Posted by: Renee | January 30, 2012

Rachel is weeping

Sermon by Justin White

Before I start, I need to make the statement that I’ve debated on whether doing this sermon or not, and every time I would start to write something else, I couldn’t find anything to say. I went into Keith’s office and told him my conundrum the other day, and he said, “Baby, what God has put on your heart, you must say.” So, I will try to get through this. The scripture I’ve chosen today has been on my mind for the past three weeks, and it is a tough scripture to wrestle with. The content of the sermon will be tough to wrestle with as we have been affected by death in so many ways in the past year. Today’s sermon deals with bullying and how it is an epidemic in our country that is killing many of our young people. But before we read the scripture, can we pray?

Oh God, in this time as we talk about difficult things, show up and illumine us all with your Grace, Peace, and Love. Amen.

Matthew 2:13-18

 after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” 14Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, 15and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, “Out of Egypt I have called my son.”

16When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. 17Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah: 18“A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.”

Let us pray:
God, source of all light, by your Word you give light to the soul.
Pour out on us the spirit of wisdom and understanding, that our hearts and minds may be opened to know your truth and your way. So may the words of my mouth, and the meditations of all of our hearts, be good and pleasing your sight, oh Lord, or Creator, our Redeemer, and our Sustainer. Amen.

Christmas is officially over, and yet, if we listen close enough, we can still hear the echoes of Christmas Carols. Christmas has passed, but if we pay attention just a little bit, and close our eyes, we can still find ourselves at that Christmas party with the wonderful fare with our wonderful friends. Christmas may be over, but it is still in our recent memory.

That is how it is in our gospel lesson today. Jesus has been born, the shepherds have come to see him, the Angel of the Lord has shown a great light over the place where he was born. The Magi had come and gone. That first Christmas in Bethlehem was past them, but yet, I’m sure they still remembered all the events of it. Mary, Joseph, and Jesus: all together as a happy family. But then there is JOLT and the Angel of God tells Joseph some news. This jolt is one that causes Joseph and Mary to take Jesus to Egypt, far away from their homeland, rendering them refugees and immigrants in a foreign land. But why do they have to leave? Herod was looking for Jesus, and not for the same reasons that others had been looking for Jesus. Herod was threatened by this new King that he had heard of, so he wanted this innocent baby killed. And when Herod wanted something done, it usually was done.

Mary and Joseph took Jesus and they did flee to Egypt; and they got out in just enough time. Herod, in looking for Jesus, decided that the only way to be sure that Jesus would be done away with for good was to kill all children under the age of 2. So he sent out all of his troops, to all the areas surrounding Jerusalem, and had every child around the age of 2 years old and under, killed. The gospel writer tells us that this fulfilled a prophecy in Jeremiah, “A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.”

You may be thinking, “Okay Justin. This is one of those depressing verses that we don’t need to talk about.” But it is one of those scriptures that I can’t get off of mind. Jesus did escape, but so many children died because of a power hungry king. It is called the slaughtering of the innocents and it is in our lectionary every year, right after Christmas. It is a reminder to us that Christmas did happen, and that Christ came into the world, but evil, suffering, and the every day stuff that happens to us, still happens.

The reason this verse has been on my mind is because I believe Rachel is still weeping for her children. Not just those that were killed by Herod so many years ago, but also our own children who suffer and our own children who die. This week I was sent three emails from friends that told the stories of children who had become the victims of bullying. These kids were bullied so much that they decided their lives were not worth living. And as I sat there and read these stories I was reminded of this story in Matthew about Rachel weeping. And I heard her weep. I joined her in her weeping. I started crying. And then the tears that were flowing down my face because I was sad, turned into angry tears because I got Mad! I got mad that children and youth have to grow up in a world where they are teased because they are different, and where they are bullied because they are misunderstood by the status quo, or those in power, or just misunderstood generally. And what’s more, there are hardly any protections for such bullying.

Our children and our youth are bullied because of many reasons, but in doing a little reading this week, I found out that kids were bullied mostly because

1. They were gay.

2. They were overweight.

3. They were Muslim.

In one of the articles I read, it talked about a 14 year old gay kid, Phillip Parker, who just last week endured bullying to such an extent that he decided to kill himself. In reading this article, there were links after links of at least 7 kids who had killed themselves this past year because of being gay and because of the bullying they had experienced. This hits close home to me because I have a family member and a close friend who both attempted suicide because they were told they were less than for being gay. Thank God that neither on of them succeeded in killing themselves. And as I thought about them and their struggles and stories, I got upset again. Would Jesus bully these kids???

What is tragic is that many of the kids who have attempted suicide have felt bullied in their churches, and by “Christians” who were telling them that they were abominations and that God hated them. That is not what Christians should be doing when we encounter gay youth. We should be about the love of Christ.

But kids aren’t just bullied for being gay. There is an overwhelming number of children and youth who are being bullied because they are Muslim, or other religions that fall outside of Christianity. I have a Jewish friend who was called a “Jesus Killer” every year during Easter when she was growing up in Mississippi. I have a Muslim friend from Duke, who was called a rag head, and pushed around and bullied by Christians in his neighborhood in Virginia. It is despicable and it is disgusting, and many of these kids and youth don’t think that life is worth living because it seems that their peers hate them because they are different.

Bullying happens to so many people and so many of our children. We are even bullied by those things in life we can’t help. Bullied by life. Bullied by being victims and survivors of abuse. Bullied by being affected by chemical abuse and by being in families with addiction problems. Maybe every one of us in here can identify with some aspect of being bullied.

Bullying is an epidemic, and Rachel is weeping for her children, because our children are dying. We can no longer sit to the side and be silent and let the bullying and hate continue. We have to take a stand, as Christians, as people of faith, and say, “Enough is Enough.” Jesus Christ did not come into this world so that we could hate, and bully. Jesus Christ did not come into this world so we could sit silently while our children are being hated on because of who they love, or because they don’t fit the gender that we have put onto them, or because they may not understand God the same way we do, or because they have dark skin, or are from a different culture, or because they may be overweight or not popular.  Jesus did not come into this world, did not die on a cross, did not rise again from the dead so that innocent and beautiful children, who are made in GOD’s image could be told that they are ugly, fat, Jesus killers, rag heads, fags. NO! Jesus came into this world to teach us about LOVE! To teach us about compassion, and what it means to respect each other for who we all are. Jesus Came into this world to establish Justice, Mercy, Love, and Peace, not Hate, War, and bullying.

I would be completely remiss if I did not mention Earl Hill now. Let’s talk about an example of who Jesus is: someone who lived his life not as a bully, but as a follower of the way of Christ. The first time I heard Earl speak was in this same pulpit when he was lay minister. He talked about God’s loving arms, and about Jesus, and at the end he said, “And I believe that heaven is a big place. When we get to heaven we will see all sorts of people there. Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists.” Earl got it. Earl got the love that God shows to us. Earl got the love of God. Yesterday at his funeral, it was evident that Earl got the love of God. This place was packed, and not with just the usual suspects, but with a myriad of people. His Turkish friends, who are devout Muslims, said a prayer over his casket. They called him brother and friend. I don’t know about you, but for me, that was a powerful moment of how WIDE and BIG God is. That was a testament to how VAST and DEEP God’s LOVE is. And that is the love that we should all live by. The love of Christ. The love of God. This is the type of love that speaks to hate and says STOP IT! This is the type of love that looks War dead in the face and says, we need peace. This is the type of love that stares down those who bully and says, stop the bullying. Stop the Hate. Stop! Stop it all.

So I challenge you. I Challenge myself; to stand up to bullying. If you see it, speak against it. It doesn’t just happen to our children, in their schools, it happens in our own places of work, in our own neighborhoods. Teach your kids that bullying is wrong!

Let us live into the reality that God is love, and that God’s love is what we are to be about. Let us live into the reality that we cannot afford to lose anymore of our beautiful children to the hate of this world. Live into the reality that God’s love and God’s Grace is for more complicated than we can ever begin to understand. Share that love and that grace, even if it sounds absurd. And if we live in Love, and live in the light of Christ, Rachel can finally quit weeping, and start praising the God of love and the God of light and we can join her with our song of Love.



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