Monday, January 18, 2016

"Let freedom ring", Epiphany 2 Sermon, 1.17.16


Today,  I have too much to talk about.  Our Scriptural texts are rich—the Miracle of the Wedding at Cana and Paul’s letter to the Corinthians on the Gifts of the Spirit.  But we must also listen to the texts of our communal life today.  Tomorrow is Martin Luther King Day, a day traditionally celebrated as a day of unity and service, a day to address the history and current expressions of racism which shape our society.  As we contemplate Martin Luther King Jr.’s message and discipleship this year, we struggle to make meaning of recent events--the attacks on women in Cologne, and the terrorism of Isis in Paris and throughout the Middle East that threaten to divide us from our Muslim brothers and sisters by a reign of fear and insecurity.  

And in our Church life, we must listen to the decision of the Anglican Primates (http://episcopaldigitalnetwork.com/ens/2016/01/14/majority-of-primates-call-for-temporary-episcopal-church-sanctions/)
who have voted to exclude the Episcopal Church from participation in Anglican Communion leadership because of our decision at our last General Convention to change our Canon on the Solemnization of Holy Matrimony to authorize marriage between two persons, removing the restriction that marriage be only between a man and a woman. 

We can hear the powerful response from our Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry (http://www.episcopalchurch.org/posts/publicaffairs/episcopal-church-presiding-bishop-and-primate-michael-curry-actions-anglican) who reminds us that we are part of the Jesus Movement and that it may be our (the Episcopal Church’s) vocation to lead the Anglican Communion to “grow in a direction where we can realize and live the love that God has for all of us, and we can one day be a Church and a Communion where all of God’s children are fully welcomed, where this is truly a house of prayer for all people.”

Our Bishop, Marc spoke on Thursday about the decision of the Anglican Primates, (http://bishopmarc.typepad.com/blog/2016/01/they-did-not-express-the-mind-of-christ.html), expressing his view (and the views of the Diocese) that the actions of the Primates is antithetical to the Way of Christ.

In our congregation, here at Nativity, we must also consider the text of this season—we are in Epiphany recognizing Christ’s coming into our world.  And we are preparing for our Annual Meeting (on January 31st), the election of our new Vestry, and reflecting on where we have been and how we have grown over the past year and making plans for our Church life together over the next year.

How do all of these “texts” resonate with one another?  What message can we hear from God, from Jesus, that can help us navigate our feelings (for many of us--our pain) and choose the way of discipleship as we move through this troubled time?

As I listened over the course of the week, and contemplated the voices of Scripture, the public media, Martin Luther King Jr., the Primates, the Presiding Bishop and our Bishop, I heard voices expressing fear and voices confronting that fear with love.  The experience of fear, that powerful feeling that our lives are threatened can re-enslave us all and hold us back from the new life that we have received from God in the covenant which is Jesus Christ.  When we are afraid, we cannot participate in God’s creativity.  We cannot expand and enjoy God’s bounty.  We cannot live into the fullness of life that God hopes for us.

We have an opportunity to face our fears today.   We can turn our attention to them, and we can listen for God’s response to our fears.

Let us ask what motivates the racism that continues today in our country.  A racism that follows from the abomination of slavery and manifests today in the economic disparity between people of color and those of us who “believe ourselves to be white” (Ta Nihisi Coates).  A racism that manifests as police violence against black people in much higher rates.  A racism that expresses itself in statistics of incarceration that put 1 in 3 black men in prison over the course of their lifetimes.  Black men are twice as likely to be in prison as they are to complete a college degree.  When we acknowledge the systemic racism in our country, we must ask about the fears that underlie the creation and perpetuation of these systems.  For those of us who enjoy the privilege of whiteness, there is a fear of losing our power, our position, our safety, our prosperity.    What will happen to us if those people who are gifted by God in the same ways as us take our places?  What if the people of Marin City move here into our neighborhood in Marinwood.  What is it that we are afraid of?

As we hear about the violence in Cologne, there is a real fear that women share about sexual assault, but this fear is now attached to the identity of these terrorist perpetrators—those from North Africa, those “foreigners” who may or may not be German citizens.  There is a fear now of those whom we identify as Muslim—even though we know rationally that it is not Islam that called them to perpetrate these acts of terror, but rather a radical faction, their nationalism, their political agenda that is not inherent in the teachings of the Islamic faith.

In the acts of the Primates, we might identify a fear of the Southern Churches that also exists here in the United States.  A fear that if marriage can include the union of Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual, Transgender, Queer and Questioning people then the union between a man and a woman is somehow threatened, that the institution of marriage is jeopardized if it is opened to all people.  Let us confront and name the fear that our Church is somehow compromised when we acknowledge the sacrament of marriage as available to all of God’s people.

What links these fears—fears of the other, the one who looks different or makes different choices.   Fears that motivate violence, fears that provoke exclusion.  These fears from which we try to protect ourselves—putting up walls, isolating ourselves.  Let me be clear, I am not suggesting that some fears are unjustified.   Fears of violence in some communities are absolutely legitimate.  Fears of women who venture alone at night are real.  The fears that black people have when they encounter the police are statistically relevant, even though there are wonderful public safety officers who are pledged to uphold safety in our communities and are actively working against racial profiling. 

But fear limits us.  Fear prevents us from seeing Christ in one another.  Fear holds us back from loving as God has commanded us to love one another.  Fear prevents us from living as fully as God’s vision for us would include.

Listening to our Scriptural passages today,  we can ask how those fears might be addressed.
In our Gospel today, we can hear Jesus rebuking his Mother at the wedding,  Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come." (Jn. 2:3)  One reading of this passage is that Jesus is reminding his mother that there’s no real crisis.  There’s not enough wine at the wedding, but this is not like when the Israelites were starving in the desert.  This is a minor crisis, not really a cause for miraculous intervention.  Jesus tells her that it’s not time, some believe that he’s referring to the time for miracles—it’s not yet time for Christ to intervene.    But he does intervene.  He turns the water into the best wine.  We can see this miracle as sanctifying the marriage ceremony.  It’s not a huge crisis for the normal people of Galilee who are attending the wedding, but it’s a sacred moment, and a moment that is worthy of Jesus’ attention.  The marriage blessing is so important that Jesus honors it by producing the best wine. 

Maybe we can take from this Bible story an opportunity.  What if when our fears arise (in the media, in our public policy choices, in our Church governance) we ask Jesus’ question,  “What concern is this of you and to me?”  Is this really a crisis?  Are we genuinely threatened?  Maybe we are uncomfortable, our historic or cultural sense of “what is right” has been challenged, but we are not really in a crisis.  The change of the Episcopal Church canons to allow the marriage of all people has not truly threatened us.    Changing our criminal justice system to better respect the rights of all people, irrespective of race, will not undermine our safety, but might actually protect all of us better.

Jesus’ miracle at the wedding might point us to a new understanding of our role.  There are sacred moments, when human limits must be challenged.  There are sacred situations when God’s work is beyond anything that we can imagine in our usual, ordinary, human ways of being.  Jesus shows his Mother, the wedding guests and all of us, that God’s bounty triumphs over fear.  As we seek to live into our Covenant with Jesus, we are called to believe, to imagine, to trust that God will provide in miraculous ways.  The chains that enslave us include the belief that we must provide everything—the answers, the structures, the protections to keep ourselves safe and satisfied.  But Jesus shows us that trusting in God (as Mary trusts in Jesus at the wedding) opens us possibilities that we did not see in our human realm.

I want to be careful here though.  We could read about Jesus’ miracles and wash our hands of the problems of our time.  We could think that it’s up to God and therefore not up to us.  If we just believe, then the problems will go away because God is working in the world.    But our Scripture shows us that we must participate in this work.

Believing that God’s work of bringing all people into the Kingdom is happening is only a first step.  Jesus turned to the servants at the wedding and instructed them.  They were to fill up the jars, and bring them to the steward.  Jesus’ miracle didn’t happen alone, the servants had to do work and in this work, the water was transformed.

Paul’s letter to the Corinthians instructs that community to participate in God’s work as well.  The Corinthians are fighting among themselves.   Paul says to them, when you are trying to understand the truth, know that if someone is speaking against Jesus, it’s not truth.  “[N]o one speaking by the Spirit of God ever says ‘Let Jesus be cursed!’” (1 Cor. 12:3).  But he goes on to tell them that the gifts they have been given by the Spirit are to be used for the “common good.”  The gifts of wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, working of miracles, prophecy, discernment of spirits, various tongues, and the interpretation of tongues.  All of these gifts of the Spirit are to be used for the “common good.”   

We can see that we are being called to address the fears that hold us back by believing in the God who promises us new life, abundance for all people everywhere.  But our belief, our faith must be lived in our human actions.  Whatever our unique gifts, we must bring them to the service of God’s work.  As we follow Jesus, we must use fill the vessels, we must focus not on our own protection, but on the “common good” of freedom for all people.


“Let freedom ring” was Martin Luther King Jr.’s call.  As we remember him this weekend, as we listen to our Presiding Bishop who calls us to build up the Jesus movement, as we think about our role here at Nativity in creating God’s Kingdom here in Marin; let us commit ourselves to using the gifts of the Spirit that we have been given for emancipation of all people everywhere.  Amen.

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