Monday, December 1, 2014

Sermon for November 30, 2014; The First Sunday of Advent: A Ferguson Awakening

This sermon was preached at Christ the King Lutheran Church in Holliston, MA on November 30, 2014. 

Gospel: Mark 13:24–37
24But in those days, after that suffering,
            the sun will be darkened,
            and the moon will not give its light,
  25and the stars will be falling from heaven,
            and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.
  26Then they will see 'the Son of Man coming in clouds' with great power and glory.  27Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.
             28From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near.  29So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates.  30Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place.  31Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
             32But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.  33Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come.  34It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch.  35Therefore, keep awake — for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn,  36or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly.  37And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake."
Greetings to you in the name of Jesus Christ,
On Monday evening, I was getting ready for bed, when I looked through my twitter feed before shutting my eyes.
    As I scrolled through what people were writing, I could tell that a decision had been handed down by the Grand Jury in the Michael Brown/Darren Wilson case out of Ferguson, Missouri. When I saw the news, a part of me felt compelled to look into what was going on a little more. I felt as if I should be engaging with the issue and with other people over social media, or at least going to some news sites and getting more of a story. In a sense, I felt as if I should…Stay Awake, just as Jesus Commands us to do in our Gospel for today.

But, a bigger part of me, didn’t want to Stay Awake, nor did I want to go deep into the story, or really do anything besides go to bed, and so that is what I did. Now, to be clear, my falling asleep wasn’t an intentional act of apathy, and I wasn’t completely exhausted, but the truth of the matter was that I was just too sad about the whole situation to really want to think about it anymore.

In the days since the decision not to indict Darren Wilson, I haven’t really “awakened” to this story. I know the fringes of it, and social media tells me that many people do care about it, I mean, have an opinion about it, but I just can’t seem to muster the energy. And again, it’s not because I don’t care, and I certainly have opinions, but mostly I’m just still too sad.

And I’m sad for three reasons.
- First, a person, Michael Brown, was shot and killed. This person left behind parents, and other family and friends. His death, caused by violence, is something that pains me to even think about.

-Second, is that we humans treat this situation as a spectacle; a tragic, ratings-getting, made for Cable News spectacle. In this spectacle, the Grand Jury had the power to offer total justice, or total vindication, with nothing in between. And we, the consumers, eat it all up, being more concerned with how right we are, or how wrong someone else is, all the while, keeping ourselves detached and insulated from feeling compassion and empathy in this tragedy.

-And the third reason I’m sad, is that I’m part of a system, regardless of this tragedy, that just isn’t fair or just towards those who have darker skin than my own. On a national level, statistics on things like incarceration rates show how unfair things are…58% of prison inmates are African American or Hispanic, while these groups only make up 25% of our population….But really, I don’t need statistics to tell me how the system is unfair. I simply go back to my teaching days, in the second largest high school in Minnesota. Each day, as I passed the room where the kids would sit to serve their In School Suspensions, the “naughty room”, the racial make-up of that room was not representative of the racial make-up of the school, as non-white students filled those desks in greater numbers than they made-up in the school.  

This situation was and is confusing and disheartening to me. It saddens me that a school I loved working at, which had wonderful, caring, and thoughtful teachers, staff, and administration; a place that I joined with many great people to make a great place to learn, could, despite many good intentions, reflect and perpetuate the same injustices that happen in society as a whole.

And so, in the wake of last week’s events, I am not outraged, or surprised, I’m just saddened by violence, death, and injustice.

But while my pot hasn’t boiled over in the last few days, I have been made more awake. Through these past days, as I have struggled with how to react to this world around us, and really tried to find something else to preach about, I have awoken to the role that Jesus is playing in all things, to the work that he is doing. You see, as the cameras traveled to Ferguson, ready for a spectacle, Jesus was there in the churches in the town and in the area, as they made themselves ready as sanctuaries and safe havens for those who would need them. And, as security forces moved into the area to try and keep things calm, Christ the King United Church of Christ in Florissant, MO welcomed something else. They welcomed signs of Jesus’ enduring peace in the folded, paper peace cranes, that had been passed on to them from Old South Church in Boston, where they had hung after the 2013 Marathon, and who themselves had received them from Newtown Congregational Church, in Connecticut.

In these days, in my sadness, I have been made awake by the unending presence of Jesus Christ in Ferguson, Missouri, and throughout our world, who isn’t here to fix our system, but is here to utterly destroy it with the hammer of God’s justice. This is a justice that is merciful, peaceful, and loving, and one that doesn’t create a society of winners and losers, but a society of righteousness, abundance, and fellowship between sisters and brothers of all looks, shapes, sizes, and abilities. This is a justice that swallows up sin and death, including each of ours, and leaves new, everlasting life in their place. God’s justice is the light of the new age, the age when heaven and earth have passed away, the age in which all of creation is awakened, and made new.

As we begin Advent, we light candles as the world around us grows darker. In the lighting of these candles, may we indeed see that now is the time of the Peacemaker. May we arise from slumber and see that even now his light is shining in the works of mercy and justice done by so many, in the midst of a society and people that is sick, or maybe just sick and tired, and in need of a Savior. As we take his life into our bodies, may it shine through us and awaken the world, with the light, the life that shines for you, me, and for all people, for both the Michael Brown’s and Darren Wilsons of this world, calling us all to trust in God’s merciful justice, lovingly calling us to be made One, in the Body of Christ.

As we journey through Advent, knowing that Christ is already in our hearts, yet not yet fully present in our world, we say this poem from St. Teresa of Avila:

“Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body. Christ has no body now on earth but yours.”

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,


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