November 27, 2016

A Ribbon at a Time

Our Advent journey begins with a report from Emily Dickinson. A witness to the dawn chorus, the poet wrote,
I’ll tell you how the sun rose, -

A ribbon at a time.

The steeples swam in amethyst,

The news like squirrels ran.

The hills untied their bonnets,

The bobolinks begun.

Then I said softly to myself,

"That must have been the sun!"

Of all the reasons I love Emily Dickinson, and there are numerous reasons why I love her, the simple power of her nature poems is one of the most significant. In these works, her characteristic patience and truth-telling come through clearly as she reanimates incredible scenes of beauty and drama to which lesser souls would remain blind. Spying the first robin in spring, a snake slithering through the grass, cornstalks waving in a summer breeze—her poetry does more than describe these sights, she brings them back to life.

Emily’s keen eye and open heart remind us that epic and life-changing forces are at work all around us. However, we often fail to perceive them.

If the Heavens are telling the glory of God, then the question is, “Are we listening?”

Emily was, and she was watching, too. So, just in case we missed it, she will tell us how the sun rose—“a ribbon at a time.”

If you want to understand the spiritual significance of the Advent season, then go out early in the morning and watch the sunrise.

Go out while it’s still dark, when the wind off of the water stings your face, when the chill of night hangs in the air, and look to the East. Watch the black sky give way to the deep blue hues of the pre-dawn.

Watch the first slivers of orange and red pierce the horizon.

Watch the sky explode with light as the sun finally begins its daily ascent.

Watch the city come to life, feel the warmth on your face, stand up and start the day, and remember what God said through the prophet Isaiah, “Come, let us walk in the light of the LORD!”

There’s a deep connection between sunrise and Advent because a sunrise is a daily reminder of the Prophet Isaiah’s ministry.

When God’s people felt as if their whole lives were shrouded in darkness, the prophet told them to set their focus on the horizon, to watch and see just what God would do.

A new day, Isaiah told them, was dawning—a day of justice, of reconciliation, of God’s chosen Messiah.

“People, look east,” he shouted, “the sun will rise to chase away the shadows of injustice and the chills of isolation.”

Between now and Christmas, we’ll be reading from Isaiah every Sunday morning and we’ll hear in his words some of the most cherished, exciting promises God ever made to God’s people.

We’re going to hear about the reign of an anointed leader—of a Savior—who would right all wrongs and bring peace to Creation.

Today, a reading from the second chapter of Isaiah’s book started us off.

In days to come the mountain of the LORD’s house shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills; all the nations shall stream to it.

Many peoples shall come and say, ‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.’

And what were those ways?

What might one experience when walking in the Lord’s paths?

He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. (Isaiah 2: 1-4)
Moving through Advent, Isaiah’s focus will become even clearer as he tells us more and more about “the days to come.” About those days, the prophet writes,
The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. (Isaiah 11: 6)
The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom. (Isaiah 35: 1)
The eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy. (Isaiah 35: 5-6)
These days will belong to the Messiah—God’s Anointed One—who will reign like no other.
The spirit of the LORD shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD. His delight shall be in the fear of the LORD. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear; but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth. (Isaiah 11: 2-4)
And his name shall be Emmanuel, which means “God with us.”

Today, we’ve gathered together to hear the Good News and give thanks that Isaiah’s faith became sight in the person of Jesus for just like the rising sun, Mary’s son brings hope and new life to people who are walking in the dark.

Schooled in the ways of justice and peace, Jesus loved outcasts and sinners, healed the sick, strengthen the weak, and cautioned the proud.

Through his life, death, and resurrection, God forgave our sins and delivered us from death.

Jesus is the light of God’s new day—a light that shined into the world’s darkness, and the darkness could not overcome it.

But there’s a reason we look to the sunrise as an image for Advent instead of high noon.

Even though we believe that Jesus’ life on earth fundamentally changed things, we still believe that there’s more to come, that his kingdom has not yet come in full, and that parts of our world and corners of our hearts are still in the shade.

The sunrise might separate the day from the night, but it only anticipates the sunlight’s life giving shine.

This season points us to a second Advent, a time when all shadows and shades, chills and suffering will be no more, when death will be no more, when mourning and crying will be no more, when the first things pass away and all things are made new in Jesus Christ.

There is a reason for people who know Jesus to still sing, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.”

Our reason is hope—the hope we share that Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection are but the dawn of Creation’s bright and glorious new day with God.

We live between the Advents, and in this in-between-time God calls people of faith to be heralds of the Risen Sun.

Like Emily, our lives should bear witness to the beauty and power and drama that we have seen.

I’ll tell you how the sun rose, -

A ribbon at a time.

If you want to understand the spiritual significance of the Advent season, then go out early in the morning and watch the sunrise.

Go out while it’s still dark, when the wind off of the water stings your face, when the chill of night hangs in the air, and look to the East. Look to the East and give thanks be to God for this Good News. Amen.

November 22, 2016

Like the Fruit of the Land

Find your story in God’s story and give thanks.

This call to worship cuts a course through the heart of the scripture because at several crossroads in their journey with God, God’s people received an invitation to remember where they’d been, to anticipate where they were going, and to celebrate the One who traveled with them.

When the Israelites escaped Egypt on dry land through the sea, the first thing they did on the far shore was remember God and give thanks.

When Hannah received her heart’s desire, she remembered God and gave thanks.

When King David escaped his enemies’ plots, he remembered and gave thanks.

When “the LORD restored the fortunes of Zion” and God’s people “were like those who dream,” and the nations said, “The LORD had done great things for them,” the people said, “The LORD has done great things for us,” and they rejoiced. They remembered and gave thanks.

All the along their pilgrim journey, sustained by their Everlasting Portion, faithful hearts remember where they’ve been, anticipate where they’re going, and celebrate the One with whom they travel.

They find their story in God’s story and give thanks.

Deuteronomy 26 recounts another moment in which God’s people heard this call to worship.

The people of God were nearing the Promised Land. Their exodus from slavery to freedom was almost complete.

At that time, somewhere “beyond the Jordan,” Moses—who had been their leader for forty years—assembled his road wearied and battle tested followers and “spoke to the Israelites just as the LORD had commanded him to speak to them,” including, it’s said, the passage before us this morning.

When you have come into the land that the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance to possess, and you possess it, and settle in it, you shall take some of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which you harvest from the land that the LORD your God is giving you, and you shall put it in a basket and go to the place that the LORD your God will choose as a dwelling for his name.
As slaves they toiled for their masters, as wilderness wanderers they depended on daily manna from heaven, but in the Land of Promise, the people would work the soil and harvest its bounty for themselves. And when they gathered the first fruits of their labor, Moses instructed them to offer a portion to God in gratitude for all that they had received. Moses even told them how they should pray.

The faithful should offer a prayer of thanksgiving. This prayer, however, wasn’t just about the rain and sun that helped the harvest to grow. This prayer painted in bright colors on a great canvas the majestic story of God’s steadfast love.

When bringing in the first fruits of the land the people should lift up their hearts—beyond the annual cycle of planting and reaping—to the One whose power and faithfulness made this moment—this life of freedom and abundance—possible.

You shall go to the priest who is in office at that time, and say to him, “Today I declare to the LORD your God that I have come into the land that the LORD swore to our ancestors to give us.” When the priest takes the basket from your hand and sets it down before the altar of the LORD your God, you shall make this response before the LORD your God: “A wandering Aramean was my ancestor; he went down into Egypt and lived there as an alien, few in number, and there he became a great nation, mighty and populous. When the Egyptians treated us harshly and afflicted us, by imposing hard labor on us, we cried to the LORD, the God of our ancestors; the LORD heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression. The LORD brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with a terrifying display of power, and with signs and wonders; and he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. So now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground that you, O LORD, have given me.”
Take note of the powerful act of worship described here.

Oh yes, it’s about being thankful for work and the harvest and being able to put food of the table. Absolutely, that’s what this is about, but that’s not all.

This thankful and worshipful act was also a call to remember.

Remember where you’ve come from.

Remember what you’ve been through.

Remember the times when you went without.

Remember who heard your cry and answered your prayers.

Find your story in God’s story and give thanks.

This fall season we’ve been reading the Book of Exodus at our Bible study on Monday nights. The struggle described in that book—the pain and hope and confusion and screw ups that shaped the Exodus journey—teach us that the invitation to give thanks at the journey’s end was anything but superficial.

Like the harvest of the land’s first fruits, thanksgiving is the product of hard work and hope and grace.

Gratitude and hard work—last year when Pope Francis visited our city this was the theme of a message he delivered at Saint Patrick’s Cathedral. Francis first spoke these words to a congregation of Catholic priests, nuns, and monks, but I think even a bunch of Methodists like us can hear the wisdom in them.

At Saint Patrick’s Francis preached,

Joy springs from a grateful heart. Truly, we have received much, so many graces, so many blessings, and we rejoice in this. It will do us good to think back on our lives with the grace of remembrance. Remembrance of when we were first called, remembrance of the road travelled, remembrance of graces received… and, above all, remembrance of our encounter with Jesus Christ so often along the way. Remembrance of the amazement which our encounter with Jesus Christ awakens in our hearts…Perhaps we need to ask ourselves: are we good at counting our blessings? [Or have I forgotten them?]
He continued.
A second area is the spirit of hard work. A grateful heart is spontaneously impelled to serve the Lord and to find expression in a life of commitment to our work. Once we come to realize how much God has given us, a life of self-sacrifice, of working for him and for others, becomes a privileged way of responding to his great love.
Like the harvest of the land’s first fruits, thanksgiving is the product of hard work and hope and grace.

And like the fruit of the land, our lives and our loves are meant to be shared with others.

Somewhere beyond the Jordan, Moses gave the people one final direction for their harvest celebration.

You shall set [your offering] down before the LORD your God and bow down before the LORD your God. Then you, together with the Levites and the aliens who reside among you, shall celebrate with all the bounty that the LORD your God has given to you and to your house.
Awash in God’s blessings, grateful for God’s provisions, the faithful should celebrate with their neighbors, taking care to remember “the Levites and the aliens.”

What was so special about Levites and aliens?

These were two groups of people who had no land of their own and could not, therefore, bring an offering forward. Despite their landlessness, however, they still had a place in God’s family and the faithful would have the privilege of their company at their celebrations. God's grace and the loving community God wills into being were of far greater significance than anything that the Levites and aliens lacked.

Once we come to realize how much God has given us, a life of self-sacrifice, of working for him and for others, becomes a privileged way of responding to his great love.
A call to worship cuts a course through the heart of the scripture because at several crossroads in their journey with God, God’s people received an invitation to remember where they’d been, to anticipate where they were going, and to celebrate the One who traveled with them.

Today, that invitation comes to us.

People of John Street, find your story in God’s story and give thanks.

Amen.

November 13, 2016

A Certain Kind of Fire

This Sunday, like last Sunday, a lesson from scripture invites us to engage with the fantastic worldview and images of apocalyptic thought. I wish it wasn’t so.

Reading passages like Daniel 7 and Luke 21 in the context of this bruising election season makes it difficult to overcome the temptation to equate “the other side” of the body politic with the enemies of God and the cosmic forces of evil. It’s a temptation we need to resist.

We need to resist this temptation because history and experience demonstrate that it’s a good deal easier to convince ourselves that the Scripture has lots to say about the changes the people with whom we disagree need to make, but surprisingly little to say to us. To that end, I want to be up front with you about where I’m coming from this morning.

Long before Election Day, I believe fear began exerting a powerful influence in our country across the political spectrum. From 9/11 to the Great Recession, from decades of stagnant wages to the ways in which our incredibly connected culture connects us to stories of injustice the world over, in blue states, red states, or swing states, one doesn’t need to look far to find someone who believes that something essential about themselves and their identity is under attack—their rights, their family, their livelihood, their life.

Sadly, while fear unites us, we divide ourselves by whose fears we judge to be reasonable and whose are merely the products of paranoia. As a result, we spend our time arguing about whose fears are the correct fears and whose are unfounded, when what we really should be doing is acknowledging that the fears and their consequences are real and that we care about each other’s wellbeing and security.

I also believe that the Good News of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection is fear’s antidote.

I believe that the way Jesus loves us, empowers us, and builds us into a Spirit-filled community devoted to reconciliation and peace sets us free from fear’s chains.

I believe that it is our mission as Christians, then, to serve the fearful with compassion and to expose fear mongers with love, because, as Saint John writes, “there is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.”

As members of Christ’s body—the Church—we are heirs to God’s promise; we are fiercely loved by God and empowered to love one another boldly.

Now, back to those wild and apocalyptic words.

Martin Luther King Jr. preached his last sermon on April 3, 1968 at Mason Temple in Memphis, Tennessee. Many of you are familiar with that sermon’s dramatic conclusion, the video of which appears in practically every retrospective of the Civil Rights movement. This is the moment when, with the congregation hanging on every word, King spoke of longevity, doing God’s will, going up the mountain, and looking over.

“And I’ve seen the Promised Land,” he declared. “I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land.”

It’s to an earlier section in King’s historic speech to which I want to draw your attention this morning, a passage, I believe, that reveals a powerful point of contact between faithful hearts and Jesus’ words in Luke’s twenty-first chapter.

In our Gospel lesson, Jesus talked about living with courage and faith in the midst of evil’s chaos, and he made in that moment a promise to his friends.

I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict.
In Memphis, Dr. King remembered how that promise nurtured and strengthened the movement he led.

At Mason Temple, Dr. King allowed his memories to take him back, one last time, to the days of struggle in Birmingham, Alabama where, just five years earlier, he’d penned his famous letter from jail, and the place where he’d come to know the vicious tactics of Bull Connor, the city’s infamous Public Safety Commissioner.

Calling to mind the abuses heaped upon those who marched for equality, King remembered how God’s promise led them through those dark days. Confident that he and his followers possessed gifts and a dignity that the world didn’t give them and that the world couldn’t take away, King spoke about how faith opened his eyes to a reality that his oppressors just couldn’t see.

“There was a certain kind of fire,” he said, “that no water could put out.”

[In Birmingham] we went before the fire hoses; we had known water. If we were Baptist…we had been immersed. If we were Methodist…we had been sprinkled, but we knew water.

That couldn’t stop us…

And every now and then we’d get in the jail, and we’d see the jailers looking through the windows being moved by our prayers, and being moved by our words and our songs. And there was power there which Bull Connor couldn’t adjust to; and so we ended up transforming Bull into a steer, and we won our struggle in Birmingham.

“There was a certain kind of fire that no water could put out.”

Jesus said, “I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict.”

According to Luke, Jesus made the promise at a critical moment in his ministry—the week that would end with him alone, dead, and buried in a tomb.

It was the first Holy Week and Jesus was on a collision course with the imperial and religious establishments that would take his life and shatter his disciples’ spirits. Aware of all that was about to take place, Jesus sought to center his disciples in God’s loving presence.

“Even in a world gone mad,” Jesus seemed to say, “God will not let us go.”

When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified…Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven.
But even though the heavens shake, God’s love remains a strong foundation.
I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict.
Can there be any doubt that the disciples remembered these words in a new light when Jesus was raised from the dead?

Can there be any doubt that the disciples drew strength and inspiration from these words when loyalty to Jesus and his kingdom set them at odds with the principalities and powers of their own age?

Can there be any doubt that disciples who are committed to following Christ in our time will demonstrate in prayer, worship, and loving action that this promise remains Good News to people who feel that the ground beneath their feet is shaking and their world is turning upside down?

Do you know anyone who feels like that today?

Do you know anyone who felt like that at about 3:00 Wednesday morning?

Amid life’s most turbulent moments, faithful hearts still believe in and aim to see our lives shaped by Jesus’ promise.

I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict.

Even though the heavens shake, God’s love remains a strong foundation.

When we are at our lowest and fear’s darkness surrounds us, God is present, God’s love endures, and God’s blessings show us the way to go.

If we revere this message as Good News, then it is our mission as Christians to serve the fearful with compassion and to expose fear mongers with love.

I believe that fear exerts a powerful influence in our country across the political spectrum. Sadly, while fear unites us, we divide ourselves by whose fears we judge to be reasonable and whose are merely the products of paranoia. As a result, we spend our time arguing about whose fears are the correct fears and whose are unfounded, when what we really should be doing is acknowledging that the fears are real and that we care about each other’s wellbeing and security.

When my son has a nightmare and is worried that there's a monster in his closet, I can explain that his fear is unreasonable, or I can let him know that he's alright and that I'm there for him.

I dont know that we ever outgrow the need to know that we're not alone.

We argue so much about whose concerns are legitimate and whose are unfounded when what we really need to do is commit ourselves to having each other's back.

When your world is spinning, I'm going to be there with you. That's the Christian response. That's a holy response.

I believe that the Good News of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection is fear’s antidote and I believe that the way Jesus loves us, empowers us, and builds us into a Spirit-filled community devoted to reconciliation and peace sets us free from fear’s chains.

Therefore, when the world shakes, the Church must hold fast to Jesus and his wisdom.

When the world shakes, the faithful believe, hope, and endure.

When the world shakes, we love (and serve, and seek justice, and practice mercy, and embrace the marginalized and outcast) because love is a certain kind of fire that no water can put out.

As members of Christ’s body—the Church—we are heirs to God’s promise; we are fiercely loved by God and empowered to love one another boldly.

Thanks be to God for this Good News. Amen.

November 7, 2016

Little Horn Bigmouth

God blesses those whom the world judges to be outcast, pitiable, and weak. This truth is the essence of Jesus’ life and ministry. It is a useful lens through which to view who Jesus is and what Jesus says and does. It’s also a concise summary of his most famous sermon.
Then [Jesus] looked up at his disciples and said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. “Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. “Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. “Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.
Despite the evidence to the contrary, Jesus declares that the poor, hungry, and weeping ones among us are blessed.

We do well to acknowledge that this wasn’t a new idea.

The sacred stories of ancient Israel repeatedly display God’s concern for and action on behalf of the dispossessed and hurting. The scripture speaks of the Holy One who heard the cries of a people enslaved in Egypt, steadied the nerves of a young shepherd named David in his showdown with a giant, and set a new path before a traumatized mother named Hagar.

This is the Holy One to whom the Psalmist prayed,

Relieve the troubles of my heart, and bring me out of my distress.

Consider my affliction and my trouble, and forgive all my sins.

From Genesis through Revelation, the Bible reveals God as the One who blesses those whom the world judges to be outcast, pitiable, and weak. The Book of Daniel underscores this point, too.

Daniel’s seventh chapter is a fantastic and mind-bending passage of scripture. In it, readers encounter a dream haunted by a series of strange beasts that rise up from the sea to torment and wreak havoc upon the people.

The description of the fourth and final beast is illustrative.

After this I saw in the visions by night a fourth beast, terrifying and dreadful and exceedingly strong. It had great iron teeth and was devouring, breaking in pieces, and stamping what was left with its feet. It was different from all the beasts that preceded it, and it had ten horns. I was considering the horns, when another horn appeared, a little one coming up among them; to make room for it, three of the earlier horns were plucked up by the roots. There were eyes like human eyes in this horn, and a mouth speaking arrogantly.
Daniel’s seventh chapter is an example of apocalyptic literature, a genre forged in times of trouble and persecution for God’s people. Unfortunately, in our time, people usually do one of two things with scriptures like these. They either ignore them completely or they twist and pull at them to give them a symbolic contemporary interpretation.

“I don’t know who the arrogant little horn with a big mouth is, but it’s obviously some politician that I don’t like,” they seem to say.

Both popular approaches leave the Church wanting.

Instead, reading the passage with the conventions of the genre in mind leads us through its oddities and strangeness to a place at which we encounter Good News, a message that meant something powerful to a put-upon and hurting people long ago and that resonates with our experience, too.

The best scholarship regarding the passage at hand tells us that its author lived in or near Jerusalem during the violent reign of King Antiochus Epiphanes of the Seleucid Empire about 170 years before the birth of Jesus. The Seleucid Empire was one of the Hellenistic states that emerged in the wake of Alexander the Great’s death and the subsequent partitioning of his Greek Empire.

The tension between Jewish and Greek values turned violent in Jerusalem during Antiochus’s corrupt reign. When Antiochus accepted a bribe to appoint a man named Menelaus to the highest religious and political position in the Judea, traditionally-minded Jews revolted.

Antiochus’s response to the revolt was savage. Not only did he restore Menelaus to power, but he outlawed Judaism.

It was termed a capital offense to worship as Jews, to have a copy of the Torah, or to circumcise one’s children. A statue of Zeus was erected in the temple, and a pig was sacrificed on the altar there! (Effird, 20-21)
This was the horrifying context in which Daniel’s author lived. To write the words we’ve read this morning was, in essence, to sign one’s order of execution, but our writer put pen to paper, nevertheless, and gave us a history lesson for the ages. That’s what we’ve read, after all, a history lesson.

Those beasts from the sea? They’re the foreign powers that had ruled over Jerusalem for centuries; Babylon, Media, Persia, and Greece.

The ten horns? Those are the kings who filled the void left by Alexander’s untimely death.

And the little horn with a big mouth? That’s Antiochus.

Using his apocalyptic tools, our writer crafts a story for a longsuffering community about the series of world powers that rose over and then fell upon them. Their religion now banned and their holiest site desecrated, all evidence pointed to more and increased suffering, but our writer didn’t see it that way at all.

He saw the God of Exodus moving through the scene; the Holy Giant-Slayer and the Divine Comforter of grieving mothers and hungry children everywhere.

In that painful moment, our writer heard an answer to prayer and took hold of an eternal promise.

He wrote,

Kings shall arise out of the earth. But the holy ones of the Most High shall receive the kingdom and possess the kingdom forever—forever and ever.
Kingdoms rise and kingdoms fall, but the love of God goes on and on.

Seasons of sorrow and suffering tarry, but God’s mercies endures.

In Daniel’s seventh chapter we encounter the same truth Jesus embodies; despite the evidence to the contrary, God blesses those whom the world judges to be outcast, pitiable, and weak.

And if this is true—if the psalmists and the prophets, and Jesus and the saints saw reality more clearly than those who would exclude and harm and denigrate, then we, as people of faith, must take up our mantle to expose the lies that would fracture God’s beloved community.

“They’re poor because they’re lazy.”

“They’re suffering because they deserve it.”

“They’re inferior because of their race, stupid because of where they come from, prone to violence because of their immigration status, cruel because they’re conservative, or immoral because they’re liberal.”

Lies! These are some of the lies that we allow to have power over our hearts and in our communities. These are some of the lies that threaten to undo us; the lies that God’s Word exposes by declaring blessings, not curses, for those we would judge, cast out, and deny mercy.

God blesses those whom the world judges to be outcast, pitiable, and weak by uprooting lies with the truth of a Savior’s love.

“In all [the horrible stuff of life that we’re tempted and pressured to believe defines us] we are more than conquerors,” declares Saint Paul, “through him who loved us.”
In the introduction to the 1997 edition of his esteemed book of theology, God of the Oppressed, Dr. James Cone shares a memory from his childhood in the Jim Crow South that brings the Gospel truth home.

Remembering the liberating effect that the Gospel had on the people of his hometown, Cone writes,

[The black women and men of Bearden, Arkansas] affirmed their dignity as human beings against great odds as they held on to faith in Jesus’ cross—the belief that his suffering and death was for their salvation. For them, salvation meant that they were not defined by what whites said about them or did to them, but rather by what Jesus said about the poor in his teachings and did for them on the cross. (Cone, xvii)
God blesses those whom the world judges to be outcast, pitiable, and weak.

This is the truth, and if this is true—if the psalmists and the prophets, and Jesus and the saints saw reality more clearly than those who would exclude and harm and denigrate—then we, as people of faith, must take up our mantle to expose the lies that would fracture God’s beloved community.

We must expose the lies and rejoice in the truth.

Despite the evidence to the contrary, Jesus declares that the poor, hungry, and weeping ones among us are blessed.

This is the Good News that gives us and the Church's life.

This is the Good News for which we give thanks.

Thanks be to God. Amen.