St. Mark’s Episcopal Church
April 7, 2019
The Reverend Rick Veit
So, there we were a week ago Friday night, in this very place, our sanctuary filled with 150 – 200 people, many black, Hispanic, white, Native American, gay, transgendered and straight, members and non-members, all types of folks. The ACLU was here, Wyoming Equality, politicians, the substitute teacher from McCormick Junior High School who was recently relieved of her duties. We even had some white supremacists in our midst, one sitting in the front row, center aisle, with a notepad and pen in hand, waiting to take copious notes as he prepared perhaps a counter message to the evening. He was a known rabble-rouser and threatening extremist though and was therefore asked to leave by the police. Oh yeah – We had police detail inside and outside the church. Even the Chief of Police, Brian Kozack, came and spoke. The man who was asked to leave then went home and posted on previous City Councilman, Richard Johnson’s Facebook Page, that the Rector of St. Mark’s Church is a homosexual. I guess he thinks that’s a funny or bad thing. So, there we were right in the thick of things, right in the thick of the Gospel.
You may have heard, but one or a few students at McCormick Junior High School hung some posters around the school recently that stated, “It’s great to be straight. It’s not OK to be gay. Black lives only matter because if it weren’t for them who would pick our cotton.” Then at the bottom of the flyer it said, “Join the kkk (the confederate kid’s club).” That is what inspired a response that began with Wyoming Equality and eventually led to St. Mark’s Episcopal Church hosting what we called “A Response of Love.”
The evening was not meant to be a debate between white supremacists and black or the LGBTQ community. It was meant to be a safe place for people who had been bullied and hurt by this recent act, and, as we discovered, consistently bullied and even threatened in past history. Apparently, the bullying has not stopped for certain people and certain groups of people, even here in Cheyenne.
This Response of Love, which follows our vision of being “A Growing Community of Love, Joy, and Hope,” began and ended in prayer. Then pastors, community leaders, adults and students began to tell their stories, each having just two minutes to speak. Story after story surfaced of people continuing to be hurt by subtle and not-so-subtle racism and sexism here in Cheyenne. The poster was apparently just the tip of the iceberg. Many tears were shed that night. It is not usually intentional, but rarely do you find churches, or any other establishment filled with such a mix of races. But there we were in a safe place, behind our large red doors at the nave entrance that vision to our community what is on the front of every bulletin that we print: “Whoever and wherever you are on your journey of faith, you are welcome. Our message is that God’s unconditional love is extended to you right now through Jesus Christ. Here in this church, God says, “You belong, this is my family, and you have a place in it.”
According to one source, the message of the red doors in churches dates back hundreds of years to the Middle Ages. They were painted red symbolizing the blood of Christ which protects people from evil. They are reminders that this place is holy ground, a place of refuge and safety. It is sanctuary. Tradition states that not even a soldier could come after an enemy who had gone through the red doors of a church, because anyone who would dare to desecrate such a holy place would be considered doomed.
St. Mark’s was and is a place of healing for those in need of help, in need of love, joy, and hope. We are a place of support for black people, gay people, police, teachers, lawyers, students. We are not a place of support for those who bully. However, we are here for those perpetrators. They are in need as well. Friday night was not, however, the time to support their needs and their needed healing.
“Thus, says the LORD, who makes a way in the sea…I am about to do a new thing. I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert, water in the wilderness, rivers in the desert.” God is like the friend who always cares and then literally takes care. You are being abused by a perpetrator, in pain and suffering? I will lead you out of that poor life situation. You are in a wilderness, alone and afraid? I will give you the right path to follow into fellowship and safety. You are thirsty, famished? I will give you drink. I will give you sustenance.
In reaching out to the people in need, God used the prophet Isaiah, who became proactive in his faith to help in God’s work. Isaiah wrote in the 8th and 7th centuries BC, when the people of Israel had been abused and ransacked by the Assyrian government. Isaiah reminded the people how God helped during the time of the abusive Egyptian empire hundreds of years earlier, how he led the Israelites through the sea into safety away from people who were lost in their wickedness. Isaiah assured them that God helped then, and that God will help now.
Nearly 200 years after Isaiah, in the 6th century BC, the Psalmist wrote when the people of Israel once again were being abused, this time by the Babylonian government. They had, in fact, been removed from their homes and sent into exile. God used another disciple, the writer of the Psalms, to help bring hope and love into the world. The people needed help…and God helped them, using ordinary people like you and me.
“When the LORD restored the fortunes of Zion, then were we like those who dream. Then was our mouth filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy. Then they said among the nations, “The LORD has done great things for them.” The LORD has done great things for us, and we are glad indeed… Those who sowed with tears will reap with songs of joy”
If you have ever lived a difficult life, a life of tears, God reminds us here that even Israel could be saved from terror after terror, pain after pain, challenge after challenge. Those tears will lead to songs of joy with our LORD. And if you have never helped someone in a difficult situation or are in need of direction in life yourself, God will use you to help others. There is no situation too great for God to assist. There are 60 different opportunities here at St. Mark’s alone for you to become active in the healing process for yourselves and for others.
Hundreds of years later, after Assyria, after the Babylonian exile, we learn the suffering did not end for the people of the world. We learn, however, that the healing power of God did not end either. During the time that God’s Messiah, Jesus, walked the earth, a man named Lazarus was sick, so sick that he eventually died. And Jesus healed him. He brought him back to life. It was not Lazarus’ time. God then inspired Martha and Mary to come honor the Savior, this friend who helped her brother. Another disciple, Judas, got confused and was lost in his ways. He particularly tried to stop Mary. But Jesus tells him to stop – “Leave her alone.” She is offering a gift, offering of herself. God is using Martha and Mary, just as he did Moses, Isaiah, and the writer of the Psalms, just as he does today with you and me.
Our God loves us and cares for us. And God uses us to love and care for others. That is our call, not to sit back and let God do all the work, but to do the work ourselves through God’s inspiration. And if we do not do it, then people in the world, i.e. you and I, will continue to suffer. When we follow Christ faithfully, as Paul taught us, we mirror Christ, we mirror our LORD. We help others. We give the water, literally. We lead people through the through the Red Sea. We help people through the deserts and wildernesses of life. And we help on random Friday nights in Cheyenne when people are in great suffering.
Some would say that we were getting too political. Some would say, “You know, it was just a few flyers, what’s the big deal?” That is like approaching a person who is going through a divorce and saying, “Get over it. It’s not so bad.” It is like visiting a person in the hospital who is suffering and saying, “Good news. Maybe you will go to heaven soon.” Or maybe it is like deciding not to visit the suffering people at all. Instead, as Christians, we are called to be active in our faith, to have compassion, empathy, to bring healing and love and hope. And we make it tangible.
In knowing and following Christ, who will you love today? Who needs your help, and how will you give it to them? Or maybe you are the one in need. We at St. Mark’s Church are here for you. It is all for Christ, as Paul taught us. And when it is all for Christ, we give it our all for all of God’s people, for everyone.