Sermon by Alex Stayer-Brewington, Associate Pastor for Youth & Families
I don’t think you’ll disagree when I say that we are living in dark times.
Fires rage. Thousand-year-floods occur every September.
Guns in schools. Guns in churches. Guns in nightclubs.
Nazis marching in the in the streets of American cities.
Things aren’t looking good.
All this is enough to inspire a young youth pastor
to stick his curly head in the sand.
Like an ostrich, I would rather shut out the ugliness than deal with it.
I’d rather find escape and distraction in the black hole of Netflix,
than subject myself to the horrific reality of the 24-hour news cycle.
So like many Christians before me and no doubt many after me,
I try to take comfort in a timeless set of stories.
I find escape in stories that carry the promise of a better tomorrow.
“Yes, that Jewish Nurse,” he continues. You may have seen this story circulating online last week. Mahler is a trauma nurse in the Pittsburgh ER that cared for Robert Bowers, the man who murdered 11 people in a synagogue Saturday before last. Mahler begins – and the whole letter is worth reading, I’ll link to it when this sermon is posted – by reflecting on the anti-Semitism he experienced as a child. Drawings of swastikas, notes left in his locker, then he draws it to today – citing the FBI and the Southern Poverty Law Center [who] note that Jews only account for two percent of the U.S. population, yet 60% of all religious hate crimes are committed against them.
He reflects on looking in Bowers’ eyes in that ER and not seeing evil, but someone who was out of his depth, confused…he describes the scene more though limited by HIPPA and medical confidentiality. He ends by writing:
I’m sure he had no idea I was Jewish. Why thank a Jewish nurse, when 15 minutes beforehand, you’d shoot me in the head with no remorse? I didn’t say a word to him about my religion. I chose not to say anything to him the entire time. I wanted him to feel compassion. I chose to show him empathy. I felt that the best way to honor his victims was for a Jew to prove him wrong. Besides, if he finds out I’m Jewish, does it really matter? The better question is, what does it mean to you?
Love. That’s why I did it. Love as an action is more powerful than words, and love in the face of evil gives others hope. It demonstrates humanity. It reaffirms why we’re all here. The meaning of life is to give meaning to life, and love is the ultimate force that connects all living beings. I could care less what Robert Bowers thinks, but you, the person reading this, love is the only message I wish instill in you. If my actions mean anything, love means everything.
I remember teaching our oldest to ride a bike. We have a flat stretch in front of our mailbox, but as you get past the house, towards a cul-de-sac, the road slants downhill, so once you get going you can pick up speed, which is a little scary when you’re just getting going. She was on the bike and, even after a few falls, was still a bit more confident than I was. As a parent your job is to help get things moving, and then to run alongside, early on with your hand on the back of the seat, then slowly letting go – sometimes the rider is to notice, sometimes they aren’t, until everyone is stable enough to ride off on their own. It begins with the necessary scrapes and tears, the persistence, then the euphoria…anyone who has helped a child do this knows the feeling…they finally get it, are riding off, and they realize they are doing, the adult back behind them raising their hands in victory! Yes! They did it! They did it!
Here in chapters 9 and 10 Jesus is trying to teach the disciples to ride on their own. They’d been following on dusty roads after they dropped their nets, seen healings, casting out of demons, a young girl restored to life. He walks on water, cures a blind man by the pool at Bethsaida – Jesus spits in his hands and rubs his eyes. “Can you see now?” he asks him with a smile.
Justin Skeesuck and Patrick Gray have been friends for longer than they can remember. Born in the same hospital two days apart, buddies in the neighborhood in the small eastern Oregon town of Ontario, high school sports, best man in each other’s weddings. They were in a car wreck in high school that was scary, but both seemed to recover well. But over time Justin’s legs began to show signs of weakness, limiting his mobility. They both finished college, got married, began careers and families in different states yet stayed in close touch.
Over time the weakness persisted, then a parade of doctors’ visits and tests and questions and answers and questions, and a diagnosis of a progressive neuromuscular disease similar to ALS that would soon rob him of the use of his arms and legs. Over time he weakened, by March 2012 he had braces on both legs – spent most of his time in a wheelchair but not yet all – couldn’t button his shirt. But he could press the buttons on the remote control, and was flipping channels and came across one of those Rick Steves shows on PBS, on northern Spain. He saw Pamplona and the running of the bulls, then the program shifted to the Camino de Santiago, the Way of Saint James, a nearly 800 km pilgrimage route beginning around the border with France and ending at the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela, where the Apostle James’ bones are said to be buried. This awakened this longing within him, something to do before he became more limited, as he feared life slipping away. But he also knew it was a ridiculous dream.