The Rev. Canon Dr. William J. Danaher, Jr.
The Sixth Sunday after Pentecost: June 26, 2016
(This sermon has been transcribed from live video. Please click here to watch the video version.)
A few days ago, this area became famous yet again in the news reports. I’m not sure if you saw it. It was a minor event happened at a Kroger nearby, a couple of streets down. A woman went to the Kroger bakery to pick up a birthday cake for her seven-year-old son, and on the cake it was meant to have Batman vs. Superman. She was displeased when she with the decorations. She thought it should have been done differently, and so she went behind the counter to try to fix it, and then the counter help said to her, “Ma’am, you can’t be behind the counter.” For some reason, that set her off and so she took the cake and went around to the front and she dropkicked it and the cake went into a million pieces. Then she kicked over a display and said, “You’ve ruined my son’s birthday!”
Shortly after this occurred, all of these news vans appeared and began to film the Kroger as if it was a scene of a crime. They began to interview people, “Did you think that the woman’s behavior was an overreaction?” And most people said, “Yes.” Then there was more investigation and it was discovered that she has a history of anger, and that was put up on the internet. Then people began to just look at her astonished and to judge her. ‘How could she?’
Now, clearly, this woman was having a bad day but it reminded me of a kind of trope, a kind of way of thinking that has become increasingly prevalent in our communities and in our society, and that is this comfort we get with exercising outrage. We love to be outraged. For many of us, it is like a stiff drink. It is so intoxicating. You feel safe. You feel whole when you can express outrage. Outrage creates community. You begin to – oh sure, you say, “Well, my own behavior might have been a little bit unfortunate, but I would never dropkick a birthday cake. That’s beyond the pale. That’s a thing only an outsider would do.” Outrage is a way, in other words, of creating community. You establish those who are on the inside from those who are on the outside. This has become a whole social pattern; a sociologist or anthropologist would see it in every level of our society, from our politics to our day-to-day interactions, and even in our church.
I raise this for you because I don’t think that outrage is particularly good for us. In the 17th and 18th centuries and in the 19th centuries, it was popular to create a spectacle of people who had committed crimes, many of whom were being sentenced to death. In 17th century New England, the papers of the day would put out these broadsides in which you could look at the person who had committed the crime and they would talk about their spiritual state as they went in and their hopes for redemption even though they were going to the gallows. In the 19th century in Great Britain, alongside the Bible, you would have these volumes upon volumes of stories of famous criminals. In those times, the purpose of that publication was actually to create connection and to close the distance between ourselves and someone who perpetrated a crime. It was meant for people to be moved by compassion and to examine themselves and to ask what inside themselves they had to deal with, and what ways were they subject to the same powerful desires as the people who committed the crimes. In our own day, this whole pattern continues, but instead, it creates distance. It’s a way for us to say that we’re not so bad. It’s a way for us to create insiders. It’s a way for us to sit in judgment.
Today’s gospel has a moment in which it speaks about outrage. Jesus is heading to Jerusalem where he will die. He’s going because he wants to create a different kind of community. One not based on the law but on love. One not based on wrath but on mercy. He is going to Jerusalem in order to find somehow in His death the seeds to new life and a new community based on inclusion, based on kingdom values. On His way there, some Samaritans – who were considered not really part of the house of Judah – some Samaritans reject His message. His disciples say, “Lord, do you want us to call down fire upon these people and consume them?” They engaged in a moment of outrage. They engage in a moment of judgment. Jesus says, “No,” because He is becoming part of a kingdom. He is bringing it to being a kingdom in which we would have membership not on the basis of shared judgement, but on the basis of shared mercy. He’s trying to create a community whose virtues would be built upon that mutual forgiveness, and love, and forbearance.
In our reading today from Galatians, Paul summarizes this perfectly when he says for freedom, you have been set free. The law itself could not make you members of Christ. Only Christ himself and his blood and his love can create the conditions of our membership one to another. And because we are members of the body of Christ, you and I are called to love one another. You and I are called to hold on to one another and to cherish one another, otherwise our relationship, as Paul says so beautifully, picking up on that whole idea of eating as believing says otherwise, we will consume and devour one another.
In what ways have you become imprisoned by that easy sense of outrage? In what ways have you taken comfort in those shared moments of judgement? I thought about that woman, and I actually prayed for her, and I began to think about what it must have been like for her to go home and explain to her seven-year-old son what happened to his birthday cake. And I thought about all those times in my life where I have allowed my own anger or things that I’ve been mulling over in my mind, little petty resentments to keep me from being present to my family. Surely, God is calling us to freedom. Surely, God is calling us to love. Surely, God is calling us to forgiveness. What would those virtues look like in that Kroger? What would it look like in our larger national community? What would it look like if the people in this church fully embraced that? And said, this is our way of being one to another, there is no room for outrage here. There is no room for judgment.
A few years ago when I was in seminary, I guess it’s becoming a long time, 25 years ago but who’s counting?, I went to a spiritual director. Now, when priests and others go to spiritual directors, they like to go to these people who are uber reflective, who ask deep questions. How does that make you feel? And I realized, I don’t need anybody to help me get into my head, I live up there, that’s my problem, I’m a little too reflective. I need someone to just tell me what to do and to be directive.
So I went to this spiritual director who was kind of nasty and he said to me after listening for one hour, he said, I think you struggle with anger. I said, that’s just not a lucky guess, you’re probably right, I do struggle with anger. What do I do? He said, I want you to memorize the Fruits of the Spirit, spoken of in the Book of Galatians. I want you, every day, to ask God to increase those Fruits of the Spirit in your life, and I want you to trust that God will answer that prayer. So love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, generosity, kindness, self-control. Everyday. Love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, generosity, kindness, self-control.
I asked God to increase those things in me and surely I have miles to go, and God is not finished with me yet, but to the extent that I leaned into that prayer, the same extent to which I experienced transformation, the same extent to which I began to experience new life. The same extent I became truly free. May it be, for you, and all the things that you face, may your lives be transformed by the freedom of the gospel until we are all free. Amen.