June 10, 2018
Rev. Susan Brecht
The Eliot Church of Newton, UCC
Matthew 22: 34-40
When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. ‘Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?’ He said to him, ‘ “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.’
Would you join me in the disciples’ prayer that is printed in your bulletins.
Think about the words, and what they are saying.
Earth-Maker, Pain-bearer, Life-giver, source of all
that is and that shall be,
Father and Mother of us all.
Loving God, in whom is heaven.
The hallowing of your name echoes through
The way of your justice be followed by the peoples
of the earth.
Your heavenly will be done by all created beings!
Your commonwealth of peace and freedom
sustain our hope and come on earth.
With the bread we need for today, feed us.
In the hurts we absorb from one another, forgive us.
In times of temptation and test, spare us.
From the grip of all that is evil, free us.
For you reign in the glory of the power that is love,
now and forever.
Recognize it? It’s one of many versions of the Lord’s Prayer that we recited during worship at the Festival of Homiletics I attended two weeks ago. 1,700 preachers, Catholic and mainline Protestant denominations, from all 50 states in the U.S. and Canada. We gathered in Washington D.C. to hear 29 of the best preachers and scholars in the country, along with Elizabeth Warren (we are blessing her as we did all the speakers) and Corey Booker, in day-long marathons of lectures and worship services, talking about preaching and politics and the moral and political crisis in county and world today. It was one of the most stimulating and inspiring weeks I’ve spent in quite a while. Warren came with her bible, so I guess you could say she was preaching too - to the choir!
People often ask me “Where are the progressive Christian voices today? We only hear from the religious right!” Well, we were there, in large numbers. On Thursday night we were joined by CNN, The BBC, Fox News, the Washington Post, and others.
We raised the roof with passionate voices from the pulpit and the pews: singing and sometimes dancing, clapping and cheering - and praying - the Spirit at times setting the place on fire - figuratively speaking.
There were so many themes and messages it would take many sermons to cover them all, but I wanted to give you a taste of what I heard and experienced.
First, despite the sometimes overwhelming problems we face in our own lives, and in the country and the world today, the only way to solve any of them is through love - the love of God and neighbor that Jesus spoke of in the reading today - the greatest commandment. This was a reoccurring theme.
We heard of the importance of finding hope and joy and light - even in the darkness;
of the importance of placing our faith ahead of our politics, whether left or right or somewhere in between.
The importance of letting Jesus’ message, through the scriptures, dictate our actions - in our lives as well as in the voting booth.
And for us preachers, the importance of preaching scripturally based politics from the pulpit and then leading our congregations out into the streets.
We heard over and over again that following Jesus is political. “Jesus is Lord” is a political statement. The Jews understood that. They were living under Caesar who claimed to be Lord. They knew better.
We were called to walk in the light, to carry it out of the pulpit and into the streets to speak truth with love. And that’s what we did on Thursday evening. We gathered together, packing the National City Christian Church on busy Thomas Circle, the overflow filled a neighboring Lutheran church to watch on live stream, and another 300 clustered on the steps of the church to watch on facebook on their phones. The outdoor speakers weren’t working, so a man retrieved speakers from his trunk and a 15-year-old girl hooked them up to the livestream so all of Thomas Circle could hear the amazing service unfolding inside. Over 100,000 across the country watched on live stream.
It all started last Lent when 23 multi-racial, self-described “elders” representing Catholic, Mainline Protestant, African American and Evangelical congregations came together for a retreat to write a Confession of Faith in a Time of Crisis entitled “Reclaiming Jesus.” I’ve included copies in your bulletins and I hope you will take them home and read them, and let me know what you think.
That Thursday night 14 of the elders, along with the Howard University Gospel Choir, led us in a worship service I will never forget. They read the six statements, adding their own reflections, often to standing ovations. They were reclaiming Jesus and his message, reminding us of the moral soul this country was founded on - speaking of our faith and our hopes and our dreams for this nation.
I don’t think I’ve ever felt that much excitement coming from progressive Christians standing up for what they believe Jesus is calling us to do. It was a Pentecost moment. The Spirit was alive in that sanctuary, and then slowly, we moved out into the street as we joined the others.
2,500 Christians united as one in the Body of Christ - candles we had been given raised above our heads as we processed silently and prayerfully the several blocks to the White House. This wasn’t a march or a rally. It wasn’t about our president. It was a procession, a sea of lights stretching for blocks, and a prayer vigil for peace and justice in our country and world.
The police had blocked off all the streets and watched silently, along with bystanders, who gave us the thumbs up, or patted their hearts, or took pictures of what was passing before them. It was a cross section of America - all different colors, ages, ethnicities and nationalities.
I thought of Moses parting the Red Sea, allowing the Israelites to escape from Pharaoh’s chariots to safe land. Only this time it was the police parting the traffic, and we weren’t running away from Pharaoh. We were processing to him, carrying the light of Christ to a place where it was sorely needed. As we rounded the last bend headed toward the White House, the silence was broken by 2,500 voices singing “This Little Light of Mine”.
As our elders, men and women who have dedicated their lives to peace and justice, once again read the declarations they had written, the crowd answered each with a resounding “Amen!” And then together, we were instructed to pray, each in our own way for our country and for its leaders. It was another Pentecost moment as this cacophony of voices joined together in their own language of faith, understanding that we were each praying for the same thing.
We understood how powerful we can be when filled with the spirit. This is what Christ came to teach us. He came to fill us with that spirit. You can’t share it with others unless you’re already filled yourself.
And then we said the Lord’s Prayer, each using the words that were familiar to us. But then, something I wasn’t expecting, we started singing the Lord’s Prayer - in a tune many of us grew up singing, and somehow, it seemed that everyone knew it - thousands of voices joined together in a message Jesus taught, through a prayer he had been taught as a child. We sang slowly, with heart, and as we did, I realized that this prayer contained so many of the messages I had heard throughout the week.
Our Father, who art in heaven,
We spoke of God by many names. We held hands with the person next to us, looking into our neighbor’s eyes and seeing them as a beloved child of God. If God is in heaven, or heaven is in God, and God is in our neighbor, then a little bit of heaven was in all of us. Might we call that love?
Hallowed be thy name.
Praise is eternal and we praised God in words and song, with the National Cathedral Choir during Evensong, with gospel choirs and the Fleshpots of Egypt bluegrass band, with organs and pianos and guitars and percussion - all kinds of hymns in all kinds of styles.
Thy kingdom come.
Your kingdom, God, not the ones of this world, a kingdom where God rules, not the Caesars of various names, where God builds a big tent for his kingdom where all are welcomed, not walls that separate.
Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
We are here to do God’s work, to build this kingdom in the here and now, where no child’s stomach is aching, where black lives matter, where war will be no more, where innocent children are not separated from their parents, where each person is treated with dignity and respect, where justice rolls down like water, and righteousness like an ever flowing stream. God has called us out of our safety zones to be the conscience of America, and we do that with love.
Give us this day our daily bread,
Give us what we need to survive, but not so much that it deprives others of what they need. Do we really need a new Tesla, or mansion, or private jet?
And forgive us our sins
Our sins of apathy, of indifference, of arrogance, of being too busy, of demonizing those who disagree with us, of racism and xenophobia and misogyny. Churches will be judged on how they treat the most vulnerable in their midst. They are called to speak truth to power - with love.
As we forgive those who sin against us.
Without forgiveness, we cannot move forward and there is much to be forgiven - years of racism in our land, of sexual harassment and abuse - the list goes on and on. And we must learn how to build relationships with people who hold different views - how to speak to them out of love, not name calling and anger and hatred.
And lead us not into temptation,
“Who do we pledge allegiance to?” one preacher asked - God or Caesar? It’s an ongoing struggle between two loyalties. Some have sold themselves to the emperor. We all belong to God.
but deliver us from evil,
We are here to be our brother’s and sister’s keepers - to stand up for those who are ostracized, bullied, who are suffering in body, mind or spirit. When we lose touch with the marginalized we’ve lost touch with the heart of God.
for thine is the kingdom, and the power and the glory forever.
Yours is the power and glory of love, and that will never end.