Thursday, December 12, 2013

Wake Up, People

A sermon preached at St. Andrew's On-the-Sound Episcopal Church in Wilmington, NC on December 1, 2013.  The texts were Isaiah 2:1-5 and Matthew 24:36-44.

I watched with humor turned to horror at videos showing eager Black Friday shoppers fighting, stampeding, even stabbing each other just to grab an iPad mini, a TV…even discounted hand towels (apparently Wal-Mart’s biggest Black Friday seller).

Happy Holidays! Two right hooks for the price of one, apparently.

Forget Advent.  The season of gift-getting is upon us.  Let us all bask in the glory of cellophane and chaos.
It’s certainly a strange way to mark the passing of Thanksgiving, this tradition of Black Friday.  Thursday, the day we give thanks to God for our abundance.  Friday, the day for a ritual that declares, “More, More, More”!  Though I’m troubled by Black Friday’s liturgy of consumption, I’m most troubled by the frenzy and violence that seems to accompany it these last few years.

But perhaps that shouldn't be so surprising.  We are a culture stuck in a dance of aversion and delight with violence on many levels.  From blockbuster films that suggest violence to be the most valiant way to save a people, to our country’s addiction to warfare and occupation, violence seems to be an inescapable strand of our collective DNA.

Is there any hope of an awakening…our eyes being opened to a different way?
2000 years ago, a child was born amidst the violence of Roman occupation and a slaughter of innocent children.  As he grew, he would undoubtedly have seen countless people put to death on a cross like the one set out for him.

But his heart did not harden, becoming callous with anger, rage, and resentment.
Instead, it grew in compassion, a heart filled with hope rooted in the faithfulness of the God of Israel. As a young boy in the temple, he astonished the teachers with his wisdom.  As a man, his diet was the bread of heaven, the Law of the Lord, the Word of God.

Undoubtedly, he would have known of Isaiah’s prophecy: “In days to come the mountain of the LORD's house shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills; He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.”

Being God-in-flesh, he could not ignore these words.  Being Spirit-filled, Spirit-baptized, he came to wake humanity up to a world with no war.  No violence. No hatred.  No darkness.

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” (John 14:27)

“But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.” (Luke 6:27-28)

“When those who were around him saw what was coming, they asked, ‘Lord, should we strike with the sword?’ Then one of them struck the slave of the high priest and cut off his right ear. But Jesus said, ‘No more of this!’ And he touched his ear and healed him.” (Luke 22:49-51)

This is our God.  Born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate.  Was crucified, died and was buried.  He descended to the dead.

But on the third day he rose again, showing us all that violence will not triumph.

With joyful anticipation, we move towards the Christmas Feast, remembering his first coming into the world, bringing light and peace.

And with opened eyes and awakened spirits, we joyfully anticipate his second coming, laying aside the works of darkness and putting on the armor of light.  In fact, as Paul said, we are to put on the Lord Jesus Christ himself.

I know of a man who did just that.  Jonathan Worlobah lived in Monrovia, Liberia during the brutal 14 year civil war.  He survived as a refugee on cabbage and small fish.  He was touched profoundly by this war, his uncle being killed in the violence.

And yet his heart was not hardened, and he did not succumb to the violence and bitterness of his land.

Instead, he found a way to instill hope, however small, in the hearts of people around the world.

When the war was over, the killing fields still littered with spent bullet casing used by brothers and sisters against each other, Jonathan began to comb these fields collecting the shells.

In his workshop, he began to create crosses from these bullets as a reminder that the cross of Christ shall triumph in the face of violence and aggression.

I have one of these shells.  I keep it as a reminder that the way of the sword will one day end, and peace will reign upon this earth.

“Beating their swords into plowshares,” indeed.

Like Jonathan, let us together be a peaceable people, prone not to violence but to love.  True, unbridled, unbroken peace and love.

Let us together keep awake, being ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.

May we, at that moment, be found to be doing his work of peaceful reconciliation.

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