Thursday, March 14, 2013

Lent 5C Sermon: Stories of Liberation, Stories of Freedom

What follows is the first draft of a sermon I'll be preaching this 
Sunday on the appointed lectionary gospel reading, Saint John 12: 1- 8.  Would love to hear some feedback.  Thanks friends!

A young man who has recently come out to his faith community stands up to an intolerant, bigoted pastor by boldly proclaiming that he is a child of God reconciled through Christ and that he is no less a Christian because of who he loves. After suffering for decades under the weight of drug addiction, a middle-aged women enters a twelve-step program at a church in the Bronx, cleans up, and only two years later is elected president of the parish council. Young Coptic Christians encircle their Muslim sisters and brothers peacefully protesting in Tahrir Square in order to protect them from harassment during evening prayer. These are stories of liberation. These are stories of freedom.

Wrapped in the loving support of his local congregation, a father navigates an inefficient, under-resourced and unjust immigration system in order to remain with his two young, American- born children. After worship on a Sunday morning, a group of elderly African-American women venture out together to cast their ballot at local polling station, only to be kept waiting hours by a system that still wants to deprive them of their right to vote nearly fifty years after the passage of the Voting Rights Act. A Presbyterian woman marches through a blizzard outside the United Nations with thousands of others two Fridays ago on International Women’s Day. Struggling against heavy winds, she holds up a sign that boldly states, “Jesus is feminist”. She holds up that sign despite knowing that other Christians, Christians weighed down by centuries of patriarchy and privilege, are at that very moment actively working within the UN system to curb the rights of girls and women. These are stories of liberation. These are stories of freedom.

A family, two sisters and a brother to be precise, gather together a group of close friends for a banquet in the village of Bethany, just a couple miles outside of Jerusalem. There is much to celebrate… the brother, Lazarus, was raised from the dead only a few days earlier, yet there’s also tension in the air. The Passover is coming, and everyone’s wondering whether the guest of honor will attend the corresponding city festival despite the possibility of his arrest. One sister hosts the meal; joyfully presiding over its many courses while the other seems noticeably tense. Near the end of the evening, the second sister, Mary, bursts up from her seat and reaches under the table, pulling out a large package of costly, fragrant ointment. Then, making one hell of a scene, she scandously stoops down at the feet of Jesus, and the feet of her Saviour, and carefully anoints him with long flowing hair. Mary doesn’t stop until the ointment is all used up, despite the protest of other folks in the room who have no idea what’s going on.

You see Mary is in fact what the Bible typically terms a prophet, as she’s the only one besides Jesus who knows what’s really going on. She realizes that in one sense, her Saviour is already buried, that his fate is already sealed, and thus that he must be properly anointed. One particularly ornery guest named Judas, thinking that Mary’s actions are some sort of expensive thank you note for raising Lazarus, calls Mary wasteful… instead of spending all that money on nard he argues it should have been given to the poor. Jesus strongly rebukes this accusation, cries out “leave her alone,” and affirms Mary’s prophetic action, thereby saying that its not about what Judas, Mary, or what anyone else for that matter is doing at all… its instead about what the Son of God will soon do for all humankind. This too, my sisters and brothers, is a story of liberation. This too, is a story of freedom.

Throughout much of my internship this year, I’ve often found myself thinking a lot about what the whole point of what this Gospel thing is anyway. In a world that seems to be turning away as fast as possible… what does the Church, what does Jesus in fact, have left to offer? We often hear that God in Christ forgives us of our sins. This is certainly true, we are forgiven, but I have come to believe that what God truly does in Christ is something even deeper. Because when we are forgiven, when God reconciles us to Herself in Christ, an even more amazing work happens: we are liberated, we are freed from all that ails us, and that is truly Good News. And this world needs that Good News as much as ever, because without it, none of the stories I’ve told this day would be possible. Because you see, when you got the Good News of Jesus the Christ on your side, the powers of patriarchy and intolerance, the powers of hate and violence and the powers of sin and death don’t have a shot.

Not too long ago, sometime around Christmas I believe, you heard it aptly asked from this pulpit, “Where is God for you today?” After a long, cold winter, after blizzards and superstorms, after mass shootings and the massive stress of a presidential election, as we enter a new season of rebirth and light and as we prepare to celebrate the Good News of Christ’s resurrection and our resurrection in Christ, I’d like to leave you all with a new question. What is Christ liberating you from? What is Christ freeing you from? What is Christ liberating you from? What is Christ freeing you from? Because you see my sisters and brothers, the stories I shared today aren’t just the stories of Copts in Tahrir Square, or of a recovering drug addict parish council president, or of a young woman making a scene, anointing the feet of her Saviour… these stories of liberation, these stories of freedom in Christ, are our stories, all of our stories, as well. So I ask one more time, what is Christ liberating you from? What is Christ freeing you from? To put it another way, what is the new thing Christ is doing in you?
Dustin is currently a vicar at the Lutheran Office for World Community and Saint Peter's Church in Manhattan, having recently completed his second year of a Masters of Divinity program at the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia. While seeking ordination in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, his focus is on the intersection between worship, service and justice building in de-centralized faith communities unencumbered by a traditional church building. In his free time, Dustin likes playing frisbee, hiking and pretending to know how to sing.

1 comment:

  1. Looks good, D. I think the very last sentence ("To put it another way, ...") is extraneous and should be cut.

    To my ears, "To put it another way" sounds more like a transitional phrase and sets me up for expecting a deeper explanation based on the rephrasing.

    Plus, you just said, "I ask one more time,..." then you ask. If you then rephrase it, you're asking again. ;)