Sunday, October 20, 2013

Bread for the World Sunday Sermon: The Power of Liberating Love

Hi everyone,

What follows is the draft of a sermon I'll be preaching tomorrow at Saint Michael's Lutheran Church in Germantown on the Gospel according to Saint Luke 18: 1 - 8. The sermon is a part of an ongoing advocacy effort to celebrate Bread for the World Sunday. I'd love to hear what you think!

God's peace,
Dustin

Ya know, today’s message from the Gospel of Saint Luke is one of my absolutely favorite parables. There’s a bunch of good messages here for sure about prayer, persistence, and even gender equality, but the reason I particularly love this parable is because of what it says about justice. A widow, a person frequently near the bottom of the social ladder during the time the gospels were being written, keeps coming back to a cruel judge, begging him for justice over her opponent. And lets just stress here... this is not a Judge Judy sort of situation... the widow does not have any ordinary opponent... the word we translate as “opponent” in the original Greek means someone who keeps coming back to accuse you, to persecute you, again and again. In other words, this widow was in a state of constant oppression, but through her own persistence in prayer and action, she eventually convinces a judge to rule in her favor simply because she wears him down... he doesn’t want to be embarrassed by her any longer. My brothers and sisters, this parable proclaims to us across the millennia that despite human sin, that despite the very real evil that persists in ourselves and our society no matter how we try to change or deny it, that at least some of the time, justice can prevail. Yes, at least in some situations, with God’s help, justice can prevail... problems can be solved.

This parable teaches us something deeper about justice too, especially as it relates to our topic of advocating against hunger, if we take a closer look at the character of the judge. Although our hearts initially go out to the widow (with good reason), the judge is actually in just as bad of shape. He actually says to himself, “I do not care about God and I have no respect for people.” I do not care about God and I have no respect for people... wow. Can you even imagine being in that bad of a situation, where you openly admit to yourself that you don’t care about God AND the folks around you? That’s got to be a deep, dark, lonely place... the sort of place that’s pretty hard to get out of. Perhaps some of us here today can in fact recall such a situation, where either crushed under the weight of addiction, or broken relationships, or disease or loneliness or any other sort of evil that might oppress us, we had to recognize that we had become so entirely disconnected from our God and our fellow human beings that we simply didn’t care.

I myself haven’t been in quite that difficult of a spot, but I’ve been close, and that was especially the case while living in Washington, DC. I moved there right after high school to study political science at the George Washington University because I wanted to change things. I was a pretty progressive teenager, and I wanted to change things... I wanted to make the world a better place, and I thought Washington was just where I could do it! I eventually realized though that change wasn’t so easy. By no means do I think this happens to everyone, there’s still a lot of great folks there, but I eventually realized that I was stuck in a pattern that’s fairly common in Washington. Much like me, a lot of folks move there thinking they want to change the world. Soon though they see that in order to change the world, they have to attain a certain level of power. Whether by climbing social ladders or compromising their values or greatly overworking or building their resume in a cut-throat sort of way, folks in Washington can often lose sight of their original goals. Life for them, as it was for me, no longer is about changing the world... it simply becomes about attaining more power. And on that brutal quest for power, relationships with other people are inevitably lost and one’s connection with God feels broken. In other words, life in Washington easily begins to lack the liberating power of love. I believe God worked pretty darn hard to free me from that sort of life... I recognized I needed to leave Washington, at least for a while, and I’m much happier today for it, but unfortunately, many of our leaders there are still stuck in lives that seem to lack the liberating power of love.

And that my sisters and brothers is what we’ve seen recently in Washington, and what we see in the character of the unjust judge. We see the work of lives lacking love. We see the work of folks whose lives lack the liberating power of love, who have become so disconnected that they can’t see the suffering and injustice all around them. They can’t see the true problems in our nation and our world, nor can they ever dream how it can be better. As we discussed a couple weeks ago, we know that one in six Americans currently face hunger in some form, and that in the city of Philadelphia, the number goes up to one in four. One in six Americans face some form of hunger and one in four folks in this city of brotherly love face some form of hunger. Yet we also know that it doesn’t need to be this way, and that it hasn’t always been this way. Under Richard Nixon, not someone exactly known for being a liberal softy, hunger as an systematic problem was pretty much eliminated for a time in America through the increased use of food stamps, now referred to as the SNAP program. Just listen to what President Nixon said to Congress back in 1969:
More is at stake here than the health and well-being of 16 million American citizens who will be aided by these programs and the current Child Food Assistance programs. Something very like the honor of American democracy is at issue. It was half a century ago that the "fruitful plains" of this bounteous land were first called on to a great work of humanity, that of feeding a Europe exhausted and bleeding from the First World War. Since then on one occasion after another, in a succession of acts of true generosity--let those who doubt that find their counterpart in history--America has come to the aid of one starving people after another. But the moment is at hand to put an end to hunger in America itself. For all time. I ask this of a Congress that has already splendidly demonstrated its own disposition to act. It is a moment to act with vigor; it is a moment to be recalled with pride.
According to President Nixon, the very honor of American democracy was at issue... there could no longer be excuses for allowing hunger to exist in our great nation, and thus, for a time, the systematic problem of chronic hunger was eliminated. Unfortunately, under presidents of both major political parties, under President Reagan and President Clinton, food stamps and other programs were scaled back. And thus we’ve ended up in the dire situation we find ourselves in today.

My sisters and brothers, hunger does not exist in America because of one political party or the other... both parties have worked to eliminate hunger, and both parties have set us back at times. The case is similar on the international level. The Millennium Development Goals were originally signed onto by the Clinton administration, and due to increased foreign aid under the Bush administration, we’ve nearly cut to global hunger rate in half over the last two decades to what is now around 14 percent. Hunger does not exist because of one political party or the other and hunger does not exist because we lack the resources to alleviate it. The main reason the scourge of hunger still exists in our time is because, much like the situation of the judge in today’s parable, the lives of many of our political leaders lack the liberating power of love. Thus, today’s parable teaches us that in order to move towards justice, in order to solve problems that are indeed solvable, much like the widow, we should persistently pray, preach and proclaim the power of liberating love that we know through Christ to those leaders who most desperately need to hear it. So following the close of today’s worship service, I invite you to do just that. As we celebrate Bread for the World Sunday, we got all the materials you need to tell President Obama and the folks in Congress that we can and need to end hunger and to remind them about the liberating power of love that we know through Christ. You can either write a letter, record a short YouTube video, or sign a petition.

Amidst the hardest days of the civil rights movement, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once preached,
To our most bitter opponents we say: ...One day we shall win freedom, but not only for ourselves. We shall so appeal to your heart and conscience that we shall win you in the process, and our victory will be a double victory. Love is the most durable power in the world. This creative force, so beautifully exemplified in the life of our Christ, is the most potent instrument available in [human]kind’s quest for peace...
Love, my sisters and brothers, is the most potent instrument available in our quest for peace, love is the most potent instrument available in our quest for justice, love is the most potent instrument available in our collective quest for freedom. When our Christ rose from that most gruesome of deaths two millennia ago, He proclaimed to the whole world, including us in this time, in this place, in this city that even the worst of human evil, the actual killing of God, is absolutely nothing next to the power of love. God’s act of love in our Christ empowers us. God’s act of love in our Christ frees us. God’s act of love in our Christ liberates us from whatever or whoever may oppress us. And when we are wrapped up in the arms of God’s liberating love in Christ, we can’t help but share the good news of that love with others. Amen.

Dustin is currently in his final year of a Masters of Divinity program at the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia, having recently completed a year as Vicar at the Lutheran Office for World Community and Saint Peter's Church in New York City. While seeking ordination in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, his focus is on the intersection between worship, service and justice 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.

No comments:

Post a Comment