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“Until We Lose Our Voices”
The Twenty-Third Sunday after Pentecost
Then Job answered the Lord, saying, “I have spoken about what I do not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I do not know.”
Every time the lectionary places those words in our path, they remind us that, when it comes to our efforts to explain God, there will always be a place where words run out; a place at which, with Job, we will, eventually, lose our voices; falling silent because, like Job, we realize that, “We have talked about things we do not know; things too wonderful for us to understand,” a moment when, in the words of Barbara Brown Taylor, “We stop trying to say what cannot be said.”
I wrote some about all that earlier this week, but, thought more about it, in a different light, earlier this morning, on a long walk in the pre-dawn darkness, my heart as heavy as yours over yesterday’s mass shooting at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh; the worst known single act of violence ever committed against Jews on American soil.
Concerning the mystery of why God does not step in and stop such things, we must, at some point, with Job, lose our voices, and, like Job, fall silent. Whether it’s the tragic assault on the Sikh temple in Oak Park, Wisconsin, the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, the country music concert in Las Vegas, or the A.M.E. Church in Charleston, one sometimes wonders, “Could not God have intervened? Could not the God who filled the sky with stars at least have caused the gun to jam? Is it that God could, but wouldn’t? Or that God would, but couldn’t?” To speak of such things is, eventually, with Job, to lose our voice, and fall silent in the face of questions and mysteries we will never be able to answer or resolve.
Silent, for a moment, but not for long. As surely as we must, eventually, lose our voice for the mystery which is beyond us, we must, eventually, find our voice for the truth which is within us; speaking, with courage, kindness and clarity, what we know to be true.
Concerning yesterday’s massacre at Tree of Life Synagogue, we know, from all available reporting, that the person who committed the crimes was motivated by anti-Semitism. Anti-Semitism, which means hatred of Jewish persons, is a form of xenophobia, which means fear of the other, for no reason except their “otherness.” That dreadful sin of anti-Semitism has a long, tragic history, some of which, it must be said, has, at times, been embraced by the church.
In fact, it is ironic that today is, for much of the church throughout the world, Reformation Sunday, when we remember the courage and conviction of Martin Luther, nailing his 95 Theses to the church door in Wittenberg, Germany on October 31, 1517. Luther; a great voice for the reformation of the church, but, also, a tragic voice for the sin of anti-Semitism; preaching a sermon, in 1543, so venomous in its condemnation of Jews that it called for the burning of synagogues as punishment for the Jews; a way of thinking in which Luther was not alone, but which was, sadly, shared by a wide stripe of the church, a Christian anti-Semitism based, partly, on those verses in the gospel of John which speak so harshly of “the Jews” (despite the fact that Jesus, himself, was a Jew) and, partly, on the aforementioned, ever present, sin of xenophobia. Even the ghettos into which Hitler forced Jews were not an invention of twentieth-century Europe, but of the sixteenth-century church. (And, some say, even earlier.)
Having owned, with repentance, that long history of anti-Semitism, it is our responsibility to speak, with as much kindness, courage and clarity as the Spirit has placed within us, concerning our sorrow for, and solidarity with, those who are suffering so deeply today, in the Jewish community in Pittsburgh, in Jackson, across the country, and around the world. And, to live and speak as people whose God is love, whose creed is kindness, and whose instinctive, default position in each situation and circumstance is empathy for whoever is most in need of a voice and a friend. (Not unlike that time, over twenty years ago, when one of our Northminster kids, now an adult, but, then a high school student, spoke out against his teacher’s statement, to the class, that an author the class was reading would be forever in hell, solely because the author was “a Jew.”)
All of which is to say that those of us who are followers of Jesus need to renew our deepest commitments to live and speak as those whose God is love, whose creed is kindness, and whose default position is empathy for whoever is most in need of help and hope; speaking the truth with as much courage, kindness and clarity as the Spirit of God has given us; speaking up for the same people Jesus would speak up for, by speaking out against the same things Jesus would speak out against, until we lose our voices.