“Grant us so perfectly to know your Son Jesus Christ to be the way, the truth, and the life,
that we may steadfastly follow his steps in the way that leads to eternal life.”
I read these words from our collect for the day and I thought how right they are for us to be praying this morning. The word that really hooked me was the word steadfastly – that we may steadfastly follow his steps. The dictionary tells me that to do something steadfastly is to do it without swerving, to do it constantly, in a firmly loyal way that is steady and unchanging. So through this prayer we are asking God to empower us to hold so tightly to our faith in Christ that our way of walking in the world will by his way. Difficult in the best of times.
And these last weeks have not been the best of times for those of us living in the Boston area. They have been difficult days. As the shock of what occurred almost two weeks ago has lifted we have all come in contact with friends, neighbors , classmates and co-workers who have direct connections to people who were directly affected by the bombings and the pursuit of the suspects. So the media reports are not something we see or listen to with our usual sense of some remove from the events. We are involved because we know and love people involved or people who know and love people who are involved, because we are all connected.
So how do we steadfastly walk in the way of Jesus in these days? What is his way, his truth, his life in the midst of what we are experiencing? Thankfully we never have to look too far to find the answers. As we gather together in worship each week we take nourishment from words and sacraments that are bread for this journey. This morning is no different. The lessons appointed for the day give us instruction for life in this way.
In our first lesson from the book of the Acts of the Apostles – the book that chronicles what happened in the life of the early church following the Resurrection of Jesus – we read of a confrontation between Peter and the leaders of the followers of Jesus in Jerusalem. The Jerusalem followers were Jews whose understanding of Jesus was deeply rooted in their Jewish faith and Peter was one of them. But they had gotten word that on a trip to Joppa, Peter had eaten dinner in the house of a Gentile. Given the strict dietary laws of the Jews this made them nervous. Standing back from this event we may say, “God has just broken down a huge dividing wall and these folk are worried about keeping dietary laws?” But as my Father used to tell me, “When you point a finger at someone else you usually have 4 other fingers on your hand pointing back at you!” We too can cling to tradition instead of looking for the movement of God’s Spirit, especially in times when we are feeling vulnerable or threatened. With us it may not be dietary laws, it may be something else we have always done a certain way that makes us feel safe and so we focus on it. So this wonderful story from Acts can open us at a time like this. Because this is not a story about what happens when God’s Spirit looks to break down dividing walls among humanity and faithful people participate with the movement of the Spirit.
What I think is important for us to note today is how Peter conducted himself in this context of criticism and confrontation, in which anxiety was running high all around him. Peter’s approach to this situation is pastoral, not argumentative. He does not enter into a hermeneutical struggle and quote scripture in his defense. As the passage tells us “Peter began to explain it to them, step by step” (Acts 11:4). Peter built a bridge to his critics by sharing his personal experience of God’s Spirit moving among the Gentiles. His conversion through this experience is strong an opens the hearts of the Jerusalem followers to this new avenue of God’s grace at work in the world.
Writing about this passage this week commentator Kyle Fever notes,
“Peter’s report in this passage is prefaced with the statement, “The Gentiles received the word of God.” Notice also that whereas the Jerusalem leaders were focused on Peter’s actions, Peter draws attention to the activity of God among the Gentiles. He does not explain himself in the face of their accusation; he explains the activity of God.” (http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1617)
That struck me as an important strategy for us as we live in these difficult days. The human instinct seems to be to ask questions such as “Why did this awful thing happen? What was going on in the minds of the people that did this? There are no easy and immediate answers to such questions, but a faithful, pastoral, steadfast response is turns the questions to God’s activity in the midst of this threat to our sense of security. It is difficult to take our eyes, hearts and minds off the images and stories of suffering and pain that resulted from this bombing. Our compassionate sensibilities are stretched – we feel for the victims – those who lost life or were injured and for their families whose lives have been so tragically altered. And we feel for the community on Boylston St. and all of Boston that has absorbed the shock waves of this attack. And yet, as we keep them in our prayers, we need to step back and enlarge our view so that this event does not have the power to bind us with the chains of fear and resentment which can harden into a desire for vengeance, and we can share news of the grace that we have observed in the aftermath. We can observe that though those who placed and detonated the bombs were bent on hurting others, many, many more people, in the face of shock and fear mobilized and ran toward the explosion points to save and minister to those who were injured. Those courageous and compassionate individuals were vehicles of God’s presence in the midst of terror. Thanks be to God! They were loving one another as Christ has loved us – putting their lives and safety on the line for the sake of others.
If we too are to steadfastly walk the way of Jesus, his words to us in this morning’s Gospel will draw us to this wider view. In this passage we find Jesus at dinner with his disciples, minus one – Judas has just left to bring the authorities to arrest Jesus. Instead of rally the disciples to a plan of resistance to the violence that is about to befall him, Jesus puts his energy to giving them the instructions they will need to survive. He begins by calling them “Little Children” (John 13:33). When we studied this passage at the Vestry meeting the other night, many of us agreed that there was a sense of being talked down to here that we did not appreciate. However when I went back to this text later this week I found connection to that choice of words from Jesus. As I have looked back over these two weeks it seems to me that in many ways we are like little children when it comes to our sense of how to respond to this tragedy. We who do not live in a country where these sorts of things are daily occurrences are in some ways like little children in terms of knowing how to process the deep peaks and valleys of emotion that have over taken many of us. That is not a put-down - it is a good thing. But it means that we can benefit from instruction and guidance from others who have lived in much more violent and unpredictable situations. Instruction and guidance on how to overcome fear, resentment and the impulse of revenge in order to live into the self spending love that Jesus calls us to in this Gospel and through the very bread and wine we are about to share, is something that is out there for us if we are willing to seek it.
This week I did just that and I want to end this sermon by sharing the words of two peoples who against what the world might consider all odds, have developed a deep and abiding friendship that is an inspiration to any who are praying to steadfastly walk the way of Jesus.
They are Robi Damelin and Ali Abu Awwad. I found their story through the Krista Tippet’s Radio Show On Being. The episode of that show that chronicles their story is called “No More Taking Sides” (http://www.onbeing.org/program/no-more-taking-sides/134)
In her synopsis of their story Krista Tippet writes:
Robi Damelin lost her son David to a Palestinian sniper. Ali Abu Awwad lost his older brother Yousef to an Israeli soldier. But, instead of clinging to traditional ideologies and turning their pain into more violence, they’ve decided to understand the other side — Israeli and Palestinian — by sharing their pain and their humanity. They tell of a gathering network of survivors who share their grief, their stories of loved ones, and their ideas for lasting peace. They don’t want to be right; they want to be honest.
I urge you to go to the On Being website and listen to the full episode as the reconciled friendship between this Israeli woman and this Palestinian man is truly full of light and a beacon of hope to this suffering world of ours. I’ll will now close by playing a segment of the show for you in which Robi Damelin reads a section of the letter she wrote to the mother of the sniper who killed her son, and a section in which Ali Abu Awwad speaks about his sense of David and Yousef accompanying them in their efforts for peace. In the name of Christ Jesus. Amen+
On the next page is the full text of Robi Damelin’s letter
Letter to the Family of the Palestinian Sniper Who Killed David Damelin
by Robi Damelin
This for me is one of the most difficult letters I will ever have to write. My name is Robi Damelin, I am the mother of David who was killed by your son. I know he did not kill David because he was David, if he had known him he could never have done such a thing.
David was 28 years old, he was a student at Tel-Aviv University doing his Masters in the Philosophy of Education, David was part of the peace movement and did not want to serve in the occupied territories. He had a compassion for all people and understood the suffering of the Palestinians, he treated all around him with dignity. David was part of the movement of the Officers who did not want to serve in the occupied territories but nevertheless for many reasons he went to serve when he was called to the reserves. What makes our children do what they do, they do not understand the pain they are causing, your son by now having to be in jail for many years and mine who I will never be able to hold and see again or see him married, or have a grandchild from him. I cannot describe to you the pain I feel since his death and the pain of his brother and girlfriend, and of all who knew and loved him.
All my life I have spent working for causes of co-existence, both in South Africa and here. After David was killed I started to look for a way to prevent other families both Israeli and Palestinian from suffering this dreadful loss. I was looking for a way to stop the cycle of violence, nothing for me is more sacred than human life, no revenge or hatred can ever bring my child back. After a year, I closed my office and joined the Parents Circle – Families Forum. We are a group of Israeli and Palestinian families who have all lost an immediate family member in the conflict. We are looking for ways to create a dialogue with a long term vision of reconciliation.
After your son was captured, I spent many sleepless nights thinking about what to do, should I ignore the whole thing, or will I be true to my integrity and to the work that I am doing and try to find a way for closure and reconciliation. This is not easy for anyone and I am just an ordinary person not a saint. I have now come to the conclusion that I would like to try to find a way to reconcile. Maybe this is difficult for you to understand or believe, but I know that in my heart it is the only path that I can choose, for if what I say is what I mean it is the only way.
I understand that your son is considered a hero by many of the Palestinian people, he is considered to be a freedom fighter, fighting for justice and for an independent viable Palestinian state, but I also feel that if he understood that taking the life of another may not be the way and that if he understood the consequences of his act, he could see that a non-violent solution is the only way for both nations to live together in peace.
Our lives as two nations are so intertwined, each of us will have to give up on our dreams for the sake of the future of the children who are our responsibility.
I give this letter to people I love and trust to deliver, they will tell you of the work we are doing, and perhaps create in your hearts some hope for the future. I do not know what your reaction will be, it is a risk for me, but I believe that you will understand, as it comes from the most honest part of me. I hope that you will show the letter to your son, and that maybe in the future we can meet.
Let us put an end to the killing and look for a way through mutual understanding and empathy to live a normal life, free of violence.
This letter and picture were taken from www.onbeing.org/ program/no-more-taking-sides/134
Have a listen and promote peace.