Praise God

If you’re here this morning feeling triumphant and joyous and free because of the Supreme Court’s decisions this past week, praise God.

If you’re here this morning feeling queasy and uncertain because of the Supreme Court’s decisions, or because of hate that’s been manifested in our state and even across the street in the last few weeks, praise God.

If you feel like finally, finally, God is answering your prayers, praise God.

If you feel like, in light of this week, God must be taking a nap, praise God.

I do truly pray that there are people in these pews today of all those convictions, because there is merit in all those convictions, and familial love and diversity is a hallmark of the Kingdom of God.

God doesn’t look the way that any of us think he does. God doesn’t act the way any of us suppose he should. God doesn’t look like you. God doesn’t look like me.

God looks like Jesus Christ.

God is Jesus Christ.

Praise God, our Lord Jesus Christ.

And you know what today is? Today is Sunday. We’re here today in this great building because it’s Sunday, and on a Sunday morning thousands of years ago, Jesus Christ, our God, rose from the dead.

We come here every Sunday to remind ourselves and remind each other, to teach it to our children and their children, that God lives, God reigns, God is alive. God is not dead

This is Good News, my brothers and sisters. The God who breathed life into each of our nostrils, as the psalms tell us; the God who takes death and makes life; the God who takes darkness and makes light; the God who overcomes evil and sin. This God, our God, he is alive. And he is here. And he is in your heart and he is in mine.

Because of this truth, brothers and sisters, you are a new creation. You are in Christ and you are a new creation. The old is gone, my friends, the new has come. As Joseph said to his brothers in Genesis, “you meant evil for me, but God meant it for good.” The evil that infected an AME church in Charleston two weeks ago was crushed under the heel of thousands gathered to mourn and remember the Rev. Pinckney on Friday. Again and again from that podium at his funeral on Friday afternoon, the Gospel was preached. The preachers who came to offer words, bishops and elders in the AME church, they spoke of the life of the man whose body lay in front of them, but they spoke much more about the body that had been killed and then raised again for their sakes.

To them, Jesus isn’t a historical figure to debate about. Jesus isn’t a mythic half-god like Achilles. Jesus isn’t a great teacher or a peacemaker or a rebel.  Jesus isn’t a far-off spiritual being who sits on some cold, gold throne. Jesus is living and breathing, Jesus is God, Jesus saves, Jesus ransoms us from death and evil, Jesus weeps, Jesus eats with sinners and tax-collectors. And that is the Jesus I want to know.

I didn’t have long to wonder before the preachers told me exactly how to know this Jesus, how to be close to this God they professed with such conviction. Do you know what these preachers did next? They started quoting Scripture.

Not only that, but they’d say half a verse, and the congregation—some 5,000 people in that convention center—would respond with the other half of the verse. They knew Jesus too. They’d been to those Wednesday night Bible studies, they’d poured over the Scriptures, searching for wisdom, crying over the onionskin pages, letting out their fear and their frustration, desperate for a word from God.

That congregation on television Friday afternoon, and those preachers from the AME and Baptist churches of the Rev. Pinckney’s tradition, they know Jesus. And I want to know that Jesus.

Today, Jesus says to us, “Your faith has made you well. Go in peace, and be healed of your affliction.” This is the Good News, brothers and sisters. We are healed, we are set free. We are a new creation.

When Jesus heals the women in the Gospel lesson, the Kingdom of God breaks through. You can almost see the confusion and hope mixed together on the faces and in the hearts of those gathered to witness these miracles. I’ve got more good news, though: the Kingdom of God is breaking through here, too. Do you see it? Are you watching? Are you looking around corners, and peeking through windows, and jogging down streets, searching for the Kingdom of God breaking in?

The Rev. Fleming Rutledge, in a sermon preached earlier this week in Princeton, NJ, said that we live in Advent times. We’re in a phase of waiting. We’re watching for Jesus to come back. We trust that he will, and that in the end, “all will be set right.”

So how do we recognize the kingdom of God breaking in, so that this week while you’re walking around Columbia or lazing on the beach or hiking in the mountains, you can be on the look out for God?

In our Old Testament lesson this morning, from the Book of Wisdom, or the Wisdom of Solomon, the lectionary gives us a scant five verses (1:13-15, 2:23-24). The lectionary is infamous for this kind of bludgeoning of Scripture, so I’m going to use my preaching prerogative and add a few more verses in from the space in between where the lectionary did not dare to go.

The beginning of our reading tells us that God does not desire the death of people; God is the God of creation, not the God of destruction.

“But the ungodly by their words and deeds summoned death; considering him a friend, they pined away and made a covenant with him, because they are fit to belong to his company.” (1:16)

We learn more about these ungodly in the following verses, the first part of chapter two; they’ve got a long diatribe where they try to tell their listeners the way that the world works. They say, “Short and sorrowful is our life, and there is no remedy when a life comes to its end, and no one has been known to return from Hades.” (2:1)

That is a lie. God himself returned from Hades. There is a remedy when life comes to its end, and it is trust in God and God’s own life-giving work. These ungodly are right so far as they understand themselves—there is no human remedy when a life comes to its end. This is the understanding that Dylann Roof had of life, that it is short and sorrowful, that death is the final word; that no one returns from death.

The ungodly go on: “Let none of us fail to share in our revelry; everywhere let us leave signs of enjoyment, because this is our portion, and this our lot.” “This is our time,” they say, “we have arrived.” “Let us oppress the righteous poor man; let us not spare the widow or regard the gray hairs of the aged. But let our might be our law of right, for what is weak proves itself to be useless.” (2:9-11)

Does this sound familiar? This is our society. Unlike ages past and cultures abroad, our weak and our elderly are shut up and discounted. Power, strength, independence—these are our values. Those without jobs and without food are shoved aside to make room for those with plenty. Wasn’t Jesus himself poor? He was. Indeed, his parents brought two doves to the temple to have him circumcised when he was 8 days old; that was the smallest, cheapest-possible offering that could be made. What happens to the babies of poor unwed mothers today?

The ungodly do not leave it there, though; they go so far as to want to tear down those who are showing them up: “Let us lie in wait for the righteous man, because he is inconvenient to us and opposes our actions; he reproaches us for sins against the law, and accuses us of sins against our training… He became to us a reproof of our thoughts; the very sight of him is a burden to us, because his manner of life is unlike that of others, and his ways are strange.” (2:12,14-15)

Does anybody say that about you? Would you ever be accused of being ‘strange’? Is there anyone to whom YOU are inconvenient? Is your visage, your form, your body, a burden to someone? Does your very presence seem to convict others?

I feel that, often, when I walk by someone on the street who is hungry or clearly very far away from home. The sight of them is a burden to me. I’m convicted when I see them; I’m reminded that Jesus looks a lot more like them than Jesus looks like me.

The passage concludes: “Thus they reasoned, but they were led astray, for their wickedness blinded them, and they did not know the secret purposes of God, nor hoped for wages of holiness, nor discerned the prize for blameless souls; for God created us for incorruption, and made us in the image of his own eternity, but through the devil’s envy death entered the world, and those who belong to his company experience it.” (2:21-24)

I’m reminded of Matthew 10:28, “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”

On Friday, a man was buried in Marion county who knew Jesus well. This morning, we gather and we open Holy Scripture to listen to what Jesus, our living God, has to say to us. We hear this morning that the ungodly are full of lies and half-truths. We hear this morning the testimony of God’s truth, which is for all people of all nations.

Jesus Christ stretched wide his arms of love on the hard wood of the cross that everyone might come within the reach of his saving embrace.

May God so clothe us in his Spirit that we, reaching forth our hands in love may bring those who do not know Jesus to the knowledge and love of him, for the glory of God’s holy name.

Praise be to God.

Amen.

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2 thoughts on “Praise God

  1. This sermon has wrought three changes in my attitude toward certain things. First, I have now become aware of a smug self-righteousness which I seem to reflexively, almost autonomically exercise from time to time without justification. The second concerns how I resist rendering assistance to people who are different from me (at least in terms of how they appear). And, the third is a change in my attitude toward rendering a snap judgment about the character of a person I encounter who happens to be someone in need.
    When you preached about the sight of the righteous being a “burden” to the ungodly and ask us if anyone “says that about you” and, “have (we) been accused of being strange, or “is there anyone to whom we are inconvenient, or that our body or form is a burden” I immediately felt I should say yes. I assume I am righteous because others have found it strange that I spend so much time at church, lead prayers, spend lots of time reading the Bible, and partaking of the sacrament. And then you followed with the statement about feeling that way often when you walk by someone who was hungry on the street or clearly very far away from home, and it hit me. This is not about me. How many times have I avoided street people or refused to give them money or was just plain rude because I was in a hurry and couldn’t be bothered with them. Well, so much for being one of the righteous. I am more like one of the ungodly who needs a dose of humility and a change in the way he does things.
    As for the second change a recitation of events which occurred after church this morning tells it best: as I left the Cathedral my colleague and I encountered a breakfast guest who asked if one of us could spare bus money. This man was obviously in need and didn’t even have the means to get where he needed to go. My colleague reflexively said he had no money on him that he did not carry cash around. I realized at that moment that this was a test, of sorts, as my colleague had used the same line I usually use in this situation because it enables me to not say no, but not to render help either. Remembering the words of the sermon I decided not to hide this time and I reached into my pocket and found five dollars and gave it to Ben. I know his name was Ben as I insisted on introducing myself and finding out something about him. I now wish I had tried to find out more. As we parted, and exchanged the peace, Ben had the most wonderful glow on his face. That glow was worth a lot more than five dollars and I hope to have the opportunity see it again soon.
    As for the third change: I used to hesitate in giving money to street folks on the basis that I thought they would just drink it up, or buy drugs, or something. However, I have come to realize that such an attitude is pretty judgmental and that I have no business putting myself in a judgement seat reserved only for God. I like to have a glass of wine occasionally and why shouldn’t someone who is on the street not have the same privilege? He may very well drink up the money I give him but it is not for me to assume that in advance. I realize that my attitude here represents a prejudice, a sort of type casting, which assumes a character trait in someone you don’t even know. And, he may just as easily use the money for something worthwhile
    So, I thank you for the message in the sermon. You have changed the course of one life, however slight, and it is much appreciated.

  2. Pingback: now what? | hope of things not seen

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