A sermon preached July 26 in Lafayette, Louisiana, where another man has killed yet again in a public space.
By Joseph Daly
This morning I’ve been asked to share greetings with you from the Christians in Nazareth of Galilee. Father Joseph, Pastor of the Maronite Church, Dr. Kamal Farah and the students you support, they wanted you to know that, this morning, the Christians in Nazareth are praying for the people of Lafayette and Ascension. For decades, they have known the sickening violence senselessly inflicted upon innocent people. They offer their prayers with you and for you. Half a world away, violence knows no borders. We’ve all been brought a little closer together in suffering, in prayer and hope.
Just last month, one of the historic churches in the Galilee was burned by extremists — the very place remembered in today’s gospel, i.e., the place where Jesus fed over 5,000. As Jesus looked over the crowd, the threat of violence loomed that day as well. Galileans were known to be a proud people, tough and ready for a fight. They were wanting for a leader, excited this prophet from Nazareth might right all that’s wrong with this world. However, we’re told, “When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself.”
This wasn’t the first time. It must’ve puzzled the disciples that Jesus would make himself scarce. It certainly frustrated the crowds. They wanted someone to stand up, speak out, make a difference, change things … for the better … now!
Jesus diffuses the fervor, going up the hillside of the mountain. Mark tells us, to pray. What a king might see as an opportunity was, to Jesus, a temptation. Remember, he’d been offered all the kingdoms of the world from a mountaintop view. But instead of looking down at all that could be his, Jesus looks up … to pray.
It might seem strange: A king who refuses a kingdom? Who retreats from his people who need him?
- Doesn’t he care?
- Will he ever come down and do something?
- We’ve been waiting, praying, hoping for change — and he just disappears! To what? Pray?!
I suspect there is similar frustration, bewilderment in our community this morning. “Why?” “How could this happen?” “Here?” “What are we gonna do about it?!”
I don’t think there are many in our community who haven’t been touched by Thursday’s tragedy in some way, without having been left with some haunting sense of being uprooted. We’ve also been comforted, even inspired by the tremendous heroism, by people who laid down their lives for their friends and loved ones. Strangers have made friends through extraordinary acts of kindness in the midst of inexplicable cruelty. And, as encouraging as that is, there are no words we can say, no action we can take, that will restore the lives that have been taken from us. We feel the helplessness of our sheer mortality and, so, we pray … but with hope.
Remember, Jesus withdrew himself, not to avoid the problem but to prepare himself to enter into it. John wants us to see Jesus, not only ascending the mountain but entering the chaos of the storm — sudden and overwhelming — he enters into it, bringing calm to the chaos, assuring us, “It’s me! Don’t be afraid!”
It’s a foreshadowing. Once again he will climb the Mountain … of Olives, to be alone, to pray. Again, he will descend into the darkness, the eye of the storm, a torrent of violence and hatred, suffering and death. This King is like no other. His kingdom isn’t of this world. He will lay down his life for his friends, even his enemies.
We can’t fathom this extraordinary love, this amazing grace that overwhelms us, though we’ve had glimpses of it from the Galilee to Charleston to Lafayette. God knows we need it, especially in the days to come as we relearn ways to trust, to live, even forgive. So we pray.
The Apostle Paul wrote to the Ephesians, “I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name. I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love.”
You see, our worship here is more than giving God his due. It’s bringing order to the chaos within us and around us, rooting us in the One who made us. We need to avoid the temptation of praying for a divine stamp of approval, expecting Jesus to take up our cause. Do that and Jesus is nowhere to be found.
But when we pray, our bodies bend and bow. As we kneel before our Maker, we sense we not our own — self-made, self-determined and proud of it. Instead we are humbled, dependent and searching. So we lift up our hearts — “We lift them up unto the Lord” — as we lift up our voices to our Heavenly Father who listens, lovingly. And like those first followers on the Galilee, we stretch out our hands to share the bread, to taste the wine, to feed on the One who shares our life and death so we might share his death and life.
So, as we search for answers and ways to respond, we enter into our grief — the shock, the confusion, the anger, the emptiness, the pain — and we pray.
And, as Paul said, “I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
“Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”
The Rev. Joseph Daly is rector of Church of the Ascension, Lafayette.