all know this pattern. We imagine things we need and then we decide we do not have enough of them. Money. Romantic love. Success. Accomplishments. Whether we create the belief that these things are real and necessary or are simply falling into what society tells us we need, it’s us who created these desires. We have the power to believe that what we have is what we need. We imagined the problem, and we could un-imagine it.
Obviously, there are real problems in the world. There are people who truly do not have enough to eat. People who do not have what they need. People who have suffered real and significant loss.
But frankly, sometimes we are so caught up in our lack of imaginary mosquitoes, we don’t even see the real suffering that is happening on the outside.
It can be easy to see this behavior on the outside—watching other people– we have something to compare to, we are unattached. We see the addiction, the destructive behavior, the bad decisions in the lives of friends and strangers just as easily as we see the better choice, the hope in the midst of despair. For other people sometimes, but rarely for ourselves.
“Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”
My grandmother’s license plate says “Native Land”, but her people are not from Oklahoma. Not originally anyway. They walked to Oklahoma—to Tahlequah, where my grandparents live, where my sister was born. They walked there. From Georgia. When I hear the passage from Jeremiah I think of them: “the blind and the lame, those with child and those in labor, together; a great company.” They just kept dying—carrying their dead until the next stopping point, hoping to give them a decent burial. The trail of tears. But that great company did not return to their native land. They were driven from it. They had to make a new home. My grandmother, who one Thanksgiving told me she hated the color of her own skin. My mother, who used curlers to disguise her straight, dark hair until the day she died.
Truly, an absence of a imaginary mosquitoes was the least of their problems.
As part of the backyard documentary film festival at the Restoration Project, we watched a movie called Traces of the Trade. The movie was made by a young woman from a prominent Episcopal family from the Northeast, who discovered that her family was also the largest slave trading family in US history. Together with her relatives, close and distant, she traveled the triangular trade route backwards- visiting the places from whence the slaves were taken, the places where the slaves were exchanged for goods, and back to her home town where the goods were manufactured into something to trade for more slaves.
What does it mean to be a descendent of this history? To be the child of those who walked from Georgia and those who lead them along the way? To have inherited the privilege of an economic system that even today treats human beings as objects and possessions?
“Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on us!”
What would we say if Jesus said to us, “What do you want me to do for you?”?
What do you want Jesus to do for you?
Do you believe that Jesus could heal us?
“When the LORD restored the fortunes of Zion, then were we like those who dream.
Then were our mouth filled with laughter, and our tongues with shouts of joy; then was it said among the nations, “The LORD has done great things for them.”
The LORD has done great things for us, and we rejoiced.
Restore our fortunes, O LORD, like the watercourses in the Negeb.
May those who sow in tears reap with shouts of joy.
Those who go out weeping, shouldering their seed, shall come again with joy, shouldering their sheaves.”
I think I have told you before how much I love this psalm. The imagery is so rich and so real to me. I know what it is to water the seeds for the next season with my own tears. So do my ancestors. So do those my ancestors exploited for their own gain. So do the people I am part of exploiting today, so that I can have the cheapest product.
We all know this pattern. We all remember when we went out weeping, when we believed nothing would come from all the seeds we have planted. When we did not believe the Lord would do great things for us.
It is funny how quickly we forget what comes next.
The little sprouts of hope. The fruit of God’s hand. It is in all of us.
I imagine the original point of today’s gospel story was to show the great power that Jesus had- giving sight so easily to one who had none. But frankly, physical blindness seems like a pretty small problem in the face of all that those of us who have eyes to see are blind to.
Have you ever been in the pit of despair? Have you believed that there was no hope? That you were lost and always would be?
It always amazes me how people remain dignified, images of God even when all of society is trying to tell them they are less than human. The Cherokees carrying their ancestors to a proper burial, carrying their traditions, their language, their way with them all those many miles. The slaves who sang the stories of God’s salvation, who cared for one another as family. The same sex couples lined up at city hall to be married. The art created by children living in slums all over the world. The people of South Africa, dancing the toyi toyi in the face of guns, offering forgiveness and reconciliation to one another after the guns had been laid down.
Truly we are beautifully and wonderfully made.
“Those who go out weeping, carrying the seed, will come again with joy, shouldering their sheave.”
This is how our God works. And it is hard to believe that when you’re in the midst of the weeping, when you look at the tremendous history of injustice we have to overcome. But God is amazing, and God working in us- well there is just nothing else like it.
When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, then were we like those who dreamed. Then were our mouths filled with laughter, and our tongues with shouts of joy.
Can’t you taste it? The laughter in your mouth? The joy on your tongue? I feel like I was there. And maybe I was. Just a little while ago. But I have already forgotten a lot of it. Sitting here without invisible mosquitoes.
Which is why we have each other. I don’t know how, but eventually Carol was able to nonchalantly pull some invisible mosquitoes out of her pocket, and our young friend was once again contented. Together, we found the thing she needed. Together we can begin to talk about racism and injustice. Together we can find hope in the midst of despair. What you lack, I might have. What I have forgotten, you might remember. What you are blind to, I might see. This is the blessing of community.
What would you say to Jesus if he asked you what you want him to do for you?
Whatever it is, it’s worth asking. Because our healing may begin with a simple question.