Sunday, January 24, 2016

Why are we here?

Luke 4: 14-21
New Ark United Church of Christ, Newark, DE
January 24, 2016

            “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

            The people of Nazareth had heard this passage from Isaiah 61 before.  It was an old hope.  It is said that an old hope becomes a domesticated hope: it loses it power after so many generations, after so much disappointment and displacement and heartbreak.  It begins to sound hollow, like the promises of so many politicians and those who have power and want something from those who have none.

            But Jesus’ reputation preceded him.  He was making his way around Galilee, his home province, on his own speaking tour, and everyone who heard his words praised him.  When he came to Nazareth, the village where he was raised, it was probably a full house.  Maybe Jesus figures he’s only got one chance in his hometown, and so he goes for broke.  He takes that old hope out of its drawer, gives it a snap, pulls it on over his head, fills out the sleeves and shoulders, and stretches it over his body.  It still fits.

            “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

            When was the last time we had a prophet in our midst?  When did we last hear one who knew themselves anointed to bring good news to the poor, release for the captives, sight to those who can’t see their way?  How similar is this passage from Isaiah to the words of Dr. Martin Luther King on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.:  “I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men [sic] are created equal.’”

            And so every year we trot Martin out like so much Easter and Christmas.  We pay homage.  We post his words and his face on social media.  We perform acts of kindness and organize service projects.  We thought things had changed in 2008 when President Barack Obama was elected, and certainly history was made not only once but twice.  His campaign slogan, “Yes, We Can”, signaled echoes of Isaiah’s old hope of restorative justice and radical change.

             But presidents are not prophets but politicians, even the good ones. Still, we kill our prophets or call them crazy and irrational or silence them with poverty or criminalize their protests and call them riots.  Dr. King said that riots are the language of the unheard.

            “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”  But is anyone really listening if nothing is really changing?

            Hear these words from Rev. Traci Blackmon, the United Church of Christ minister for Justice and Witness, a prophet from our own village:

  • ·        “I protest because of the acceptable invisibility of our children, of our babies. 
  • ·        I protest because poverty is not a crime.  People should not be criminalized because they don’t have excessive resources. 
  • ·        I protest because I live in a nation and I live in a city where it is acceptable for many to have a whole lot and for many more to not have enough. 
  • ·        I protest because black girls and black boys get a substandard education and then get blamed for not being able to get a job. 
  • ·        I protest because neighborhoods are criminalized and villainized because they are populated by black people. 
  • ·        I protest because black boys and black girls live in poverty and are not able to have recreational resources, recreational facilities, and then because they are still brilliant and ingenious, create their own collaboratives on street corners and in allies and in street ways, and then those areas are victimized and villainized and criminalized. 
  • ·        I protest because we are the children of God, the sun-kissed children of God, and until we are treated like everybody else, we are not gonna shut up. 
  • ·        And lastly, I protest because until we protested, you didn’t hear us.”

I wanted you to hear Traci’s words in her own voice.  I wanted you to hear to hear the emotion in her voice, her restraint conflicting with her passion and pain.  I wanted you to see her face and her eyes.  Yes, our digital projector is on the fritz.  Yes, there’s a blizzard this weekend and you’re reading this on my blog.  Yes, there’s a video of “Why I Protest” at the end of this post. 

But first I want you to read her words out loud, yes, out loud in your own voice.  Why?  Because today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing and in your voice.

Racism will not end in this great nation until white people speak these words, hit the streets, and protest.  Poverty will not end in this great nation until those with disposable income divest themselves and invest in the lives of the poor.   All lives will matter when black and brown lives matter as much as white lives.

Jesus wasn’t making empty promises but protesting with his life, that the lives of the poor, the prisoner, sightless, and oppressed would not only matter but change.  “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”  Not only with his life, but with the lives of those who chose to hear his words.  “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”  It is not only fulfilled in the life of Jesus but in our hearing of it.  These were not solely the words of Jesus’ mission but marching orders for God’s people.  “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” 

Dr. King wrote in his autobiography, “One of the greatest problems of history is that the concepts of love and power are usually contrasted as polar opposites. Love is identified with a resignation of power and power with a denial of love. What is needed is a realization that power without love is reckless and abusive, and that love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice. Justice at its best is love correcting everything that stands against love.”

Why are we here, Church, if not for this?  To link our love with power that justice may be done.  To not only hear this scripture but to live it.  To keep our end of the bridge intact, even when others have burnt their end to a crisp; to not abandon the offer to rebuild.  To incarnate, enflesh, resurrect the old hope and make it come alive again.  To be the prophet in the midst of the world’s longing.

The Spirit of the Lord is upon us, Church.  We are the Body of Christ.  We too have been anointed to bring this good news, to proclaim release, to give sight where it is needed, to let the oppressed go free.  If not us, then who?  If not now, then when?



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