Listen Again: A Sermon by Racquel Ray ‘20

April 20, 2020

I’m standing on the indigenous land of the Wampanoag people. When English settlers came to these shores in 1620 the Wampanoag chief Massasoit made a pact with the English leader Edward Winslow. Winslow was a maternal ancestor of mine and when Massasoit become ill in 1623, Winslow walked the one moccasin trail from Plymouth to this area to tend to his friend. There are accounts of Winslow nursing Massasoit back to health by scraping the chief’s tongue and feeding him herbs, jelly and water. This land is my back yard and the water you see behind me is a spring-fed fresh water pond, the woods here are conservation land and behind the woods is a cemetery – it is the Catholic cemetery in this town. It is filled with first and second generation Italian American citizens who lived in this neighborhood, ran the brick mill and build these homes.

Beloved, I share this history to remind us that the land has seen struggles before; storms, wars, famine; pandemics and depression. And generations before us have weathered those storms by raising up leaders, acknowledging the gifts in others, leaning on our friends and communities, and doing what we’re called to do – even if it seems outrageous.

I remember how overwhelmed I was my first semester of seminary. During the first week of orientation there was one day that all of us were asked to walk about a mile down to the center of campus to sit on the ground all day for a picnic and guest speakers. Only the ground was wet – and it was hot and it was uphill on the way home. I remember asking some classmates how many Advil were safe to take in one day. I didn’t think I could make it through seminary. Now, we look back on that day with nostalgia. You see when Ezekiel says “The hand of the Lord came upon me, and brought me out by the Spirit…” the prophet is letting us know that we can do amazing things when we trust in God.

One of my classmates asked  the question in our first semester, “How do we take what we’ve learned at seminary and integrate it back into small suburban conservative parishes” And that’s what we’re facing right now only the parishes are closed – They’re empty and as Traci Blackmon has said Jesus has left the buildings. So how are we going to minister to empty buildings??

As we’ve seen over the past few weeks many are building virtual communities. We’ve seen countless morning prayer services and liturgies on-line. And those are good. There’s comfort in the familiar. But there’s something so strange about one clergy person standing alone in a sanctuary speaking to an empty room. And I believe this crisis calls us to see church beyond its walls.

This current situation is exactly what theology teaches us - if we look for its deepest purpose -human flourishing. All of our work is  - at its root  - at the deepest meaning - in its praxis -  is human flourishing. And we could all use some of that right now.

I believe we can find some help from the prophets message in Ezeliel.

Ezekiel says, “The hand of the Lord came upon me, and he brought me out by the spirit.” There is a sense that the prophet and the Lord worked together in partnership to devise a plan to restore God’s people. I believe we can learn from this.

First, we need to listen to the call of God. Who among us is being led out by the spirit? And, who is willing to listen to that call and to go? Perhaps OUT of the church building and into the community? Perhaps into ministry in a new way? Perhaps a ministry that you didn’t expect?

Second, the Lord led the prophet all around the valley as they surveyed the work together before the work began. Who among us is willing to sit with the Lord and listen before we act. To survey the work, or the community, the town, the city, the nation before we begin the work. To sit with the Lord and Listen and as Professor Joyce Mercer advises “to listen and to LISTEN AGAIN”…. To confer with the Lord to clarify the call. Who among us will ask those “clarifying questions” of God? To be clear that the work is ministry that God is calling forth.

Third, “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them…you shall live.” Who among us will go do the outrageous? Who among us, after surveying the work, conferring with the Lord, clarifying the call will do the outrageous? Who among us will speak new life to these empty churches?

Who among us heal the sick and comfort the dying? Who will chaplain the families, first responders, front line care givers?

Who will support local food networks, farmers, and feed families and friends? Who will shelter the homeless and release the captives?

Who will preach the Gospel to those who don’t have Zoom, Facebook, or internet?

Who will set at liberty those who are oppressed by the debt of mortgages, rent, bills and student loans that can’t be paid right now?

Who is going to help others see what is happening in our communities? Who is going to turn 2020 around and make it an acceptable year?

And for all of us who push back – This is too much; too radical – we’re in good company. The whole house of Israel pushed back too. They said ‘our bones are dried up and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.’ Beloved, Don’t despair!

The Lord said, “I am going to open your graves, Oh, my people! I will bring you back.. I will put my spirit within you and you shall live!

If we take everything that we’ve learned everything that we’ve heard from scripture and turn it outward to our communities (which is extraordinarily hard to do when we’re all in isolation or quarantine) using our resources – and this is a resourceful community! We can be part of the solution. The Balm in Gilead.

When communities work together to heal in times of trial they form strong bonds. Massasoit and Winslow formed a bond. The family that built this house worked together from the Depression to just after World War II to build the homes surrounding this pond, which is named after them. Their family plot is in the cemetery behind me. They were resilient people who left a lasting impression on History. And so will we.

The Lord Promises through the prophet, “I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken and will act.

Beloved, May you find your own soil soon. May the you be filled with the Lord’s Spirit. May you be brave and may you do something outrageous and speak life to your communities. Amen