Sunday, December 11, 2022

HOMILY: "The Quality of Mercy"

A Communion Meditation
A Meditation on Luke 1 (Advent 3)
Sunday, December 11, 2022


In my prayers this morning are those among us, wherever they may be, who have taken branches or baseball bats to the rainbow flag we fly, faithfully, out here on Main Street. Those who have broken that flagpole, and torn down the flag itself, at least three times this fall. We’ll probably never know who they are, and I’ll probably never meet them face to face. Although I’d like to, I’d really like to. And I do pray for them this morning because they too are my neighbors, my sons, my daughters, our brothers, our sisters; and I have to imagine something inside them has been broken somehow, or hardened by despair, or maybe even traumatized by cruelty.

It may be, it may well be that they’re out drinking themselves silly in the wee hours of a Sunday morning. And silliness becomes destruction. Or it may be that they’re out looking for rainbow flags specifically, and targeting symbols of love and affirmation. As if they can demoralize the rest of us.

I don’t believe that you’re born to frighten or bully other people. I don’t believe that anyone is born to hate. So whatever their motivation, and wherever they are now, I pray for them, and I hope you will too—for their world is our world, and their wounds are in some way our wounds, and, as Martin Luther King, Jr. famously said, “we are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.” The quality of mercy, I think Shakespeare said, is not strained.

And when Jesus said, “Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you,” I believe that he meant it. I believe it was something like the heart and soul of everything else he said and did. We don’t get to pick and choose. That kind of love loves everybody. When we break bread at his table, we’re making a commitment to that.

So we pray for those who tear down the rainbow flag in the very same way we pray for the young men who give in to self-contempt and hatred—and open fire in Jewish synagogues, and black churches, and gay nightclubs. Something inside these young men is traumatized and badly broken. And their trauma is our trauma. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality. God made the world that way.

In the same spirit, by the same spirit, I know we’ll want to pray for every dear friend and sibling, every dear brother and sister—who feels even a tiny bit threatened, even the slightest kind of fear, because of this kind of vandalism. Because the rainbow flag’s been singled out for violence and destruction. And if that’s you—or your lover or partner, or your child or friend—if senseless bigotry unnerves you in any way, I want you to know (we all want you to know) that we are devoted to your safety in every possible way. This a promise we make—a particular promise we make—to the queer community in Durham, on the Seacoast, and beyond. We cherish you and the rainbow church we are building together in Durham. And we will always, always, always give thanks to God for you, and pray for you, and honor you. We are church together. And that rainbow is our rainbow. Ours together.


And you know, I have to imagine that Maryam and Elizabeth, these two sisters joined by love and hope, I have to imagine that they’d be right at home, among us, as we fly our new rainbow flag this morning. It’s such a familiar Advent tale—but let’s not miss its provocative power and promise. The incarnation of God in friendship. The prophetic edge of sisterhood. Maryam and Elizabeth, these two, at the very heart of the Christian story. Devoted to one another. Determined in lifting one another’s spirits. Defiant, really, and defiant together, in promising a new world where the last are first, and the hungry feast, and the broken are healed again. I’ve got to imagine there was a rainbow flag flying outside Elizabeth’s house in the hills, when Maryam went to see her and stay with her for a while.

Look around as we fly our own flag again this morning. I have to believe you’ll see Maryam. You’ll see Elizabeth. And you’ll see a lively, lovely community of Maryams and Elizabeths—embracing that new world together. Where the last are first, and the hungry feast, and the broken are healed again. It’s not just an old story. It’s our story this morning.

You know, it’s undoubtedly a story that was conceived and celebrated and first told among women in the early days of the Jesus movement. The initiative is Maryam’s. The community between these two is forged in friendship. Pointedly, Joseph and Zechariah are nowhere to be found in this story. It’s as if three months go by, three very important and transformational months, and it’s just Maryam and Elizabeth. Singing hymns to God. Feeding one another and growing the little lives within. Imagining a revolution of love. It’s a stunning twist in a religion that’s come to be so tragically patriarchal. The patriarchs are without a voice in one of Christianity’s seminal texts. Nowhere to be found.

Instead, it’s a story about two women, two friends resisting the kind of suspicion and shaming that their pregnancies would almost always arouse. And instead of yielding to that meanness, instead of yielding to that shame, Maryam and Elizabeth seek one another out, and they sing to one another, and they celebrate the grace of a God who knows no shame, a God who trusts them for protection and peace. A God growing in their own bodies, at home in their own flesh, and, yes, in their friendship.


This morning, our story imagines not a singular, isolated God, but a God at home in relationship, a God birthed between us, a God whose dream is human friendship itself. Not a distant God marking the naughty and nice, but a divine presence nurturing truth and trust and grace and gratitude in community. In you and me, and you with me. In our bellies and bones.

And so it can be, so it is meant to be, in you and me. The great German mystic Meister Eckhart said in the 13th century: “We are all meant to be mothers of God, for God is always needing to be born.” “We are all meant to be mothers of God, for God is always needing to be born.” It’s not your resume God cherishes, or your diploma, or your reputation. It's your humanity: it’s your willingness to embrace the miracle of your fragile heart; it’s your openness to a dream of a world transfigured by grace and justice; it’s your friendship and your capacity for imagination and your kindness in seasons of chaos and crisis. It’s your friendship God desires. “We are all meant to be mothers of God;” a Maryam, an Elizabeth, a child of God; a sister, a brother in communion with sisters and brothers invoking God’s mercy and trusting God’s promise and leaning into each breath with gratitude and delight.

You see, before it was Jesus’ gospel, before it was a Christian gospel, it was Maryam’s gospel, and Elizabeth’s gospel; and it reminds us that God’s passion for human community is undiminished by fear, undiminished by cruelty, and advanced by two women who refuse to be intimidated by the way things are or always have been. Embodying between them, even in their very bodies, the promise of peace.


So here’s what I’ll be thinking as I stand with you at Jesus’ table this morning, and as we come to commune together in the Love of God, in the Good News of Jesus Christ. Maryam and Elizabeth should remind us, they do remind us that communion, our communion, is a huge and holy YES to God’s passion for healing and hope in the midst of all manner of trauma and despair. Let me say that again. Our communion, is a huge and holy YES to God’s passion for healing and hope in the midst of all manner of trauma and despair.

When I break a piece of bread off the loaf, and then when I place that broken piece in your palm, you are invited once again to cradle God’s broken body in your hand and in your heart. You are Maryam. You are the mother of God. You are kind enough, strong enough, brilliant enough to cradle God’s broken body in yours. And to touch the world’s brokenness with mercy. And to meet the world’s violence with love.

Every one of you is gifted in this way, I know that you are. Every one of us is as blessed and as precious as Maryam. And as wise and soulful and as generous as Elizabeth. But I do want to add that you don’t have to do any of this alone. This touching the world’s brokenness with mercy, this meeting violence with love. Because we are always the church together. Because we are always mothers of God in community. So when I place that broken bread, that broken body, in your palm—we are all there together, we are side by side with you, cradling God’s vulnerable humanness, touching the world’s brokenness and soothing our brother’s trauma, our sister’s pain. This is a sacrament we share. This is a calling we bear together.

It's just right for us, friends, to be celebrating communion this morning, and then raising that rainbow flag together for all the world to see. We’re not doing anything that makes us smarter or sweeter or more enlightened than anyone else. We ought not congratulate ourselves for being so loving and brave. That’s not what communion is, and that’s not what Jesus does in the communing community. Instead, we are offering ourselves to God’s dream of healing peace and reconciling love. We are offering our love and our kindness and our steadfast devotion to those who worry and those suffer and those who ache for peace—because that’s what God’s friends, that’s what Jesus’ disciples do.

In my prayers this morning, I’ll be praying for peace and transformation in the hearts of those who have three different times torn apart our rainbow flag this fall. And I’ll be praying God’s blessing and courage upon so many others for whom such violence is a scary and vicious reality. When I take the bread, the body in my hand, I’ll be asking God to make me Maryam. To make me a mother like Maryam. So that a new world might be born. In me, and in us.

Amen and Ashe.