Monday, January 19, 2015

Sermon: 2nd Epiphany (Jan 18)

O Lord, we come this morning
Knee-bowed and body-bent
Before Thy throne of grace.
O Lord--this morning--
Bow our hearts beneath our knees,
And our knees in some lonesome valley.

We come this morning--
Like empty pitchers to a full fountain,
With no merits of our own.
O Lord--open up a window of heaven,
And lean out far over the battlements of glory,
And listen this morning.
(James Weldon Johnson) Amen.
We have been exploring the theme: do the right thing
In our Food & Film series. Last night we watched Hotel Rwanda.

It is based on the real life attempt of Paul Rusesabagina, the manager of the Diplomat Hotel in Kigali, Rwanda, to shelter more than 1,000 refugees inside his hotel during the Rwandan Genocide. He gave them water from the pool so they wouldn't die from dehydration, smuggled in food, and held off the militia who came to the hotel by bribing them. Around 1 million Rwandans died in 100 days.

He did the right thing, but now he lives here in the US. He fled Rwanda after the genocide because he said “that after speaking out against those doing evil, I became a target of that evil.” And he never could return.

Doing the right thing often has a cost, a sacrifice. But history tells us that we have to remember; I think of a poem written by Marjory Wentworth that explores this idea of our history and the call of the prophet to remember…
Because our history is a knot
we try to unravel, while others
try to tighten it, we tire easily
and fray the cords that bind us.

The cord is a slow moving river,
spiraling across the land
in a succession of S’s,
splintering near the sea…

Consider the prophet John, calling us
from the edge of the wilderness to name
the harm that has been done, to make it
plain, and enter the river and rise.
To name the harm, make it plain, and then enter the river, that is be baptized & rise anew! John the Baptist calls us to do the right thing in our lives & in our society. And yet the prophet and others are so often seen as the troublemakers for shaking up the status quo or saving the wrong people.

Certainly Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was considered by some an outside agitator, but he knew that he had to name the harm if we were to rise as one. He said, “Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable... Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.”

This weekend we remember his dedication to the cause of civil rights and justice & his call to join him in this hope. As Christians, we are prisoners of hope, as Desmond Tutu put it & MLK personified it.
“If you lose hope, somehow you lose the vitality that keeps moving, you lose that courage to be, that quality that helps you go on in spite of it all. And so today I still have a dream.” (MLK)
MLK had a dream and heard the voice of God call him to proclaim justice in our midst. Hearing the voice of God is not always easy. In our first reading, Samuel would hear the voice of God calling to him. But he did not understand. He thought it was Eli who was calling him. Three times he went to Eli, “Here am I, you called me,” and finally the third time Eli understood that it was the Lord who was calling and he told Samuel what to do. And when the Lord called again, Samuel said, “speak Lord, for your servant is listening.”

We live in times where God’s word seems silent, where visions are not widespread. But God still calls to us. It is Samuel and Eli who remind us to listen, really listen for the voice of God in our lives. We might remain skeptical. Like Nathaniel in the Gospel reading. Philip heard Jesus say, “follow me” and that is all he needed. He heard the voice of God and he responded!

He runs to tell Nathaniel. “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.” This is good news in the days of Roman occupation. The messiah has come. Philip is ready.

And so what does Nathaniel say… “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Nathaniel is not impressed. Jesus of Nazareth. But Philip is not deterred by his friends lack of enthusiasm.

“Come and see.” says Philip. And Nathaniel does and his interaction with Jesus changes everything. “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! you are the King of Israel!”

And Philip and Nathaniel both follow Jesus. Indeed, we are prisoners of hope, for we are called to believe, just as God called Samuel, Samuel – and his servant was listening. God called Philip to follow and he followed. God called Nathaniel to come and see and it changed his life. God called MLK to proclaim from the mountain top, a dream, of justice and hope. God called Paul in Rwanda to save, to reach out in love to Tutsi and Hutu.

It is God who is still working in this world, God calls to you, calls you by name. It is God who looks to you to share that light in a world so full of darkness. Let me end with a poem by James Weldon Johnson (from Lift Every Voice & Sing):
God of our weary years,
God of our silent tears,
Thou who has brought us thus far on the way;
Thou who has by Thy might Led us into the light,
Keep us forever in the path, we pray.
Lest our feet stray from the places, our God, where we met Thee,
Lest, our hearts drunk with the wine of the world, we forget Thee;
Shadowed beneath Thy hand,
May we forever stand.
True to our God,
True to our native land. Amen.

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