Sermon preached at Mary Magdalene Apostle Catholic Community, San Diego, CA on October 23, 2016
Psalm: 34:2-4, 17-18, 19+23
2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18
“I have fought the good fight. I have finished the race. I have kept the faith.”
We hear these words from the second letter to Timothy quite often. They’ve become a popular sound byte over the years. And as a former athlete, the metaphor is one that has resonated with me over the years, particularly as I’m still recovering from breaking my leg playing soccer. But these words are more than just comfort after a difficult game or a long race – they serve as both a testimony and a challenge. They echo with a resolute calm as he reflects on his life and faces death.
There is a quiet strength in these familiar words, a resolute faith and certainty in God’s love and justice. And they encourage us to do the same. Over the past two days, I’ve had the opportunity to talk to members of this community and in those conversations I’ve come to see that same commitment to God’s justice and unconditional love. As I look around and reflect on the conversations I’ve had so far and on the stories I’ve heard, I see a community that has fought the good fight and has kept the faith; a community that yearns for and works towards God’s justice. But that is not enough. Because, my friends, our race is not yet over. Our fight continues.
We live in a world where we are faced with injustice at every turn. From systemic racism and sexism that pervades society to the refugee crisis to the various wars that wreak havoc upon our world. We struggle to reconcile the God who is loving and just with the horrors we see in this world. The words from the wisdom of Sirach remind us that we have an ally in God. “God is just and knows no favorites.” (Sirach 35:15) Yet we live in a world rife with economic inequality, where politician ban the arrival of refugees to their states out of fear. We see corruption go unchecked and occasionally even be rewarded and we’re left wondering – where is God’s justice in this?
Where is the God who affirms what is good and right when young black men are being murdered, when LGBTQ youth are more likely to be bullied at school and commit suicide because they cannot envision a world where it gets better? Despite the evil and injustice in the world, I have confidence that God is with us, that the Holy One hears our prayers, but also that we have been called – not just to sit back and be satisfied with the good we have done, but to constantly and ceaselessly work for God’s justice. To create a community where all of God’s children can flourish?
How do we create such a community? In the short time I’ve come to know just a little about Mary Magdalene’s and the people that make up the community here, I’ve come to understand that this is a community that, since its inception, has been founded with a thirst for justice, a hunger to what is right, and to work towards creating the beloved community we so often hear evoke. As Christians, we are called to form beloved communities wherever we are. Communities that go the extra step – to lift up the dispossessed, the marginalized, those who are left outside our doors, outside the margins. We are called to work towards justice, to offer hospitality, to the stranger, to love unconditionally and practice radical welcome – reaching out to those who have faced oppression and discrimination.
In the words of the poet Edwina Gateley: [adapted]
“We are called to say yes
That the kin-dom might break through
To renew and to transform
Our dark and groping world.
We are called to say yes
That black may sing with white
And pledge peace and healing
For the hatred of the past.
We are called to say yes
So that nations might gather
And dance one great movement
For the joy of humankind.
We are called to say yes
To a God who still holds fast
To the vision of a kin-dom
For a trembling world of pain.
We are called to say yes,
To this God who reaches out
And asks us to share
In a crazy dream of love.”
This crazy dream of love is the transformative justice that we are called to participate in. To not be satisfied with the way things are, with the injustice in the world, with the status quo. Let us not become like the Pharisees in Luke’s account, resting on our laurels and praising our actions and good works. It is not for us to make that call. We are called to seek truth and justice boldly, to be disturbed and discomforted by the injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people; to tirelessly work for justice, freedom, and peace. To stand in solidarity with those who suffer and struggle, to work to change oppressive structures and systems that perpetuate the sins of sexism and racism, of homophobia and transphobia.
The race we hear about in the second reading is not a sprint, it is a marathon relay that we as Christians have been called to run and to work at generation to generation. As Martin Luther King, Jr., Thomas Parker, and Barack Obama have said – the arc of history is long but it bends towards justice. However, it will not get there without our help. We must keep working to transform our world, to create communities where the suffering and persecuted are not only welcomed, but supported and encouraged. We are called to transform the world we live in – but to do so humbly, always seeking God’s justice in all that we do and everywhere we are.
We have kept the faith; we have fought the good fight. But we must keep on because our race is far from done. Amen.