Go Out in Joy

There’s a story told of several monks at evening vespers that gives insight into the spirituality of each order they represent.  One is a Franciscan, another Dominican and finally, a Jesuit.

As they begin, the lights go out.  In darkness the Franciscan begins a litany to Brother Darkness.  The Dominican commences to philosophize about the nature of Light.  The Jesuit goes outside and changes the fuse.

In this batch, I’m the Jesuit.  Let’s make “stuff” happen is my spirituality.  I want joyful doers of the Word, not just hearers.  My preference is to joyfully change the fuse.

So, let’s launch into the fray with joyful abandon.

The theologian Pierre de Chardin somewhere proclaimed, “Joy the infallible sign of the presence of God.” 

That’s what I admired most about Hubert Humphrey.  He was the quintessential “Happy Warrior.”  He went out in joy to engage his opponents in the arena of ideas.  Without personal venom, he entered the political contest, making his case for what he thought to be right, what he thought would benefit the most vulnerable.  And that’s why he had strong friendships on both sides of the aisle.  And got stuff done.  A sourpuss tends to accomplish little to nothing. 

This is the spirituality of later Isaiah – a joyful return to the Israel for the Babylonian captives.  We go out with joy trusting that God’s Word in us does not return empty, but accomplishes its purpose.  That was true in the sixth century before Christ, it is true now – Go Out in Joy!

“As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there until they have watered the earth…so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth…it shall not return to me empty.  For you shall go out in joy, and be led back in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall burst into song and all the trees of the field clap their hands.”[1]

God, through the working of the Spirit, prepares the soil of hungry hearts in our hyper-individualistic American culture. Go out in JOY, ever “leaning on the promises.”

One of my listeners suggested that it was a shame that I had not been born ten years earlier – I might have more “good things” to remember about America.  Actually, I consider myself a “glass-half-full” person.  But, a Reinhold Niebuhr realist.  Definitely, not a Pollyanna.  Hopeful but “Keepin’ it real.”  So, it’s tough out there, but let’s go out in Joy, each and every day.

JOY is a hard sell these days. 

The American public is in a dyspeptic, sour mood.  A recent Associated Press survey shows that only ten percent of us believe and have faith that our democratic form of government is working.[2]  Ten percent!

Most folks believe that the common needs and desires of the average voter are ignored by the rich, and powerful well-connected. 

Insider scandals add to the alienation.  This past week another giant financial institution was hit with a huge fine for bilking their customers out of hundreds of millions – Bank of America. 

Charging exorbitant bogus fees and then double dipping on this robbery – profiting further on what they had extracted from their depositors’ accounts.  Fined $250 million, they were by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. 

“CFPB said Bank of America implemented a ‘double-dipping scheme’ to ‘harvest junk fees’ from customers and those actions are “illegal and undermine customer trust.”[3]

Is it no wonder the plutocrats and their political hacks tried to kill off this agency?  Still trying!

This, after the Wells Fargo indictment for saddling their customers with fake accounts and, in 2012, the largest scandal ever ensnaring many of our revered financial institutions — Deutsche Bank, Barclays, Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, among others — jiggering the over-night transfer system, known as libor,[4] among banks. Through illicitly manipulating this world-wide, over-night reconciliation mechanism, these folks raked in hundreds of millions.  Most folks have never heard of Libor, yet this financial mechanism underpins some $350 TRILLION dollars of financial transactions. 

Like Willie Sutton, these crooks robbed the banks because that is where the money is.  But this heist was an inside job.  Laughing all the way IN the bank!  Not TO the bank.

Is it any wonder that most of us feel the system is rigged, that it serves only the rich and well-connected?  That we feel that ninety percent of recent tax cuts all went to the top ten percent?  Because it did!  As my mom was wont to say, “One damn thing after another.”

Yet we go forth in Joy to drain this swamp. 

Just a few pennies here, a few pennies there, and, as Tip O’Neil would say, “Pretty soon it adds up to real money” – oodles of billions.  The corrosive effects on the body politic of such corruption are also additive.

Scripture reminds us that our life in Christ is not to be all roses: “Count it all joy, my brothers and sisters, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.”[5]  Go forth in Joy, nonetheless.

My political heroes are those who entered the political arena with such Joy –  Happy Warriors all: “Fighting Bob” Lafollette, Hubert Humphry, George McGovern, Jim Hightower.  And countless activists, scholars, teachers, reporters and muckrakers across this land who have refused to settle for business as usual – who refuse to cover up and excuse away money-grubbing greed and political entitlement that the real swamp be drained.

Some of our teachers are now being sanctioned by political hacks for allowing their students to learn of our failings – accused of being “woke.”  This is what happens in Russia, NOT in America!  Well, maybe in Florida and in Texas.  But in the end, the Spirit will reveal all Truth.  The Great Wikileaks!

That we can still publish and teach such inconvenient facts without sanction in most places, that is one of the things absolutely right about America.

Recently, I’ve come across a wonderful scholar, Kidada Williams, who has written a new book on the history of Reconstruction.  Most of what I was taught on this subject was that it failed because newly freed Blacks were incapable of handling their lives and affairs.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Professor Williams demonstrates that it failed through unmitigated white terror against successful Blacks.  The same white resentment of Black success that gave us the Wilmington Coup in 1898 and the Tulsa Massacre in 1914 as a follow-up.

She tells the story not from the top down, but from the bottom up – in the testimony of those who risked life and their livelihood to testify at the congressional Ku Klux Klan hearings of 1871 and other original sources.  Her work allows the victims of this oppression to speak for themselves.  No “whitewash” here.

She tells the story of one newly freed slave in Mississippi who had the temerity to believe that America’s promises now applied to him and his family.  He went into town to vote.  He knew that his rights and the rights of his people would mean nothing without the political power to guarantee them. 

“On a November night in 1871, some ten miles east of Aberdeen, Mississippi, Edward Crosby stepped outside to get some water for his thirsty child, when suddenly, he heard and felt the thunder of a team of horses.  He gazed out, and by either moonlight or the glow of his torch, he saw about thirty disguised men descending on his home, their mounts draped by full-body coverings.”[6]

So begins her book, as professor Williams recounts the testimony of Mr. Crosby.  White writers would euphemistically refer to these raids as “visits” to mask the “brutality behind the veneer of a friendly social call.”

Edward knew that “death was coming for him but hoping it would spare his wife and children, Edward slipped into his family’s smokehouse.” [7]

“When the posse arrived in the Crosby’s yard, several men got down from their horses and called out for Edward to present himself.  Although terrified, Edward retained his composure and stayed in his hiding place.  Mrs. Crosby calmly told the men that she did not know where her husband was, but she thought he had gone to call on his sister.  The men hung around for a bit, dithering about what to do, before accepting they would not catch their target and leaving.”[8]

The Crosbys survived that raid but the scars and fear would haunt them the rest of their lives.  What we would now know as PTSD.  Many of their neighbors were far less fortunate.

When those “night-riders” arrived at Edward’s door after his attempt to vote, they “brought with them white southern hate for who the Crosbys were and what their new lives and status as freed people represented…this menacing violence infused the Crosby’s home and took up residence in the souls of each of its occupants.  That “visit” “exposed the freed family’s disposability…”[9]

We are told by some fear-mongers that teaching such history, telling such truth about our nation, might make some students feel “uncomfortable” and shouldn’t be mentioned.  Well, for the snowflakes who can’t handle the telling of this truth, my friend Debi’s response is, “Suck it up, Buttercup.”

Every day, teachers stand before their classes in Joy attempting to dispel clouds of willful forgetting and ignorance.  I’ve had such teachers.  So have you.  After all the years, those are the teachers you remember.

There’s an old gospel song that asserts, “If you can’t bear the cross, then you can’t wear the crown.”  Bearing the cross in our dysfunctional society means allowing the pain of others to enter your being.  It means being vulnerable to the hurt and pain, the hopes of others.  That’s called empathy.  This is NOT being WOKE, Governor DeSantis!  It’s living truthfully, living faithfully, living compassionately. 

Yes, the “Truth will set you free, but first it will hurt like hell.”  That was always the admonition of my friend Ed Bacon.  Yet, go forth with Joy.

As a nation, too many of us seemed to have lost that quality.  It’s all about me!  “I, I, I” — That’s not the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

To go out with “Joy in the Morning” is to set one’s face to the opposition and refuse to become as they — joyfully believing we can make a difference, that we ARE the difference.  In this, God’s Word does not return empty, but like the hidden working of yeast in a lump of dough, accomplishes its purpose. 

Like the seeds in Jesus’ parable, sown in Joy, enough do fall in fertile soil, bearing a harvest ten-fold, one-hundred-fold – What yield?  God alone knows.

I have on my wall an icon of St. George and the Dragon.  It is to remind me of the struggle each day, and that sometimes the dragon wins.  Yet, I sally forth with Joy, believing that I can make a difference.   That God’s word, however miniscule in me, will not return empty to God.

I close with a Franciscan Blessing – To send us out with Joy this blessed morning!

May God bless us with discomfort at easy answers, half-truths, and superficial relationships, so that we may live deep within our hearts.

May God bless us with enough foolishness to believe that we can make a difference in this world, so that we can do what others claim cannot be done.

May God bless us with anger at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people, so that we may work for justice, freedom and peace.

May God bless us with tears to shed for those who suffer from pain, rejection, homophobia, starvation and war, so that we may reach out our hand to comfort them and to turn their pain into joy.

Go out into the world in peace; have courage; hold onto what is good; return no one evil for evil; strengthen the faint-hearted; support the weak, and help the suffering; honor all people; love and serve the Lord, rejoicing in the power of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

[1] Isaiah 55:10 ff., New Revised Standard Version

[2] Nicholas Riccardi, Linley Sanders, “Americans are widely pessimistic about democracy in the United States, an AP-NORC poll finds,” AP, July 14, 2023.

[3] Ashley Curtin, “Bank of America pays $250 million to customers and in penalty fees for illegal practices,” Nation of Change, July 14, 2023.

[4] LIBOR, the acronym for London Interbank Offer Rate, is the global reference rate for unsecured short-term borrowing in the interbank market in the over-night electronic settlement of global accounts.

[5] James 1:2, Revised Standard Version (alt.).

[6] Kidada E. Williams, I Saw Death Coming: A History of Terror and Survival in the War against Reconstruction (New York: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2023), xi.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Op cit., xii.

[9] Ob cit., xiv.

St. Francis Episcopal Mission Outreach
2855 Sterling Avenue, San Bernardino, CA 92404

July 16, 2023 – 7 Pentecost, Proper 10

“Go Out in Joy”
The Rev. Dr. John C. Forney

Isaiah 55:10-13; Psalm 65:1-14

Romans 8:1-11; Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

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