Lamentations 1:1-6; Psalm 137; 2 Timothy 1:1-14; Luke 17:1-10
The Waters of Remembrance, preached by Rev. Jason Haddox
“By the waters of Babylon, we sat down and wept, when we remembered you, O Zion.”
The people of God are in exile, carried away as prisoners of war from their homes, their very lives, everything they have known. They have seen their houses destroyed; they have seen the city, the temple, in ruins; they have seen it all. They are on the verge of forgetting who they are: If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its skill/Let my tongue adhere to the roof of my mouth.” The singer, the musician, pleads to be rendered mute and silent, in the face of this tragedy. “How CAN we sing the songs of God, away from God’s house, away from our own home?”
They have seen what no one should ever, ever, ever have to see. And in remembering that sight, their sadness turns to rage. To anger. To a call for vengeance.
“Oh Daughter of Babylon…happy the one who takes your children and dashes them against the rocks!”
They have seen what no parent should ever, ever, ever have to see. And we see their anger, their rage—which we do not want to see, or hear, or experience. Because it makes us too uncomfortable.
Until the current revision of the Sunday lectionary, whenever this psalm was appointed for public worship, it cut off after the sixth verse. Sadness—that was more or less okay. Anger, rage, fury…we can’t talk about that here. Not in church. Not where we’re supposed to all be nice, all the time.
I have two words for that. One is Bull. The other sounds like Spit. Which is what I sometimes want to do, when I see or hear things that no one should see or hear. If we cannot tell the truth here, in the assembly of the baptized, in the presence of God “to whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid” then what exactly is the point of all this?
We get angry. We feel rage. We long to see vengeance visited on those who have wronged us, or have violated those whom we love. Think of 9-11. Where were you, when you heard the first news that morning? And felt all the shock, and grief, and heart-stopping fear…all that at first, and later the other.
It’s not pretty, and it’s not easy, and it’s not nice. But it is real. We did, and we do, feel all these things at times. And the psalms, more than any other book of the Bible, deal with that reality. Never more so than in this passage this morning.
This is the voice of a parent—a mother, a father—who has witnessed something unspeakable. And yet they must speak now, even as they struggle for the words. The words come forth unbidden, even unwanted…but fierce and raw and searing in their power.
Two Saturdays ago I went to Savannah, to attend a training for clergy and church staff and volunteers, called Safeguarding God’s Children. This is a nation-wide program of the Episcopal Church intended to make churches and church workers aware of, and attentive to, the issues of sexual misconduct and abuse of “the little ones.” The statistics are horrifying: one out of every four women, and one out of every five men, has been a victim of such abuse by the age of eighteen. Over sixty percent of these acts are performed by people who are known to the families: friends, community leaders, authority figures of some kind. I saw, on the video interviews with the victims and their families, the same sorrow and grief and anger of which the psalmist sings.
I heard stories that turned my blood to icewater. Stories of experiences that no one—especially a child, one of the little ones Jesus speaks of—should ever, ever, ever have to go through. And the common theme through all of these, articulated by the victims, by the parents and families, by the community leaders of church and school and social agency, was always: We should have talked about this before it happened. We should have told someone what we saw. We should have said something.
Silence can be golden—but it can be deadly as well.
The reason for this Safeguarding God’s Children training, is to open the conversation at all levels—the local parish church, and in and around family tables, and at the diocesan and national levels too. To go ahead and Say Something while there is time—not to create fear and anxiety, but to build strong boundaries in our churches. To let our communities of faith know “This is a safe place for everyone.” And to let anyone who might have mischief on their minds know “This place is too difficult for you—you won’t get the silence and secrecy you need—move along!”
We may not be able to change national statistics. But we can change what we do, here at home, about keeping our life together as safe, and honest, and transparent as possible. And please understand—I am not suggesting that “we have a problem” here at St. Augustine’s. But I want to see that we don’t. So here’s my pledge to you, as your priest in charge:
• We will watch over each other, and speak up if we see or hear something inappropriate or even just a bit “off”;
• We will observe appropriate boundaries, honoring one another physically and emotionally, while continuing to love and care for one another;
• We will make this place a safe place for all people, as we seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbors as ourselves and as we respect the dignity of every human being.
In your bulletin this morning there is an insert, with some information about these things. Phone numbers, and contact data. Please take it with you when you leave church. Put it somewhere visible—on the refrigerator or your dresser mirror. Know that if you call one of those phone numbers, you may do so with complete anonymity. You don’t have to “get involved” beyond that. The people trained in these matters will do the work that may need to be done.
If you have a story to tell, and would like to tell it, I want you to call me. Or email me…I will be the only one who hears or reads what you have to say. We can meet here at church, or go to lunch, or find a time and place that is agreeable. But part of this whole process of getting real, is getting the stories out there. Not for general examination and discussion and dissection—but so that healing can happen. So that those feelings of sadness and grief and anger and hurt and all of it, can be released, to burden you no longer.
When Jesus addresses his friends this morning in the gospel lesson, he’s talking to the inner circle—the leadership. Remember that the gospels are not eyewitness accounts of the events they describe, but rather are written down quite some time later. So it’s just possible that Jesus, as Luke tells the story, is addressing the leadership of a second or even third generation of church authorities. “Don’t think that YOU all are the masters of all this, folks. You are here to serve those who are in your care—the little ones. The vulnerable ones. The ones to whom the Kingdom of God belongs…God’s kingdom and power and authority are not your possessions to hold onto. And they are certainly not to be used against the little ones. Anyone who abuses their power like that is better off with cinderblocks on their feet, in the middle of the Savannah river.”
The letter to Timothy takes this theme as well. The language of being “the prisoner of the Lord” is similar to Jesus’ language of slaves and service. Jesus and his friends and contemporaries knew that the world they lived in was hierarchical—that everyone was under the supervision and authority of someone else. Maybe another person, but even more likely a power or energy or spirit that was entirely nonhuman. (We don’t like that idea, we rugged individualists. Independence, free agency—that’s our preferred mode of operation.) But the fact is, we’re all somewhere in the pyramid. We’re all under the authority, and the influence, of someone—in fact, many someones—other than ourselves.
To be “in Christ” as we read this morning, is to place ourselves under Christ’s authority and protection and leadership. The one who is “in Christ” has become a servant in the household of God. We who are in Christ will deliberately, intentionally, and continually reject all those false gods and promises which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God. We will “repent and return to the Lord” (Metanoia again, you remember that word) when we fall into sin.
You may have noticed I’m quoting the baptismal covenant quite a bit. I hope you did—because I meant that you should. These words are words of transformation for us, who claim Christ as Lord and Savior (yes, even in the Episcopal Church!); they are for us a symbol of our identity. They are the articulated reminders of “our highest joy”, our Jerusalem, our true home. They are not a talisman against bad things happening to us, they will not protect us from trouble as such. But they are who we are; they are our constitutional identity as the people of the crucified and risen Christ, in whose death and rising from death all our life, and all our death, is transformed and made new.
As you come to communion this morning, I invite you to dip your hand in the water in the font, there in the aisle. Put some on your forehead, with the sign of the cross. Remember your baptism: remember who you are, and whose you are. This is the sign, this is the mark, this is the brand by which we are known, sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked as Christ’s own for ever.
By the waters…we remembered. And we are re-membered, put back together as God’s beloved. For that is who we are, when we feel like it—and even when we don’t.