The world has been a messy place and I have spent time wondering about this. Here is a sermon preached at Shepherd of the Hills Lutheran Church in Shoreview, MN. It sums up much of what I have pondered.
Grace to you and Peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen.
In the 7th year of the reign of President Obama, when Mark Dayton was the governor of Minnesota and Betsy Hodges the mayor of Minneapolis and Chris Coleman the mayor of St Paul, and during the service of Bishop Elizabeth Eaton, the word of God came to the people in the wilderness.
I was struck when reading the texts appointed for this week at the placement of the story of Jesus in the midst of all the problems of the empire. And struck again, by how familiar it sounded.
I visited the folks down at the 4th precinct in North Minneapolis the day after the shooting by the white supremacists. I wasn’t sure what I would find, but felt obligated by the promises I made at my ordination to show up. I promised to show up and be with God’s people. I went with my friend and colleague from Humble Walk, another little mission start. Always nice to have a protest buddy.
When we arrived, we were offered food almost immediately. And then again, offered food. We were offered food and water and warmth near the fires. The hospitality and generosity was striking. As was the anger. We were welcomed warmly in and invited to feast with our brothers and sisters on the Northside.
It is a hope filled thing to show up. We stop showing up when we lose all hope. When we stop trusting in the promises of God that we are beloved, we stay home.
And the voice of one in the wilderness cries out “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled and every mountain and hill shall be made low and the crooked shall be made straight and the rough ways made smooth and all the flesh shall see the salvation of God.”
And the voices of God’s people in the wilderness, hungering and thirsting for justice will cry out. They will cry out and remind all people that the empire is not God’s final word.
Here what Malachi says, “ 1 See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight—indeed, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts. 2 But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap; 3 he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, until they present offerings to the Lord in righteousness.”
“He will purify the descendants of levi and refine them like gold and silver, until they present offerings to the lord in righteousness.”
Do you remember who the levites were?
The priests. The priests in a culture where they were also the civil law. They were the ones determining guilt and who was a part of the community and who was not.
“And they will be refined until they present offerings to the lord in righteousness.”
The leaders will be refined. The people cry out and the power that belongs to earth will be called into right relationship with God. They will be called into the beloved community, but it will be painful.
The word of God is hard to hear. I certainly don’t want to hear it. Sometimes, I get up the courage to trust the word and trust that God’s way is straight, despite my wanderings. I don’t like listening to the one in the wilderness. And then, I do.
I wandered a bit, before Shobi’s Table and even once I was called to Shobi’s Table. And then, the spirit began to move and I finally paid attention. I heard that the people were struggling with food and transportation. I heard that the people were struggling to find good work and good community. I heard God’s people hungering for something better, something different.
So, I trusted. I followed the path that felt like it was in the wilderness. I followed it and tried to get off the path several times. I followed the voice. And here is what happened.
We have a food truck church. We gather as God’s people on Thursday mornings and cook calzones. Beautiful dough, filled with yummy ingredients. All made with the love of God. We bring that meal to the street on the East Side of St Paul. We gather with our neighbors and eat lunch. We gather our neighbors together to worship God on the street. We read our scriptures, say our prayers and share that most holy of meals.
And do you know, it is so good.
It is a bit like what I found on the north side.
People who are struggling, but desperately want to be in community. People who are angry about the system, but want to experience kindness and generosity. People who want the opportunity to be loved and to love and don’t always have a way to do it.
We see mostly the same people each week. And what I find are people hungry to be known. Hungry to be seen as beloved of the creator. What I saw at the 4th precinct were people demanding to be known as beloved. People who remembered their beloved-ness and demanded that people in power remember this too.
John came proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Baptism calls us into God’s beloved community. Baptism calls us into accountability to one another. Baptism brings us to the powers and tells them they don’t own us. Baptism calls us to remember daily that we belong to God. Baptism calls us into a forgiven life. We can get sidetracked into the crooked paths, we can find the wilderness daunting and still, God calls us forgiven.
Hear these words of Luke chapter one:
68 “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them. 69 He has raised up a mighty savior for us in the house of his servant David, 70 as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old, 71 that we would be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us. 72 Thus he has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors, and has remembered his holy covenant, 73 the oath that he swore to our ancestor Abraham, to grant us 74 that we, being rescued from the hands of our enemies, might serve him without fear, 75 in holiness and righteousness before him all our days. 76 And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, 77 to give knowledge of salvation to his people by the forgiveness of their sins. 78 By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, 79 to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”
“The oath that he swore to our ancestor Abraham, to grant us 74 that we, being rescued from the hands of our enemies, might serve him without fear, 75 in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.”
This, dearly beloved is the promise. We do not need to fear. God is calling us out of death into new life. God is calling us into beloved community. God is calling us into our baptismal promise that the paths will be made straight and all shall see the salvation of God. And all God’s people said Amen.