I’m Tired, Boss

A Homily for ADOTS Morning Prayer:  25 September 2020

(Hebrews 13:1-5)

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

“I’m tired, boss. Tired of being on the road, lonely as a sparrow in the rain. I’m tired of never having me a buddy to be with to tell me where we’s going to, coming from, or why. Mostly, I’m tired of people being ugly to each other. I’m tired of all the pain I feel and hear in the world…every day. There’s too much of it. It’s like pieces of glass in my head…all the time. Can you understand? …”

You may recognize that as a quote from the Stephen King character, John Coffey, in the novel and film The Green Mile.  Coffey is a giant of a black man:  simple-minded, gentle, gifted with miraculous powers, and awaiting execution for a brutal crime he did not commit.  I can’t understand the tiredness he felt, but something deep within me resonates with his sentiment:  “I’m tired, boss…Mostly, I’m tired of people being ugly to each other.”  

“Being ugly” is a Southern colloquialism; others may use it, but it’s ours.  It has nothing to do with looks and everything to do with behavior.  Pretty people can be ugly and often are, as if their good looks give them the privilege and right to be nasty to other people.  That’s what being ugly means:  being nasty or hateful or rude or mean or dismissive or any of a number of other unpleasant behaviors.  And like John Coffey, I’m tired of people being ugly to each other.

Recently, I left an Anglican Facebook group because I got tired of people being ugly to each other over things both grand and small, important and trivial, relevant and arcane — really over everything and nothing at all.  Now, I’m not saying I am morally superior to any of them.  I felt the pull toward being ugly myself and left the group — hopefully — before I gave in to that temptation.  I’m tired of people being ugly to each other.

I’m tired of people being ugly to each other over whether to wear a mask or not.

I’m tired of people being ugly to each other over issues of racial justice and which lives matter.

I’m tired of Trump and Biden and Pelosi and McConnell being ugly to each other — and to all of us — and I’m tired of their supporters and political parties being ugly to each other.

I’m tired of CNN being ugly to conservatives and Fox being ugly to liberals.

I’m tired of Protestants being ugly to Catholics and Catholics being ugly to Protestants.

I’m tired of Reformed Anglicans being ugly to Anglo-Catholics and both those groups being ugly to Charismatic Anglicans.

I’m tired, boss.  Mainly, I’m tired of people being ugly to each other.  Can you understand?

I’m tired because this is not the way it’s supposed to be.  I’m tired because it goes against the grain of the Spirit within each us, even as it gratifies the darker impulses within each of us.  I’m tired because this is not the better way, the true way of Christ.  But this is:

Hebrews 13:1–5 (ESV): Let brotherly love continue. 2 Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. 3 Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body. 4 Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous. 5 Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” 

If there is an opposite virtue to the vice of being ugly, it must be showing brotherly love.  Saint Paul, or whoever wrote this epistle, doesn’t waste any time telling us about the nature of brotherly love; he assumes we know.  Most of us do.  Most of us have a sibling or a friend closer than a brother, someone who is like a second self to us, someone who could ask anything of us and it not be too much:  a Jonathan to David, a Mary and Martha to Lazarus.  Think about that person.  Can you imagine yourself being ugly to him, to her?  Perhaps, because we are fallen creatures.  But how it would grieve you until you had made amends and restored the relationship.  So, Paul, or whoever wrote this epistle, wastes no time describing brotherly love.  He simply says, “Let brotherly love continue.”  This is the characteristic he’s interested in:  the persistence, the resilience, the relentlessness of brotherly love.  Let brotherly love continue.

Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers.  Now, we move outward from those who are like brothers to us, to those we don’t know, to those who might become brothers.  Such hospitality is a solemn duty in Benedictine monasteries; St. Benedict included it in his Rule, in Chapter 53:

Let all guests who arrive be received like Christ, 

for He is going to say, 

“I came as a guest, and you received Me” (Matt. 25:35).

And to all let due honor be shown,

especially to the domestics of the faith and to pilgrims.

How can we be ugly to the one in front of us, if we are obliged to receive him or her as Christ himself, especially if that one belongs to the household of faith?  Mother Teresa considered and treated the destitute of Calcutta as if they were Christ in the distressing disguise of the poor.  That’s true Christian hospitality:  showing the stranger, the outcast, the despised the same care you would show Christ himself.  Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers.

Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them.  I doubt that Saint Paul, or whoever wrote this epistle, had murderers, rapists, drug dealers, thieves, and other assorted miscreants in mind.  He was probably thinking about those who were imprisoned for the faith.  I could be wrong about this, but in context I think it makes sense.  Remember them.  Remember doesn’t mean simply to call to mind after a state of forgetfulness.  When God remembered the Hebrews in Egypt he delivered them from their captivity.  Remember means to take whatever action you can to deliver, restore, and comfort.  In Paul’s day it meant to send food to the prisoners, to visit them, to supply their physical, emotional, and spiritual needs.  In our day it might look like supporting organizations that work on behalf of persecuted Christians, writing letters to petition governments for release of wrongly incarcerated Christians, lobbying our own government to allow immigration of persecuted Christian minorities.  In every day it means praying for those in prison as we would pray for ourselves if we were there with them.  And, I really might be wrong about the murderers and rapists.  I know a group in Knoxville — KnoxCAM, the Knoxville Christian Arts Ministries — who takes the love of God into regional correction facilities by proclaiming the Gospel through art and drama and music and dance.  Prisoners have become brothers and sisters in Christ through that ministry.  These artists, too, are remembering those who are in prison, as though in prison with them. 

Let marriage be held in honor…for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous.  What’s the big deal about sex?  Why does God seem so interested in what goes on between consenting adults in the privacy of their bedrooms?  Because, as Saint Paul tells us, marriage is an icon of the relationship between Christ and the Church:  husbands loving their wives with the self-sacrificing love of Christ for the Church and wives being solely devoted to their husbands as the Church must be solely devoted to Christ.  In this allegorical image, sexual immorality is idolatry or apostasy.  But, there’s something else, too.  One of the worst ways of being ugly to a person is to use that person, to treat that person as something less than a person.  Sexual immorality does precisely that:  pornography, casual sex (whatever that means), coerced sex, prostitution — all of these treat the other, an image bearer of God, as a body to be used for one’s own ends.  Sexual immorality holds true commitment, full self-giving, at arm’s length.  It may, in some cases, seem beautiful, but it masks ugliness.

Keep your life free from love of money.  One of the memes of this time of Covid-19 says, We’re All In The Same Boat.  That’s a lie.  We’re all in the same flood, perhaps, but not in the same boat.  The rich are riding out the flood in yachts, the middle class on pontoon boats, and the poor are clinging to debris in the water just trying not to drown.  But, the poor are drowning by the score anyway.  They are the low-paid essential workers who must risk their health and the health of their families to serve the rest of us.  They are the ones most at risk of eviction, the ones most likely to have no health insurance, the ones infected at the highest rates, and the ones least likely to survive.  Here is the truth we all know, the truth that is crystal clear at the moment:  our society is based on love of money; that is the nature of capitalism.  It must not be so among us, not in the Church.  Keep your life free from the love of money.

“I’m tired, boss. Tired of being on the road, lonely as a sparrow in the rain. I’m tired of never having me a buddy to be with to tell me where we’s going to, coming from, or why. Mostly, I’m tired of people being ugly to each other. I’m tired of all the pain I feel and hear in the world…every day. There’s too much of it. It’s like pieces of glass in my head…all the time. Can you understand? …”

Are you tired of people being ugly to each other?  There’s a better way.  Amen.

About johnaroop

I am a husband, father, retired teacher, lover of books and music and coffee and, as of 17 May 2015, by the grace of God and the will of his Church, an Anglican priest in the Anglican Church in North America, Anglican Diocese of the South. I serve as assisting priest at Apostles Anglican Church in Knoxville, TN.
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