Who do people say that I am?

Who do you say that I am?

I did not grow up in the Episcopal Church. I was not like that delightful two-month-old baby – Emily – that was baptized in this very place a week ago. It is our prayer for her that she will have a long and joyful life and a long life in the Episcopal church. It was not until I had some years on me – September 29, 1985, to be exact – I had to look the date up – that I was confirmed as a member of the Episcopal Church.

Along with a lot of other things the Book of Common Prayer was new to me. I found it to be useful and helpful in a lot of ways. For example, if the service was long and my mind wandered, I would leaf through its pages. I especially liked the Psalter – the Psalms.

I guess that’s how I discovered the 19th Psalm.

The heavens declare the glory of God,

And the firmament shows His handiwork…

Although they have no words or language,

And their voices are not heard,

Their sound has gone out into all lands,

And their message to the ends of the earth.

The glory and beauty and awesomeness of the earth speak of its Creator in ways beyond what just words can say…

Some of the next phrases the commentators say the Psalmist is speaking of the Torah, the Jewish law. While certainly they are references to the Pentateuch and the Mosaic Covenant, I would also understand them that in God’s creation of man He has “hardwired” us to know that certain things are right and certain other things are wrong. For all of us who are His creation. That’s a pretty big “all.”

The law of the Lord is perfect

And revives the soul…

The statutes of the Lord are just

And rejoice the heart…

And I guess another thing I love about this Psalm is how it speaks of a someone – a someone else and then it speaks of us and to us – God speaks directly to us.


Who can tell how often “he” offends –

“he” – someone else – could be anyone else – but not me –

And then the Psalmist shifts “person”-

Cleanse “me” – not someone else -but me.

Above all, keep your servant – me – from presumptuous sins;

Let them not get dominion over me;

Then shall I be whole and sound,

And innocent of a great offense…

the Psalmist closes with words that all of us should be praying – especially those of us who will be speaking or teaching:

Let the words of my mouth and the mediation of my heart be acceptable in your sight,

O Lord, my strength and redeemer.

Last week in one of readings we heard James speaking of “Faith” versus “Works.” Among other things Fr Carey had us look at the Baptismal Covenant and the promises we all make in that Covenant. In the argument of Faith versus Works I don’t see argument: If we truly have “faith” we will want to “live” that faith. And in that “living” we will do the things that are called “works.”

And that “doing” will become our “words.” Just as God speaks to us the glories of his creation so what we do – things some might call “works” – speak of our faith to others better than any words we might say.

Let me tell you a story. It is about a person and a place a long way from Arkansas.

There is a young woman who happens to love soccer. Her name is Khalida Popal.

She was born in Afghanistan where women’s and girls participation in such sports is frowned upon. Even so, in the years after 9/11 she participated in women’s soccer in Kabul. It was not easy. In 2011, Ms. Popal was stuck in Kabul traffic when a gunman approached her car and fired, narrowly missing her but seriously wounding her driver. Within days she left the country. She now lives in Copenhagen.

Beginning mid-August – last month – she started getting calls from Afghani young women and girls asking for help to get out of Afghanistan. I have a Wall Street Journal news app on my i-phone where I first read the story, “A Daring Escape Plan.” I encourage you to read the entire news story – it is a news story and not an editorial. (1)

She has a day job in Copenhagen. She responded to the calls. She started work and began calling even though she had no contacts. Most needed was a commitment from a country who would accept these people. Her goal was to get 100 out.

One of her calls was to a well-known soccer player in Australia. He contacted that country’s foreign minister Marise Payne. Australia agreed to help and provide the necessary documentation.

Saturday, August 21st they set out for the airport. Ms. Popal’s instructions included “Put your passports in your underwear, bring food, water and power packs for your phones; carry a red scarf to use as a flare in the crowd. If the Taliban stop you, start crying. Tell them your husband will be irate if you don’t join him in the airport.”

Let me complete the story with quotes from the Journal’s news story:

“Finally, shortly before 10 a.m., the team captain and nine other players reached a small contingent of over-whelmed Swedish troops.

”Footballers! Australia!” screamed the 19-year-year, waving the red scarf she was carrying. The [team] captain held up a water bottle to catch their attention.

“The Swedes lifted them over a concrete wall draped in razor wire, one after the next, into the airport. They didn’t even look at the players’ documents. “We’re in,” the [team] captain texted Ms. Popal.

“The [team] captain, now moving through the packed compound, found Lance Cpl. Kareem Nikoui, a 20-year-old Californian who had joined the U.S. Marines last year.

“The [team] captain explained their predicament. Lance Cpl. Nikoui stepped into the crowd and hoisted other players over as they made it to the gates. [Through] audio messages, those players guided yet more teammates to their location.

“In all, 86 soccer players and their families ultimately made it into the airport. They boarded transporter planes to the United Arab Emirates, a staging ground for their uncertain new life in Australia…

“More than a dozen players from the youth and women’s teams didn’t make it out. On Thursday Ms. Popal called off the evacuation…That afternoon, an Islamic State suicide bomb, followed by gunfire, struck Abbey Gate, killing Lance Cpl. Nikoui, 12 other Marines and nearly 200 civilians.

Why are we still talking about Afghanistan? That’s an unpleasant subject.

Yesterday was the 20th anniversary of September 11th. Lance Cpl Nikouii was just 20 years old when he was killed wearing an American uniform. Almost all of his life had been lived since September 11th.

So, let’s take a moment to thank Lance Cpl Nikoui. And let’s thank all the others who made sacrifices for us in Afghanistan and all the places where men and women in our military have made such sacrifices.

My grand-daughter has discovered volleyball. She plays on her school’s team. She loves it. Maybe not to the degree that the woman I have been talking about loves soccer or to the same degree of skill. But it’s a good sport, healthy, enjoyable, building teamwork and friendships…And there is something disordered – something wrong – when the rulers of a particular country would restrict the education of its girls and women. When they would see evil in letting them participate in the joys and experiences of growing up that are taken for granted by boys and men. There is something disordered and wrong when they would take a stadium built for the enjoyment of sports for its people and use it as a place to behead those who “violate” their religious dictates. There is something disordered and wrong when they would murder innocent people of another country, another society as happened on September 11th.

Given how God has made us when a good person is confronted by evil and evil situations that good person will strive to do the right thing… Sometimes even when the situation is difficult and challenging. Such was the response of the young woman when contacted by young women and girls from her home country of Afghanistan.

Sometimes just doing your duty can be challenging and difficult – and dangerous and life threatening as we see in the story of the young marine, Lance Cpt Nikoui. The story we heard is of not a lot of words yet I sense that he saw a need, he sensed the distress of these young women and girls and he reached out and helped them. 

What are we as followers of Christ to make of all this?

First, the question that Jesus asked of his disciple that day, He is asking of us.

“…Who do you day that I am?”

I pray that my answer to Him and your answer would be like Peter’s:

“You are the Messiah!”

But I think that He would expect – and hope – that our answer would not solely be in words.

That our answers would be in action, in doing…

These people are not coming to us and other countries in happy circumstances. They are fleeing a terrorist organization that has taken over their homeland. The circumstances of their leaving was chaotic.

That we welcome them in friendship and love, that we would welcome them as Christ would want us to welcome them.

Usually in preparing a message such as this you come to a point – you come to an ending.

I don’t feel that way today.  

Yesterday was September 11th.

Wednesday or Thursday of this week we drove to Lonoke to get some more bedding for our horses at Atwood’s. On the way I started noticing all the American flags. One on this house, then one on a barn, or one on a flagpole in a yard. Some were at half-mast.

A man who had participated in the raid on Osama bin Laden was asked what he saw now as the greatest threat. He said the divisiveness of our country.

Maybe the shabbiness of an ending that is no ending.

Richard Robertson

Source: “A Daring Escape Plan,” by Drew Hinshaw and Joe Parkinson, Wall Street Journal, September 4-5, 2021, Pages A1, A11.