Delivered at Lakeshore Christian Church, Sunday 19 January 2014
Last spring, when word got out about the women who had escaped from a cruel kidnapping, about the decade that they had spent imprisoned in an ordinary little house in an ordinary little neighbourhood, I remembered the week I’d spent just around the corner, helping to rehab another ordinary little house for a group of interns to inhabit, chatting with the neighbour on the front porch, cleaning up the yard … it was hard, it was gut-wrenchingly hard to realize what had been happening just out of sight.
Later, I was travelling when the news came in of the bodies found in East Cleveland, close to the homes of too many of my own parishioners. Once again, I encountered that shock of realizing that I had – unwittingly; still, I had been the priest who passed by on the other side whilst the one set upon by bandits lay dying in the ditch.
I was convicted, and I was convinced that my call as a Christian was to repent, to turn around, go a different direction than the one that left me looking the other way when help was needed, looking the other way when hope was hard to find, looking the other way when the kingdom of God lay in ruins, waiting for the demolition crew to come and haul it away.
I needed to repent.
I prayed. I prayed in the streets, going around in circles, while all overhead the raptors wheeled and banked as well, seeing the whole city spread out beneath them, the tiniest creatures running between the buildings.
We do not get a God’s eye view of the city from where we stand. We have to do things a little differently, if we are to see our neighbours clearly, truly, to spread hope where there is fear, light where the shadows gather, if we are to rebuild the kingdom of God in our community, we have to do it up close and personal, at street level, one step at a time.
We have seen, too many times and in too many ways, what happens when we put up walls between ourselves and our neighbours, when we refuse to rub shoulders with the ones around us. But we have seen, too, what marching, what simply walking together can do; in the marches of the recent past that we remember today we saw how walking together can rouse the dispirited and inspire the faithful to new hope and new fellowship with those very neighbours that we once never saw, never noticed, never acknowledged as God’s light to us, made in the divine image and carrying the face of Christ among us.
Last fall, some of us started walking together in Euclid, praying for our neighbours and our neighbourhoods – and our steps are going somewhere. People are noticing that we are praying for them, for us, for all the people of our city, our community. Side by side on the sidewalk, we learn about one another, we tell our stories, we share our faith and our hope. Step by step we break down the walls between us and learn to rub shoulders with one another.
We won’t solve all of the world’s problems in a single journey; we never did; but walling ourselves away from our neighbours does no good at all. Instead, one step at a time, at street level, up close and personal, we have seen that we stand a chance of bringing light to our lives, one small corner of the kingdom of God, and who knows where we will go from there?
So here is my prayer:
Merciful God, I am sorry for the times that I have passed by on the other side when a child of yours has needed my help. I am sorry for the times that I have averted my eyes, built up walls of distrust, fear, distaste, when the face of Christ was looking back at me. I repent, and with your help I want to do better. I want to walk a different way. I want to see around me the light of your salvation, not the sin of the world that separates us but the better kingdom we can be, together. Walk with me; hem me in behind and before and lay your hand upon me, upon us, so that walking with you we cannot fail to bear your grace to your children, your lambs, your beloved ones. Through the one born a stranger in the manger, crucified as a criminal, and all the while your beloved and exalted son, our saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.