Sermon on Mark 9:38-50
“Because your witness matters”
A Church You’ve Been Longing for:
Cultivates Care, Prayer, Healing & Openness
St. Paul Lutheran Church
Old Saybrook, CT
A few comments on this sermon by (me) the preacher:
Thanks to my friend, colleague, and fellow Bald Pastor, Joe McGarry. I was struggling with this text all week and pulling together what I felt compelled to say in light of good news. After we had spoken on Saturday evening, my sermon took on greater clarity.
I genuinely hope to not be a stumbling block for others.
After worship on Sunday morning a visitor confronted me in the line after worship for “taking sides” and handed me a note suggesting Dr. Ford may be lying about Judge Kavanaugh who they believe to be a wonderful human being. I did not specifically name or comment on either Dr. Ford or Judge Kavanaugh. Watch and listen for yourself.
I can only guess that this was the section of the sermon that was deemed by this individual to be offensive (it starts around 11:50):
“…So, I didn’t watch the hearings this week. I didn’t. Mostly because I knew what was going to be said. You know the talking points. You know the political theater of it. You know the way people will respond to each other. So, I really didn’t watch it all that much. But the thing I did do is – I paid attention to those who were telling their stories – as individuals. Some are people I know. Some people I know peripherally. People that were posting online. People that were sharing in more conversational places. Places where they had been abused. And what that was like. The terror of that. And the shame of that – even though they have nothing to be ashamed of – but that’s the way it kind of happens in our culture.
There’s a lot of hurt there. A lot of hurt there.
I read that one in six women in America will experience some kind of sexual assault. (https://www.rainn.org/statistics/victims-sexual-violence)
I thought that was appalling.
What do we do in our lives? In our interactions? In our relationships? Where we can speak truth? Where we can listen to stories? Where we can care for each other? Where we can get people the space to do that?
If you have ever been privileged with someone sharing that story with you, you know what a big deal that is – and the pain that goes along with it.
It’s hard. Just like this passage — is hard.
But it matters.
It matters who we are in the world. It matters who we are together. It matters what Christ is doing among us. It matters that we can come as broken sinful people and leave as forgiven saints of God. It matters that we don’t have to have it all figured out yet, and yet we know the love of Christ reigns supreme.”
I am not hurt, offended or even puzzled by this reaction to me. Years ago, a stunt like this would at the very least have given me pause. On Sunday I saw it more as indicative of these divided times in which we live where everyone has an answer to a question before it is even asked; with talking points supplied by our favorite pundits.
I knew what I said and didn’t say on Sunday about the wider issue of sexual assault. I also know what I did and didn’t say about the hearing in particular. Some could argue I did not go far enough or say enough or even be present enough for those in the room who may have survived such an attack or know someone they care about that had gone through it. I question if I conveyed the appropriate response by the church is to listen, care and support people in their trauma; rather than dismiss it, gloss over it or pretend it never happened.
If you have been sexually assaulted by another person, I believe you.
I believe the church needs to be a safe place for people to share their pain if we are to help people in a healing process. If standing up for people to share their stories is a stumbling block to some; that is an unfortunate commentary on the state of the way people are choosing to relate (or not relate) to one another. We’ll all have a lot of stubbed toes if we are going to do the work of the church together.
What saddens me about this reaction on Sunday morning is that it reflects perfectly who we have become as a society: people that only seek to affirm our already held biases and assumptions. This is exactly the stumbling block Jesus warns against, and these stumbling blocks are holding us captive by our fear and hatred of the other. That rage keeps us from meeting each other in our pain and struggles. In the meantime real human beings suffer. What this person was going through or carrying with them Sunday morning, I’ll probably never know. That doesn’t mean we should remain silent. What we can hope for (I hope for) is that in the work we do together as the church – Christ will break through the dividing walls between us as promised (Ephesians 2:14).
What I do know is that the personal stories that are the most difficult to share and the hardest for us to acknowledge – are the ones that cry out the loudest for us to hear them.
Because your witness matters.