Come home to Calvary
Writing a sermon has always been a little strange, but it is especially weird these days.
Because of the pandemic and because we are trying not to put an even greater strain on our hospitals, we are not gathering or worshiping in person.
Rather than Zoom worship, Calvary records our services ahead of time, making for a much more beautiful experience, but a schedule that is so different than most of us preachers are used to.
I used to write my sermons on Thursdays. And I would edit and change and update as was necessary until Sunday morning. But that timeline doesn’t work now.
So as I write this sermon, it is in the wake of a violent attack on our country’s capitol where
five people have died. But it will be 2 Sundays after that act of sedition when it is premieres,
and I don’t know what the rest of this week will hold.
My guess is, however, that those images and the feelings that erupted as a result are still seared into our collective memory, and we are still reeling, processing, and figuring out
what it means to move forward as a nation.
This Sunday, we also celebrate and mark the life of The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. This isn’t a liturgical holiday, but he was first and foremost a pastor and his legacy of love and nonviolent protest are worth remembering and honoring as a church, especially these days.
I have a hunch that if Dr. King had survived his assassination and were alive today, he would not be surprised, not just by the events of these past several weeks, but of what has transpired in our country these past several years.
I think he would be disappointed, yes. But surprised? No. He knew the dark, racist underbelly of this country, probably more than most of us will ever know. He experienced it first-hand – the death threats, the FBI investigations, the hate and disdain spewed at him.
He was well aware of both the overt racism and anger in our nation and the quiet complicity of those who choose silence. Indeed, Dr. King knew this country; he knew it well.
And yet, he still chose to dream, still chose to hope, and still chose to love.
Our scriptures today talk about being known. Psalm 139 begins, “O Lord you have searched me and known me.” The disciple Nathaniel asks Jesus with surprise, ““Where did you get to know me?” Scripture tells us that we are known, fully known by God. And yet, we are also unconditionally loved.
It is a radical concept in a world where we are expected to earn everything we receive; where we are constantly judged and criticized; where love is too often withheld or conditional.
I mean, can you imagine?
Jesus knew his disciples, all of them, even Judas who would betray him. And yet Jesus loved his disciples, all of them, even Judas who would betray him.
And as God called upon leaders and heroes for God’s people, they were often flawed and imperfect:
Moses, a murderer;
King David, an adulterer and a murderer,
Ruth, an outsider;
Rahab, a prostitute;
Mary, an unwed, pregnant teenager….
the list goes on and on of people in need of grace, in need of mercy,
in need of forgiveness and redemption.
And each and every one of them were fully known and deeply loved by a God who is greater than this universe.
Friends, we are fully known and deeply loved by God, the creator of this universe.
God knows our faults, our shortcomings, the wrongs we’ve committed this week
and the sins we have been complicit in our entire lives.
Sometimes that knowledge holds us back from doing what God calls us to do. We don’t want to be labeled a hypocrite or judged or scrutinized in the public eye.
Rupi Kaur, an Indian Canadian poet whose poems can be found with her own art on Instagram taps into this sentiment.
my mind keeps running off to dark corners
and coming back with reasons for why i am not enough
Being fully known can be scary. It can make us feel like we’re not good enough. It requires a kind of vulnerability that we are not always comfortable with.
Nonetheless, God knows us, knew us even as we were being formed in the womb.
The psalmist writes there is no where we can go to hide from God.
God knows the fullness of who we are – the good and the bad, what we post on social media and what we hide deep in our hearts, our joys, our pain, our hopes and fears.
And we are loved any way, loved for the gifts, the quirks, even the imperfections that make us a beloved child of God, created in God’s image.
Same poet, Rupi Kaur also writes this:
The universe took its time on you
Crafted you to offer the world
Something different from everyone else
When you doubt
How you were created
You doubt an energy greater than us both
Friends, you are irreplaceable, and you are beloved.
Can you imagine if Dr. King had allowed his faults and his shortcomings to keep him from speaking up and speaking out? We know he wasn’t perfect. He knew he wasn’t perfect. And this country was investigating him, doing all we could to sully his name and keep him silent.
But he also knew he was already known and loved and called by God, so he did whatever he could, imperfect as he was, to bend that arc of the moral universe just a little bit more towards justice.
While we must live with integrity, we cannot wait to be perfect or above reproach before choosing to follow Jesus.
What if the disciples had said, “Well, yes, Jesus, I want to follow you, but my life is a bit of a mess, and I haven’t stopped sinning just yet. So could you just wait until I’m perfect before calling me?”
If they had waited for perfection, they would have never followed Jesus. Instead, they just dropped everything, right then and there, and followed him. None of them were perfect. All of them had faults.
But they were known and loved and called. So they went.
Now, this is not to say that Jesus offers a cheap grace that just overlooks all our faults and
the harm we may have caused others.
Jesus was about justice. And if the sins and the deeds we have participated in have oppressed and harmed and damaged others, we must not only repent but change our ways.
I’ve heard that this nation must move on to healing, that forgiveness is necessary, that reconciliation must happen.
I don’t disagree.
But without an acknowledgement of wrongdoing, without repentance, without a commitment to change, without justice, reconciliation is not possible.
And forgiveness doesn’t mean there are no consequences for our actions.
That’s cheap grace. And Jesus does not offer cheap grace.
Jesus offers transformative grace,
the kind of grace that Anne Lamott writes about when she says, “I do not understand the mystery of grace – only that it meets us where we are and does not leave us where it found us.”
God knows us and in God’s infinite love meets us wherever we are. But that love, that grace that is offered to us, does not allow us to stay where we are or who we are.
It beckons us; it calls to us; it drags us to where God desires us to be.
And just as God does this work with us as individuals, I believe God calls us to do this work in the public sphere. Not just for ourselves, but for our communities, for our cities, for our country.
This country, and its many grave sins, including its original sin of racism, is fully known by God. And yet I believe God does indeed love us and extend grace to us, offering us the possibility of transformation.
But it is not a cheap grace. We have to put in the work. And we have to be honest about who we are and what we’ve done.
First truth, then reconciliation.
Denise Anderson, former co-moderator of our denomination, the Presbyterian Church (USA), wrote in response to the storming of the capitol, “This happened on Epiphany. Indeed, a light is shining on us and revealing who we are.”
So the question is, what will we, who are able and willing to face the truth, now do with it?
Will the truth set us free to move towards transformation, or will we bury it and wash our hands of it?
And how do we move forward when it seems that some people will continue to hold on to the lies spewed by this president and his followers?
I imagine this looks different for each of us.
God has made us all unique, and while we all have a role to play in the healing of this nation,
our roles will not be the same.
I am inspired by Stacey Abrams and what she was able to do after losing her election for governor of Georgia. She did not let that set back set her back. She put in the work and got people to vote, inspired people to go to the polls, and her dedication got the first black Senator elected from Georgia – Senator Raphael Warnock, John Lewis’s pastor.
Whatever your political leanings may be, Stacey Abrams’s resiliency and commitment to do the work, even in the face of defeat, is inspiring.
But we can’t all be Stacey Abrams. And we can’t all run for office. Maybe some of you can, and I would encourage you to do so if you feel called.
But for most of us, our work of healing will look more like this:
Honest and brave conversations with family and friends.
Building bridges to gently move and reason with those who hold opposing views.
Fact-checking and shining light on truth and supporting honest reporting.
Some of us can shape policy and speak truth to those in power.
Some of us can shape young minds and create a future of critical thinkers.
Others of us will push prophetically and radically for justice and reparations because that’s what Jesus does.
And here is what we all will do.
We will all pray – with our words, with our feet, with our hands, and with every fiber of our being.
We will all continue to hold onto hope – because without hope, we are lost.
We will all love kindness and act kindly – because in the words of Jim Palmer,
“Telling people that God loves them is good theology.
Showing people that you love them is what transforms the world.”
And we will all continue to fight and struggle and do the work of love –
because as Dr. King said, “Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability,
but comes through continuous struggle.”
It may shock you to hear that I don’t have all the answers.
And, while I probably shouldn’t speak for them, I’m pretty sure Marci and Victor won’t mind me saying that they don’t either. I’m sorry to break it to you.
But we will continue to struggle alongside each of you to bring forth a world that looks even just a little more like God’s kingdom.
Once the capitol was secure, our legislative branch met once again to count and confirm the electoral ballots.
As they left late that night, one representative looked around at the Rotunda of the Capitol Building. He saw the mess, the trash, the debris. And he asked for a trash bag and began cleaning up.
A colleague took his picture, and that image of Representative Andy Kim from New Jersey
cleaning up after the mob went viral.
Representative Kim is a fellow Presbyterian, and like me, he is the child of Korean immigrants.
I’ll be honest. Seeing this image brought about a lot of complicated feelings for me.
A person of color cleaning up after the mess made by white supremacists? Why should that be? And where were all those elected officials who helped incite this violence with their support of unfounded conspiracy theories and lies?
This image also reminded me of my parents who actually worked as janitors for a building when I was little, and they used to take me with them to clean late at night. So I remember them, picking up trash and cleaning up after others.
This image brought back memories and brought forth anger and indignation.
But it also made my heart a little softer.
In an interview, Representative Kim shared what he was doing and processing as he partook in this act of servant leadership. He said, “When you see something you love that’s broken you want to fix it. I love the Capitol. I‘m honored to be there … This building is extraordinary and the rotunda in particular is just awe-inspiring. How many countless generations have been inspired in that room?”
He continued, “It really broke my heart and I just felt compelled to do something. …
What else could I do?”
Friends, I know our hearts are breaking. But what else can we do but get down on our hands and knees and clean up this mess?
This is what love compels us to do, what God compels us to do.
May we be inspired to do so.
May we have the courage to do so.
May we have the love and humility to do so.
And may we work together, struggle together, to do so.
Thanks be to God, Amen.
O Lord, you have searched me and known me.
You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from far away.
You search out my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways.
Even before a word is on my tongue, O Lord, you know it completely.
You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is so high that I cannot attain it.
Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.
If I take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me fast.
If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light around me become night,”
even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day, for darkness is as light to you.
For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.” Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said of him, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” Nathanael asked him, “Where did you get to know me?” Jesus answered, “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.” Nathanael replied, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” Jesus answered, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.” And he said to him, “Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”