Sermon by Rev. Deborah Hannay Sunoo
I invited you to bring news headlines with you today, stories from around the globe, because of three important truths we can celebrate on this World Communion Sunday. First, that God is God of all the earth. There is no place on this planet that doesn’t belong to God, no place that doesn’t fall under God’s watchful eye. The earth is the Lord’s. Second, that every person on earth is God’s beloved child. God loves everyone. Without exception. Third, that God is able to work mightily even in situations that might appear to us to be quite hopeless. Just as no oneis beyond God’s love, nothingis beyond God’s reach.
Last year I heard Rev. Ed Bacon tell of a moving experience he had as a young child. As he was walking alone through the woods one day, he felt absolutely overwhelmed by God’s love, and heard God saying to him, “You are the best. You are my favorite. You are the mostbeloved creature I ever made… And so is everyone else.”
Because God does love every one of his children, we can be sure that news stories from around the country and around the world that break our hearts also break the heart of God. Later this morning as we walk forward for communion, I’ll invite you to bring some of these stories with you, either physically by carrying forward a headline (or a handful of headlines) you may have selected, and setting these on the table by the globe as a way of bringing before God in prayer, or by directing your attention to the globe itself, and using it to help you offer a silent prayer.
Our sermon title this morning comes from this poem by Warsan Shire:
I held an atlas in my lap
Ran my fingers across the whole world
And whispered where does it hurt?
It answered everywhere, everywhere, everywhere.
I’ve heard it said that “Jesus wept” is not only the shortest verse of the Bible but also the most portable, because – sadly enough - it applies to so very many situations. Thank God Jesus is also able to do morethan weep with us, is able to be our light shining in the darkness, for the power of God has shown itself strong enough, through Christ, to defeat evil, and even to conquer death.
Still, here and now, it’s easy to be discouraged. It’s only natural to feel overwhelmed by the enormity of need in our world. When we see headlines like those you may have brought with you today, and even when people share their own personal prayer requests with us, it can feel sometimes like too much to hold. Whether we write down prayer requests in a list somewhere, or pile them up as we’ll do here today, or simply carry them in our hearts, they can feel like a heavy weight. It’s no wonder the poet said “everywhere” in response to the question, “Where does it hurt?” Any one of us could give ample evidence of that. If we’re not careful, we could allow ourselves to be dragged under by our grief over the state the world is in, or even by the pain of those we know best.
But a few years ago, I started visualizing my prayers differently, and I wonder if this visual might be helpful to some of you as well.
It started by recalling those essential truths. First, that God is God of all the earth. There is no place on this planet that doesn’t belong to God and doesn’t fall under God’s watchful eye. This means I’ll never see or hear a request for prayer that God hasn’t already seen or heard. Second, that every person on earth is God’s beloved child. This means I’ll never be holding in my heart someone God doesn’t love far more than I ever could. Third, that God is able to change the world for the better; it is absolutelywithin God’s power to do so. This means even situations that might look hopeless to me are not, in fact, beyond hope.
Taking all that to heart, I started visualizing myself physically receiving requests for prayer, and physically handing them off. Taking, hearing, honoring the request but then immediately passing it along to the One who could actually do something about it. Lifting prayer requests heavenward so that I wouldn’t be bent low under their weight. After all answersto prayer aren’t our department, are they? Nor is holding the weight of the world on our shoulders. God’s already got those jobs covered.
Consider what we know about the God to whom we are handing off all of these prayers. As we read in our text from Exodus this morning, this is the God who heardthe cries of the children of Israel, groaning in captivity in Egypt, and came up with a plan to rescue them from slavery. This is the God, says the psalmist, who seesall that is happening in the world, who sees all who hurt and oppress others, and who won’t stand idly by. Like the psalmist we may feel, at times, that God is far off. But just when we start to believe the villains of the world will get away with every kind of evil, we’re reminded that God isn’t blind to the pain his creatures inflict on one another. I love that line directed to God as the tone of Psalm 10 shifts in verse 14 from lament to confidence: “But you dosee!” Yes! “But you dosee,” God! “You note trouble and grief that you may take it into your hands.” You will “do justice for the orphan and the oppressed, so that those from the earth will strike terror no more.” (Psalm 10:14, 18)
Granted, God often has important roles for us to play, too, as he hears and responds to the cries of those in pain. It’s worth paying attention so we’ll know when it’s time to step in. In any given moment, we could be positioned to offer the rescue, or comfort or blessing someone most needs from God. But it’s also worth remembering that God is God and we are not.
Where does it hurt? Sometimes it seems like it hurts everywhere. But where are God’s children held? And loved? And treasured? Everywhere and always.
Allow me to share with you a story from Tattoos on the Heart, by Gregory Boyle, which will be the focus of our book discussion group that begins here in just a couple of weeks. Boyle explains:
"My touchstone image of God comes by way of my friend and spiritual director, Bill Cain… Years ago he took a break from his own ministry to care for his father as he died of cancer. His father had become a frail man, dependent on Bill to do everything for him. Though he was physically not what he had been, and the disease was wasting him away, his mind remained alert and lively. In the role reversal common to adult children who care for their dying parents, Bill would put his father to bed and then read him to sleep, exactly as his father had done for him in childhood. Bill would read from some novel, and his father would lie there, staring at his son, smiling. Bill was exhausted from the day’s care and work and would plead with his dad, ‘Look, here’s the idea. I read to you, you fall asleep.’ Bill’s father would apologize and dutifully close his eyes. But this wouldn’t last long. Soon enough, Bill’s father would pop one eye open and smile at his son. Bill would catch him and whine, ‘Now, come on.’ The father would, again, oblige, until he couldn’t anymore, and the other eye would open to catch a glimpse of his son. This went on and on, and after his father's death, Bill knew that this evening ritual was really a story of a father who just couldn't take his eyes off his kid... How much more so God?"
"See what love God has for us that we should be called children of God, and that is what we are." (1 John 3:1)
And what's true for each one of us is true for every other child of God on this planet. Every individual whose life stands behind every news headline. Every person living in every one of the countries you will bring to mind as you pray your way around that globe. Every hurting loved one whose name you hold in your heart today, and everyone you pass on the street this week whose name you don't know, too. Every person of means in this world and every person in need. Every child and every adult. Everyone, in every nation on earth, speaking every language.
So where does God direct God’s love and attention? Where is God at work, hearing the cries of those in bondage and calling people to help rescue them, hearing the cries of the hungry and hurting and calling people to lend a hand? Where is it that God does seewhat’s happening in the world and knows what needs to be done about it? Where is it, exactly, that God can’t bring himself to take his eyes off the children he adores?
Everywhere. Everywhere. Everywhere.
Thanks be to God.
Gregory Boyle, Tattoos on the Heart, pp. 19-20.