Members of Fairfax Presbyterian Church greet visitors on Sunday. (Photograph by Benjamin Pratt.) The inscription on the wall comes from Isaiah chapter 56: "For my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples."
SHARING is a vital part of Read the Spirit. We welcome readers to share our content as long as you include an appropriate link to our online magazine. Yesterday, we saw a dramatic example of this unfolding—and we're now sharing the whole story with you.
TWISTS & TURNS IN THIS VIRAL SHARING: Last year, I was touring Chicago when my imagination was captured by a phrase related to that city's Mercantile Exchange: Open Outcry. I returned home to Virginia and wrote a column, headlined Call to Compassion: Hearing the Open Outcry. At the same time, my column was republished via this website for the Day1 radio network. Author and hospitality expert the Rev. Henry Brinton is pastor of Fairfax Presbyterian Church in Virginia. Then, Brinton wound up preaching his own Open Outcry sermon on Sunday June 30.
Meanwhile , the idea already is moving further across the landscape. Brinton writes for Homiletics Online, where this sermon also will appear for subscribers to that influential preaching magazine. (So, the sermon below is published with permission of http://www.homileticsonline.com.)
On this particular Sunday , Brinton's congregation—which practices hospitality on a regular basis—hosted a group of Turkish Muslim families. Brinton mentions their presence in his sermon. I also visited Brinton's church and took today's photograph.
June 30, 2013
Written and Preached by the Rev. Henry Brinton, Fairfax Presbyterian Church
Ben Pratt was a pastoral counselor here in Fairfax for many years, and is now retired. On a recent tour of Chicago, he made a discovery. He learned about a system called “Open Outcry.”
This system is used at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, where milk and butter are traded, along with interest rates and currencies. The traders gather in a large trading pit, and all of the communication about buying and selling is by hand gestures. This system is Open Outcry.
“Open Outcry,” said Ben to himself. “I couldn’t get the phrase out of my head. For more than a century, that phrase has captured the emotional, split-second, make-or-break trading system that fuels a major part of our economy …. Yet, somehow, I hadn’t heard that phrase until our tour of Chicago — or had I?”
Psalm 5 is an Open Outcry: “Give ear to my words, O LORD, give heed to my sighing. Listen to the sound of my cry, my King and my God, for to you I pray” (vv. 1-2).
I am so glad that members of the Ezher Bloom Mosque are with us in worship today. One of the things that unites us is that we all pray to God, and ask for his help. We need God to hear us and respond, especially in times of trouble.
The writer of Psalm 5 is crying to God, asking for help. Facing the threat of violence, he begs God to destroy those who are telling lies (v. 6). Perhaps he has been accused of wrongdoing himself, and is now pleading his case to God (v. 3). The psalm can be used today by anyone being threatened by wicked, evil, boastful, bloodthirsty, or deceitful people.
All of us have been threatened by violent people, here in the United States and abroad. We need God’s help in the face of these threats. After the bombings at the Boston Marathon, the parent organization of the Ezher Bloom Mosque issued this statement: We condemn “the actions of those responsible for the horrific incidents in Boston yesterday. Our heartfelt sympathies go out to the victims and their families, the wider Boston community and all Americans. Terror, violence and the killing of innocent people can never lead to beneficial results.”
Our Turkish brothers and sisters joined their voices in an Open Outcry after this act of violence. And for that, we are grateful.
So how are we helped by crying out to God? First, we find relief by offering our honest prayers to God. “O LORD, in the morning you hear my voice,” says the psalm – this verse reminds us that God actually hears what we say. “In the morning I plead my case to you and watch. For you are not a God who delights in wickedness; evil will not sojourn with you” (vv. 3-4).
Believe it or not, we can gain relief simply by speaking honestly about our troubles. “Talk therapy” is the technical term for this, and it can do a lot of good for people feeling depressed, stressed, or anxious. “Don’t bottle it all up inside — you’ll explode,” says the website of the JFK Medical Center in Florida. “This may seem like another cliché, but it has truth and value. Talking about your feelings can really help.”
So talk about your feelings with God. In the morning, plead your case—ask for help with neighbors, spouses, coworkers, and relatives. Pray for strength to face the challenges of the day, knowing that the Lord is “not a God who delights in wickedness.”
Second, bring your Open Outcry to others. Following his tour of Chicago, Ben Pratt talked with his fellow travelers including two men from New Jersey. They were struck by the beauty and opulence of Chicago, as well as by the sight of street people begging for money. Their conversation turned into a discussion about economics and taxes.
“I don’t mind that a lot of people make a lot of money,” said one of the men from New Jersey. “That’s the way of our system. What really bothers me is that so many children in our nation don’t have food for breakfast or they go to bed hungry at night.”
When people do evil to us, we should begin by crying out to God. But our Open Outcry should never stop there, especially in a society in which we have the power to improve the world around us. Just as we have reason to scream when a family member lies to us, we should also be shouting when our community fails to provide breakfast for children.
In the Bible, Open Outcries are directed both to God and to other people:
We cry to God: “Give ear, O LORD, to my prayer,” says Psalm 86; “listen to my cry of supplication. In the day of my trouble I call on you, for you will answer me” (vv. 6-7).
We cry to others: “Cease to do evil, learn to do good,” says the prophet Isaiah; “seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow” (1:16-17).
We cry to God: “My God, my God,” cries Jesus from the cross, “why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34).
We cry to others: “Know that it is evil and bitter for you to forsake the LORD your God,” says Jeremiah; “the fear of me is not in you, says the Lord GOD of hosts” (2:19).
Throughout the Bible, God’s people are not afraid of Open Outcries. Sometimes the cry goes up to God, saying, “Give ear, O LORD to my prayer.” Sometimes it goes out to other people, saying, “Cease to do evil, learn to do good.” In either case, passionate words are being spoken and heard. In the face of evil and deceit, we should never stand silent.
This is another area in which Christians and Muslims can stand together. We can join together to feed the hungry children who are living in motels along the Lee Highway corridor. We can work together to make sure that affordable housing is preserved here in the City of Fairfax. We don’t mind that people make money in the United States, since this country has long been a land of opportunity. But we don’t want children to go to bed hungry, nor do we want them displaced from their affordable apartments because the buildings are being replaced by luxury units.
Mary, the mother of Jesus, shared these concerns. That is why her first extended speech in the Gospel of Luke is an Open Outcry: God “has brought down the powerful from their thrones,” says Mary, “and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty” (1:52-53).
Mary’s words reveal the kind of God we worship—one who brings down the powerful and lifts up the lowly. Her cry also reminds us of the work we are supposed to do as followers of God—feeding the hungry while also telling the rich, “Hey guys, you’ve got enough.”
Open Outcries remind us of the true identity of God, and of our own true identity as well. I think this applies equally to people of faith who are Muslim and Christian.
“As people of faith, we are called to welcome the Open Outcry,” writes Ben Pratt. “It’s not an arcane system of signals that we can claim to have forgotten. Those of us with even modest means need to respond with compassion. Even humble Mary is crying out the vision to us today: Our God leads us toward exalting the humble and filling the hungry with good things.”
Finally, Psalm 5 starts us on the path toward rediscovering our identity as people of faith. “The boastful will not stand before your eyes,” says the psalm; “you hate all evildoers. You destroy those who speak lies; the LORD abhors the bloodthirsty and deceitful” (vv. 5-6). “Lead me, O LORD, in your righteousness because of my enemies; make your way straight before me” (v. 8).
You’ve probably heard the expression “the best defense is a good offense.” You’ll certainly hear it as the Washington Redskins go into training camp in July. In this case, what’s true in sports is also true in the life of faith. Following God in the way of righteousness is going to have the effect of preoccupying your opposition. Walking a straight path is going to confound your enemies and reduce the chance that they will do you harm.
So go ahead: Kill your enemies with kindness. As the apostle Paul says to the Romans, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals upon their heads” (12:20). Remember what our Turkish brothers and sisters said after the Boston Marathon bombings: “Terror, violence and the killing of innocent people can never lead to beneficial results.”
Abraham Lincoln showed kindness to his enemies when he chose three of his presidential opponents to serve on his cabinet during the Civil War. These three men had run against Lincoln for the Republican nomination in 1860, and they disdained him for his backwoods upbringing and lack of experience. But Lincoln soothed their egos and turned them into allies, finally winning their admiration and respect. Together, they led our country through one of its most challenging times.
Lincoln destroyed his enemies by turning them into his friends. That’s our challenge as well, especially as we get ready to celebrate the birth of our country on Independence Day: To destroy our enemies by turning them into friends.
When facing opposition or attacks, don’t keep your feelings to yourself. First, lift them to God in an Open Outcry. Second, call out to the people around you, and work together to seek justice and help the oppressed. Finally, turn to God for help as you seek to walk in the path of righteousness. Treat your neighbors fairly, and turn them into friends.
In the most desperate of situations, God will hear your cry. And respond. Amen.
SOURCES: Pratt, Benjamin. “Open Outcry.” Read the Spirit Website, October 6, 2012, www.readthespirit.com. “The Benefits of Talk Therapy,” JFK Medical Center Website, April 18, 2012, http://blog.jfkmc.com. Burgess, Tina. “‘Team of Rivals’: Lincoln, Doris Goodwin, Steven Spielberg, Daniel Day-Lewis,” Examiner, November 10, 2012, www.examiner.com.