Many of you know that I worked for several years as a chaplain in hospitals before I was ordained as a priest. At the end of each program year which ran August to August, it was customary to have a graduation ceremony, which included sharing gifts with one another. These were typically items that had personal significance to the individual and what they went through and how they were shaped by the program. At the end of my second year, when I knew that I was done and moving to Dallas, one of the items I received from one of the staff chaplains was this (statue, presented to congregation).
You may be thinking that this is Jesus. It is not, in fact, Jesus, but it is St. Jude—the patron saint of lost causes.
Since then, Jude has followed me around the country, and has sat on my desk wherever I have gone. Partially because it’s funny, that I have the patron saint of lost causes in front of me, and partially because I believe it, that I need God’s help.
And I feel like I need it more than I have in a long, long time.
Because to be honest with you all, it’s been a hard week. It wasn’t that long ago that we were talking about the shooting in Buffalo, and now here we are again, faced with the death of so many in Uvalde, Texas because an 18 year-old kid with a gun wanted to go out in some kind of twisted glory.
It makes my soul sick, in large part because I worry that these things will continue unabated, and that it’s unlikely that much will be accomplished to make our schools and our malls and our churches safe from someone who has decided to cause harm to strangers.
And in the midst of all that, there is the feeling that I’m your priest, and that I have been called by God and by you to lead by word and deed, showing the path from despair to hope and centering this community in how we go forth from here to bring about justice and peace in the world and in our lives and in our homes.
How does one find hope, and to avoid collapsing into despair?
One obvious direction is to turn to the Scriptures and to learn from those who encountered God, and the risen Jesus Christ, to see how they handled adversity. And in our reading from Acts today, we see just that.
It’s amusing, really, in how it starts. Paul and his companions are in Macedonia, modern-day Turkey, and telling all who will listen about Christ. And there’s this girl, who was something of a fortune-teller, and after several days of her crying out “Listen to these men!”, they were so fed up with it that they turned and cast the spirit out of her.
Why they didn’t do that before, who knows. But look at what happens next. They’re attacked by the crowd, stripped of their clothes, and beaten and flogged before being thrown into prison—all for casting out the spirit from the girl.
But they didn’t despair. In prison, they prayed, and sang songs to God. And while they were doing so, God came to them, and gave them an opportunity to proclaim God’s love to the jailer who turned to follow the way of Christ, him and his whole household. And why? Because “blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they will have the right to the tree of life and may enter the city by the gates.” They trusted in God’s loving presence among them, that God had not abandoned nor forsaken them, and that God was right there with them, in that prison.
And as it turns out, that prison was an opportunity to share with those around them, both prisoner and guard, about God’s great love for them. That in the midst of the darkness, there was a light, in the face of Christ.
Many times that light can be found by turning to the world of the Scriptures, where we can find strength, comfort, and moral guidance on how we are to live our lives in the here and now, while we look forward to that day when Christ will repay everyone for their work. But until then, our calling is to keep on keeping on, and to stay faithful to the calling with which we have been called in Christ Jesus.
And that is why I keep this statue of St. Jude on my desk—to remind me that even when all hope seems lost, when there seems to be no way out, to remind myself that God is still here, and that somehow, in some way, it’s going to be alright. That’s the faith and conviction that Paul and his companions had when they were put into prison, knowing that their God was mighty to save them. And in the other writings of the New Testament, they showed that even if God didn’t intervene in that moment, that it was going to be okay in the end, because we still have the hope shown to us in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, our Lord, if not in this life, then in the one to come, when all will be put to rights, and God will have the final victory over sin and evil.
I also recognize so much else in front of us that we haven’t addressed about this day, that this past week saw the Feast of St. Bede, the feast of the Ascension, and that this is Memorial Day weekend.
I hope that this will be a blessed day and a blessed weekend and a blessed week for you all, and that God will give all of us the strength and wisdom to always do what is right, and together to work to bring about God’s Kingdom on earth, as it is in heaven. May God be with us all.