Times such as these—in the first thirty-nine chapters of Isaiah
we hear words of condemnation, doom and gloom about a whole variety of societal
sins, all this preparing the folk for exile in Babylon.
Afternoon Bible Study Folk, this section loosely parallels the first 29
chapters of Jeremiah’s words—talk of collective punishment and no justice)
Then, just as Jeremiah 30 does a 1-80 and becomes the book of Consolation,
so too, out of nowhere, “Comfort o’ Comfort my people.” God, the Lover who will
literally move mountains and leap valleys—will go through the long, lonely,
desolate desert so that He might gently take His people in His arms as Isaiah
proclaims, “Here is your God!”
Among a people torn from their homes, homesick in Babylon, there is Gospel.
Times such as these—when the sadistic and unfaithful family of Herod was
in power, and the awful might of the Roman Empire
stood astride the whole world. When it felt like a third Exodus, a second
Exile… even as God’s people dwelled in the land.
At such a time, comes a new beginning. At such a time, comes prophetically
strange actions by John, which point to the coming one. At such a time comes
the Good News about Jesus the Christ.
Among a people occupied both physically and spiritually, seemingly disconnected
from the promises of God, there is Gospel.
The Gospel in Times Such as These.
Let us pray
in Times Such as These
I remember the weeks surrounding Hurricane Irene
surrounding the Sunday I didn’t preach my trial sermon here…
wrestling with the question of whether, if the vote went my way, I should
accept a call here.
And I was truly unsure.
Don’t get me wrong –I was impressed by the call committee:
Frank was clearly competent.
Michelle had dreams of feeding the hungry.
Joe was the most sincere man I’d ever
Peggy asked good tough questions.
Jillian was an active young person in the
consistent openness was a joy.
For that matter, I’d met the council and committee liaisons—both of them
functioned—that’s not always the case, so that was a big plus.
My uncertainty—to use an old cliché—wasn’t you, it was me.
For three of the four years I was in Seminary, I was being trained to serve in
an African American congregation, in a city. I did Field Ed. in West Philly, Internship
in North West Baltimore, and a good number of my classes with the Urban
And I worried those experiences shaped me in such a way that this
congregation and I would have a very different understanding of the way the
so much so
that it would be difficult to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ here.
And there have been hiccups here and there, but by and large we’ve made it
through, and love one another as well as congregation and Pastor ought.
I image Times Such as These—one and a half weeks after the Grand Jury
decision in Ferguson and 4 days after the decision in Staten Island—might be
one of those moments where, because of my experiences in the Black Church and
in communities of color, I likely am understanding the way the world works very
differently than the majority of the congregation.
And it’s not just a case of one weird pastor or one weird congregation
Bishop Eaton recently said, “Following the decisions by grand juries in Ferguson and New
York, it has become clear that we have different
experiences of life in this country.”
And I think in Times Such as These it’s worth naming at least one of
—There is a
division between Blue and Black perspectives.
The Blue perspective is that of police and folk who deeply value law and
Some people are just tired of hearing about these deaths—they want to
get back to Christmas… or at least Advent.
Other’s feel that if Eric Garner and Michael Brown had not fallen afoul
of the Law they’d be alive today—the potential price of criminality, no
matter how small, is death.
Still other folk simply understand that cops got it tough, that
their job is to keep chaos at bay, and in such a situation severity serves
much better than restraint.
And as someone who grew up in Wyoming
I’m not naïve, I know when the WTOTC, the local branch of Neo-Nazi’s
back home in the ‘90’s, wanted to torch black churches or synagogues or
threatened to assassinate judges, it was nice to know there were sheriffs, the
ATF, and the FBI, around to discourage that kind of behavior.
There is also a black perspective to all this—the perspective of African Americans,
People of Color, and their allies.
For whom these latest deaths are so familiar—to quote a friend
“that’s just day to day life for me.”
These deaths are part of a pattern that goes back to Jim Crow, goes back
to Slavery, goes back to the Middle Passage when 15% of kidnapped Africans
never made the journey from West Africa to the Americas,
and no one seemed to care that they died.
I know when I heard about Michael Brown’s death, my first thought was of
my surreal experience outside the local Episcopal Church in Baltimore, when a heavily armored team of
police swarmed the area and attempted to arrest some of the local priest’s
Confirmation students because they were black males, and therefore fit the
description of a nearby shooter.
When we protested that they were all good kids one of the policemen
suggested to the priest that if she didn’t shut up he would shoot her.
By now, most you have seen the video of the choking of Eric Garner, what
most of you haven’t seen was the second tape that was of the 7 minutes it took
for someone to do something about his physical distress. 7 minutes of police
and paramedics doing what appeared to be the least they can for the man as he
It reminded me of a colleague who heard of the death of one of her
parishioners, and made it to his apartment in time to see the paramedics push
the body out of the fire escape… I know the South Plainfield rescue squad
would never do such a thing, but in an urban mainly African American
city—maybe not so uncommon.
All that to say, “it has become clear that we have different experiences of
life in this country,” which I worried about, that week before I preached
my call sermon here at St. Stephen.
My dad, ever practical, told me, “You need money for student loans,
insurance for your heart, and, frankly, you really need to move out of the
That didn’t convince me—after all Harry Potter lived in a cupboard under the
stairs for years!
But my mom said something that got to me, “White Suburban people need Jesus
too Chris.” And so, by the time I arrived here I already reconciled myself
to staying if you’d have me.
And brothers and sisters, The Gospel in Times Such as These—times of
vastly differing experiences, is this, “He will baptize you with the Holy
Spirit.” And he has!
We’re Baptized into Christ’s life, death, and resurrection
him on whole cloth!
We are made
in the image of God and redeemed in the Image of Jesus Christ.
Look at someone you disagree with
Christ to you!
Black Lives Matter,
Blue Lives Matter,
“White Suburban people need Jesus too.”
In Baptism all are one
divisions we construct are ultimately of no value, they are rubbish compared
with the unsurpassed glory of Christ Jesus.
They will not
stand before Jesus’ prayer to his Heavenly Father, “That they may all be
one, just as you Father are in me and I in you—that they also may be in Us, so
that the world may believe.”
In Baptism is forgiveness
—Jesus has brought us from death to life,
bought us from Sin and made us his own
—we are forgiven
—it’s already been done,
So we can do the hard work of the Good News of Jesus Christ,
unafraid of admitting where we’re wrong, conceding points,
unburdened of insisting on our own righteousness, or rightness,
because Jesus is our rightness and righteousness we can listen,
without hidden agendas, or talking points, or waiting with a retort.
Because Christ is our courage, we can stay in difficult conversations
even when it makes us uncomfortable, and even when we fear being misunderstood.
Among a people divided and tired and angry, waiting for Christmas in the
midst of a crisis, there is Gospel. A+A
Labels: race, sermon