In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.
Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.
John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
SERMON This IS Who We Are 1/10/21
There are weeks when a preacher has to tear up the sermon she was planning because stuff happens. Many preachers who have been pre-recording their sermons shared how they had to completely redo everything after the events of Wednesday. And most preachers have been really struggling since then to figure out what to say to our congregations this morning. I am no exception.
Those of us who tend to first look at the lectionary readings assigned for the day faced the beginning of the story of creation from Genesis as the first reading: the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.
Formlessness….void…darkness…..and the waters….waters that in the Hebrew Scriptures are the chaos from which creation is born and the chaos that could always overtake us again.
It was the perfect place to start…. Darkness…void….chaos….these felt like good words to start with this week.
Perhaps we should not have been shocked by what happened at our nation’s capitol this Wednesday….but most of us were. It made me think of all those texts from Isaiah we looked at during Lent….about people living in exile….who NEVER would have imagined that their holy Temple in Jerusalem would be destroyed…that surely God would always protect and defend God’s Chosen People. But the temple fell…destroyed by the Babylonians….and they had to flee into exile.
Maybe I’ve been a pastor too long but did anyone else hear echoes of that on Wednesday as we watched the Temple of our Democracy ransacked. It could never happen here in America…but it did. And then the ensuing chaos….senators crouching down on the floor…invaders despoiling a space that is as sacred as any temple to most of us….offices pillaged and vandalized….shots fired….pipe bombs discovered…people dead. Darkness…void…chaos.
After the violent overtaking of the capitol building many of our leaders were saying, “This isn’t who we are”….and yet as many have noted since then that’s not really true, is it? This IS America. Everyone involved in that act of insurrection on Wednesday was an American…a fellow citizen of this country. As were all those ducking for safety in the House Chambers….all those capitol police officers trying to do what they could to stop them. All of them…all of this was and is America.
Because Wednesday was the day when Christians were celebrating Epiphany many have been using that word to describe what they saw that day…how maybe it was an epiphany for many people as they awakened to the reality of what’s been going on in our country for some time….and for many what they saw as clear as day was the double standard that exists between how black folk in America are treated by law enforcement compared to white folk.
A lot of black folk are very angry. And they are saying that if you don’t believe there is such a thing as white privilege in this country just look at what happened on Wednesday….How months earlier black folk peacefully demonstrating in D.C. were met with officers in full riot gear, but on Wednesday white folk were met by a small ill-equipped group of Capitol Hill officers who were overtaken in a few minutes by a rioting group of white people, some of whom were armed while the President of the United States, his family, and some of his closest allies were back at the White House watching it all on TV and celebrating…even dancing! (I don’t know how many of you saw THAT video, but it was absolutely shocking to see.)
What a mess. Chaos. And five…five people dead.
The dark side of America was on full display for the whole world to see on Wednesday. And what we saw was something that has been seeping up from the dark waters of our history for centuries.
I know I’m not the only one who wept on Wednesday as this thing unfolded. Many of you have shared that you also cried to see what has become of us. One of you asked me if God weeps. Yes yes yes….surely a God of love weeps….surely God was weeping on Wednesday.
And yet I keep going back in my mind to something I received from the Poor People’s Campaign a couple of months ago from one of their founders, the Reverend William Barber. He said, “the dying mule always kicks hardest.” It is when something is coming to an end, when something is dying, that the struggle is the hardest, because that mule is going to fight for his life with everything he’s got.
Could it be that what happened on Wednesday means that the mule is dying . . .and that maybe something new is being born in the midst of the chao and darkness? Something good. Something beautiful. Something righteous and just? Could it be that the Spirit of God is up to something new these days?
If you think about it….the stories of our old faith seem to suggest that the Spirit often moves mightily in times of chaos and darkness and death..
The whole creation is born when the Spirit seeps over the dark waters of chaos and void. The Spirit sustained the Israelites through 40 years in the wilderness…shaping their identity as God’s Chosen People. Years later, the Christian Church was born out of the chaos of Pentecost.
And death….our old faith insists again and again that death precedes life as much as life precedes death. Life is born from a tomb. Life is born from death.
And all of this comes alive in that second reading for today about the baptism of Jesus who enters into those waters….and he emerges from them with new life. Life from death. In fact this is exactly how Paul describes baptism. He says, “all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death. We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death so that just as Christ was raised from the dead we too may live a new life.”
Life from death. Death before life.
Could it be that something is dying in America…that something new is struggling to be born on the other side of it….and that is why the mule is kicking so hard?
Some of you know my feelings about Stacey Abrams. One thing I have learned in life is that you should NEVER….NEVER….underestimate the power of a black woman when she sets her mind on something. At the end of the day on Wednesday…..after all the chaos and destruction and yes, even death this is what Stacey Abrams said:
While today’s terrible display of terror and meanness shakes us let’s remember that a Jewish son of an immigrant, and the first black Senator from Georgia, will join a Catholic President of the United States, and the first woman, black and Indian Vice President in our nation’s capital. God bless America.
Yes, thank you Stacey. This is why the mule kicks so hard. Something is happening in America….death and life are all mixed together…..so we both mourn and we dance for joy at the same time.
Last year many of us read Valarie Kaur’s remarkable book, “See No Stranger: A Manifesto of Revolutionary Love.” Valarie is an American Sikh who is building bridges of reconciliation everywhere she goes. On Tuesday she posted a video on her Facebook Page where she is interviewing the Reverend Otis Moss, Pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago. Now keep in mind that this was the day BEFORE the Capitol was attacked. In hindsight this video was a prophetic statement from two of the great faith leaders of our day.
I’m going to share it with you now. It’s only 3 minutes long. But I encourage you to savor every moment of it.
Death and life side by side! Yes. Now is a time to both mourn and to shout for joy…and that shouting for joy is, in and of itself, an act of resistance. Now is a time to both bleed and bless…to continue to dance with both life and death at the same time….weeping and yet helping to birth that new thing that IS being born in America. As Kaur says in her book, we breath and then we keep pushing.
Moss says that in a birthing room it is the baby who is the loudest – but at a funeral it is the people who are the loudest.
Our role then is to be sure that the baby is heard…..the baby needs to be heard. Because yes, this is STILL Christmas….every Sunday is a little Easter and every day is a little Christmas….where once again we are called to play our part as witnesses to the birth of that baby and providers of what he needs to survive and thrive in face of all those who want to kill him.
The dying mule kicks the hardest! Yes, these are tough times. But maybe that’s because something big….something new….and maybe even something wonderful is being born.
Let us pray:
Dear God may it be so. May we as a nation survive the death throes of the mule and attend to the birth of something new…. May we become a more perfect union as we seek to right the wrongs that have been woven into our history. And may we find a way to throw a thread across the abyss that now divides us from our fellow Americans. We ask it in the name of all that is good and decent and true, in your name, Amen.