It was certainly nice hearing a sermon last week and not giving one. Spike did a tremendous job. It’s not an easy task. I am blessed, we are blessed with having some great lay leaders at this church who put a lot of thought and struggle into a sermon when they are invited to preach.
Preaching stands in the prophetic tradition. That is what prophets did. The first sermon ever preached in the New Testament was by the prophet John the Baptist. We have it today. Using the words from the prophet Isaiah he says- I am the voice of one crying, proclaiming or preaching in the wilderness. “Repent!” Jesus was a preacher. There is the famous sermon on the mount. When he preached in his hometown, everyone was so upset they tried to throw him over a cliff. St. Paul once preached a sermon so long that one of the listeners, sitting in a window sill feel out and the apostles had the double of duty of preaching and healing the poor fellow who couldn’t stay awake. That’s the sermonic story I relate to the most.
After I gave one of my first sermons in seminary- the Rev. Dr. J. Benjamin Bedenbaugh give this review. LeCroy, the mind cannot absorb more than the behind can endure. I don’t think he used the word behind.
That stuck with me. To this day, I feel like I am still working on that sermon. The task given is important. Taking the pulpit is an awesome task. One stands in a tradition of prophets and rabbis and teachers and great orators. There is the responsibility to bring scripture alive and making it relevant. Sermons launched the civil rights movement in our country. Some sermons have done great harm. Preachers being quite fallible have failed on occasions as numerous the stars. I am aware of that every single time I deliver a sermon. Which explains why I am quite bleary eyed this morning, seriously losing sleep over the night about what to say today.
There are 4,000 of our fellow citizens dying every day, 4,00 families. That is 9/11 over and over again and it is a colossal failure of political leadership. There is no excuse and no equivocation of the horrific job done by our government. I am afraid for the lives of my loved ones and by loved ones, I also include members of this congregation. Our country is in open rebellion and that is affecting all our friendships and relationships even if you don’t want to talk about it with anyone -it is there. Our economy is falling apart. Separating out my own political views and fears from what the Holy Spirit wants me to say this morning is burdensome at this moment.
So this we are going first a little lecture from my heart. I am scared to death — still. I beseech you to be careful. To wear a mask and stay away from people. Wash your hands, your mamas told you this and it is still good advice. Make space. God has given us science and learning and education. It as a gift from God. Learning, teaching and reading are acts of praise and we should listen to science. One of the names of the Holy Spirit is Holy Wisdom. And the scriptures tells That Holy Wisdom, she and it says she (that’s right God is a woman as well and misogynist should remember that. The Spirit is not some junior member of the Trinity making a third less pay-she is God but I digress). She is calling to us from the streets, beginning us to not live in ignorance.
Lutheran Christians invented public education. Luther believed everyone should be able to read the scriptures which meant everyone had to learn to read. That is the tradition we have received and we should be very proud of that and be staunch defenders of an educated citizenry. It is not faithful to be ignorant. The disciples referred to Jesus as Rabbi, or teacher. And we are still being taught.
We are all tired of the pandemic. We want to be with one another. We want to touch and be touched, hug and be hugged. We were created to do just that. But we cannot do that yet. Please I beg you. Listen to Holy Wisdom calling out from the streets.
Now I want to talk to you about John the Baptist’s sermon. “Repent” he said.
I suppose most of us think that he meant start listing your sins. He didn’t.
The word repent is metanoia = meta means another. Noia comes from the word gnosos, meaning to know. Put together it means- know something different, take another look, see things differently have another perspective. Stop what you are doing a take a look at your life or in other words pull your head out of your, you know where, and start acting like your actions or important and have consequences and meaning.
This is not a matter of listing one’s moral failings. This actually is the preaching of the Hebrew prophetic tradition. Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, holocaust survivor, noble prize winner, friend of Dr. King, a brilliant mind, who wrote the best primary on the prophets that every Christian should. It’s called The Prophets and it can be found in bookstores, libraries and online. It is not expensive, easy to read and every Christian should read get it. In fact, if I had to pick only ten books outside of the Bible to read this one would certainly be on that list.
Heschel says this: It is the prophets who teach us that the problem of living does not arise with the question of how to take care of the rascals, of how to prevent delinquency or hideous crimes. The problem of living begins with the realization of how we all blunder in dealing with our fellow humans (men). The silent atrocities, the secret scandals, which no law can prevent, are the true seat of moral infection. The problem of living begins, in fact, in relation to our own selves, in the handling of our emotional functions, in the way we deal with envy, greed, and pride.
Source: Abraham Joshua Heschel, “Religion in a Free Society,” in The Insecurity of Freedom: Essays on Human Existence (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1959), 11–12.
I believe that the inability to look out our selves is the reason for racism and violence and part of what is going on today. This is what John the Baptist was talking about in his sermon that day on the Jordan River.
So what do we do? Well that’s the part I lost sleep over. That is until I re-read a letter from Bishop Bartholomew sent out this week. Let me share it with you.
So many words have already been written about the shameful display on Wednesday of white supremacy, Christian nationalism, and violence, that I hesitate to add more. Disturbing images of fellow citizens carrying crosses alongside confederate flags while storming the capitol building have caused us to stop and reflect on who we are as a country and as people of God living in this country.
As a synod, we have consistently and repeatedly denounced words and actions that contribute to racial prejudice, injustice, or the use of violence as a tool for political change, regardless of where those words or actions come from. We have a role to play in our civic life; we are called to engage in political discourse that works to make life better for the people who call this country home. But we cannot transfer the allegiance and loyalty which rightly belongs to Jesus Christ to any political leader or ideology.
I invite you to recommit to living out the promises we make when affirming our baptism: to live among God’s faithful people; to hear the word of God and share in the Lord’s Supper; to proclaim the good news of God in Christ through word and deed; to serve all people following the example of Jesus; and to strive for justice and peace in all the earth.
And finally, pray for the peace of Christ that will, in fact, usher in the day when there is justice for all.
Brothers and sisters, in response to John’s sermon and by the example set by our Lord and savior Jesus Christ. I invite you to repent. We are Christians, the stewards of great mysteries. We are called, invited and summoned to bring light to the world. To advocate for those who do not have a voice. To condemn violence and speak truth to power. We are charged with ending racism. This is not an option. It’s a commandment. We are charged to fight the evils of poverty and ignorance and commit our live to making the world better. Remember that you are baptized and in that God calls you his beloved. You represent the faith. You heal the nations, welcome the immigrant, speak for the oppressed, visit the sick, open the prisons, feed the hungry and give shelter to the homeless.
Let’s take another look at or calling. Let’s repent. This morning we will use the words of our baptism, celebrating the promises God has made and kept to us and acknowledging our calling and the Holy purpose to which we, God’s children and Jesus disciples have been called.