June 25, 2017 – 3rd Sunday After Pentecost
Rev. Regina G. Knox
I owe this sermon almost entirely to Greg Boyle’s commencement address to the 2017 graduating class from Notre Dame (many of the words that follow are his own and I have done by best to be as accurate as I can in the quoting). The video of the address (link at the bottom of this sermon) was sent to me from a friend and I encourage you to watch it. He is both funny and will break your heart. You will not be disappointed. I wish we could be watching it together this morning for it speaks more to Jesus’ words in the gospel than I could ever hope to.
Do you know of him? Boyle is a Jesuit priest who founded Homeboy Industries in LA and wrote the book Tattoos on the Heart. He speaks directly to my heart and I hope what he has to say will speak to yours. I believe they are words Jesus would like us to hear.
“In any given month up to 1000 former gang members and felons walk through their doors of Homeboy Industries looking for work. Somewhere around 800 tattoos are removed.” “It is the largest gang intervention, rehabilitation, and re-entry program in the world” (taken
directly from their website). Begun in 1988 this ministry provides hope, not just in words, but hope with legs, hope in action..
To these new graduates of Notre Dame, about to start the next chapter in their young lives, Boyle told a story, a story of one man’s presentation to a group of 600 social workers.
When a boy, at the age of 9 his mother dropped him off at an orphanage saying she had found him. It took 90 days for his grandmother to find where he was.
In the years that he lived with his mother she beat him relentlessly. He developed the habit of wearing three t shirts. One to cover the blood and the wounds, the second to cover the blood that seeped through, and the third as the clean t shirt visible to the outside world. He wore three t shirts long after it wasn’t necessary.
So what followed? The now all too familiar story of heroin, homelessness, prison. But a story that became a good story.
This young man had hid his wounds in shame. Now he “welcomes them, considers the wounds his friends”. “How,” he said to the social workers, “can I heal the wounded if I do not welcome my own wounds?”
Fr Boyle noted that this young man was a “gentle and kind soul, and it is that kind of soul — a soul that ventilates tenderness — Boyle’s words — that is the only kind that change the world.”
Boyle invited those new graduates into a way of compassion and says that “the measure of our compassion is not in our service to the wounded but in our willingness to see ourselves in kinship with them.” And from “that place of compassion to create a community of kinship such that God might actually recognize it.” “And to not care if people say you are wasting your time.” Mother Teresa says Do it anyway.
That kind of kinship, the kind of kinship Jesus calls into, requires that we acknowledge our own brokenness, our mutual dependence.
That young man whose story was told has something to teach us all about our own woundedness. We must not hide our wounds, least of all from ourselves. In hiding we layer on the layers of T shirts just like this young man.
The more we layer on top of our wounds the less we acknowledge them. The less we acknowledge them, the easier it is for us to dismiss the wounds and heartbreaks of others.
We all belong in that circle of compassion Boyle speaks of that “circle of compassion of God’s love.” “Love one another” said Jesus as I have loved you. That kind of love gives voice to the voiceless and breaks down the barriers between us that put some of us inside of that circle and some of us out.
Boyle said that “it is a privilege to stand with the poor the powerless and the voiceless, with those whose dignity has been denied.” And that “when we stand with the poor we should stand in awe at what the poor have to carry rather than to stand in judgment at how they carry it.” And that there is joy there because that is where the Spirit lives. This has been my own experience of being with the marginalized, and perhaps you know this too. David Brooks once wrote a column called “Go Where the Action Is….” I think of our call to stand with the harmed, give voice to the harmed, in this way, as going to where the action is, because that is where the Spirit is palpably present.
We are not all called to leave our lives and become the kinds of disciples we see in Fr Boyle or Dorothy Day. But we can give up some of the ways of the world and of the ways that we act out that take away from others, shun others. We can pray our hearts to tilt toward others — to be for them and not against them — as Jesus is for us and not against us. We can be part of that “circle of compassion” that Fr Boyle called the young people into and calls us into too.
Jeremiah knew that place and struggled in it too. Standing with God is not easy and easily invites scorn. But like Jeremiah let our cause be God’s cause. Jesus reassures us in the gospel that in this we will be cared for in this by reminding us of the sparrows, reminding us of our creatureliness.
On an online website called Sacred Space, I read a quote from a book called Against the Grain by Tim Muldoon — against the grain, that is the gospel message in plain language this morning — to go against the grain. Here is what he writes: “If there is one lesson that becomes clear when we look at the story of Jesus and of the countless saints—not to mention men and women today whose desires lead them to lives of great generosity—it is that a life mission begins with a desire to love authentically and truly. And this mission always blossoms in beauty, regardless of how great or small its fruits. At first, it may be about learning small ways to practice generosity and compassion. But as our desire to listen to God grows, so too do our creativity and resolve in taking on new ideas and ways of serving the world God has made. Over time, we find, the practice of the missioned life moves us in the direction of great desires rooted in the love of God, blossoming in beauty, truth, and goodness—especially among those who need it most.”
Let this be so for us.
Greg Boyle’s Laetare Speech at the 2017 Notre Dame Commencement