A Sermon Preached at Convent St. Helena
the Revd Canon Elizabeth Kaeton
July 1, 2001 (Proper 8 C Luke 9:51-62)
A long time ago, a very wise woman once said to me, The opposite of love is not hate. The opposite of love is apathy.
This mornings gospel tells us twice, Jesus set his face toward Jerusalem.
He has made up his mind. He is going to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover the sacrifice of the innocent even though he has heard the rumors. Even though he knows the risks. Even though he understands the sacrifice.
He has set his face toward Jerusalem.
Robert Raines, long-time director of Kirkridge and one of my favorite preachers once said, The Gospel is just so much wind until we raise our lives against it like a sail.
When have you seen the face of determination such as that of Jesus who has set his face toward Jerusalem? The kind of determination which is focused in its intensity? First things first, Jesus says to the man who would follow him but first must bury his father. Your business is life, not death. Life is urgent. To another he says, No procrastination. No backward looks. The Ream of God can not be put off. The time is now.
When have you seen that face of determination? Of focus and intensity? Of immediacy and purpose?
I saw it yesterday on the faces of two women Shane Margaret and Julia Ann as they were about to be clothed as novices at Convent St. John Baptist in Mendham, NJ a right serious and intense event. Those nuns dont fool around with this business of taking vows.
Ive seen it, as well, on the faces of women who are about to give birth. Ive seen it, and perhaps you have too, on the faces of women and men who have decided that the time has come and now is to pass over from this life to the next.
But, I remember it best in a situation we dont talk much about in church, but perhaps we should. I remember this look of intensity on the face of a woman I met at a newly opened shelter for battered women in Portland, Maine in 1980.
She was, at the time 45 years old, the socialite wife of a prominent businessman. Her lip was swollen almost twice its size. The left side of her face was scraped and bruised. Her eyes were so swollen and discolored, she looked like a hideous human version of a raccoon. She had been admitted to the shelter in the middle of the night from the local emergency room after husband of 25 years had beaten her unmercifully until, mercifully, she lost consciousness and he became frightened by what he might have done and called an ambulance.
The shelter had only been open one month, but already it was full and had a waiting list. I was doing my volunteer shift on a Saturday morning, and the kids were huddled around the TV, watching cartoons while their mothers tended to the household chores.
We were sitting at the kitchen table where it was relatively quiet. Her swollen lip made it difficult to sip her coffee, but she didnt seem distressed by it at all. She had this look in her eye. A certain expression on her face and a countenance in her body. A sense of determination. A resolve which was all at once intense and yet peaceful.
What made you do it? I asked. What made you decide to leave him? Now? After 25 years?
She took a sip of coffee and said, For 25 years I kept thinking it would get better. It only got worse. It started with a shove. Then, a slap. Then, a backhand. I kept thinking, If only . . . Ill do better. Be better. Dress better. Cook better. Then, hell be better. Hell stop. She took another sip of coffee and added, with a shrug, He didnt.
My life became like a slot machine. You know? I kept putting quarters in, pulling the lever, and hoping one day some day Id hit the jackpot. One day, hed change. One day, Id get the man of my dreams. But, that one fine day never came.
What happened? I asked, What happened last night that allowed you to make this decision?
Well, she smiled wryly as much as her swollen lip would allow, I woke up in the emergency room, and I finally got it I realized that I had run out of quarters. And, in that moment, I knew that nothing was ever going to change. Unless I did. And, I decided that if my life was going to change, I had to stop investing in him and start investing in myself. In my life. In my dreams. Because, if I dont invest in me, there wont be any of ME left.
And, she did. She left her husband and never looked back. She left the country club and the fine jewelry. She left the mansion and the social whirl. She divorced her husband and started a life of her own. She went back to school and became a lawyer, and, for many years, provided pro bono legal service to other women who had been battered by their husbands.
There was a poster that hung in the bathroom of that shelter which read, Whenever a woman makes a decision to end the abuse in her life, something in the cosmos shifts. There was no mistaking the fact that the cosmos had shifted in that womans life. I believe that the cosmos shifts whenever ANYONE who is abused or oppressed in anyway makes a decision for the abuse or the oppression to end.
I believe that happened for Rosa Parks on that bus in the Deep South which brought about the Civil Rights Movement. I believe that happened for those drag queens at the Stonewall Bar in The Village in NYC which brought on the Civil Rights Movement for the LGBT community. I believe it happened long ago at the founding of this country which we will celebrate on the Fourth of July. Something in the cosmos shifted.
I believe that happened for Jesus on the road to Jerusalem. Jesus set his face toward Jerusalem. Something in the cosmos shifted, and all the events which were waiting to happen began to unfold and take their place in history.
Whenever we set our faces toward justice whenever our hearts are on fire with the gospel promise of liberation there is no obstacle too great to stop us from achieving our goal. No cost too high. No risk too great. No backward glances. No procrastination. The time has come and now is. And, I think the time has come as well for the church to find its voice and begin to take action against domestic violence.
Because, the opposite of love is not hate. The opposite of love is apathy.
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