Sunday, July 08, 2007

Today's Sermon Is By J. Barrett Lee

I was supposed to publish this last Sunday. When I missed that target, I thought I might publish it on Wednesday instead. Again, no such luck.

Anyway, here it is, better late than never. And still timely nonethless.

- MSM


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As we begin this new week, I’m sure that many of us are looking forward to Wednesday, the 4th of July, when we will celebrate the 231st anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, and the beginning of the United States as a nation. The day will doubtless be marked by backyard barbeques and fireworks. On a more serious note, perhaps some of us will take the time to recount the struggle for freedom throughout American history, from the 18th century, continuing up to the 21st. Wherever and whenever we look closely at these struggles, we will be sternly reminded that freedom is not free. It comes at a price. Looking at today’s gospel text, we can see Jesus giving his followers a similar reminder. He shows them that the holy freedom presented in the Good News of God’s Kingdom comes at a cost: the cost of discipleship.

We read this morning about the beginning of Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem, which takes up ten chapters in Luke’s gospel. In the hearts and minds of Jesus’ disciples, this was a triumphant journey, when the Messiah, God’s anointed King, would march into Jerusalem and take back his throne from the distant Roman Empire and the corrupt puppet government set up in its name. Surely, they thought, this was the time when Israel would declare its independence from foreign powers and be set free from the oppression of colonial rule. It was a very exciting time for them and they felt proud to be partners in the revolution that would restore peace and freedom to God’s chosen nation. However, I think that some of them were also beginning to feel nervous, because Jesus did not seem to be cooperating with their ideas of freedom. In fact, he’d been saying and doing some very strange things. When they stood up to declare his arrival as Messiah, Jesus hushed them. When they dreamed about the glory of his new revolution, he anticipated his rejection, betrayal, and execution at the hands of his own people. In today’s text, when the troupe is rejected and turned away by a village of half-breed, pagan Samaritans, Jesus rebukes his disciples for entertaining the idea of calling down an angelic air-strike upon the village. This isn’t the way a conquering King is supposed to act! What kind of King is this anyway?

What the disciples don’t understand at this point is that Jesus’ idea of freedom differs from their own. They want Jesus to stage an uprising against the occupying forces of a foreign government, but Jesus wants to start a revolution against the powers of sin that occupy their hearts. They want Jesus to tear down the palaces of Caesar in Jerusalem, but Jesus wants to destroy the strongholds of the world, the flesh, and the devil in their souls. They want to change the world, starting with the outside, but Jesus wants to change them, starting on the inside. This is the inside-out revolution of Jesus Christ.

In the second half of today’s gospel text, we can see Jesus clearly setting forth the costs of this revolution. Once again, his would-be disciples have misunderstood his intentions and imposed their own assumptions on Jesus. On three occasions, people come before Jesus, pledging their allegiance to God’s Kingdom, but also expecting Jesus to comply with their expectations of security and social decency. Jesus’ response to them is curt, to say the least. He pulls no punches as he lays out the price of freedom in God’s Kingdom: “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” “Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” These are harsh things to hear! It’s difficult to imagine these words coming from the mouth of “Gentle Jesus, meek and mild” who we used to sing about in Sunday School! Nevertheless, Jesus did say these things.

The inside-out revolution of Jesus has costs. We who pledge our allegiance to him will be dislocated from our positions of comfort and security. Jesus’ Declaration of Independence from the things of this world leaves no room for the warm security of a fox’s hole or the cool objectivity of a bird’s nest. For all of us, being a disciple of Jesus will cost us our most precious expectations in life. It may force us to take a smaller paycheck or become dependent on the generosity of others so that we can be in a better position to do God’s work among the poor and outcast of society. Following Jesus may cause us to sacrifice a respectable and prestigious image in order to take a public stance against popular trends such as violence, prejudice, consumerism, and other forms of immorality and injustice. Following Jesus has costs.

However, my friends, let me encourage you with a promise: the promise of freedom! When we pledge our allegiance to Jesus’ vision of the Kingdom of heaven on earth, we declare our independence from the powers and principalities of evil in this world. We are freed from the bonds of sin that entangle us. We are transformed from the inside out. And not only that, but the world around us is transformed as well, bit by bit, as we reach out to others with our newfound freedom in Christ. God will work through us to make a difference in this world. We will become soldiers in the inside-out revolution, who fight for freedom, not by taking up a flag or a gun, but by taking up our cross and following Jesus. And in that march we march in the company of countless brothers and sisters who have gone before us on this journey: St. Francis of Assisi, the beloved saint who sacrificed his future as a successful businessman to care for lepers on the outskirts of his hometown; Mother Teresa of Calcutta, who made a home for starving orphans in the slums of India; Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who championed the cause of equality in Apartheid South Africa; and in our own country, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who inspired millions of Americans in their ongoing struggle for freedom with these prophetic words:

I say to you, my friends, that even though we must face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American 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 are created equal… I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places shall be plain, and the crooked places shall be made straight and the glory of the Lord will be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.

This is our hope. This is the faith I go back to the South with.

With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood.

With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day. This will be the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing with new meaning—“my country ‘tis of thee, sweet land of liberty; of thee I sing; land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrim’s pride; from every mountainside, let freedom ring”—and if America is to be a great nation, this must become true.
So let freedom ring... from every mountainside, let freedom ring.

And when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and hamlet, every state and city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children—black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics—will be able to join hands and to sing in the words of the old spiritual, “Free at last, free at last; thank God Almighty, we are free at last.”

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Many thanks to the good Reverend for his permission to reprint this sermon.
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3 comments:

Seumas Gagne said...

I'm confused by this post. Can you give some context as to why this co-opting of the concept of the secular American Dream to serve a monotheistic power agenda is inspiring?

michael sean morris said...

He's a friend of mine and I approve of his vision (no matter what I think of his co-religionists). I'm attempting to bring a little balance, and trying to encourage "outside" contributors as well.

I liked the language in the piece.

Seumas Gagne said...

Well, that makes more sense, thanks.