A Sermon for October 6, the 17th Sunday after Pentecost.
Chinese Philosopher LaoTzu famously said, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”
A single step. It doesn’t seem like much. But a single step a year ago would have taken a fatigued Dallas police officer, Amber Guyger, to the small number on the side of the apartment door. She would have seen she was on the wrong floor. Instead, after a 14 hr shift and distracted by texting her boyfriend, she drove past her garage level, opened the door of the apartment directly above hers, and shot Botham Jean, an accountant doing what many of us do after work: eating ice cream and watching television. One step.
Several small steps Wednesday would have taken you from the inside of the courtroom where Brandt Jean, the victim’s brother gave the most moving victim’s statement I have ever heard, to the street in front of the courtroom where a crowd protested Guyger’s 10-year sentence.
What a difference a few steps can make. Outside to inside. Just a few steps. Outside the outraged crowd. Their shouts echo our Old Testament reading from the prophet Habakkuk: “How long shall I cry for help and you not listen, cry violence and you not save?”
They are fair questions. Injustice is nothing new. Habakkuk, put God on trial for injustice 6 1/2 centuries before Jesus.
God’s answer to Habakuk’s is, in effect, “Yes I see the injustice. I’m going to use the Babylonians to judge the injustice among you.” Habukkuk then asked the obvious followup question: “How can you use folk getting an F- in the treatment of others to punish people getting a D? That hardly seems fair!“
God answers, “Write this down large enough that a passing car can see it from the highway: ‘the righteous will live by faith.’” You see, the “that’s not fair” game is a trap. It’s a hole that once we fall down, we are never satisfied until we create a new victim. So God says, “You just have to trust me with this.” It is often frustratingly slow on our end, but the White Hat posse of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost have promised to ride into town before the end of the movie.
It’s natural to cry for justice. And it’s natural to get wrapped around the axle of the evil around us. Ps 37 tells us how to live in such a world: Don’t fret or be jealous, trust in The Lord, take delight in The Lord, commit your way to The Lord, be still before The Lord…This is a matter of focus. We must focus beyond our pain onto The Lord.”
And Ps37v9 we really need to hear: “leave rage alone…it only leads to evil.” If there was ever a word for us this morning this is it. Every news source is seeking to engage you in the rage. God says, “look away, look to me.” Your newsfeeds are paid by eyeballs and clicks. Inciting you is how they pay their bills. Leave rage. Look to the Lord.
In our NT reading St. Paul instructs his young protege, Timothy, “Hold to the standard of sound teaching (doctrine is important!)…guard the good treasure entrusted to you.” The Holy Spirit is with you, but we have to protect the treasure from creeping doubts. You and I are called to be “apostles and heralds and teachers of the grace that has been revealed in Jesus Christ.” Don’t join the Gen X pastors who let their personal lives unravel then blame their exodus on God’s failure. A “good treasure” is entrusted to you. Talking about steps: Are you taking steps to “guard the good treasure” entrusted you?
In our Gospel reading the disciples make a wise request: “Increase our faith.” Jesus responds with two seemingly unrelated stories. The first, “if you just had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘be uprooted and planted in the sea’ and it would.” That’s Hyperbole: a standard rabbinical teaching technique. Jesus isn’t trying to make waterways unnavigable with trees. Jesus is saying, “With a little faith, the smallest seed’s worth of faith, you can ask the ridiculous and I will amaze you.”
Then Jesus tells a story about slaves not being presumptive but doing their jobs. IOW Jesus is saying, “After I do the amazing, don’t go thinking you’re all that.”
Remember that Jesus would send the disciples out on preaching tours and they would come back and tell him how amazing THEY were. Jesus is reminding them: “You ask. I deliver. Don’t get confused about who did what, yo.”
We need that reminder too. Our hearts are high-efficiency idol factories. I can elevate something to idol status in a hot Florida minute. It is no accident the first commandment is “have no other God before me,” and the second is to not make idols…and the third to watch how I use God’s holy name…and the fourth to set aside a sabbath for God to remind myself that my salvation is not me, my abilities, or my amazing activities on God’s behalf.
Augustine said, “Pray as though everything depends on God. Act as though everything depends on you.”
But how do we act as though everything depends on us without getting confused about who it actually depends on? To keep the theme going: Take a few steps. A few simple movements. The Christian faith depends on Jesus on a cross for you and me. But there are things we can do to help us “guard the good treasure.”
Here are four steps or movements you can take:
The first is upward. That is Worship – Our hearts, minds, wills and and hands open and upward. Christians need to place ourselves under the mighty hand of God.
The second is downward: Formation. We are to be grounded in scripture and the teaching of the church. Cursillo is teaching just that to the 20 or so ladies who are up at Camp Weed this morning with Fr. Ken.
The third is inward: Connect. Connect with one another. This is a particular strength of Trinity. If you are new, people here will welcome you!
The fourth is Outward: to Serve and Share. Doing good, certainly, but as we do, we as St. Peter said, “give a reason to everyone for the hope that is within.”
I opened this morning talking about “taking steps.” I will never forget the steps Brandt Jean took on Wednesday. In his victim’s statement Brandt told Amber Guyger, “I don’t hate you. I forgive you…I love you…I want the best for you…for you to give your life to Jesus Christ, that would be the best.” And then Brandt said to the judge. “I don’t know if this is possible, but can I give her a hug please?” (Imagine you are that judge and a victim’s brother asks to get within “return the favor distance” of the perpetrator.) And then Brandt asks again, “Please?” Then the young man stood up, and took 7 steps toward his brother’s killer…and embraced her.
Those 7 steps are not the steps we expect from someone whose brother has been violently taken from him. They are the steps grace takes. Those steps only come from a young man far down the path of the Christian journey. Years of stepping upward and downward and inward and outward.
People, grace under fire; courage during adversity; character in confusion; composure in chaos, all are available. But they come as the result of a workout regimen of the faithful.
This year the rage shows no signs of letting up. Pain and injustice show no indication of going away. Take Augustine’s advice: Pray as if it depends on God, then act as if it depends on you – take the steps you need to take to create a balanced and regular spiritual step-regimen…that keep your focus on The Lord…so that when the time comes, you have the grace and strength within you to step toward rather than away from a broken world, a world which so desperately needs the love of God in Christ.
This morning step deeper into your trust in Jesus Christ…The journey of a thousand miles, or across a courtroom, begins with a single step.