John 12: 20-22
Let us pray. Holy one, give us the grace and courage, the stamina and strength to follow the Way of Jesus. Help us to arrive at that place in our lives where we come to realize that there is no other Way for us to live than in your Way. And may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable to you, O God our rock and our redeemer. Amen.
Did any of you catch a piece that was on “Morning Edition” yesterday?
This past Friday, March 16th marked the 50 anniversary of the My Lai massacre, where American soldiers went on a bloody rampage killing of hundreds of Vietnamese civilians.
The piece on Morning Edition was about a newly composed opera that tells the story of one American Soldier who was there that day. One American soldier who tried to stop the massacre. Hugh Thompson was his name. Thompson was a helicopter pilot who was flying some reconnaissance when he came upon the carnage that was underway beneath him. The account goes that on seeing what was happening below, he decided in a split second that he could not pass by overhead. Instead he dove in and repeatedly landed his helicopter in order to do what he could to help Vietnamese civilians. “At one point he flew it down between fleeing villagers and advancing American soldiers and ordered his crew to shoot the Americans if they kept slaughtering innocent people.”
Afterwards Thompson went to his superiors and reported the massacre but the Army tried to cover it up. Thompson was shunned by fellow soldiers and when testifying about the massacre to congress, a member of that esteemed body threatened to have him court-martialed. But according to the report, Thompson never doubted his decision to try to stop the massacre or his decision to tell the truth about it. Even though it cost him, he was clear. There was just no other way for him.
The piece on Morning addition, concludes with a question that Harriet Chessman, one of the musicians participating in this opera, asks. She says “when you think about Thompson landing his helicopter over and over to protect people who could not protect themselves, it raises a moral question as valid now as it was in 1968. “Do we hover?” “Or do we dive down?”
“Do we hover? “Or do we dive down?”
There will come a time, I believe, when each of us will find ourselves having to answer that question. Do we hover? Or do we dive down? What will we do when that time comes?
Or perhaps it already has? For this question may very well be one that we do not answer just once but many times across our life time. Whatever its timing, I do believe it is a question that is ours to answer.
For if we are a covenant people who understand ourselves to be in sacred relationship with each other, with the world, and with God then what happens in the world and what happens with each other must also touch us and raise the question of what is to be our response.
The question came for Jesus. It came as he decided to turn his face towards Jerusalem knowing that the power of God’s love was needed to unmask the deal dealing ways of Empire. The question came for the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.. It came as he sat at his kitchen table after just having received a death threat against him and his family and yet in the face of that violence decided to continue his work. The question came for Arch Bishop Oscar Romero. It came as he was looking into the face of the bullet riddled body of his friend Father Rutillio Grande and saw in that face all of the poor who were suffering so unjustly in his beloved El Salvador. The question came for Thompson. It came as saw the horror and did not flee from it but instead dove down.
We marvel at these great ones who, when the question came, were able to make remarkable decisions of self-sacrifice and with a clear sense of purpose. We marvel at their courage, clarity of mind, and commitment. We marvel at them, and hold them up as examples, but if we are really honest isn’t there also a kind of twinge of resentment, (perhaps that is too strong of a word), but maybe a bit of resistance as well? Don’t we find ourselves wanting to put a bit of distance between them and us? Their example can leave us a bit worried about whether, when the question comes for us, we will have what it takes to do as they have done?
And so what we tend to do, I think, is to turn the Kings and Romeros of the world into some kind of larger than life superhero. We think of them being on a higher plain of existence than the rest of us.
We tend to do the same with Jesus as well don’t we? It is fine for him to “dive down.” To tell us that unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains, just a single grain. It is fine for him to know what it is to lose his life because he loved so much. He is after all the son of God. It makes sense that he would be able to do so, but what about the rest of us?
Doubting our own capacity, we may turn away, we look away, or perhaps we hover from afar. We may also worry that if we do enter in we very well may end up making a mess of things because we really don’t know the best way to handle things. The problem of the world are just so big and so complicated. Maybe the best we can do is to try to not add to the confusion. May it is best to just stay out of the way.
But that is not the way of Jesus, is it? Not the way at all. The way of Jesus is not one of avoidance nor is it one that only the superheros among us are to tred.
The way of Jesus is for all of us and it turns out that we already have all that that we need to Walk in this way.
This is what the passage from Jeremiah is pointing to. It is something to be written on our hearts, to take to heart, to know by heart. And that is that God loves us completely and unconditionally so much so that we are Gods’ own. Our lives do not exist outside of the life of God.
When we really can take this in, when we can really know this in our heart of hearts, we will find that when the question of whether we hover or whether we dive down comes we will already know what to do. We will already find the way because there will not be any other way for us than for us to live out the love that is already alive within us.
Realizing and living into this truth has a very profound impact on how we then are to live. For instead of fearing the world around us and wondering what we are supposed to do and if we have the capacity to really do anything, we come to know a greater freedom of being. Setting aside fear we come to know that what we are called to do is to simply live out of a place of love and when we do that –that will be enough to face any circumstance of life.
We are to let love lead us. We are to let our hearts be broken. We are to feel the pain in the world. We are to let ourselves be moved with compassion. We are to live not fearing the decision whether to hover or dive in, but trusting that love will make the way clear and will capacitate us to meet whatever challenge we find there.
There is so much in our world that is calling for our presence to show up with love. Whether that be bringing soup to a neighbor who is sick or marching side by side with our youth that are calling for an end to gun violence. Whether that is sharing a book with a school child in rural Nicaragua or lighting a candle in prayer for one we know is hurting and going through a hard time. All we need to do in each moment of our lives whether they be big ones or small is to ask, where is the Way of love here. Let Love lead me.
Next week we again will pass through the gates of Jerusalem with palms waving and Hossanah on our lips. Next week we will again enter into Holy Week. We will follow Love through the week and we see and be reminded that there is nothing not even a cross death that can separate us from the love of God. Love endures. It is the Way through our time and it is the way that in time will save and deliver us all.
So let us walk in the Way of love. Let us open our hearts ever more fully and come to realize that God’s love for us is already in the center of our being. And let us then set out diving down, walking in that way of love in every moment of our lives, not because think we have to or should, but simply because so full of Love ourselves, it is within us the only way.