Right Time, Place, Person: Making a Miracle

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer. Amen.

downloadThe Department for Homeland Security, came up with a catch phrase that it uses: If you see something, say something. On the surface, I get it. Each of us is familiar with our part of the world, so we are the ones that will notice if something is slightly off or out of place, if something odd is going on. On a broader level, it’s about encouraging everyone to embrace their personal authority, to be willing to get involved. And finally, it’s about moving from thought to action.

When we tell the story of Jesus turning over the tables of the moneychangers in the temple, we often talk about how it highlights Jesus’ humanity, his human feeling of anger. I resist making it just about that. This isn’t a temper tantrum that evolved out of human anger and fear. It is about Jesus’ keen awareness of what is going on in the temple, how worldly values have encroached upon what is holy and set aside for God, how the temple had become closed to fresh revelations of God. It is about Jesus claiming his authority, one that comes to him as the Son of God. Finally, Jesus chooses to make a public demonstration of physically driving the sacrificial animals out of temple using a whip that he has made out of braided cords. Imagine what that must have been like…the sound of coins hitting the ground and scattering, the thump of tables hitting the ground, and the chaos created by people, birds, and animals scattering in all directions.

I wonder what happened before that moment. In John’s Gospel, this story follows the miracle at the wedding at Cana, where Jesus turned water into wine. It is the very beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. But this story is one that appears in all four Gospels. Most put it at the end of Jesus’ ministry on earth, closer to the crucifixion. That makes more sense—because, realistically, this sort of statement would have put him right in the crosshairs of the religious authorities.

If that were true, that it happened after he had been preaching and teaching in public for several years, Jesus would have had plenty of time and experience to see how the temple sacrifices were being misused to build earthly wealth. Whether at the bringing or the end of the Gospel, this dramatic seen demonstrates great spiritual authority. Finally, he made his point in a dramatic and effective way.

In this moment in time, then, this is our formula for deciding how and if to react to the many issues that we see today that outrage us. So much is going on in the world, and so many people and groups are reacting in such differing ways. It can be overwhelming, knowing what to do, understanding where to begin. In the midst of all of this, this Lenten season is a gift, an opportunity to step back and discern where God is calling us.

This morning in the Hebrew scripture, we heard the ten commandments, the list of the “thou shalt nots.” In some ways, these are quite simple… don’t make idols, murder, commit adultery, steal, bear false witness, covet, and the rest. 

At the same time, we face the wide open space of what we should do, especially in response to moneychangers we find in our temple, the evil that we find in world.  In recent weeks, I’ve had invitations to marches, hash tag campaigns, debates, discussions, blogs and more. They’ve tackled various issues including gun violence, mental illness, women’s rights, human rights, racism, immigration, and climate change. I’m sure your mailbox and email inbox and news streams have also been filled with these opportunities and others. It’s more than any one person or organization can tackle at once. Even as we work to follow all of the 10 commandments, we come against time, talent, and resource challenges that let us know that we cannot hope to address every wrong ourselves.hustle-and-bustle-1738072_640

We recognize that moment where that which is  holy is being broken or bruised by worldly values, where damage is being done and healing is greatly needed.  We need, then, to bring spiritual tools to bear, to figure out where to start and what to do.  I had a spiritual director give me one such tool, the Rule of Three Yeses. He explained it this way: When you come upon a moment where you have an opportunity to say or do something that you think God may want you to do, ask yourself three questions (with time to pray and meditate):

  1. Is this something that should be done or said? That is, could a response of some sort address the issue or situation? Is it clear that this is something that, for reasons of justice, conscience, or faith, must be addressed?
  2. Is this the right moment to do or say something? Often, to say or do the right thing at the wrong time leads to failure. It can also close down the opportunity to do or say something at the right time. Timing is everything.
  3. Am I the person being called to say or do this? Do you have the information, the passion, the mindset, everything that is needed to be exactly the right person to make the difference.

When you get three yeses, go ahead. If there’s even one no to any of these questions, then it’s time to wait and pray. It’s been more than a decade now that i’ve run through these questions in moments of unsureness… and it has had a huge impact on me, because i’ve learned that real impact and change comes when the right person does or says the right thing at the right moment. That’s when miracles happen. It’s also taught me that, very often, its ok for me to step back and make room for those who are really called to that situation. It gives me time and space to do the things that I am called to do—and to do what I can to support others in following their callings.

When we do get our three yeses, then we have to figure out what to do or say next. Last week, Alan talked about how we need to have bravery to speak the truth and a willingness to let go of fear.   That’s so very true. But how can we be most effective? How do we know whether to enter into a discussion or join a march or tip over a table?

In business circles, recently, there’s been much talk about a management philosophy called radical candor. It was developed by a woman called Kim Scott. It refers to the practice of challenging others while still caring about them as fellow human beings. (The short hand that is used is Care Personally and Challenge Directly).  I heard her tell the story of what helped her put this idea into words. She was living in New York and she was walking her Golden Retriever, Belvedere. The dog was young, still a puppy really, and he was kind of out of control. The dog yanked the leash and went into the street, nearly getting hit by a car. She pulled him to safety just in time, feeling shaken. A complete stranger walked up to her and said “You really love that dog.” She nodded. Then the man said “You need to teach that dog to sit.” He turned to the dog and said firmly “Sit” and the dog did!  He cared personally and he challenged her assumptions (that the dog couldn’t learn to obey) directly. And so she went and trained her dog.

It’s funny that it’s called radical candor…it’s something that we’ve been doing forever in church circles and perhaps it doesn’t seem so radical to us. Quoting Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, we call it “speaking the truth in love.” That’s the one two punch of changing the world: At exactly the right moment, when we are exactly the right person, we speak exactly the right truth in love, with radical candor. Then the world changes.

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Photo courtesy: Daryl Davis

It really works. Daryl Davis, a black Rhythm and Blues musician, has made his mission over the past three decades to befriend Klu Klux Klan members in hopes of changing their racist attitudes. He believes that his effort have worked forty or fifty times. In fact, he helped persuade Roger Kelly, Imperial Wizard, to quit the KKK. When asked about how that had happened, he talked about listening. he said:

“While you are actively learning about someone else you are passively teaching them about yourself. So if you have an adversary, an opponent with a opposing point of view, give that person a platform. Allow them to air that point of view regardless of how extreme it may be. And believe me I’ve heard some things so extreme at these rallies it will cut you to the bone. Give them a platform. You challenge them. But you don’t challenge them rudely or violently. You do it politely and intelligently. And when you do things that way, chances are they will reciprocate and give you a platform.”

Clearly, he is the right person at the right time…and he is tackling a problem that needs to be solved.  When each and every person on earth does that, the kingdom of God will be born.

Bishop Marc often uses this blessing and I want to remind you of it because I think it sums up our path forward, once we’ve got our three yeses, once we are ready to offer radical candor to the world.

He said:

Go forth into the world in peace;

Be of good courage;

Hold fast to that which is good;

Render unto no one evil for evil;

Strengthen the fainthearted;

Support the weak;

Comfort the afflicted;

Be patient with everyone,

But make no peace with oppression.

Let no one be outcast;

Let no one be alien;

Related to everyone as to the Savior Christ himself.

Love and serve the Lord;

Rejoicing in the power of the Holy Spirit;

And the blessing of All that Is Holy be with us forever. Amen.

Preached by the Rev. Hailey McKeefry Delmas on March 4, 2018 at the Church of the Epiphany in San Carlos, CA.

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