A Sermon for the Third Sunday after the Epiphany
January 23, 2022
Trinity Episcopal Church
in Easton, Pennsylvania (in English)
La Comunidad Latina/Hispana
Episcopal Cathedral of the Nativity (in Spanish)
Look with pity, O heavenly Father, upon the people in this
land who live with injustice, terror, disease, and death as
their constant companions. Have mercy upon us. Help us to
eliminate our cruelty to these our neighbors. Strengthen those
who spend their lives establishing equal protection of the law
and equal opportunities for all. And grant that every one of
us may enjoy a fair portion of the riches of this land; through
Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Are we teaching the truth in love
Telling it like it is
Are we holding pure motives
Showing that we care
Are we teaching the truth
Are we teaching the truth
Are we teaching the truth
When I was a boy, there was an expression which I would hear family members say when they saw someone who was especially well-dressed, “He looks just like a Philadelphia Lawyer.” I cannot imagine that anyone would have ever seen an actual Philadelphia Lawyer, but clearly at some point, someone must have. That memory had been passed down in the family. This became especially interesting to me when I was a teenager and became interested in genealogy. It was at that point that I learned that several of the families from whom I am descended had deep roots in Northeastern Pennsylvania. As it happens, these families had lived in Philadelphia and in Berks and Bucks counties before the Revolutionary War. In the decades leading up to the war, these ancestors decided to pack up their belongings and head down the Valley of Virginia—and ultimately into the Blue Ridge Mountains.
One of these families, the Boone family, lived in a little place called Birdsboro, in Berks County. The Boone homestead is still there, and it is my hope to one day visit it, and to “return home” to the place where my ancestor Sarah Boone Wilcox (the sister of the better-known Daniel) lived. Before they left for North Carolina, the Boone family were members of the Society of Friends, better known as Quakers.
The Quakers were unique in their stance for equality and justice. And for that very reason they were often persecuted. Among other things, they pushed for equality for women, for humane treatment of Indigenous Peoples. And, they were early proponents of abolition. They also provided a fascinating model for the resolution of conflict—and this was both a useful tool inside their congregations and families—and for those outside as well. In short, they proposed a model to be used when speaking truth—and especially if the truth being presented would be difficult, or challenging to hear. It is essential to understand that the goal was not necessarily to change someone’s mind or opinion, but rather to be a person of integrity and honesty. It is like planting a seed. Once the seed is planted, the planter is no longer responsible for what happens. At that point, the farmer—and God take charge. Here is the Quaker model.
- Sit together in silence
- Identify with the other person
- Wait for the moving/inspiration of the Spirit
- Speak the truth in love
Perhaps the greatest danger which Christianity has faced, has been the problem which the Southern Baptists in the Blue Ridge Mountains used to call the “me and my sweet Jesus” syndrome. This distortion reduces everything to my desire to have a personal relationship with Jesus. It means that I am not responsible for anyone else—or anything else. All that matters is that I love Jesus—and that Jesus loves me.
The Hebrew Scriptures make it clear that there is not one essential relationship—but three. There is the relationship between God and me, there is the relationship which I have with others, and which we have as a community, and finally, there is my relationship/our relationship with creation. Sin and evil have the power to damage all three of these relationships. So, when looking for healing, forgiveness, restoration, and justice—all three relationships must be considered. All three of these essential relationships play a constitutive role in creating Beloved Community.
The past years have taught us an important lesson. Beloved Community will only be possible if we proclaim the truth in love. The danger, of course, is that our proclamation, if not done in the right way—and in the right spirit—will not be heard or received in a way to matter. If we come across as judgmental, self-righteous, or “holier than others,” we will viewed as “preaching at,” rather than “sharing in love.” What is required is humility! We need to hear truth as much as anyone else. We do not have a monopoly om truth. We must remember what it is like to be on the receiving end. What was it like for us when we were in ignorance? How was truth presented to us? Did we feel judged, condemned, and dismissed—or did we feel grateful that someone loved us and cared enough to take the risk of sharing the truth, as they understand it, with us?
In his first sermon in his home synagogue in Nazareth, Jesus took the risk of speaking truth. Spoiler Alert—as we will lean next week—his words were not well received. The truth which he spoke called for change, for conversion, and for growth. That was too much for people who just wanted to feel happy, and comfortable. It was too much for the “me and my sweet God” crowd.
Jesus made it clear that his role was to announce that God was doing something new, something different, something unexpected—and for those who were happy and comfortable with the status-quo, God was doing something dangerous, risky, and uncomfortable. In speaking of the Acceptable year, Jesus was proclaiming the fulfilment of that core value of Judaism, the Year of Jubilee.
Dr. Brant Petrie had this to say about the “Year of Acceptance,” the “Favorable Year of the Lord,” or the Year of Jubilee: “If you go back to the book of Leviticus 25, what God says there is, at the end of a seven times seven year cycle, so you have 49 years — like the Sabbath times the Sabbath — after 49 years, the 50th year will be a Jubilee year. It’s going to be a Jubilee year because in that year all debts are forgiven, all slaves are set free, and any land that has been appropriated, that used to belong to a family, but they lost it through debt, will be returned to the original owners.
Now, just imagine if you lived in a Jubilee year and all your student debt, or all your house debt, or all your car debt, or all your credit card debt, whatever debt that you might have that’s weighing over your head, imagine if it was all gone, just like that in the Jubilee year.
Now that would be an acceptable year, right? It would be a year of joy, a year of deliverance, and so what Jesus is saying here is that, or what Isaiah is saying, is that when the Messiah comes, his coming is somehow going to be coordinated with, conjoined with, a great Jubilee year. A great year of release, when all debts will be forgiven, and people will be set free from bondage, which, if you’ve been in debt, you’ll know, it is bondage. It is a burden, and to be freed from it is a source of great joy.”
Notice here that Jesus does not begin by saying anything about spirituality or religious practice, as we are more accustomed to thinking about it. Before he says anything about prayer, or fasting, or almsgiving, or even about living a holy life, he begins by talking about the context which is necessary for all of those things. He begins by talking about God’s vision for justice, equality, freedom, and inclusion!
This past Monday, in honor of the life and ministry of the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Junior, our Diocesan Racial Justice and Reconciliation Committee celebrated Noon Prayer via Facebook. The reflection was offered by Bishop Kevin. He took this opportunity to speak to us from his heart, to speak the truth as he understands it in love. Bishop Kevin addressed the issues which challenge us as a community—and which call us to work to answer God’ call to enter into the Year of Jubilee—to more fully become Beloved Community.
Here are some of the words which Bishop Kevin shared with us about his hopes for communities which find ourselves divided and in conflict.
“How does one, like me, speak to this moment?
Our own Soul-work is needed. For white Allies – allies who have power and authority – we must go deeper, bolder. On this day, I dare say:
One can’t be an ally if they parse the lies that led to an insurrection – Or worse, speak boldly in outrage at first and then walk ‘it back for self-interest’s sake.
One can’t be an ally and talk about a stolen election, or condone the actions of our former president.
One can’t be an ally and talk about critical race theory and pretend that you know what Dr. King would say about it.
One can’t be an ally and deny a history of white supremacy, focusing instead on the fragility of white children.
One can’t be an ally and enact voting rights laws directed at people of color… or redistricting efforts that favor one over another…
One can’t be an ally and not be outraged at the killing of black youth in 1958 and in 2022. To be an ally demands a deeper acknowledgement of our own reality, our own context, our own white privilege, and a commitment to listen and learn.
Just this day – we might need to Hush our voice.
What I am learning is that Building the Beloved Community is bold and unceasing work.
- It is about creating a place where love wins out
- where all are equal.
- A place where all voices are valued, embraced and all have the opportunity to lead.
- Where all feel beloved.
- It is what I dream for in the churches of the Diocese of Bethlehem.
We must continue the deep and personal soul-work of educating ourselves and listening and learning about the plight of those like Martin Luther King. Our sibling’s hero, who must become our own as well. Let us seek to become Racial Justice Allies.”
There is a fascinating quote from Dr. King which I recently discovered: “We must learn that to expect God to do everything while we do nothing is not faith but superstition.”
The Prophet Isaiah challenges us, Our Lord Jesus Christ challenges us, Dr. Martin Luther King challenges us, and today, Bishop Kevin challenges us to speak, and to hear, the truth in love. Rather than reacting in fear, may we rejoice at the good news that God’s promise of Jubilee has been announced to us. “This is the Year of Favor” which is being fulfilled in our hearing today.
To view the video of Bishop Kevin’s Reflection, use this link.
To read the full text of Bishop Kevin’s Reflection, use this link.