Deuteronomy 18:15-20 † Psalm 111 † 1 Corinthians 8:1-13 † Mark 1:21-28
According to those who have spent their lives studying the subject, mosquitos are, as it turns out, really quite smart, and also therefore, as it turns out, really quite trainable. Mosquitos identify who is good to eat based on how they smell. Clearly, they love my own sweet smell of coffee…and Scotland. They smell that hearty Northwest base of Pike Place roast laced ever so subtly with exotic notes of heather, and shortbread, and maybe a little peat bog, and they can’t help themselves. and who could blame them.
But here is the thing, if when that mosquito is buzzing close by and I swat at it, even if I miss, which I usually do, they feel the vibration of my hand tearing through the air, and their hunger pangs turn to alarm bells. If I keep at it pretty soon they associate my unique perfume with danger and they steer clear. Smart little pests, as it turns out. And also quite trainable. What I am hoping is that some dedicated scientist will spend their life working out how to teach these clever little pests how to communicate and then they can spread the news about which smells spell danger and I’ll be bite free. In the meantime, I’ll flap away happy to know I am contributing to a more highly trained mosquito population.
A number of colleagues and mentors have, at various time, told me, that when you are in the swamp you must stay vigilant, hold steady – it’s not the crocodiles that’ll get you, its the mosquitos. It’s the little things, the close things, the hard to get to, buzzing in your ear things, that’ll take you out, that’ll keep you from where you want to go, and who you want to be.
Now I really don’t like to make blanket statements – or claim realities that might not be true for everyone, but honestly, I think we are in something of a swamp at this point in history. There is this daily trudge through the unnavigable mud of complex social issues – poverty and exclusion, flood and fire, division and violence. There are hard and fast opinions about how we make our way in society’s boat, some pulling with force to the left, others with equal force to the right. There is the revelation of danger lurking it seems around every corner – powerful people, systems, and institutions who, it is becoming more and more clear, have abused their positions over decades, leaving trauma and injustice in their wake. We are blaming whole groups of people in our fear that there isn’t enough room for all, and those who don’t fit are being thrown overboard by the day. I don’t know about you, but when I check in on how I am feeling, most of the time I realize I am just drenched and exhausted. Its chronic and has me on the edge a lot of the time and some days it just really doesn’t take much to throw me off course. Just a little mosquito, something close buzzing in my ear – maybe an old tape telling me I don’t have what it takes, or a misplaced word coming at me from someone else who’s just exhausted and scared and if I am not careful I find myself biting back, joining the fray, or withdrawing in bitter dismay.
When you are in the swamp it’s the mosquitos, not the crocodiles, that’ll get you. But those crocodiles well they know it. Crocodiles, these large forces that need to eat, forces of greed and power that exist within and amongst us are also, as it turns out, really quite smart. They are there in the swamp relying on the mosquitos to keep us distracted and immobilized while they take what they need to grow big. They put their force and might behind the small toxic interactions that set us against each other. That convince us we need to take sides and that we can only get where we are going if we leave some behind.
But it’s a lie. It’s all a lie and the biggest lie of all is that we are powerless. Powerless against these things that keep us from finding our way out of the swamp. We are not powerless. There is an authority that cannot be taken from us. An authority to swat at the mosquitos, to train them to stay away while we get on with the important work of helping everyone find a better place to be.
The authority to swat away the lies and the distractions showed up in this room last night. Over seventy people came here, around 14 or so Muslims and the remainder non-Muslims. People in the swamp, complex people, people who have experienced hateful treatment because of their religion, people who have waited long years in the refugee system, people who worry about their children, people who yearn for another way, people who have witnessed awful things and want a better way, people being pulled in different directions, but people who assumed authority and rejected the ways these experiences might entice them to reject each other. They assumed their authority and did what they are able to do.
And so they ate together, they looked each other in the eye, they hugged and laughed and served each other, they asked their honest questions and they gave their honest answers, they rejoiced and laughed in what they had in common. This group took authority and said, “no we will be in conversation, maybe we’ll be friends, or at least we’ll be friendly. We’ll listen and not attack when something offends, we’ll give each other the benefit of the doubt. We will claim our shared humanity, our shared desire for a better place, our shared authority, for the Christians rooted in Jesus, for the Muslims rooted in Mohammed’s teachings and the shared yearning for peace or salaam that our faiths give to us.”
Who knows where this gathering will take the folks that were in this room. I hope it’s to more gatherings like it. More meeting each other face to face – more admitting our need for each other and our determination to not let ourselves get distracted or pulled into the fray.
The mosquitos, you see, are trainable. We have been given the authority to swat together at the voices buzzing in our ear, telling us we can’t trust each other, that there isn’t enough to go around, that others are to blame and that we don’t have what it takes. We have what it takes - it’s an authority given to us by God – and it’s all that it will ever take. We have the authority to reach for each other, love each other, hold on to each other and know that there is enough. There are small things that will take us under if we let them, but we have the authority to reject these things and to instead love in small way, good ways, world changing, God given, ways. Amen
St. Andrew Sermons