Sunday, November 30, 2014

Where is the one who will be our peace?

The drafts are piling up, but I can't seem to find the time to finish any of them. But I do have this sermon to share that I preached at Presbury United Methodist Church this morning.

First Reading: Micah 5:2-4; 6:6-8 (Inclusive Bible)
But God will give them over to their enemies
until the time when she who is in labor has given birth;
then the remnant of the ruler's sisters and brothers
will return to the Children of Israel.
The ruler will rise up to shepherd them in the strength of the Lord,
by the power of the Name of the Lord their God.
They will live in security, for now the ruler's greatness
will reach the ends of the earth.
They'll say, “This at last is the one who will be our peace!
When Assyria invades our land and tramples our fortresses,
we will raise up against the invaders seven--- no eight!--- shepherds,
leaders of the people.”

“What shall I bring when I come before the Lord
and bow down before God on high?” you ask.
“Am I to come before God with burnt offerings? With year-old calves?
Will the Lord be placated by thousands of rams or ten thousand rivers of oil?
Should I offer my firstborn for my wrongdoings---
the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”
Listen here, mortal:
God has already made abundantly clear what “good” is,
and what the Lord needs from you:
simply do justice,
love kindness,
and walk humbly with your God.

Second Reading: 1 John 2:3-11 (NRSV)
Now by this we may be sure that we know him, if we obey his commandments. Whoever says, “I have come to know him,” but does not obey his commandments, is a liar, and in such a person the truth does not exist; but whoever obeys his word, truly in this person the love of God has reached perfection. By this we may be sure that we are in him: whoever says, “I abide in him,” ought to walk just as he walked. 
Beloved, I am writing you no new commandment, but an old commandment that you have had from the beginning; the old commandment is the word that you have heard. Yet I am writing you a new commandment that is true in him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining. Whoever says, “I am in the light,” while hating a brother or sister, is still in the darkness. Whoever loves a brother or sister lives in the light, and in such a person there is no cause for stumbling. But whoever hates another believer is in the darkness, walks in the darkness, and does not know the way to go, because the darkness has brought on blindness. 
They will live in security, for now the ruler's greatness
will reach the ends of the earth.
They'll say, “This at last is the one who will be our peace!”
Our reading from the prophets this morning is not one of our regular readings for Advent, this season of preparation in which we look back to the birth of a baby in a barn two thousand years ago and forward to the Second Coming of Christ. Yet this reading from the fifth chapter of Micah, as strange as it may seem for Advent, echoes messianic promises of peace and security. 
And isn't peace and security what we want? But the problem is the world isn't very peaceful or secure. And you don't have to look further than events this week to see that. 
Yes, I am talking about Ferguson.1 Many of you heard about Ferguson, Missouri, over the summer when 18-year-old Mike Brown was shot and killed by police officer Darren Wilson. While there are accounts that Mike Brown fought with the officer, he was unarmed, and eyewitnesses say his last words were, “I don't have a gun. Stop shooting.” The events of that day and the pain following it were revisited again this week as a Grand Jury decided not to indict Darren Wilson. Whether or not the jury's decision was right or wrong, many people saw this as another example of the racism that is still pervasive in the country. An unarmed teenager was gunned down by a police officer and the law did nothing to protect the teenager. 
Michelle Alexander, who is a civil rights lawyer known for her work on racism within the prison system, wrote a powerful piece for the New York Times this week about how she was going to tell her son, who is ten and black, about Darren Wilson's trial. She writes that she wanted to say, “Don’t worry, honey, you have nothing to worry about. Nothing like this could ever happen to you.”2 But she couldn't. Since Mike Brown was killed just a few months ago, more than a dozen teenagers have been shot by police, and almost half of those teenagers were black.3 Where is the one who will shepherd us in the strength of the Lord? Where is the one who will be our peace? 
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., once said that “True peace is not the absence of tension, it’s the presence of justice.” Peace around the country would not happen if we could just all get along, to use Rodney King's words after the uprisings in LA. Peace comes with justice, when young black and brown men and boys cannot walk around without fear of being shot by the people who claim to protect them, there is a problem. Even if those men and boys were getting into trouble. And, for many people protesting, it isn't even about Mike Brown. It is about how racism continues to plague our country in insidious ways, even though we are supposed to be better than that.4

Now I say all of this but should share with you that, when my father called me after the decision was announced, he informed me that, as a child of a police officer, he will always support the police officer. I know that for some of us, perhaps most of us, Darren Wilson shooting Mike Brown is more complicated than you may feel I have described it. I'm sure it is! But I think that we can agree that what we have heard throughout the week has shown us the depths of the brokenness of our world, the pain that reverberates throughout this country, the need for shepherds of peace. The need for Jesus. 
Often in Advent, the readings on Sunday will be about the end times. We are to be preparing ourselves for the second coming of Christ. And wouldn't that second coming be a beautiful thing? We have gotten ourselves in a huge mess--- a mess we can see not only when we look at persistent racism in our country, but also when we read about schools like the University of Virginia where students have been gang raped and then unable to find support and protection from their administration until Rolling Stone magazine brought it to the whole country's attention. We drive down the street and see empty houses and yet so many homeless people. The list goes on and on. Where is that one who will be our peace that Micah told us about? The world is so bad that not only Christians dream of Jesus' return complete with rather violent destruction. In secular culture, our obsession with stories like The Walking Dead, a hit TV show about the zombie apocalypse, show some kind of sense that we are spiraling unavoidably into ruin. We've given up on the world as it is. We want everything to be destroyed so we can start over. Our brains get tired when we try to imagine living the way God originally intended for us to live.

But in Advent, though we may prepare for the Second Coming, we also celebrate how God put on flesh and dwelt among us,5 how God dwelt among us then, and God still dwells among us today. God is in the anger in the uprising in Ferguson, and in the comforting actions directed toward Darren Wilson and his family. God is in the voices breaking the silence about rape on college campuses, and in the hands of those making Thanksgiving meals for folks in need. In the beginning of chapter six of Micah, we see God dwelling among us. God reminds us of how God saved us from slavery in Egypt, sent us leaders to guide us, and brought us justice. God saved us in the past and will save us in the future. That is the story of Advent, folks!

So how do we respond? Where do we find ourselves in this story? This is the question both our scripture from Micah and 1 John are concerned with: What does God want from us as God enacts this drama of salvation all around us? For us to sit quietly at home reading the bible and ignoring the drama and pain of the outside world? For us to stand up in worship and say that we accept Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior and then go about our life as usual, waiting for the so-called rapture? Studying scripture and witnessing to the power of Jesus in worship are good things, certainly. But God has made clear what God really wants from us: God wants us to do justice, love mercy, and be a humble walking companion. “God wants the world to see whose we are.”6 This is part of the answer to the first question that Micah brought up--- where is the one who will be our peace? If we do as God has required us, then we are the hands and feet of the one who brings us peace. If we do justice, we are exhibiting Christ, who bring peace. If we are kind to one another, showing one another compassion, we are exhibiting Christ, who brings peace. If we walk humbly beside God, listening with open hearts for God incarnated all around us, we are exhibiting Christ, who brings peace.

So this Advent, I have some homework to help guide you. (I know you all love homework!) Using some Lenten calendars I found online last year,7 I came up with one little thing to do each day throughout Advent to help us do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly. My prayer is that these activities help us to better show who we are and whose we are in this crazy, broken world of ours. And that, in learning to better be children of God, we might bring a little light and life, justice and love, to this place.

Let us pray together:
Patient teacher, we know how frustrating we must be. We know that you rage at the sin of racism, and all those sins that have so broken our world. But we also know that you have told us what is good. Justice. Kindness. Humility. Love. As we celebrate the coming of Christ this Advent season, have us hold onto what is good so that we may be part of enacting your healing power on this world little by little. Amen.