They’re beautiful, faith-worthy words, but don’t you wonder how people get the courage to keep speaking up, speaking God’s truth, when the current is running the other way, and they are staring down the business end of AK-47s or police dogs? Folks like Archbishop Romero (above), Aung San Suu Kyi of Myanmar, Shirin Ebadi of Iran, people like Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr., and all the “little” people whose courage under fire and duress is invisible to the world and goes unseen and unsung. Starting with the prophets, at least, like Jeremiah in today’s first reading but including Isaiah, Elijah, Daniel, certainly Jesus himself, taking the side of a “King” other than the one sitting on the throne of one’s own nation is dangerous business. It sometimes feels like the rest of us are just pretending to be believers, hoping that no one notices and we can just get by in peace.“Fear no one...
What I say to you in the darkness, speak in the light;
what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops.
And do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul...
Are not two sparrows sold for a small coin?
Yet not one of them falls to the ground
without your Father’s knowledge.
Even all the hairs of your head are counted.
So do not be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”
Context is important, and chapter ten of Matthew is organized around the missioning of the Twelve to preaching Galilee. Notice that the author of the first gospel narrowly circumscribes the mission to Israel, not the pagan territories or Samaria, while we find other instructions elsewhere in the gospels. It's the dangerous key proclamation that is worth noting: they are to say in their travels, "The kingdom of heaven is at hand." We can imagine that, when explaining what that means, they will use Jesus's own terms, incorporated from John, that the expected reaction from believers is to "repent and believe in the gospel." He tells them it's not going to be easy, that they are to expect persecution.
That core message never changes: people are being duped by false gods, gods like money, expediency, and power. The real God is nothing like that. The real God shares life, does not take it away; the real God serves, does not lord it over the universe; the real God is loving, patient, and healing, not in a rush to make things easy. Everybody is "in" with the real God, there are no boundaries, tribes, or favorites. Everybody is "in." But the false gods do fight back. And yes, it is going to be dangerous to say that there's a new god in town, even if it's a God of love, a God of peace and justice. They're going to come after you, ask you what you're doing, and make you choose your leader.
But don't be afraid. You know the truth, the truth is inside of you, the Spirit will tell you what to say. And words don't matter much anyway: it's what you do that counts. Be together, be for one another. God will be with you. I will be with you. Do not be afraid. Everything that is not justice and love will come to dust and ashes. Call everyone to the table of God's reign. Eat together. Have a conversation. Share life. Good things will happen.
Here’s what we’re singing this Sunday at St. Anne’s:
Gathering: Be Not Afraid (Bob Dufford, SJ) “Be Not Afraid” needs no introduction, except maybe that Bob wrote this song for the missioning of a woman religious who is a friend of his some 35 years ago or so. Where we’ve come to think of it as a song for a funeral maybe, it was conceived as a song to reflect on a gospel like today’s and the preceding Sundays, gospel of missioning. “Be not afraid” was a favorite saying of the late Pope John Paul II as well, who encouraged young and old to stand firm in the faith against all kinds of pressures in the surrounding culture, some hostile, some just blasé.
I for one feel inadequate to the task of loving my enemies, especially armed ones, since I have a hard time loving and forgiving people I see every day who are no more dangerous than a file clerk, and unarmed save when they’re behind the wheels of their cars. But I know that we’ve been given immense gifts for understanding God’s word, it’s been written in us and we’re stamped with it, more, we’re being conformed to its dynamic, incarnating it. So I don’t mind praying explicitly for it even as I not-so-secretly hope I’m never called to stand against the wind.
Psalm 34: The Lord Hears the Cry of the Poor (John Foley) This is a substitution for Psalm 69 from the common psalter. We did do a version I wrote for Psalm 69 three years ago, with the refrain adapted to the proper antiphon for today (“In your great love, O God, answer me”), but with summer schedule and other things on our plate I just decided to make thing easier for everyone. I think that this psalm of lament captures the heart of the liturgy of the word, anyway, though I think in retrospect if I had given it a little more thought I should have stuck with the proper psalm.
Preparation Rite: Stand by Me. Tom Kendzia’s song, inspired by the gospel song “Stand by Me,” asks God to be near “when the storms of life surround me,” and “when the tyrant wields his terror.” “His Eye” is obviously taken from its inspiration by the gospel today. I don’t see how anyone who knows the song and has it available in the repertoire would not use it today. I expect vigorous participation, even though we don’t use this song more than once a year or so and the range is extraordinarily high. People just sing it.
Communion: Blest Are They (Haas) I return to David's setting of the Beatitudes (and Darryl Ducote's as well) during Year A to help keep in mind the Sermon on the Mount, so that we can hear its words echoing through the rest of Matthew's gospel. The core message of the Beatitudes is that, contrary to what the world sees and believes, God is already present in the poor, the meek, the merciful, the persecuted, and those who hunger and thirst for justice. All of those markings seem like God's absence to the world. We don't want a God like that. But that's the one we have, if we believe Jesus. The ultimate test of this came to Jesus on the cross. Faced with death as an enemy of the state and its god, Tiberius Caesar, he was faithful to his mission, and God, with him in death as in life, raised him from the dead. "Yours is the kingdom of God" means, "There is nothing but life for you. Don't be afraid."
Recessional: The Summons ("Will You Come and Follow Me," John Bell) We end the liturgy with John Bell's reminder about our vocation to follow the Lord wherever that road takes us, and sing together our willingness to go there, for another week. For today, at least?