This is the sermon the Rev. Karen Calafat preached at the diocesan worship service for the Ninth Sunday after Pentecost, August 2, 2020.
August 2, 2020
Alexander had a bad day, as a matter of fact, he had a “Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.” From the moment he awakened to find last night’s bubble gum stuck in his hair, to lunch at school where his mom forgot to put a dessert in his lunch box, to the after school dental appointment where he was the only one of his siblings found to have a cavity… and on and on. Nothing went right for Alexander in the children’s book by Judith Viorst.
We can certainly commiserate with Alexander and say that we are having a “terrible, horrible, no good, very bad YEAR”. 2020 has been a year of chaos: Politics, Pandemic, and Protests. Protests about racial injustices and police brutality that have been going on since the death of George Floyd in the hands of police. The Pandemic continues, as does the political chaos and divisiveness. And come November 3rd, one political party is going to have a “terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day,” and right now we have no idea which side that will be.
So what does this have to do with today’s Gospel? The context reveals that Jesus was having a “terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.” Let’s dig into the story.
Jesus went home to be with his family, his people, his friends but arrived only to be accused of getting above his raising. How dare he arrive and act like a prophet when he was merely a carpenter’s son? Who did he think he was performing acts of healing and telling stories with such wisdom and authority? Jesus’ own people rejected him.
Then he finds out that his cousin John the Baptist has been murdered by Herod Antipas. You see, this story takes place where Roman rule is exercised through governors like Pontius Pilate and client kings like Herod Antipas who were responsible for maintaining social order or they would be dismissed from their positions. The world of Roman politics was far reaching and dehumanizing and brutal.
Jesus is devastated by the news of John’s horrific beheading in addition to being frustrated with the political structures and powers of the day. This is where today’s reading begins, “Now when Jesus heard this….” At a first glance, it may seem Jesus needed time alone, away from the fray, away from the crowds, away to grieve this tremendous loss of his cousin and friend. He got in a boat and paddled away for solace and respite. However, it is important to note that in scripture ‘changing location, moving away to a deserted place’ is a form of peaceful protest – protests against the political structures and dominating powers that brutalized some of its citizens. This is what got John the Baptist in trouble – going to a deserted place to avoid “the tentacles of Rome” and showing the people another way. (Jae Won Lee)
This ‘other way’ is what Jesus demonstrated when in protest he withdrew to another location. Instead of remaining in the boat consumed with his own ‘terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day,’ Jesus was moved by compassion to act on behalf of others. According the theologian Jae Won Lee, “Jesus offers the crowds an alternative world where compassion overturns status and stands in stark contrast to imperial brutality. While the Herodian imperial banquet results in the killing of (John the Baptist), Jesus attends to the daily life and needs of the crowds and feeds them. Jesus served the weak”. Jesus served those who hungered both for food and for a better society.
Jesus’ actions were a peaceful protest against the political powers to show another way – a better way – a way that looked more like God’s way: compassionate and inclusive of all human beings.
What might this mean for us today? While we are isolated in our own deserted places, doing our part to prevent the spread of COVID, we might focus on the difficulties in our world and just hunker down and have ‘terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days.’ We could just sit in our boats and stay disconnected from the chaos. Or, as followers of Jesus, we can do what Jesus did. We can look at the needs around us – for there is always someone in greater need than we are – and we can let our compassion move us to action.
Even the smallest acts of compassion can have far reaching results. Bill and Mark’s story demonstrates this. In Jr. High, Mark was walking home from school one day when he noticed that a boy ahead of him had tripped and dropped all of his books, along with two sweaters, a baseball bat, a glove and few other items.
Mark knelt and helped Bill pick up the scattered articles and helped him carry them. As they walked, he learned the boy’s name was Bill, that he loved video games, baseball, history, and that he was having lots of trouble with his other classes.
They arrived at Bill’s home and Mark was invited in for a Coke and to watch TV. They had a good afternoon together.
Years later when high school graduation was near, Bill reminded Mark of the day when they had first met. “Did you ever wonder why I was carrying so many things home that day?” asked Bill. “You see, I cleaned out my locker because I didn’t want to leave a mess for anyone else. I had stored away some of my mother’s sleeping pills, and I was going home to commit suicide. But after we spent time together talking and laughing, I realized that I did not want to die. I would have missed that time with you and so many other good times in my life. What I am trying to say, Mark, is when you picked up those books that day, you did a lot more. You saved my life.”
May your compassion move you to action.
Make that phone call to someone lonelier than you.
Write a note to family or friend to let them know you care.
Listen to someone… just listen… listen with compassion.
Offer a smile and kind word to everyone you encounter – friend and stranger alike.
Help someone get through their “terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.” That’s what Jesus did. That is what we are called to do, too.