January 18, 2015
Text: Micah 6: 6 – 8 & Luke 4: 14 – 19 – Rev. Jan Hryniewicz
It seems that our nation is alive with the football spirit…as people on both coasts get more and more psyched for the final play-off games later today. Screaming fans, decked out in outrageous team garb flock to stadiums in the cold, rain or snow to cheer their favorite teams to victory…and the Superbowl! It’s wild…and the enthusiasm is contagious! I can’t bear to watch the Patriots play without burying my head in a pillow, afraid to see a fumble or interception…or Tom Brady getting sacked repeatedly!! I get caught up in the spirit of the game…the excitement of the competition…the passion of the players…..and forget about the world for a while.
Perhaps the endless media hype about the upcoming games, is a distraction from tragic news stories. We just want to bury our heads in pillows and forget the tear stained face of loss and fear, the tragedy of racial conflict and terrorist violence. Surely, the hate inspired actions, the blatant disregard for the sacredness of every life disturb our peace of mind and sense of well being. Sadly, however, this despairing situation is nothing new.
Jan: This morning, I have invited the spirit and voice of one of the great prophets from Hebrew scriptures; the prophet Amos, who began speaking in 750 BC. … Oh I guess I will let Amos speak for himself. Amos…..
Amos: ( Ken) (come forward) Good morning, good folk of Biddeford Pool, Maine. What a delightful little community you have here by the sea…..quite lovely indeed. I promise not to bore you with long speeches, like some of my colleagues. I am known for my short and very memorable oracles…in fact, I have been called “downright electrifying.”
God called me to a very difficult task….indicting Israel’s enemy nations….and Israel herself …. threatening them with disaster if they didn’t repent and change their ways. I had to proclaim God’s judgment on them for their cruelty, warfare and social injustice. I said in the book that bears my name: “ They trampled the heads of the poor into the dust of the earth and pushed the afflicted out of the way. Woe to you who lie on beds of ivory and lounge on your couches, eating lambs….drinking too much wine…..but are not grieved over the ruin of the poor.”
God was not happy with these people…..not a bit…and it was my task to tell them so! I know you must have heard one of my famous, short speeches when I was talking to the Israelites about their worship practices….and what God wanted from them. God said: “ I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies…..But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever flowing stream.” Ahh….that was a great speech! Really got people thinking then…..and I hope it does now. You know, you can’t go to worship and praise God and act all holy and then go home and spit upon your neighbor…..or ignore the needs of the poor and oppressed. That’s just not acceptable behavior. God doesn’t like that!
Jan: Thank you, Amos…..for your message to us….. always articulate….full of images…..one of the first advocates for social justice. ….the first hippie!! We are grateful for your message which is desperately needed today. You may not know it, but one of the great biblical scholars of OUR time, Marcus Borg…..said that he decided to go to seminary because of you.
Amos: Really!? I am humbled by that revelation, and can only hope that he wasn’t disappointed. Hmmm, Marcus Borg, ….. I think I’ve heard of him…..a bit radical, isn’t he? Well…. I guess I can’t talk!! I was considered pretty radical in my day! Sometimes change calls for radical behavior….. especially the change God wants to see happen!
Jan: What would be your short, to the point message to us here in 2015?
Amos: Stop hurting each other and the planet that nourishes you. Let peace and justice be like flowing water that moves among you….sometimes gently, sometime with a vengeance….. sometimes stirring up….. sometimes healing and always transforming lives. Wake up!! God needs you to act!! That’s the bottom line! ( Exit)
Thank you, Amos. Do come again and remind us of your words.
Through the ages, people of faith have experienced being called forth by what they believe to be a Divine Presence…. urging them to act on behalf of God’s kingdom….. …calling people to repent of their ways and change their behavior. A compelling characteristic of the Spirit is its call for change …. for transformation….for movement toward the fulfillment of God’s dream for Creation. Prophets through the ages…still today …. insist that they feel the call of the Spirit and are compelled to act.
Biblical scholar Marcus J. Borg writes: “ The classical prophets of ancient Israel are among the most remarkable people who have ever lived. Such is the indelible impression made by their words. Their language is memorable, poetic, and powerful. Their passion and courage are exceptional. Their message combines radical criticism of the way things are, with the urgent advocacy of another way of being. They disturb our sense of normalcy in several ways – socially, personally, and spiritually. And, in their own words, they speak for God.”
This perspective helps define the spiritual energy present in human creation that connects and unites us all to the intangible, mysterious force in the universe which continues to bring creation into being….the Divine energy force, called by many names and understood in hundreds of different ways….always seeking a response.
The contemporary hermeticist, Valentin Tomberg envisions a vast energetic cascade, beginning in divine consciousness and ending up in our universe. In Meditations on the Tarot he writes: “ Modern science has come to understand that matter is only condensed energy. Sooner or later science will also discover that what it calls energy is only condensed psychic force, which discovery will lead in the end to the fact that all psychic force is the condensation, purely and simply, of consciousness,…of spirit. Like a mountain breeze whose base is solidly on the earth but whose summit is hidden in the clouds.
There is at least a second force, an energetic realm…the energy which flows through prayer, attention, intention and will….those subtle exchanges which science has so far declined to measure, but which we know have the power to create demonstrable effects in the physical realm.(7)
Tomberg asserts that our life here in this physical cosmos is merely the endpoint of a long journey of what we might call “divine red shift” – that is condensation or cooling down of the intense energy of pure spirit in order to make physical manifestation possible. Are you confused! You should have read the whole chapter!!
I include this, not to confuse you with scientific talk which is as alien to me as mathematics….but to reaffirm what I suggested last week, that while we cannot begin to understand the mystery of the Divine Spirit, we can see…and experience the physical manifestations of it’s awesome presence in our daily lives! Actions the condensation of pure spirit? Perhaps.
Now…let’s look at the question that we heard Peter read …the voice of the prophet Micah: “What Does God require of us?”
Micah, who was a contemporary of the prophet Isaiah, was one of the minor…. short winded prophets. He asked a question of his contemporaries which remains a relevant question today: ….and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?
We know that Micah was preaching at the “end of the good times” and just before his nation fell apart. There had been forty years of prosperity and peace. During times of prolonged prosperity and peace, people often forget God, ignore God, drift away from God. The theme of many of the prophets during this time of affluence and indifference to God…was to shout warnings and to call people back to God.
Eve Mac Master, a Mennonite Pastor wrote:
“ We need to move beyond the idea that God is the one who sets things straight, who punishes us when we are bad, and fixes — or doesn’t fix — painful situations. Let’s recognize that we have been invited to share power with God, and to assume responsibility for this world we live in.”
The German Christian theologian Dorothee Soelle has written that in the Nazi period, it was some German Christians’ misunderstanding of God as divine boss that led to their failure to act to save their neighbors. Everything that happens is not God’s will. Co-operation with evil is not doing justice or loving mercy. We must not submit to a false God of fate, nor adopt the values of this world. …or look the other way.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr said: Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.
I’m sure that it’s obvious why I chose this text on the day we remember and celebrate the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Dr. King….. embodied a passion and a dream that we all have for a better world….a world of justice and kindness…..which moves us closer to God’s vision of Shalom…the peaceable kingdom for all creation… His commitment to non-violence and his faith-based courage continue to inspire me in a culture that seems to promote revenge and fear.
Martin Luther King Jr. was able to overcome the entrenched culture of Jim Crow in the South not because he had invented a new set of principles, but because he appealed to a tradition that both preceded and transcended Jim Crow. When he attended Crozer Theological Seminary, he immersed himself in the writings of Plato, Aristotle, Mill, and Locke. In his speeches, he referred to Lincoln, the Declaration of Independence, to Negro spirituals, to Moses and the Promised Land. King was, in short, the bearer of a tradition. He was able to mobilize white as well as black Americans because he reminded them of what they already believed about justice and human decency. His demand was not that America create a new morality, but that it live up to its best traditions and beliefs. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, and those who stood with him, believed they were responding to a call from the Divine Spirit to end the injustice and move our nation closer to God’s vision of a peaceable united kingdom. I believe that too.
Here we are in 2015….. God’s people….. struggling with the same issues our ancestors struggled with thousands of years ago! Still searching for the Spirit…. still resisting the call to come to the table …without agendas…with open minds and hearts….to listen to each other…..to really commit to peace and justice for all creatures. The news full of racial turmoil from violence in France to violence on U S streets to Oscar nominations and school posters….. the controversy and anger continues. Tragic.
As Christians, we turn to our spiritual teacher for guidance. Following Jesus’ soul searching experience in the wilderness when he struggled with the same temptations we have, wrestling with demons, and to find the will and Spirit of God in the midst of his struggles for clarity and wisdom. He emerged from his time of meditation to begin his ministry with what appeared to be a clearer picture of what God was going to require of him…..to be a spiritual, not a political leader. To give his people nourishment for their souls, not instant gratification to appease their material wants. To reveal to them the true nature of God and their relationship with God. To invite all people, not just the Jews to the table to receive the boundless grace of God.
In the text found in the gospel of Luke we read that after his 40 days in the wilderness, “ Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit and news about him spread all through the countryside. He taught in their synagogues and everyone praised him.” Then the gospel writers tell us, he went to Nazareth, his home town…..and on the Sabbath he went to the synagogue….was given the scroll to read…… and found the words of the prophet Isaiah: “ The spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Then in what is portrayed as a dramatic moment, he rolled up the scroll and said: “ Today the scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” The Spirit of God was within him and he was ready to respond to its call with action.
The gospel writers were proclaiming that the very same Spirit that called forth Abraham and Moses and Elijah…. had called for Jesus….to continue to reveal God to them…to set them free!
I want to close with a true story told by author Margaret Silf in her beautiful book Close to the Heart. She writes: I had been praying the passage from John 1: 35 – 39 ,in which Jesus invites two of John’s disciples to “come and see” where he lives and what he is about.
It was 4 pm in the Market Square. A warm , sunny afternoon. I had picked up my daughter from school and we were walking between shops when I noticed a man whose sad, childlike face caught my attention. As we passed him, he held out his hand and asked if I had any cigarettes. No. I shook my head and walked on.
We stopped to buy ice cream and sat on a bench in the sun to eat it. The minutes passed, and my thoughts were haunted by the sad face of the man I had passed by…and failed. I had to go back and find him.
He had moved on. Eventually I found him sitting at a roadside near a high rise garage. I crouched down beside him, and we talked for a while. He had been an abandoned child, an alcoholic, a server of jail sentences and a searcher for home. He told me his name was Steve. I told him mine, Margaret. I got him something to eat from the nearby bakery.
Where do you sleep? I asked him.
He looked straight into my eyes and stood up unsteadily. “come and see.” Panic shot through me, and then I heard the voice of Jesus ringing out the unmistakable challenge.
Inwardly I took a determined step back from Steve as he pointed down to the dark, deserted basement of the garage. Even in his alcoholic haze, or perhaps because of it, he sensed my hesitation. “ You are afraid, aren’t you?”
I was silent for a few moments. My mind searched for appropriate excuses.. He urged me again…”come and see”. I thought of Jesus and I followed Steve down to his “home” , which was a mattress on the concrete floor in a dark, stinking corner. We stayed there for a few minutes together, while Steve ate his little lunch and showed me his kingdom. His tears flowed and his nose ran. As he took the handkerchief I handed him, his penetrating blue eyes met mine and I know that I had discovered where Jesus lives. There was no need to search my imagination. The reality was here at my feet, on a moldy mattress with an empty bottle.
The world is teeming with Steves… with people and situations that call us out of our comfort zones. …. the call from the Spirit to “come and see”…. to listen….to respond…as Jesus did… as Mother Theresa did….as Martin Luther King Jr did and so many others who were confident that they were not alone…they walked with the Spirit of God….and their courage and commitment is all the proof I need. Amen.
Dr. Mrtin Luther KIng Jr said that he was not afraid of what was to come….for he had been to the mountain top, had seen the promised land. “
This is what God requires of us… to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with our God? When we feel the Spirit moving in us….we will not pass by, we will
see each other, we will love each other and the world will change. Amen!