Homily for the 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

September 10, 2006

St. Agnes, Cincinnati

(Isaiah 35:4-7; Psalm 146; James 2:1-5; Mark 7:31-37)

“Say to those whose hearts are frightened: Be strong, fear not!”

Five years ago we sat in this church, as so many did in churches all around our country, in shock.

All of our securities and certainties had been uprooted; our complacency was gone. We couldn’t believe that people could hate us and our way of life so deeply as to wantonly murder thousands of innocent people.

As people in crisis do, we put our trust in our leaders.

Their message to us was that we should go about our daily life as if nothing had happened. The language, you may recall, was that we should “go shopping.”

They said with great bravado that “we’re going to get them!” And then they proceeded to lead us into a war of our own choosing, with a totally different people. Whom we have turned into still ore terrorists.

And today? Five years later, where are we?

When we turn for insight to God’s word to us we meet images of blindness and deafness and dumbness and fear. We are told that the desert will bloom, and burning sands will turn into springs of water. And we wonder.

The images are all really about powerlessness in some form or other. Whether it is the powerlessness of the Israelites of Isaiah’s time, as they watch the Assyrians marching inexorably to overcome them and lead them into captivity/ Or that of the poor man begging for Jesus’ mercy in the Gospel, locked in his own personal prison, powerless to communicate with his fellow human beings.

As I was preparing my remarks I went back to things I wrote five years ago and I was reminded that in the days following September 11 our public representatives had gathered in the impressive splendor of the Capitol rotunda. They rolled off speech after speech, larded with fervor and machismo and bombast. Each one tried to outdo the others in his or her patriotic zeal.

I recalled that only one of them got it right. He got it right because he had himself experienced oppression and beatings at Selma.

John Lewis cut through all the overblown rhetoric and silenced the crowd with a single sentence from the Scriptures. “Be still! And know that I am God.” Vengeance is not yours to demand, says the Lord; vengeance is mine. Only the Lord can assuage our deepest fears and sense of powerlessness.

Five years ago we felt powerless as a people and so we entrusted our future into the hands of our leaders.

And then three years ago we watched, and stood on the sidelines as spectators, as the drive to war with Iraq was orchestrated before our blind eyes. It was all constructed to use the threat of terror to get us, once more, to abdicate our responsibility to speak out in protest.

And today? What have learned from the experience of these five years?

I hope we have learned that we cannot allow ourselves to be seduced by fear as the tomtoms are being elevated to engage our anxiety so that our leaders can orchestrate yet another war, this time against Iran.

You know, when I read this Gospel story over the years I have tended to focus only on the deafness of the man healed by Jesus. I realize that I need to shift my attention to the phrase which follows his cure: “he began to speak plainly.” He began to speak. He has been empowered; he can assume his full responsibility for himself in this world. Nothing can prevent him from declaring who he is and where he stands. And he can do so plainly. With no confusion or doubt was to what he is saying.

You and I live in a democracy. And so we share responsibility for the decisions of our leaders.

I suggest that we pray this morning, and each day, that the Lord will remove all our blind spots, and open our ears to hear the voice of the Spirit speaking within us the counsels of peace and justice. We need to ask unceasingly for the power of speech. Of fearlessness. That we may be empowered to assume our responsibility to challenge our leaders and hold them accountable.

It may be that we are called to fulfill that responsibility in the simple act of casting our ballot in the privacy of a voting booth. We must surely do at least that. Some may be called to volunteer in the campaign to get others registered. For others their commitment may take the form of signing a petition, or merely a check. It might consist in daring to speak up at a community forum, or perhaps participating in a public demonstration calling for steps to insure that everyone’s vote is counted.

It may take the form of simply kneeling in silent prayer begging the Lord to relieve us of the scourge of war and take pity on all the innocent victims of all these wars.

You and I might support different candidates. We might espouse different policies or strategies or tactical responses. All of that is very secondary and we are called to respect each other in spite of our differences.

But somehow we must unite at a far more fundamental level to proclaim that violence and war are not God’s way of responding to the conflicts that are a part of our human story.

We are called to ask the Lord to overcome our fears so we may speak openly and plainly, with the dignity that is ours as God’s creation.

But as we act, as we assume our rightful responsibility, let us do so humbly, grounded in the conviction that we are only servants of the Lord’s plan for our world..

Be still! And know that I am God.