Epiphany 3B and an Inauguration
I feel as if I'm on a slippery slope--I DO NOT discuss politics from the pulpit. But, how to engage with this week's text--scripture about prophetic voices, a city of individuals offering personal sacrifice for the sake of the whole (the people all wore sack cloth) and the calling to discipleship of two lowly fisherman--in light of our presidential inauguration. As I, again, read President Obama's inaugural address I am struck by the difficult truths he proclaims (a devastated economy, war and the need to take a look at our own priorities) and the responses I am hearing from people who are finally saying that they are willing to personally sacrifice their own creature comforts in order to save our country. It has been a long time since I've heard anyone say that they would willingly give up their own power and advantage for the good of the whole.
Obama invoked the suffering of our forbears and rather than claiming a collective entitlement to power and privilege he reminded us that our own response to suffering sets the stage for the generations to come--we have a price to pay and a responsibility to pay it. It sound to me that we have a leader who has rejected the prosperity Gospel and instead has turned us to God's salvation history. It can no longer be about me, it has to be about us--and on the global stage the us is the whole world. Just as our liberation in scripture comes at a cost so too will our freedom as a country--liberation that comes when we "seize our duties gladly" because we know that in doing so we have been freed from the constraint and worry of protecting our own privilege at the expense of others.
"They shall not feed, nor shall they drink water. 8Human beings and animals shall be covered with sackcloth, and they shall cry mightily to God. All shall turn from their evil ways and from the violence that is in their hands. 9Who knows? God may relent and change his mind; he may turn from his fierce anger, so that we do not perish.” 10When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it." Time will tell whether we will be willing to turn from the violence in our own hands, time will tell whether we will be willing participants in our own salvation.
I read shortly after the Iraq war that during WWII people planted gardens at home and endured rationing so that the troops would have enough sustenance and during the Iraq war people were encouraged to shop...sackcloth indeed. It makes me wonder how desperate for change people were in Jesus' day that they would willingly give up their livelihoods in order to follow a man who's manner of life posed such a challenge to the communion (er...Rome). I wonder if it is out of desperation and despair that the world is changed...if it is only when we proverbially hit bottom that we are willing to do the hard things it will take to rise up out of the morass and become the people God means us to be? Are we desperate enough that we are willing to help usher in the kingdom of God even when the kingdoms of our own making offer such comfort?
Obama turns to salvation history--and insists that the work has not been completed. In scripture we participate as co-creators in God's salvific action in the world and if we truly believe that "Christ has no hands in this world but ours" than what are our hands doing for Christ in the world? This sermon is not an endorsement for a party or president--it is an endorsement for a God who calls us to action in the world. It is an endorsement for the scriptural truths running through a speech. It is an endorsement for the hard truth that we must participate in our own salvation and that we cannot take the journey alone. Obama is not the messiah...but he is a beloved child of God. We are followers of Christ--but as people in this place and in this world--how will we participate in and bear witness to the kingdom of God?