Last Sunday afternoon, I attended a rally in Colonial Williamsburg to renew the covenant between our Historical area police departments and the African-American community. Established just three years ago, initiated by faith leaders in the African-American community, the covenant was established to proactively create collaborative relationships with our local police in order to prevent some of the racial divides that have occurred in other cities. Although I was there to witness the support of the local clergy for this covenant, what I heard was the testimony of a community of people who have been harassed and feel helpless right here in our community. Though we may have avoided some of the violence we have seen elsewhere in our country, the African-American community here in Williamsburg still feels the heel of racism pushing down on her neck.
Last week, we heard Matthew’s Great Commission, and we talked about the juxtaposition of civil unrest exploding around the issue of systemic racism and Jesus’ call to go out into the world doing works of justice, mercy, and love. As some of the heat from protests simmered down a bit this past week, we could easily come to church today and long to turn down the heat too. But our collect appointed for today, which you will hear later, holds our feet to the fire. The collect says, “Keep, O Lord, your household the Church in your steadfast faith and love, that through your grace we may proclaim your truth with boldness, and minister your justice with compassion…” Now the Collect of the Day is not just a random prayer, meant to sound good. The Collect of the Day pulls themes from the scripture lessons appointed for the day – in essence, the Collect of the Day tries to articulate the thesis of our lessons.
After watching weeks of protests (maybe attending some yourself), hearing countless stories about unrest, reading articles or starting books about systemic racism, and praying diligently for peace, you may have come to church today hoping for some respite or reassurance. But Jesus’ message to “Go!” from the Great Commission last week does not fade today. Instead, Jesus’ words from Matthew’s gospel from almost 20 chapters earlier shows us our work is ever before us, beckoning us out into the world.
Years before his cross, resurrection, and ascension, we find Jesus teaching, healing, and proclaiming the good news to crowds of people. In the midst of this work, we are told Jesus looks at the crowd and has compassion for them because they are harassed and helpless. When Jesus sees the harassed and helpless, he does not simply fix the problem or strike down the system with godly power. Instead, he turns to his disciples with a charge. Jesus calls the twelve disciples by name (Simon Peter, Andrew, James, John, Philip, Bartholomew, Thomas, Matthew, James, Thaddaeus, Simon, and Judas), those who have been following him, learning from him, studying and praying with him, and sends them out, telling them how hard the work of showing compassion will be: they will go without financial support, will be dependent upon the hospitality of strangers – some of whom will show them scorn rather than hospitality, will be persecuted and beaten, and will be betrayed even by their closest relatives. This is the sobering work of love – of proclaiming God’s truth with boldness, and ministering God’s justice with compassion.
So how do the disciples hear such a sobering commission and still take the first step? They take the first step because Jesus empowers the disciples. Jesus gives the disciples power to heal and care for the oppressed; Jesus teaches them how to dust off their feet when they are scorned; Jesus promises when they need words, the Spirit of God will speak through them. In other words, they just need to go, and God will take care of the rest.
Several of you have reached out to me over these last two weeks, longing for something to do in the midst of this important moment. We have exchanged ideas and resources, and many of you have already begun to take specific action. The content of how we respond in the coming weeks and months will vary widely, given our different gifts and abilities. But our Collect today is not a prayer asking God to empower others to do the work of love or for God to just “fix it.” Our Collect today is a request to God to help each one of us – called by name (Sue, John, Linda, Bob, Lisa, Bill, Tori, Don, Terri, Jim, Beth, and Dave) – to proclaim God’s truth with boldness, and minister God’s justice with compassion. Jesus has already given us everything we need to do this work. God is already keeping us in God’s steadfast faith and love; through God’s grace we can proclaim God’s truth with boldness, and minister God’s justice with compassion. Amen.