I’m just starting to read the book The Splendid and the Vile: A Saga of Churchill, Family, and Defiance During the Blitz by Erik Larson. In an interview with Smithsonian Magazine1, Larson explains that he was inspired to write the book after relocating from Seattle to New York City where the magnitude of the events of September 11 hit him in a new way. He says,
…when I got to New York I realized this was an order-of-magnitude traumatic event. Not just because everything was live and right in front of your face; this was an attack on your home city….
Feeling that very keenly, I started thinking about the German air campaign against London and England. What was that like for them? It turned out to have been 57 consecutive nights of bombing, 57 consecutive 9/11s, if you will. How does anybody cope with that? ...
How does the average person endure that, let alone the head of the country, Winston Churchill…?
The events this past Wednesday at the United States Capitol were an attack on our home country. An attack that has left many of us unsettled and even traumatized. There are so many feelings in the air. Feelings of anger. Feelings of despair. Feelings of confusion. So many questions.
How could people breach the seat of the U.S. government and attempt to thwart an election result that our democratic structure has reaffirmed multiple times since election night? How could those people put the lives of our fairly elected public servants in so much danger? How could it take so long for reinforcements to arrive? How could our sitting President seemingly refuse to immediately condemn the violence against his own government?
From these questions you might move on to wondering – how can I change the minds of the people who support what happened? How can I “fix” their thinking? How can restore relationship with them?
And of course, some of you listening may have the opposite point of view. But I’m guessing whichever point of view you have, there’s a sense of how are we going to make it through this period in history and how am I going to help the “other” see the light.
First I want to address the thought, how am I going to help the “other” see the light. Not even Jesus could make everyone he encountered see the light. None of us has control over other people. For me, that comes back to the theological concept of free will. Each of us makes our own choices – and no one can make those choices for us, not even God. We cannot make others change their thoughts, opinions, or understandings.
What we do have control over, of course, is ourselves. Our actions, our way of being in the world. And there’s the possibility that our way of being will influence others and affect the world around us. There’s also the possibility that our way of being won’t affect the world around us. And you know what – it doesn’t matter which is the outcome. What matters is that we find our center and live lives that revolve around that center.
For Christians, that center should be our understanding of God and Jesus. This morning’s scripture features two healing stories which can sometimes be tricky for us in modernity – as there are so many things we would like to have healed in the world and so little evidence of that kind of healing. And so it can be easy, at least for me, to dismiss healing stories.
On his blog, Paul Bellan-Bloyer, has this to say about the healing stories we read this morning,
As is always the case, healing has a social dimension. Living in sin, profiting from oppression, they live in a world where each is ranked according to their wealth and influence, their ability to profit in a society which is sick with injustice. Should they hear and follow Jesus, they will also find healing in a community which treats them with the currency of mercy and kindness.2
I love Bellan-Bloyers characterization of the healing being offered – the healing being offered is a currency of mercy and kindness. It’s not about a specific belief or understanding per se – it’s about a way of being in the world.
David Ewart in his blog Holy Textures also notes that it’s helpful to think about what the healing stories from this morning teach us about Jesus rather than necessarily focusing on the “healing” itself. The healings are made possible because people trust that they are possible. They believe in the power of what Jesus embodies. And Ewart characterizes what Jesus embodies in this way,
Jesus demonstrated that the power of God's presence was embedded in mercy and not in religious rituals (Matthew 9:13). But one had to stop being hopeless and hapless, stop being isolated; and start connecting and trusting. Because "mercy" is a relationship.
And here’s the hardest part of what Ewart is saying – in order for mercy to affect change in the world, we have to find a way to be in merciful relationship with those whom we dislike, despise even.
Coming back to Erik Larson’s book – his assertion is that Churchill exercised leadership by having a clear sense of his convictions and casting vision. Larson says Churchill was undaunted by the task before him.
So, how are we going to make it through this period in history? I believe, like Churchill, we need clear convictions that guide our personal actions and clear vision for what is possible. As Christians, we need to find a way to ground ourselves in our understanding of God such that we are undaunted. And then we need to commit ourselves to living our convictions, informed by our understanding of God and Jesus, no matter what is before us.
This is not about making nice or ignoring the evils that are going on around us. Rather this is about connecting with the peace that can come as we let the stories of our faith and our understanding of God fill our soul.
We are God’s beloved creation. Jesus taught us the importance of relationships and love. We must lean into God with our fears and frustrations, let God receive them and in exchange let ourselves be infused with God’s character, such that no matter what evils we face we act with courage and mercy. May God be with us. Amen.