Fr. David’s homily August 28, 2016.
You may have read of a recent incident in Wichita, Kansas. It seems as if an African American activist had organized more than 1,000 “Black Lives Matter” protesters to march the streets of Wichita on a coming Sunday. But then, days before, the organizer of the march received a call from the new police chief, Gordon Ramsey, with a different idea. “Instead of having an event that will draw a hard line between us,” said Ramsey, “why not come together for an evening of summer revelry and open dialogue? So instead of marching, let’s have a barbecue, games for the kids, and a discussion. The police department will cook and serve up the burgers and hot dogs.” Well, the organizers of the protest agreed. They came to the park; protestors, families, and the cops.
The officers played basketball and softball with the kids. They took group selfies. One officer did the “whip and the nae nae” and the “cha cha slide” in a crowd of dancing girls — whatever that is! But from the video it looked like fun. They called it “the first steps community cookout,” a nod to what they saw as the seeds of an ongoing effort to ease the tensions heightened by the recent shootings of and by police officers. Wichita police chief Gordon Ramsay, started the event by taking questions from residents for 45 minutes. The questions were wide-ranging. One person asked about the “gang files,” a database the police had of everyone who ever had any affiliation with a gang. The police chief promised he would look into creating a process for people to get their names off the list through either a clean record or some kind of community service. It’s an example of something the department can do, the chief said, to heal relations.
Aaron Moses, a 25-year-old officer, said he held several side conversations with people who wanted to know his thoughts about all the violence of the past month. They spoke openly about prejudices, and the need for people on both sides of the issue to address them. “Today is great,” he said, “there’s a lot of trust that’s happening. I hope we are able to show the country you’re able to do a whole lot more coming together than tearing people apart and creating divisions.”
“Kids who were afraid of the police,” said the chief, “now see something beyond that badge.
There’s a pulse and a heart.” “This is a first step; I’m committed to maintaining it. “We want to set a national precedent so this will catch on. I hope it sweeps the country and others begin to implement what we did in their own communities — to create the bond that’s been missing between the cops and the communities for so long.”
And this over a barbecue on a Saturday summer afternoon.
Jesus so often uses the image of a meal, or a dinner, or a picnic on a hill side to teach lessons about life. The meal is always a metaphor for life. “Are you at the table, friend? ” “Come on in.” “Come on up higher.” “Who’s at the table with you?” “Are you eating alone?” “Are you only comfortable with those who have your education? Your income? Your world view?”
T.S. Eliot once defined Catholicism as “HERE COMES EVERYBODY.” Is everybody at our parish table? What we don’t want at any cost is to be an exclusive enclave in North Raleigh. Are we reaching out to welcome people? More, are we going out to welcome them? The wider our embracing arms, the more we are truly church. The question is this: “How can we reach out to more people? Are we evangelizers?” If you are nourished by this faith community, if you find Christ here, are you sharing that good news?” The single largest denomination of Christians in this country are ex-Roman Catholics. Many of them have been put off by a priest, or by the organization. No surprise there! Some of them feel rejected because they are divorced and remarried. Others think that the beauracracy has lost touch with people. Thank God that Pope Francis has come along to help restore some credibility to the church. But it’s only on the local level that any difference will be made. That’s where you and I come in. See someone struggling with issues in their marriage, with their children, with their sexual orientation? Let them know this parish, this church, has open arms for them. We welcome them. No questions asked. We have programs, we have people who will respond. There’s room at our table for everyone. People will come, if, if they know we welcome them.
“Black Lives Matter,” indeed. For that matter, all lives matter. But particularly in our time, given the data that clearly shows that among many, black lives do not matter. We look for ways in our judgments, our conversations, our witness, to be grateful for police officers like Gordon Ramsey, and all those men and women who serve to protect us. We welcome them to the table of our gratitude and respect. Friend, go up higher.
David J. McBriar, O.F.M.
Twenty-second Sunday Ordinary Time
LK 14:1, 7-14
On a Sabbath Jesus went to dine at the home of one of the leading Pharisees, and the people there were observing him carefully.
He told a parable to those who had been invited, noticing how they were choosing the places of honor at the table. “When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not recline at table in the place of honor. A more distinguished guest than you may have been invited by him, and the host who invited both of you may approach you and say, ‘Give your place to this man,’ and then you would proceed with embarrassment to take the lowest place. Rather, when you are invited, go and take the lowest place so that when the host comes to you he may say, ‘My friend, move up to a higher position.’ Then you will enjoy the esteem of your companions at the table. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” Then he said to the host who invited him, “When you hold a lunch or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or your wealthy neighbors, in case they may invite you back and you have repayment. Rather, when you hold a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind; blessed indeed will you be because of their inability to repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”