12 December 2011

An Honest to Goodness Sermon

It has been awhile, how long...long enough. This past Sunday I preached a sermon, oh brother did it feel good.

Enough is Enough
Third Sunday of Advent – Year B – 11.Dec.2011
I Thessalonians 5:16-24; Isaiah 60:1-4, 8-11; John 1:6-8, 19-28
text: “Do not despise the words of the prophets” I Thess. 5:20
The Rev’d G. Travis Norvell

-Sometimes you don’t know how good something is until it is gone: a relationship that no longer is, the voice of the deceased, the playfulness of a puppy, or an old broken in chair.
-Sometimes you take things for granted and it takes someone from the outside to remind you of how great or interesting you have it: when they remark how big your kitchen is or when a friend comes over and says over and over again how much fun your slicky-slide is or when a dinner guests wont stop complimenting your biscuits.

-And sometimes life becomes so difficult, even painful, that you think there is no other way, that the way life is now will always be the way it is. In situations like these we need a beacon (either a poet, an author, a songwriter, an artist, a playwright, a filmmaker, a choreographer, a choir, a field of lilies) to take us to another place and show us that life is not fixed, that the pain we feel is finite, that the difficulties we face are not forever.

So it was in the first century of Palestine an expectant and pregnant time – life without pleasure, splendor or beauty.

Edward Gibbon labeled the period of the first century as the Pax Romana, the Peace of Rome. Perhaps it was “peaceful” if you were a ruling elite with a villa on the banks of the Tiber, but if you were a peasant in first century Palestine life was anything but peaceful. Pax Romana it was not; Infernos Romae, the Hell of Rome, it was.

And so it was that one day a poet, John, the son of Zechariah and Elizabeth, finally said enough is enough. The madness has to stop. We are more than cogs in the Roman wheel, we are children of the Living God. And so it went, he left home and went to the wilderness, that unguarded place by the Roman military-economic machine, that largely forgotten place of legend and lore, of promise and new life. Under cold star lit skies and blazing hot days, by the muddy Jordan, and just on the other side, just out of the reach of madness a man and his poetry went to find life anew.

And it came to pass that this man and his strange ways re-awakened the slumbering souls of Zion. I am sure the oligarchs and plutocrats in Jerusalem, more or less, the mass of humanity even knew about this lone wild bird in the desert. Who had time to listen to poetry? Records show life under Roman occupation changed and altered traditional patterns of life so much that people barely had a moment to lift their head to acknowledge the day more or less hear words of entertainment. Hear the allusions to the parables: Roman economic policies caused younger sons to leave home and go off to foreign lands to find work, caused youth to assemble in the city and hope someone would hire them at the nine o’clock, at noon, at three o’clock and for one hour of work at five o’clock, caused farmers to lose sleep over the price of seed so fearful that one wayward mustard seed would fall in their field and ruin their crop, and turned hospitality inside out so that villagers, rather than open their doors with bread and wine, they were scared to answer the door at night when a stranger entered lest they be killed. Into this time John offered his art as a generative and transforming possibility.

It sounded preposterous, almost comical, but the Gospel record reveals that the people of Israel were not laughing, they were praising God – finally someone had a word of the Lord. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to the wilderness to be baptized, to be cleansed, to be made whole by a poet. He was a prophet of yore with aggravating attire, bug breath and honey hands. The poet/prophet who through his poetry took his people where they could not go by themselves, he reminded them of their heritage with his poetry, he reawakened their slumbering souls with ancient songs of Zion, and shocked them out of their Roman induced numbness with his dramatic ways.

Then one day the minders thought they ought to find out what was going on, so they sent some representatives, some Levites and some priests. The encounter is quite amusing:

Who are you?
I am not the Messiah.
What then? Are you Elijah?
I am not.
Are you the prophet?
Who are you? What do you say for yourself?

a collective calm,
a meditative moment,
a pregnant pause.

I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord.

Depending on your familiarity with the gospel of John you may or may not have recognized what just happened. The gospel writer framed John the Baptizer as more than a poet, as more than a prophet, the author framed John as a creative and generative force. I am the voice in the wilderness… Later on the author of the will put that phrase, I am, on the lips of Jesus seven times to define our Lord, I am the way the true and the life, I am the vine, I am the good shepherd, I am the bread of life, I am the light of the world, I am the gate, and I am the resurrection and the life. And when the authorities go to arrest Jesus, our Lord says I am and they all fall down. I am the voice crying out in the wilderness…

Those who went to question the Baptizer had no idea what he was talking about. Why then are you baptizing if you are neither the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the prophet? But enough people got what John was up to. How many, well enough. How much is enough, enough to frighten the kings and rulers of Jerusalem.

John did what John was supposed to do. He wasn’t supposed to teach people how to pray, to show people how to forgive, heal, love, bless, or reveal the meaning of disinterested love, non-violent revolution, justice, peace, or life everlasting – that was Jesus’ job. John was the poet/prophet/generative force who took a plough and sliced the earth of calloused souls, he was the one who grabbed folk by the scruff of the collar and said this is not all there is, enough is enough, change, turn, and live life anew.

You and I need third parties to enter our lives and remind us of our calling and lives as followers of the Christ. We need a John the Baptist to lift us up to heaven’s gates to reawaken our slumbering souls in the bleak midwinter.

On September 17 a Canadian activist group Adbusters and other U.S. groups called for a mass protest in New York City. They envisioned and hoped for 20,000 to attend, barely 2,000 showed up. Their actions did not illicit much attention from any of the news outlets. But over the next week the country watched the execution of Troy Davis which served as a wake up call for people of conscience. Then came the first mass march on Union Square in NYC, 87 people were arrested and suddenly what we now know as Occupy Wall Street became a news item. Since then we have watched this odd voluntary gathering of people in large and small towns in this nation and around the world. We have watched them evicted peacefully and with force. We have watched while others have belittled their effort. We may have even chuckle while those seeking the presidency said I’ll talk to them when they take a bath and get a job.

I confess I wrote them off at first. Sure we all are against corporate greed. Sure we are all fed up with the unjust and in many ways evil economic system we all participate in. But what is living in a park in New York City and in other public places around the world going to do to end it. Wouldn’t it be better if you took your frustration and drafted alternative economic policies? And so I largely ignored their stories. But over the course of days I kept hearing statistics over and over and over again about income inequality. I kept hearing the language expressed in interviews until one day one word struck a nerve. I realized that the Occupy Wall Street folk were singing my song. They were singing our song, the old time gospel hour song of a liberating word, a time of jubilee, of a new world, the world we are working for and waiting to come. They are functioning as our John the Baptist as that outside third party recalling our mission to heal, mend, and love creation.

I’m not asking you to go downtown and join the occupiers. But I am asking for us to see the Occupy Wall Street movement as a witness, as a call for us to remember who we are children of the Living God, as disciples of the Christ, as ambassadors of reconciliation. We have something to say about this unjust situation, economic inequality, ecological deprivation, and presence of war. We have a good word to offer this world and a redemptive song to sing. The way the world is, is not the only way, there are other alternatives. We can have profits and justice, we can have good jobs and a clean and life-giving environment, we can protect our citizenry without spending billions on foreign and domestic wars. For God is not finished with you and me and this world.

This Advent may we hear the call of the Baptizer in the witness of the protesters in our land. May we join with them in metaphorical and in physical fashions to say Enough is Enough. This Advent let us join the Baptizer by saying enough is enough:

To the powers of death,
enough is enough
To the powers of war,
enough is enough
To the powers of economic exploitation,
enough is enough
To the powers of injustice,
enough is enough
To the powers of ecological degradation,
enough is enough
To the powers of racial discrimination,
enough is enough
To the powers of homophobia,
enough is enough
To the powers of xenophobia,
enough is enough

You have had our ears and been at the microphone too long, it is time for us to hear and to sing a different song, an ancient song of Zion.

This morning may we hear the different song as a blessing, may we make ourselves vulnerable enough to hear the poem John alluded to as our song, as our blessing, as our charge:

The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon you; because the LORD hath anointed you to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent you to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound;
To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all that mourn;
To appoint unto them that mourn in this world, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he might be glorified.
And you shall build the old wastes, you shall raise up the former desolations, and you shall repair the waste cities, the desolations of many generations. For the LORD you serve loves justice, hates robbery for burnt offering; and will direct their work in truth, and will make an everlasting covenant with them.
And your seed shall be known among the nations, and your offspring among the people: all that see them shall acknowledge them, that they are the seed which the LORD hath blessed.
You will greatly rejoice in the LORD, your soul shall be joyful in your God; for he hath clothed you with the garments of salvation, he hath covered you with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decketh himself with ornaments, and as a bride adorneth herself with her jewels.
For as the earth bringeth forth her bud, and as the garden causeth the things that are sown in it to spring forth; so the Lord GOD will cause righteousness and praise to spring forth before all the nations.

Amen and Amen.

1 comment:

Julie said...

Sorry I missed it! Hope to hear you soon brother Travis.