The Rev. Christy Laborda Harris
Proper 21, Pentecost 19 The Rev. Christy Laborda Harris
James 5:13-20 September 30, 2018
“It’s hard to wait!” I am finding it very helpful to work with a deacon who happens to be a developmental specialist. This is especially so when one hasn’t read a single book on raising children! One of the things Kate has helped us with in our house is how hard it can be to wait. She taught us the phrase and we use it often, “it is hard to wait” or “waiting is hard.” We need to name it. And then we declare that even though it is hard, whoever is struggling with waiting, and you may be able to guess who, can do it! It is hard to wait, but you can do it!
This past week Kai was in the city for the big Sales Force conference. He stayed with some family who were bemoaning the changes happening in San Francisco… the huge new Sales Force tower changing the skyline, folks coming from outside the city to drive for Lyft, and, you can be sure, the techies. I sent Kai a video of Alma declaring, “change is hard!”
Little did I realize how true her words were… until the next morning when I woke and turned on Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony to the senate. What I heard was way more than “hard”… it was heartbreaking. Damning. Infuriating. Seemingly hopeless. As I listened and heard of senators wanting to disqualify her story before even hearing from her, desperate to confirm Kavanaugh it seems no matter what, I felt as if perhaps our country was crumbling.
And then I realized that it is not our country that is crumbling, it is who our country has been that is crumbling, breaking down, being torn open and apart. We have a history of patriarchy and misogynism. Men have historically been head of the household and run this country. That is the culture out of which we come. And this culture created a climate not only where the gifts and voices of women were silenced, underutilized, and ignored but also where the abuse and mistreatment of women was normalized, hidden, and swept under the rug.
We have seen monumental change in this arena in our life spans. I have seen great change in MY life span, I know many of you have seen much more change than I have, and I can barely fathom the change in the roles of the sexes that some of the elders in our midst have seen across their long lives.
We have seen monumental change in our lifetimes to the role of women in our society. My story is one of being raised up and identified as one that had a call to the priesthood as a 22-year-old female. Sure I have run into misogyny and ageism—I still do—but my journey has been SO comparatively smooth, I have been so supported.
The #metoo movement is part of this sea change. We are suddenly in a moment where women, and men, are speaking up about the abuse to which they have been subject. And we are realizing just how common sexual abuse, harassment and rape are. And it is heartbreaking.
In this sermon, I am not taking a side on whether Dr. Ford’s accusations are true or not. I challenge you not to dismiss my words because you suspect you and I differ politically. Instead, I am attempting to speak about the larger moment of which we are a part. Something is happening. We finally live in a time when women are able to step forward and decry the abuse they’ve received. It is still FAR from easy, as we are seeing with the death threats, name calling, and critical inspection of Dr. Ford but it is at least happening. There is a post floating around the internet that reads, “She’s someone’s sister/daughter, mother/wife” except “sister/daughter, mother/ wife” is crossed off. We are left with, “she is someone.” She matters, her voice matters, not because of who she belongs to but because she is someone.
Senator Patrick Leahy thanked Dr. Ford on Thursday. He said, “Dr. Ford, no matter what happens with this hearing today, no matter what happens to this nomination, I know, and I hear from so many in my home state of Vermont there are millions of victims and survivors out there you have been inspired by your courage. I am. Bravery is contagious. Indeed that’s the driving force behind the #MeToo movement. And you sharing your story is going to have a lasting, positive impact on so many survivors in our country. We owe you a debt of gratitude for that, Doctor.”
To be honest, prior to the #metoo movement, I had no idea just how wide spread sexual assault is. As the women in my life—my family, my friends, my clergy colleagues, and parishioners—step forward and declare #metoo, I am overwhelmed by the magnitude of this issue in our country. The support hotlines have been deluged with calls since Thursday and I personally know a significant number of women who have told me how much listening to the trial on Thursday knocked them off their feet and sent them into dark places. It is guaranteed that each and every one of have women in our lives—people we know and love—who are survivors of sexual violence.
The silence is crumbling, it is shattering, people are naming what has been done to them and those who have abused are, in some cases, beginning to be held accountable. This crumbling, this breaking open, is scary, heartbreaking, challenging and chaotic. In June, Kate preached about kintsugi—the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with lacquer mixed with powdered gold, silver or platinum. This art form treats the breakage and repair as part of the history of an object rather than something to disguise.
There is beauty in the brokenness. Brokenness is not the end of the story. God does not discard us in our imperfection, brokenness, and sin. Instead, God works in our hearts, lives and worlds for wholeness and healing, this, this is salvation… when God puts us back together, when God leads us into wholeness and healing. And those places that were broken? They are perhaps the most beautiful part of us.
Our reading from James todays instructs, “Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed.” Our country is undergoing a corporate confession of sorts. Not necessarily by choice on the part of many, but it is what is necessary for healing. In the church, we are very familiar with corporate confession, it’s what we do every Sunday! Our confession of sin is not so much about enumerating all the ways we have each individually messed up but it is more about how we as humanity, as God’s children, have fallen short of God’s dream for us. It is about admitting our brokenness and inviting God in to piece us back together, to heal us.
We are instructed to pray. Pray for ourselves. Pray for one another. Pray for survivors. Pray for perpetrators. As I listened to Dr. Ford’s testimony, all I could think, all I could pray was “God help us!” And I meant it. Help us! We need help. Prayer is part of the healing process: “Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed.” Confession is a first step, but it is not the last. Confession and prayer—confess and pray that we may be healed.
As the culture of our society is shattered and broken open, something new is being born. We are in the throws of birth pangs. We are crying out in the midst of our fear and pain, but they are birth pangs—pangs of new life forcing its way into being.
Yes, something is indeed dying. Something is coming to an end. The balance of power is shifting. And that is particularly scary for those who have held the power… but here’s the thing, we follow a God who lifts up the lowly, who stands on the side of the oppressed, the underdog. We follow a God who came to earth in human form and defied cultural norms that oppressed, marginalized and failed to respect the dignity of every human being.
In our baptismal covenant we commit to striving for justice and peace among all people and respecting the dignity of every human being. Justice and respect are at the root of who we are. They are the identity into which we are baptized as Children of God. The new thing that is being born, that is coming into being, but is definitely not yet here, has all the marks of the kingdom, of God’s dream for our world.
We have seen great change in our lifetimes and such change will continue. My friends are purchasing T-shirts for their little boys that read, “Boys will be… good humans.” I have seen quotes that read, “boys will be… held accountable.” In light of the #metoo movement, I will raise my children differently than I was raised. Just as my mother raised me differently than she was raised. Change takes place across generations with the previous generations setting the stage for the change of the future ones.
Change is hard. It is terrifying. This breaking open, this shattering, these birth pangs are scary. We feel raw, vulnerable, heartbroken, and unsure, but may we not feel hopeless. There is hope. These are the pangs of new life. In God there is healing and wholeness. Our God pieces us back together, sealing our broken places with the precious metal of God’s grace and love. We are precious in God’s sight. Each and every one of us.