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This is What Hope Looks Like

This is What Hope Looks Like

A sermon preached for the Third Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A, 1/22/17; 1 Corinthians 1:10-18Matthew 4:12-23.

Good morning, St. Gregory’s.  Let me begin just by saying I’m so tired!  Yanick and I got back late last night from the Women’s March on Washington, and I got up early this morning to prepare to be with you all.  So I’ll try to keep my words short and hope they remain coherent.

So first of all to our Gospel.  It begins: “When Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum [and]… From that time [he] began to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

When Jesus heard that John had been arrested.  Arrested for publicly opposing the immoral actions of the local tetrarch Herod and for inciting the people to uprising and revolution.  And we all know where the story goes—John is executed.  And Jesus’ first response is to withdraw.  He withdrew to Galilee.  So often that is our first and natural response.  In shock at some tragedy, we withdraw.

On Friday, we saw the inauguration of a man unfit to hold the office of President in this or any country.  A man who brags, who boasts of his own immorality, who demeans, assaults, and lies.  And to be clear, we should call out and name these qualities in any leader, in any party, be they Republican, Democrat, or otherwise.  Needless to say, many people are feeling fear and despair.  And at John’s arrest, certainly, Jesus felt fear and despair.

And so he withdrew.  And that is a natural response—to withdraw, to retreat, to feel angry, to feel fearful.  And the story could have ended there: Jesus withdrew to Galilee.  But it didn’t, and it doesn’t.  Almost immediately we’re told that he got up, he left Nazareth, he went to Capernaum, and he started spreading John’s message of the kingdom of God and gathering in disciples: “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.”  And thus began a movement.

And importantly, perhaps centrally, a significant part of that movement was the formation of disciples.  Jesus gathered these people around him and he formed them.  He taught them.  He shaped and developed and cultivated their souls.  And if you have pursued even a cursory study of the Gospels, you know that he formed their souls in the ethics of love, of justice, of compassion, of non-violence.  That he taught them to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick and imprisoned.  That he taught them to pray, “Thy kingdom come on earth” and sent them out to live that kingdom into existence.

He cultivated and developed their souls.  And I want to say just a word about this: about soul development.  Our work as Christians, and I would go so far as to say, our work simply as human beings, is to develop, cultivate, mature our souls.  I love Donald Trump, but the man has an underdeveloped soul.  When we see someone dominated by ego, impulsiveness, defensiveness, by bragging, silencing and demeaning others, they are operating out of the lowest possibilities of our humanness.  Now these are natural reactions—it’s natural to want to defend yourself—it comes from a long history of evolutionary baggage rooted in “the survival of the fittest” and patterned into our brains and DNA.

But Jesus came to show us that we can transcend those impulses.  That this isn’t all our humanity is capable of.  That in transcending our egoism, we can open to interconnection, we can form a new Body that is made up of all of us, and rooted and grounded in love.  In our epistle reading, St. Paul calls this the wisdom and power of the Cross—that when we’re willing to die to self, unimaginable power can be unleashed.  He says that this message of the Cross is foolishness to those rooted in the ways and the wisdom of the world, of worldly power.  But for us, he says, it is the power of God.

But to develop this possibility in our souls takes work.  It’s innate, but it doesn’t always arise easily.  It gets covered over with things like greed and fear and despair and desire for control.  And far too easily we can critique these qualities in someone else—a president perhaps—all the while our critique comes from the same place in us, that same dualistic, oppositional place.  And so we have to work to pattern the wisdom of the Cross into our souls and bodies.  Work to pattern love and humility and surrender and compassion, into our cells, into our souls.

And when we place people in positions of power in our churches, in our town councils, in any and every position of leadership, our first question should not be, “Are they liberal or conservative, Republican or Democrat?”  Our first question should be, “Is this a person who has been developing and cultivating their soul?”  Is this a person who understands servanthood?  Because if they have, if they do, you’ll be able to work together through just about anything.

And so, I could stand here and go on complaining about the lack of soul in our political system.  But I would rather tell you instead to cultivate soul, in yourselves, in our communities, in our world.  Make soul development your first priority, personally, and in those you elect to represent you.  Cultivate soul, and yes, soul-resistance—not ego-based resistance, but soul resistance—resistance that comes from heart and love.

Jesus took a rag-tag band of disciples, said “Come and follow me” and he began cultivating soul in them, cultivating a vision of God’s kingdom, God’s reign, God’s dream for the world.  Yesterday I marched in a sea of 500,000 people, and 3 million people nationwide, who were declaring a revolution of love.  Those were the words I heard again and again.  This is a revolution of love.  In every direction I looked, people pouring in, joining this revolution. As Yanick and I finally drove out of the city, still everywhere we looked the sidewalks still lined with people.  And I kept thinking to myself, “This is what hope looks like, this is what hope looks like.  This is what the kingdom of God looks like.”  People coming together in resistance, in love.

And it didn’t matter that we were Muslims and Christians and “non-believers,” that we were white and black and brown, that we were straight and gay and trans, that we were walking on two feet or with canes or in wheelchairs.  Because the wisdom of the Cross, the liberating power of love and self-denial that can bind us together into a single beloved Body—that wisdom isn’t proprietary. Jesus didn’t bring it for a few people who like to get together on Sundays and call themselves Christians—as nice as we all are!  Jesus brought it for the whole God-blessed world.

And what I saw yesterday in the streets of Washington is carrying on his legacy, the legacy of Jesus, a lot better than a lot of our churches.  And so I encourage you to look around the world for these currents of love, these currents of resistance, these currents of God’s kingdom, of the wisdom of the Cross and of the power of Love.  And know that this is where the life of Jesus is flowing, where the life of God is flowing.  And connect, join hands, join the movement.

In the days ahead, we will all be needed.  A new humanity is being born, a new humanity is organizing itself at a higher level than we’ve ever seen; we are becoming one collective Body of Christ.  And our cultivated hearts and souls will be needed, and our prayer will be needed—and so we pray, “Thy kingdom come—on earth, as it is in heaven."


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