The Rev. Dr. Andrew R. Guffey
2 Lent, March 17, 2019
Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18 Psalm 27 Philippians 3:17-4:1 Luke 13:31-35
In the Name of God, Most Compassionate, Most Merciful. + AMEN.
“I Patrick, a sinner, very badly educated, in Ireland, declare myself to be a bishop. I am quite certain
that I have received from God that which I am. Consequently, I live among barbarian tribes as an exile and
refugee for the love of God; God himself is the witness that this is true. It is not that I was anxious to utter
from my mouth anything in so harsh and unpleasant a manner. But I am compelled by zeal for God, and the
truth of Christ has aroused me out of affection for my neighbors and children for whom I have given up
country and kinsfolk and my own life even to death. If I am worthy, I exist to teach tribes for my God, even
though I am despised in some quarters.”
These words are from one of the two writings of St. Patrick that have come down to us amidst the
many legends, the letter to the soldiers of Coroticus. Coroticus has sent soldiers to maraud in Ireland, and
they massacred a community of fellow-Christians whom Patrick has just baptized. To get a good sense of
how pained he was, let me read just a bit more from Patrick.
“I have written and set down with my own hand these words to be solemnly given, carried, and sent
to the soldiers of Coroticus. I do not say, to my fellow citizens, nor to the citizens of the Christian Romans,
but to the fellow citizens of devils, because of their wicked behavior. They live in death in an atmosphere of
enmity, associates of…outlaws. Bloodthirsty, steeped in blood, the blood of innocent Christians, whom I
have begotten in large numbers for God and have confirmed in Christ!
“The day after the newly-baptized, still bearing the chrism, still in their white dress—it was giving out
its scent on their foreheads while they were being ruthlessly massacred and slaughtered by the men who have
been mentioned—the day after, I sent a letter by a holy presbyter, asking that they would kindly spare us
something from the booty or from the prisoners whom they had taken. They laughed at them.
“That is why I do not know what I am to grieve for more bitterly, whether those whom they
captured, those who were killed, or those whom the devil has deeply ensnared. …”
This letter, as I say, was written in the wake of a massacre of a community of Christians, still in their
baptismal joy. And the words ring eerily after the events of Friday in New Zealand, where a man, ensnared by
the devil of white supremacy, encouraged by the emboldened white supremacist voices of this very country,
entered two mosques as faithful Muslims were in the midst of their prayers to God, Most Compassionate,
Most Merciful, and massacred fifty.
Patrick was writing in his grief, over the murdered and captured children of God. And if we are not
too hardened to it yet, we must come together this morning in our grief over God’s murdered children, who
were lifting their voices to God, Most-Compassionate, Most-Merciful. The hatred of the world is bewildering,
and disorienting. It is born of fear—fear of Muslims, fear of strangers, fear that the world we thought we
grew up in is changing—and it leaves us with little more than perplexed grief. What can we do with such a
frightening and hateful world?
The first thing we need to do is refuse to give way to fear. This is the Psalm for today: The Lord is
my Light and my Salvation, whom shall I fear? “Contemporary America,” says Marilynne Robinson, “is full
of fear.” And “Fear,” she adds, “is not a Christian habit of mind.”1 She’s right. We will all feel fear, because
there really are things we should be afraid of, but we need to make a choice: to live our lives as the fearful or
the faithful. In today’s Gospel, the Pharisees are driven by fear: “Jesus, you have to get out of here, Herod
wants to kill you.” Don’t we all feel that? Sometimes it seems to me like everyone wants everyone else dead,
and so we are tempted to fortify our walls and shut our doors. But if we get stuck in the valley of the shadow
of death, we may come to dwell in the fear of evil. And that is a temptation that we must resist. Because, for
all you Star Wars fans out there, Yoda was essentially right: Living in fear leads to the Dark Side. Fear leads to
anger. Anger leads to hate. And hate—as we have seen all too clearly and too often—leads to suffering.
When we choose to dwell in the valley of the shadow rather than pass through, we may forget God is with us,
God’s rod and staff comforting us, because God is Most Compassionate, Most Merciful. We are tempted to
react to each other and the course of our lives in fear rather than respond in faith. We are tempted to reach
for our own death-dealing weapons so that we feel more secure; our fight or flight adrenaline pulses. But that
is fear, and it is not a Christian habit of mind. Jesus, on the other hand, responds with faith: “Go and tell that
fox for me, that I will not be moved from my mission by fear. I will not cease from healing and casting out
the demons and fighting injustice just because it is dangerous.” Let us have the courage to follow him say,
“Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord,” who counts the cost, and trusts in God.
Once we have shed our attachment to fear, we can learn to see our neighbors—our Muslim
neighbors and our black neighbors, our under-resourced and poor neighbors—as neighbors, and not
enemies. John Donne’s famous devotion on the tolling bell had it right: “No man is an island, entire of itself;
every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. … [A]ny man’s death diminishes me, because I am
involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.” We are all
bound up with each other. Christians and Muslims, black men and women with white men and women, queer
with straight, transgender with cisgender. But in order to approach one another as neighbors, and not
enemies, we must learn to be vulnerable, as poor Patrick, a sinner, was vulnerable. We must learn to trust that
we need not have our defenses up always, because fences do NOT in fact make good neighbors. When we
throw up our fences, I would ask to know, as Frost did, what I was walling in and walling out. My walls are as
like to wall in my own vice, and wall out the face of Christ in my neighbor.
And so, how should we stave off fear and learn to embrace our neighbors? Beloved, we must pray.
Pray that fear might stay far from us, pray that we might draw closer to our neighbors and choose trust
instead of suspicion. We need to pray that we might be willing to be children of peace, and have the courage
to follow Jesus to the cross. Notice that Paul does not complain about enemies of Christ, but about enemies
of the cross of Christ. There are those who suppose Christianity invites us to an easy life; in fact, it calls us to a
very demanding one. One in which we love our enemies, do good to them, and pray for them. Patrick
changed the face of Ireland, not by military conquest, but by being willing to return to the land of his
captivity where he had been enslaved and love those he found there with the very love and compassion of
Last night I was at a local concert given by the group Sounding Light. It was a new piece called, Pietà.
As the title might tell you, it traces the pain Blessed Mary must bear when she witnesses her son on the cross.
Before the program began, the conductor came out and gave a few remarks. This piece is especially hard, he
said. It may break your hearts, but when our hearts are broken, our souls might be filled. We are not able to
keep our loved ones from grief and pain, but we can fill up the cracks of grief with compassion, sitting with
those who have lost loved ones, praying with them, or helping a stranger who didn’t even know to ask for
Compassion. That is our greatest weapon against the hatred of the world. Laws are good, regulations
are good, turning our face against evil and denouncing Islamophobia and white supremacy is good. But our
greatest strength, like Christ’s, is in the cross. In choosing to mourn with those who mourn, to feel the pain
of our Muslim neighbors and weep with them.
So pray, beloved, pray that we may be free of the temptation to fear and to react in fear, free from
the temptation to see others as enemies rather than neighbors, free from the walls that keep us from the
compassion of the Crucified. Pray that we might long for peace, justice, and the healing of hatred in the way
of Jesus. Let us pray to find ourselves willing to be gathered under the merciful wings of our compassionate
God, and to be able to say, “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.”
1 Marilynne Robinson, The Givenness of Things (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux).