Reaching out to God

We all have a story.
A story that is living, that is constantly growing.
A story that is sacred, filled with laughter, filled with joy, curiosity.
We all have a story.
A story that is filled with struggle, hardship, oppression,
Filled with illness, fear, filled with doubt and heartbreak.
A story that has changed us; and helped form us into the disciples we are today, a story that has ultimately changed lives around us.
We all have a story.
As a child, the basketball court was always sacred ground.
It was the place where my sisters and I would go out and play—or the place where I would go to get on their nerves while they were playing.
It was the place that was the piazza, the gathering place, for the neighborhood kids after school, or where we would lay out a blanket and have an urban picnic.
It was the place where I would learn something new, whether it was how to spell my name with chalk on the blacktop, how to shoot a basket or how to drive.
The basketball court was where I stood, when my dad told me about how to walk through the world that surrounded us as a black man. The world that wouldn’t always see me or hear me.
The basketball court was the place where I cried at night, when being bullied in school, when others labeled me as not being “man enough” or simply made me feel that I wasn’t enough.

It was the place where I yelled at God, when my dad told me he had cancer, where I cried out for joy when graduating high school and sat silently and listened as God ignited my heart and opened my mind to imagine a life where I might be called to the priesthood.
I’m not sure, if there was a place, or maybe places for you, maybe even this very Church that has served as the rock, the foundation of many moments in your story.
A place that brings you life…But, has also managed to bring you heartache.
A few years ago, I got to watch a group of young, African American children build a similar relationship with their neighborhood Court.
I met these kids, when volunteering at their schools mentoring program.
In addition to being present once a week in their classrooms with colleagues of mine to discuss theology, and to reflect on the obstacles that they were facing at school and in their lives at home, we would occasionally all gather for lunch, and sometimes offer after school programming where they could gather in prayer and watch movies together and of course play a game or two of basketball on the court.
Every Friday night, after the after-school programs would end around 7pm, my colleague Jacob and I would always hear one of the kids call out “Chris! Jacob!
I had a very bad day at school, if it is okay with my mom, can we walk to the court and talk”
“Hey Chris, I have something exciting to tell you, I would’ve told my dad if he was alive, but can you meet me so I can tell you?”
This routine happened almost weekly,
and sometimes daily, one of the kids would ask their parents if they could call to see if Jacob and I would want to meet them at the neighborhood basketball court to talk, and to shoot hoops.
One night, I didn’t hear from them. I figured that they must have had a lot of homework or that the school had other programming, but, then 7:45pm came around…and the phone rang.
“Chris”, Marcus whispered.
“Hey Marcus, why are you whispering”
He began to cry.
“I’m trying to be brave Chris…but I need you to come and get us okay…”
“Marcus, what’s going on?”
“We are at the Court… I think someone has a gun”.
In that moment, my heart sank.
“Marcus, where are you, who all is there?”
“It’s all of us…we are hiding in the bushes…please Chris…hurry”.

I ran out of the house, Called Jacob, and he too was on his way, and with each stride I made running I cried out:
God, we need you.
Please, God, don’t let anything happen to them.
You haven’t abandoned us.
Let them be okay.
As I arrived, I saw that police had already gathered.
I looked around, quite distraught and didn’t see Marcus.
I looked over and saw the bushes that lined The Churches parking lot….and as I walked over, there in the bushes they were…holding close to one another…a 14-year-old, a 12-year-old, an 8-year-old and of course, out of all nights, one of them brought one of their siblings, the 2-year-old.
They leaped out of the bushes, the older two removing their hands away from the mouths of the younger (who were trying to keep them quiet) and all grabbed onto Jacob and me.
Chris, we didn’t want to call home. We knew our parents would panic…. Thank you for coming we were so scared.
“Why call us?” Jacob asked,
You get us. You love us. They replied
I stood there with tears taking over my eyes holding on to each of them…. Then Langston, one of the kids, said; “as we waited on you…I didn’t know what to do…”
You did the right thing, Langston., Jacob replied
“I know …we prayed” he said.
“I thought I was going to die” …” I needed to be strong.
I tried not to Cry” Justin said.
I looked to Justin and told him it was okay to cry—he gave me a look where I could see in his eyes, that this world has never affirmed that it was okay for him to do such a thing.
“I thought we would get in trouble” Tony said.
“Why I asked?”
It’s what I always see on TV…. No one was going to believe kids who look like us.
As a child, the basketball court was always sacred grown. It was where we laughed. It was where we grew. And on this night, as I stood with the next generation, I watched sacred grown…be a place…that I knew they would now fear.
As Jacob and I walked back to their homes, and met with each of their parents, I encouraged the boys, to not let that night, keep them from returning to the court.
I feared, if they begin to give up the court—what will they have to give up next?
As difficult, as fearful and as sad and angry as I was in that moment, angry about how the boys thought they wouldn’t be seen, they wouldn’t be believed, they wouldn’t have been loved, they wouldn’t have been safe, I knew that we have a faith, we have a God…who has called us to be always grounded in love, we have a God who doesn’t abandon us in those moments,
even if it’s hard to feel at the time or see at the time.
St. Paul’s, I knew that we have a God who keeps us bound with one another
Who keeps us bound with God,
I knew that we have a God who call us to be resilient and most importantly,
We have a God who is resilient
“You are my refuge and my stronghold, my God in whom I put my trust and I’m safe”
“He shall deliver you from the snare of the hunter”
“You shall find refuge under his wings”
“Because he is bound to me in love, there will I deliver him, I will protect him, because he knows my name”.
“I am with him in trouble”
“I will rescue him and bring him to honor”
“With long life will I satisfy him and show him my salvation”.
St. Paul’s, we are living in a world, where many are walking through life…dressed in fear, wrapped in anxiety,
We are living in a world, where many are walking through life carrying with them the weighted bags of oppression,
Where our men and women, where our children and youth are walking along a road paved with blood, sweat and tears and are seeking a brick, a footprint of hope.
And yet our psalmists on this day,
Our Psalmist on THIS DAY:
reminds us that amid the pain,
amid the fear,
amid our lowest moments,
a God,
continues to hold us bound together, wrapped in love.
That our God who knows us each by name continues to lift us up and point us into the direction of liberation and hope, when we are hidden in the bushes, or when fear suffocates our dreams.
The psalmist on this day, reminds us, that within the struggles,
within the hardships,
within the doubts within the pain.
Our God remains our stronghold.
Our God remains our Rock.
Our God remains our Salvation.
The psalmists on this day, reminds us that even when it is hard to feel and see that
our God remains to be our light in the darkness,
our strength when in weakness
and our nourishment when we are hungry for justice…
when we are hungry for peace…
when we are hungry for Love.
The Psalmist on this Day,
Reminds us of the God who
Provided safety and protection, a way, to those who were in exile.
A God who binds us all together to that unimaginable love.
A God who will always remain faithful to us…. who doesn’t abandon us in the good times, and the tried.
A God who is close to us—who calls us ‘friend’
a God who asks of us to live and seek a life where we remain resiliently faithful and share the story…to be a witness of such a God. To be such a friend to the other.
St. Paul’s, the beauty, the Good News that the psalmist of Psalm 91 brings us on this day reminds us that we do not walk this journey a lone. We have our God.
Psalm 91 begins by showing us the closeness that our God has with us—the relationship that our God faithfully keeps with us, even if we don’t feel it.

And even in the times of trouble, the times of hardship, which the Psalms and scripture ensure us that we will encounter on this journey of life our God goes on to make promises to us, that when we find ourselves in these moments, that those loving arms will lift us up. Even if its not in the ways that we imagine, our Liberator, our God, our Friend, is there. Only if we allow ourselves to believe.

My Kindred, we as disciples, are being called on this day, amid those sufferings, in the midst of those joys, in the midst of those doubts, to be God bearers in this world and to share the power of our saving God.
As disciples, we are being called on this day to follow in the radical life, the counter-cultural life that Jesus has demonstrated here on this earth. The radical life that he shared with James and John in the Gospel.
Where we live out our vocations…those vocations that pour upon us at the font
Vocations that are strengthened at the table—
vocations where we bring and be the love, the peace, the healing in the world.
And in doing so, we show the closeness that our God has with each of us…we show that intimate, that beautiful, that divine relationship that God has with all of us. We show that those promises can be kept.
St. Paul’s, we are being called by our God to be resilient, and to keep strong, to keep bound to a faith that is rooted in God’s deep hope.
A Faith that is rooted in God’s strength and
Where we are rooted in God’s liberating and life-giving power.
As we continue to journey through the Stewardship season reflecting on the perfect Gift’s that God offers us, today, we reflect on the gift which is the friendship that we have with our God.
Like that childhood song proclaims: Oh, what a friend indeed, we have with Jesus!
Oh, what a friend, we have with our God.
As we think about how we live our lives, how to be the best of stewards, the best of disciples, that we can be…. Let us go into the world being witnesses of that perfect friendship…
the youth on the basketball court, like the children and youth of this very parish, the stranger who wanders through these doors for the first time, they are counting on us—they are seeking such a witness—they are looking for a role model, they are looking for a disciple, they are looking for someone to demonstrate the faithfulness of a love of a God that sees them.

They are looking to hear your sacred story and to hear how our God, how your faith has liberated you—how your faith has kept you walking on this stony path, how God has kept you resilient. What is your story? What will be your answer?

They are looking to hear about your faith in a God who can and will and does liberate them!
A God who hears them—who believes them.

This world needs you to be faithful disciples.
This world needs you to be resilient disciples.
To be a witness of our God’s love our God’s friendship that surpasses all understanding that saves us all.
To be a witness, to be a household, to be the Church that serves and embodies the work of our Lord.

Disciples, I am asking a lot of you this morning. I am asking a lot of myself this morning. God is asking a lot of us this morning.
Especially when we may be tired, when we may be exhausted, from the years of having to maintain such a resilient faith, the years where we have faithfully served and given and too have cried out to our refuge and stronghold. Maybe we find ourselves in that place right now.
But, my friends, our God is still resiliently working and abiding with us, Our God is still speaking to us, standing beside us as our friend and is asking us to continue to live, and move and have our being rooted in our salvation story; in a way where those around us, can see and feel the power of our faith. And if we only believe, our God will help.

So, let these weeks in this stewardship season, recharge us so that we can:

Go and be the faithful leaders in this world.
Go and be Role models in this world—that point the way to our strength, that point the way to our God.

Let these weeks remind us to Go into this world and be a friend—bring people Jesus. St. Paul’s, I haven’t been here long, but I have seen you do! I saw it yesterday as many of you gathered to meet a child of God behind the bushes, at our St. Paul’s cares event. I saw you trim away; I saw you make room for light and God to be present.

So Go into this world, being ready to share a story and proclaim The Word, in both your words and action that will challenge others, that will challenge you, and that will change those around you.
Whether you are on the basketball court, this very Church, or wherever you may find yourself.
Go and share a Word that will ultimately change this world.

We all have a story.
A story that is living, that is constantly growing.
A story that is sacred, filled with laughter, filled with joy, curiosity.
We all have a story.
A story that is filled with struggle, hardship, oppression,
Filled with illness, fear, filled with doubt and heartbreak.
A story that has changed us; and helped form us into the disciples we are today, a story that has ultimately changed lives around us.
We all have a story.
Now will you go and share your story.
Now will you and share The Story.

About Theresa Wright