New Ark United Church of Christ, Newark, DE
June 18, 2017
Earlier this week, I watched a video in which a woman recalled a conversation with her husband, who had been diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. He said to her, “It’s going to be okay”. And she replied, “Yes, we just don’t know what okay means yet.” Which is one of the best faith statements I’ve ever heard—what we church types call the hope of the resurrection. Yes, it’s going to be okay—we just don’t know what okay means yet.
And so I want to speak to you a word about being okay. Every week, here in this space, this time, I want to say to you that it’s going to be okay, but I don’t know what okay means yet or looks like or will look like down the road. Nor does anyone else really. I want to say that being okay looks like it always has, but that’s not true either. Our definition of being okay has changed because being okay sometimes meant accepting what was unacceptable:
· being okay meant you had to shrug off yet another sexual advance or catcall or harassment or sexist joke—because it just goes with the territory;
· being okay meant you felt the thousandth little cut of someone’s racism, unintentional or otherwise, and you swallowed some more sorrow, some more anger, some more rage;
· being okay meant you couldn’t talk about your same-gender partner or hold hands in public but everyone was cool with your roommate;
· being okay meant you had to use a particular bathroom rather than the one you’re comfortable using;
· being okay meant you had to work 60, 70, 80 hours a week to prove your loyalty, your dedication, no matter how much your job ate your life and you wished you could stay home with your kids, have more time with your family;
· being okay meant that ONE person who saw YOU and not just the wheelchair, the scooter, the cane, the walker, or didn’t judge you for your inability.
· being okay meant at least your head is above water.
None of this is okay and yet people still have to live with a lot of these.
And so I want to speak to you a word about being okay.
I want to say that it’s going to be okay, but I don’t know and you don’t know what okay means yet, looks like, will look like. I want to say it’s going to be okay because every day I see, you see and have experiences that say to us, “I don’t know if it’s going to be okay”.
· when people drive impatiently, recklessly and cut us off; when we’re rude and unfeeling to each other;
· when we see people walking (and maybe it’s us some days), gazing down at a phone rather than looking at the world and the people around them;
· when we read the newspaper, turn on the TV, open our online news source, listen to NPR, and we hear about the latest shooting, bombing, accident or disaster;
· when people judge you because you’re young, because you’re not like everyone else, because your gender doesn’t fit in a neat box, because you’re attracted to more than one gender, because your gender doesn’t match your identity, and your rights and your existence are threatened, and it’s hard to imagine that any of this will okay someday;
· when we’re having to renew the same fight from 20, 40, 60 years ago;
· when the weather becomes violent and extreme, and the environment, the climate remind us that the earth doesn’t need us to survive.
I want to speak to you a word about being okay, because sometimes we confuse following Jesus with being okay—that everything is going to be okay if we can just find the right way to be Church. Like we do, Jesus looked around him and saw that all was not okay. Ever wider and deeper now than it was then, Jesus saw the gap between the haves and the have-nots. Like now, people were hurting, lonely, unwell, broken down by the world around them, disconnected, vulnerable. Living means more than just staying alive.
To care for these bruised and hurt lives, Jesus didn’t pick people who had it all together, who were ready and prepared for anything, who were the best at what they did. He gathered a band of misfits who needed him as much as the hurting did. He put together people who normally wouldn’t share the same space: a tax collector, a zealot, coarse-spoken fishermen, a man who would later betray him. Jesus saved people by giving them people to heal and to help.
We want to know if Church is going to be okay, and so I want to say a word about Church being okay, because the number of harvests hands on the whole is shrinking, but here’s where Jesus interrupts our worries and our self-focus and instead sends us out.
The lost sheep are found by becoming shepherds themselves. We help each other through. We uplift each other’s joy, embrace each other’s sadness. And I love the way Eugene Peterson puts it. We don’t have to travel far and try to convert people: no Westboro Baptist stunts. We don’t have to be dramatic and try to take on a public enemy. We go to the people right in our neighborhood, right here where the church is, right there where we live—in Delaware and Maryland and Pennsylvania and New Jersey but also places and people our compassion can reach with our resources. And we don’t need a lot of equipment—WE are the equipment. We become what we believe. Wherever we are, we are Church.
And so we can say it’s going to be okay, even though we have no idea what okay means just yet or what it will look like. Even when things don’t go as planned. Even when the unjust walk free and the wronged and the dead have no justice. Even when the powers of death threaten to overwhelm us. Even when we have no idea if any of this makes a difference. Even when the gospel looks like failure.