Text: Like 6:20-31
This past week I was attending a Conference out in San Diego, learning about mental health and care to currently serving and veterans of the Navy Special Warfare community. One of the highlights was hearing Sebastian Junger, journalist and author, who covered military operations on the ground in Bosnia and the Korengal Valley in Afghanistan, speak. He told a story about how while he was back Stateside, he was on the subway going home like any other day, and all of a sudden he began to fear for his life – his heart racing, terror sinking in because he was on the moving subway car and couldn’t get off. He felt trapped. He said he knew in that moment that it was like any other subway ride home, and there was not threat to his life, but the feeling of fear still gripped him. That event, Junger realized, was the culmination of a lot of changes that friends had been noticing in him since he returned home from covering war. He had post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.
Junger began to study PTSD – his own and others returning from war. He said, “What if long-term PTSD is less about what happens on the combat field but more about the society they come back to?” During his recovery, Junger observed a big reason for PTSD isn’t the trauma of the war experience itself so much as it is the trauma of coming home to a “peaceful” society, only to find people act with so much hatred and contempt for each other. What’s traumatizing is that men and women come home from war, having formed tight connections with others in order to survive to a individualistic society where people are left to fend for themselves. That isolation, that is what is traumatic.
The last verse of today’s gopsel text has been haunting me all week: “Do to others as you would have them to do you.” Because I ask myself, “How are we doing as a society these days, especially over the course of this year’s Presidential election?”
We’re obsessed with self-preservation and the illusion of safety.
We’re more paranoid and suspicious people and things different from us.
We talk at and over each other rather than with each other.
As contempt for those who disagree with us grows, so does bullying and intimidation.
Collectively, we’re less empathetic.
Junger might be on to something…and while I’m not equating the toll PTSD is having on our service men and women who come home from combat, I think we are suffering from our own form of post-traumatic stress. And it’s not because of the Election or the candidates themselves, but rather the increasing and collective contempt, division and loneliness that been allowed to exist. I think about how as a society we’re living out “Do to others what you would have them do to you”…. and it’s not good.
About a year ago, my wife Kelly came home from yet another frustrating day at her job. The work environment was toxic, and she came home and started venting about it all. I had been listening to this for about a month now, and frankly, I had begun to grow tired of it. So I began to subtly interject suggestions to make it better – talk to her boss, call out her co-workers on their behavior, or take an extra hour at lunch. She at first politely rejected my suggestions, and then began to just completely ignore them, but getting more and more agitated as I interjected more forcefully. Finally, Kelly had enough: “Just stop! I don’t need you to fix anything; I just need to know you’re on my team. I just need to know I don’t have to go through this alone.”
There’s a trap lying for us in Luke’s Beatitudes – if we break it down to categories of rich and poor, woeful or blessed, then we’re either given a set of guidelines for good conduct in which we can improve our status with God or we’re told to just accept our poverty in the hope that we’ll go to a better place after we die. Things just need to be fixed – either by Jesus or ourselves, depending on who you ask. We just have to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps, check the right box on Tuesday, or do nothing – and we come here once a week to escape it all. But I think Luke’s Beatitudes aren’t a mandate to better behavior but rather a confession – the confession that we all have need.
We have a need to know that we’re not left to suffer alone. We have a need…..to be connected.
We have need for love.
And that love is one that suffers with and for another. A love that bears all things, endures all things – together. Love as God in Jesus Christ has suffered and loved us first. In other words, suffering love. If we are to live, I mean really live togther, then suffering love is the only way. Suffering love is the only way we can be healed, the only way that we can be set free, the only way we can be saved.
Another way to translate Jesus’ words is “Do FOR others as you would have them do FOR you.” That makes more sense to me. That sounds more like a connection. It sounds like what Jesus does for us. It sounds more like suffering love.
And as we celebrate Christ does for us, and what Christ has done in the lives of all the saints we celebrate today, let us revisit the Beatitudes in this way:
Woe to those who don’t recognize need in others, for their need will go recognized. In their contempt, divided and alone they will be.
But Blessed are those who recognize the needs of others, for their needs will recognized. Rejoice then, in that connection, for that connection the One who has suffered and endured for us is with us….healing us. Freeing us. Loving us. Saving us. Amen.