In the story of Jesus from today’s gospel and in the story of Jonathan Daniels, we see the power of displacement to open our eyes to the wonder of God’s love and grace.
In most every week, the church’s calendar has feast days honoring the holy women and men we call saints. In this past week, on Friday, we celebrated the feast of Jonathan Daniels, whose story seems especially relevant today.
You may remember his story; it was national news when it happened and I’m sure I’ve mentioned him before. Daniels was a young Episcopal seminarian when he was murdered in August of 1965 while working for civil rights in Alabama. After spending six days in jail for boycotting discriminatory businesses along with 29 others. upon their release, Daniels, a young catholic priest and two African American college students went to a small general store to get a soda while they waited for a ride. At the store, a man blocked the door aiming a shotgun at one of the students, a woman named Ruby Sales and pulled the trigger. Daniels pushed Sales out of the way and died instantly. As the group ran away, the man fired again, grievously wounding the catholic priest. The murderer was a highway engineer and part time sheriff’s deputy. He was acquitted by an all-white jury and never faced justice or expressed regret.
Daniel’s himself didn’t get much of a life, murdered at only 25, but he was by all accounts brilliant and seemed destined for a life of success. He grew up in New Hampshire, the son of a doctor, he attended the Virginia Military Institute where he was the valedictorian of the class of ’61, and he earned a scholarship to Harvard for graduate school, where he was when he felt called to ministry and enrolled at the Episcopal Theological School in Cambridge, MA`. Like lots of other young idealistic people he went south one summer to participate in the struggle of civil rights.
He was a privileged young white man who thought he had something to offer. Intending to be in Alabama for a single weekend, Daniels opted instead to stay. Something there was calling to him and while there he had something of a conversion experience. He began to see himself less as the deliver but to appreciate his connection to all the others who have been redeemed by Christ.
He said; “I began to know in my Bones and sinews that I had been truly baptized into the Lord’s death and Resurrection, that in the only sense that really matters I am already dead, and my life is hid with Christ in God. I began to lose self-righteousness when I discovered the extent to which my behavior was motivated by worldly desires and by the self-seeking messianism of Yankee deliverance! The point is simply, of course, that one’s motives are usually mixed, and one had better know it.
As Judy and I said the daily offices day by day, we became More and more aware of the living reality of the invisible “communion of saints”–of the beloved community in Cambridge who were saying the offices too, of the ones gathered around a near-distant throne in heaven–who blend with theirs our faltering songs of prayer and praise. With them, with black men and white men, with all of life, in Him Whose” Name is above all the names that the races and nations shout, whose Name is Itself the Song Which fulfils and “ends” all songs, we are indelibly, unspeakably One.
In today’s gospel, we see something similar. Jesus has gone far from home, to the region of Tyre and Sidon – today’s Lebanon. He is surrounded by people who do not share his religion, his culture, or his history. But while he’s there a woman confronts him and asks his blessing; which he is reluctant to give. He understands his mission, at this point, to be only for the Jews. And yet, this woman says something that opens Jesus’ eyes to the wideness of the Father’s vision.
At several points in the Gospel, Jesus encounters these unnamed women who seem to mark turning points in Jesus’ ministry. I like to believe that these women are manifestations of the Holy Spirit, who is the conduit through which the Father and the Son are connected.
In the story of Jesus from today’s gospel and in the story of Jonathan Daniels, we see the power of displacement to open our eyes to the wonder of God’s love and grace. Oftentimes, it seems, we must be transported out of our usual surroundings in order to appreciate God’s handiwork.
It is for this reason that people have embarked on pilgrimages for thousands of years. We yearn to go in search of the Holy, but as we see, the truest pilgrimage allows us also to discover our selves, our truest selves perhaps, the selves we were created to be.
Over the months of this pandemic, most of us haven’t gone anywhere very far, we have sought instead to stay close to home in order that our neighbors (and ourselves) might stay healthy and safe.
But I’ve been thinking lately, that though I haven’t gone anywhere really; I have keenly felt a sense of displacement. I have stayed still while the scenery around me has shifted and changed so that I am no longer “at home,” at least the one I knew in February but have in fact, arrived somewhere else.
So I have begun to wonder if I might reframe this experience as a kind of pilgrimage and have begun to ask what have I seen of God’s work in this journey?
But since I am only at the beginning of this realization, I am not yet sure of what I am seeing. It is clear though, that my understanding of “community” is being expanded; my sense of “worship” too. Some evils have come into sharper relief as well and the urgency of my role in facing and addressing them.
Just like Jonathan Daniels, and though I hesitate to say it, like Jesus; I believe the Holy spirit is poking at me – though I haven’t really been wanting to be poked so much as to stay under the covers – and my vision is widening to take in ever, if only slightly, more of God’s vision for us. I pray that my vision gets ever clearer and more far sighted and I pray that you too might see yourselves on this pilgrimage to God’s beloved community in God’s new kingdom.
Thanks be to God