June 14, 2020 Pentecost 2
Christ Church Gardiner
About six years ago, we bought an old house here in the neighborhood around Christ Church. I stumbled upon it when I was out running one day. I saw the “For Sale” sign in the yard and decided then and there that was the house we should buy for our family of 5 that was quickly outgrowing the space we were in. Jeff had reservations. Built around 1864, the house had been renovated several times over the years, even recently, but it still needed lots of work. But the price was right, so my enthusiasm won out over his concerns.
Well six years later, we still aren’t finished fixing things. That’s the nature of old houses. Justthis week, Jeff started to replace some rotten boards on the deck that were up against the house. Then he discovered the wood trim around the door on the deck was rotting, too. He ripped that off, and there was rotten plywood behind it and no insulation. Three days later, he thinks that he might have fixed what needed fixing. At least for now. In that very small part of the house.
Watching him do that work got me to thinking about where we are as a country right now. The recent killings of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd, that ignited protests and unrest throughout our country, have exposed that the structures and systems upon which our country is built are damaged.
There’s a lot of renovation and reconstruction that needs to be done. And as we start to do that work of pulling off the façade of our society. A façade that didn’t look so bad before and had helped those of us who are privileged to believe that everything was okay, we are likely to find rot and neglect underneath—damaging the internal structure of our society. And to seriously and honestly address that damage, it’s going to require a lot of difficult and uncomfortable work on our part.
While our country was founded upon the grand principles of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness—those principles don’t magically become realities. We MUST work for them. Andto do that work, we have to first confess all the ways our nation has fallen short of them. Systemic racism is the sin we are struggling with today, but we know there are others: environmental degradation, the stealing of native lands, the treatment of our immigrant populations, the neglect of our poor, just to name a few.
Our nation is in a moral crisis, and as people of faith, we must ask, where is God in all of this? And what is God calling us to do about it?
The great prophetic tradition found in the Hebrew Scriptures is a good place for us to begin to answer those questions.
We often think of prophets as fortune tellers—seeing into the future. But our biblical prophets, are so much more than that. They have a dual role. Their first is to be a critic and a truth-teller for the community. Calling the people of Israel to see how they have failed, in the words of the Prophet Micah, “to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with their God.” (Micah 6:8)
The second responsibility of prophets is to dream—and to energize others to see the potential of that dream. Prophets imagine and articulate the possibilities of a better world than the one in which they and their people live.
This summer, it seems fitting that we should spend some time exploring the biblical prophets and what they have to say about the crisis that we are living in now.
Our Exodus reading this morning brings us to the time of the great prophet, Moses, and the liberation of the Israelites from the slavery of Egypt. In this reading from Chapter 19 of Exodus, the Israelites are at a critical point. They have been freed from their oppression, and now they wait in the wilderness at the base of a mountain for the voice of God to come to Moses and tell them what to do next.
And what does God have to say to the people of Israel? God calls them into covenant, into relationship. And God calls Moses to lead them into nothing less than a new and alternate social reality than the one they had experienced in Egypt. Through Moses, God offered Israel a covenantal relationship which, if honored, would lead their nation to enact the politics of justice and compassion and freedom rather than the politics of oppression and exploitation that they had known in Egypt.
God had a vision of a new social community, and Israel was being called to enact it. If we have read our Bibles, we know that Israel failed often at enacting that new social community. They were a work in progress, constantly needing to be reminded of their covenantal relationship with God. They needed the prophets to expose their failings in enacting justice and compassion, and they needed prophets to help them imagine themselves doing better.
Our nation is also a work in progress, just like Israel was. We are in need of those prophets now more than ever…those who will help us to see that our nation needs to do some renovating. We need to peel back the outside layers and tend to the damage and rot in our structures and systems.
We may not think of ourselves as prophets, but as Christians, Jesus calls us to the work of healing, the work of justice, the work of reconciliation. We didn’t sing the words of the hymn we heard before the Gospel—or maybe you did sing along at home—but in that song, Will you come and follow me, the lyrics ask, “Will you use the faith you’ve found to reshape the world around?”
Reshaping the world around us. That’s what followers of Christ are called to do. And if we have any doubts about our gifts and abilities to do that, we only have to look back at our Gospel reading this morning when Jesus calls the Twelve Apostles. We don’t know much about them except that they rarely seemed to understand the path they were on. Peter would deny Jesus and Judas would betray him, and yet they were all called to discipleship just the same.
We need to take seriously our discipleship. And we need to practice some prophetic imagination. Tell the truth about what is. Share the vision of what could be. And above all, be prepared for the hard, difficult, and painful work that will be required to create that alternate social reality of justice and compassion that God calls us to. Amen.