Jeremiah 23:1-6; Psalm 46; Colossians 1:11-20; Luke 23:33-43
Pastor Donald Phillips from Lewis Chapel called me on Tuesday morning to let me know about the vandalism that had occurred in Albion and that there would be a gathering for unity and peace at Superior and Ash that evening. I then heard that St. James was one of the buildings that were spray painted. I was outraged, feeling angry and very sad, feeling helpless and violated. Why would this happen in Albion? How could people be so hateful and destructive! What did St James ever do to anyone? Jon asked how could anyone deface our building, it is such a pretty little church. The reality is that hate and bigotry are ugly and cruel and don’t care about beauty; they are more interested in destroying anything and anyone that does not agree with them and their opinion.
Over the past few months we have been discussing Christian Social Witness and what it means to be “welcoming and affirming”. Some of us are fearful of drawing attention to ourselves, of making St. James a target for hate and bigotry. The events of the past couple weeks here in Albion and across our great nation have shown that we do not need to display decals for a weapons free zone or fly a rainbow flag to become a target for hate and bigotry, that they will seek us out even if we try to blend into the landscape.
Many of you have told me that St James is welcoming and affirming that we are polite and friendly to all people who visit us or who want to become one of us; that we offer emotional support and encouragement to those different from ourselves. Many of you have told me that you are not racist or elitist, that you have friends of color and family members who are people of color that you have friends and family members who are homosexual or mentally ill or have been convicted of a felony and that you love them and accept them as they are. Good, I am glad to hear this. I am grateful that I can count on your support as we explore what it means to be welcoming and affirming and examine our own complicity in the exclusion of others. I am grateful that as we study the Episcopal Church’s history of racism and sexism and genderism that I can count on you to step forward and say that this was not and is not acceptable behavior that you will actively strive for justice and peace among all people and respect the dignity of every human being. I am truly thankful to serve such a loving and engaged community as I find at St. James and in the wider community of Albion. I am truly blessed!
Many people have reached out this past week to offer St. James and the community of Albion support and prayers. We welcome visitors this morning especially those visiting from Trinity, Marshall. Bishop Whayne Hougland asked me to tell you that he is sorry that he cannot be with us today, but that we should know that Albion and St James are in his prayers. The Bishop said we must be doing something right if we are attracting vandalism and symbols of hate. Bishop Whayne is very proud of what we are doing in Albion. I am hopeful that this week’s vandalism was a random act and that St. James was not specifically targeted, but we should seize this as an opportunity to speak out against hate and bigotry and to say that racism and ageism and sexism and genderism and socio-economic elitism are not acceptable; that intolerance of those who look or think or believe differently is not acceptable. Yes, we are intolerant of intolerance!
I have heard a couple stories in the past week of people approaching women wearing hijab, a traditional head covering for the hair and neck worn by Muslim women and threatening them if they do not remove it. Isn’t it strange that some people find a sign of modesty in another culture a threat to their own culture?
I have heard a criticism of St James, that we are making too much of our ministries and thinking too highly of ourselves, that there is nothing special about us. I agree that we are not special, we are just one of thousands of little churches across the country living out our faith day in and day out, carrying out the mission of the church through the ministry of all our members, working to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ; praying and worshiping, proclaiming the Gospel and promoting justice, peace and love. We don’t expect to be thanked or praised for doing our ministry, for carrying out the work of the church, but if in tooting our own horn we can help other small churches realize that yes they can make a difference in their community too; that a handful of enthusiastic people can stir a response in a community that builds trust and relationship; that a Reading Camp can help build self-esteem and character in our children; that a community garden can help feed the hungry, promote appreciation for God’s creation and create an environment to build relationships and share stories, then I say we should toot away.
Today is Christ the King Sunday, a day to celebrate and remember Christ’s kingship over all creation. The Jewish people were hoping for a savior to rescue them from the tyranny of the Romans. They were looking for a mighty soldier, a David to fight their Goliath, who would lead their people to a place of power and prestige. Jesus was not who they were expecting. Where they expected someone who would be comfortable working among the rich and the powerful, Jesus worked among the poor and the powerless often offending the rich and the powerful. Where they expected someone mighty and powerful, they found Jesus to be gracious and compassionate, welcoming children and women, the poor and the marginalized. Jesus' earthly ministry was not one of military might or oppression. Rather, it was one of peace, liberation, and above all, service. Jesus turned the whole concept of lordship and primacy on its head. In the Kingdom of Heaven, in order to be a ruler of all, a person must be a servant of all. Jesus demonstrated this servanthood in his life and miracles. Even the Incarnation is an example of this: God the Son, King of all creation, humbled himself to become human, even sharing the ultimate fate of his captive subjects: death. Where the people were hoping for a powerful king to sit on David’s throne, God sent a servant king whose throne was the cross, a throne from which Jesus Christ was able to liberate God’s people from the tyranny of sin and death and reconcile all creation to God the Father.
As children of God created in the image of God I am grateful that we have the example of Jesus Christ who shows us how to embody the love of God, who shows us how to love our neighbor, our enemy and those different from us. I pray that none of us will need to prove our love by dying a horrible, tortuous death, but am humbled to know that God calls us to carry out his work in our communities. I am thankful that we live in a part of the world where we can participate in selecting our leaders, where we can hold our leaders accountable for their actions, where we can criticize our leaders when they do not follow the law or when they make hurtful, thoughtless comments, where new leaders do not execute their opponents or the previous leaders and where people of different beliefs and philosophies can agree to work together in the best interests of the people and of the country that they lead. I thank God for each and every one of you, both those who share my opinions and those who hold different opinions and life experiences. Together we are stronger because of our differences. I pray that each and every one of you have a safe and happy Thanksgiving holiday. May God bless and keep you. Amen.