New Year’s Revelation
In the recent Broadway smash, Hamilton, we hear Angelica Schuyler proclaim, “You want a revolution? I want a revelation!” and as her sisters sing, “We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal” she buts in with “and when I meet Thomas Jefferson I’mma compel him to include women in the sequel.”
The sentiment of these words echoes part of the now famous “I have a dream” speech of Martin Luther King Jr., which has become – in some ways – as much a part of the DNA of our nation as the original Declaration of Independence. His speech was as much of a rallying cry to fight for equality as it was a vision of peace. And on this day, and in this time, as our nation reels to the right and to the left like some ship tossed at sea, we need something to hold on to.
We need a revelation from God to let us know how our brokenness is not all there is to what makes us who we are. Pundits will tell you that we have, as a nation, clamored for a “strong man” stereotype – but that doesn’t concern me right now. Politicians are trying to tell us what news is real and what is fake. “Truthiness”, or post-truth, has become the way to describe our public discourse – but that doesn’t concern me right now.
No, what concerns me is our ability to see Jesus in all of this. My concern is whether or not we believe in this incarnational theology that the Bible seems to be confronting us with today. You see, John’s gospel tells a different story than the other three. I mean, literally the events happen differently or not at all. Some say that’s because it was written for a different audience – communities of disciples that were rejected from synagogues, lived after the fall of the temple, and included Greeks and non-jews. But I’m not really concerned about that right now either.
No, what concerns me is our ability to understand how powerful and meaningful the words of prophecy, encouragement, and promise that we have received today are to our everyday lives.
First we have the second portion of the servant song from Isaiah. Last week we had the first part- you know the servant that doesn’t need to bruise a reed or snuff out even the dimmest of candles in order to proclaim the reign of God. Well, now we hear from this servant whose purpose was laid out before birth, whose mouth was prepared as weapon of truth telling, who was like a polished arrow ready to be put to flight. This same servant has tried – put it all out there – and come away feeling like it was all for nothing.
Have you ever felt that way? I have. In fact – I’m not going to lie – even while I’ve been cheerleading for our Presbyterians for Disaster Assistance Host Site, I’ve been a little discouraged that it’s taken so long to get volunteers.
Yet, last weekend it turned out that we were able to open up as a cold weather shelter because we were ready to host PDA volunteers. That was good and wonderful and amazing, but it does make me wonder if we would have done it without those air mattresses. We could have. All that was required was space. The air mattresses were a great comfort – some said more than they had ever hoped for – but they also functioned to give us permission to do what needed to be done.
In fact, when Kim Boudreaux of Catholic Charities called to ask if we could – she was really worried we would need a committee or be stymied over liability – I said, “Yes, those are valid concerns, but if we don’t do this I don’t think we are the church of Jesus Christ.” And let me tell you one thing more. You gave me the courage and permission to say that.
As I read Paul’s words to the church in Corinth, I was reminded of your faith – of our corporate witness. Paul wrote to a church filled with conflict, to remind them of who they are and whose they are and he said, “I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus, for in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind — just as the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you — so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ.” You hear that? You are not lacking in any spiritual gift as we wait for Jesus to be revealed.
And so we are bound together in our brokenness and longing as we wait for the one who has come and who has been and who will be revealed! That’s what I meant earlier by the incarnational theology of John. He is not simply “Johnsplaining” the story that others have told. He is telling us that this one, this Jesus, is the one who pulls us into the work that God is doing.
This is the one that causes us to shout – there he is, the Lamb of God that takes away sin! This is the one that when he passes, we should be willing to let disciples go to him if we are unable or unwilling to follow him ourselves! This is the one that lets us know that God is active and present and inviting us to come and see what God is doing. This is the one who takes the newcomer (Peter) and gives him the keys to the kingdom.
Now, obviously we gave a great shout out to the community about Jesus last weekend. Obviously we are demonstrating God’s active presence with the PDA Host Site. Obviously this is what God is doing in and through us here and now. But let me tell you where else I saw Jesus. I saw Jesus in the police officers that came in shifts through the night. I got talk to them about their calling and passion to serve. I saw Jesus in Kim Beaudreaux, or maybe she was more like John the Baptist. She pointed to the opportunity to see Christ in someone else, and even assured me that “Jesus might be a little high tonight, or mentally disabled, or drunk”. And sure enough, he was.
But that did not stop the holy space between our members and guests, who were touched by simple acts like remembering names and being treated with dignity. Our guests became the ones to remove our sin just by being here with us for a few nights.
Likewise this week we’ve had an amazing group from Americorp that have been traveling the southeast since July responding to disaster after disaster. They have primed our pump and given us a hunger for more stories, more connections, and more opportunities to bring restoration and hope to those around us. Surely they, in their common life, are experiencing what God is calling us to do and to be in ours.
I see this take place in our church all the time, but I have to share one more place that I saw Jesus yesterday. There was a meeting of the Camp Agape Committee here, in our Fellowship Hall. Members of our presbytery drove from Bayou Blue, Baton Rouge, Sulphur, and Lake Charles for a meeting to plan this summer’s camp. The theme just happens to be about reflecting the love of God – which kind of fits here – but that doesn’t concern me now.
No, I have to tell you about Jill DeRoche. Some of you know her. If you don’t, she’s an amazing woman of faith who volunteers to direct camp once a year, which means she spends the rest of the year getting ready for one week of camp. Now, if you know Jill, you probably know that she has a hard time praying in public. It’s not that she doesn’t want to. It’s not that she doesn’t know how. It’s that she always cries. As I’ve gotten to know Jill, I’ve finally come to understand why.
You see when Jill prays, she fully understands that she is standing before almighty God. When she prays she has the fullness of belief that this God is the one revealed in Jesus Christ. She fully and fervently believes that she is being heard by the one who conquers hearts not as the Lion of Judah but as the lamb that takes away the sin of the world. And when she prays, she holds the souls of those she prays for like she would hold a newborn babe. And when she prays, it shakes her to her core to know that she, even she, is beloved in the eyes of God. And because of that there is no choice for her but to love others in the same way.
Dr. King said it this way, “I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.”
So then, let us respond to pundits and politicians and even the well meaning but short sighted ones that we see on every corner (and sometimes even in the mirror) with a love that demands us to point out where we see Jesus. A love that calls us from our efforts that have fallen flat and says, “No. Just surviving as church is too small a task for you. There is something so much bigger that you are a part of!”
For the servant (Did I fail to mention?) is not just an ideal leader for the Jews or a metaphor for a restored Israel or even a description of the character of Jesus. Sure, the servant is all of these, but because of what God has done in Jesus Christ, you are also the one about whom the prophet sang.
And so am I. And so are we when we come together to demonstrate the love of the faithful One, who called us into the fellowship of Jesus. In that way, we will be the revelation that someone else needs. For it is too light a thing to survive, when we have been made to become a light for all.
Can we do that? Can we be that? Yes. For before you were even dreamt of by the woman who bore you, God had this great idea that became you. And God has given us to one another so that all might know of a love that is stronger than even death itself. That is what we must hold onto. That is what we must look for in others. That present, precious love is what we must recognize as the presence of God that draws us in and sends us out.
I wish that this meant that we can use our special knowledge of God’s love for our own comfort. I wish we could use it to ignore all the ugliness in the world, but unfortunately it is God’s love that will send us headlong into these conflicts. Providentially, we know that God holds us, even as we hold one another, and that in these conflicts God will be revealed – even through you, even through me. And to God be the glory, now and always. Amen.