Below is the sermon I preached yesterday (25 June 2017) at The Church of the Redeemer. It was a powerful day at the Redeemer as we celebrated the 100th anniversary of the laying and blessing of the corner stone, and it was also my last Sunday at the Redeemer. The lessons can be found here, we used track 2. You can listen to the recording over on the parish website, or click on the link below.
DRIVE FAST AND TAKE CHANCES
One of my favorite memories of my late Aunt Kim was the way she used to send us forth from her house after a visit. Now, some people might be inclined to say “Be safe,” “drive carefully,” or “call me when you get home,” but not Kim. As we descended the steps from their front porch, she would stand with my uncle and cousins waving goodbye. And just as we were about to enter the car she would yell, “drive fast and take chances.”
I have always found great joy an amusement in this saying. But over the last two months, I have begun to think a bit differently about it. It seems to me this is more than just a quirky dismissal from my godmother, but rather a charge for discipleship.
Drive fast is not about recklessness, it is about urgency. It is about knowing that you have to get to your destination with a sense of intense determination. It is a call to move with haste and not delay from the journey that has been set before you.
Take chances, then, is not about getting ourselves into foolish situations, it is about letting go of fear so that you can make bold proclamations in word and deed. It is about standing up for truth and justice. It is a willingness to be counter-cultural for the sake of what is meet and right.
As I look at our lessons today – at Jeremiah, Romans, and Matthew
As I think about the historic occasion we celebrate in our parish life – the 100th anniversary of the laying and blessing of the corner stone.
As I think about my final Sunday here with all of you.
I cannot help but think that at the center of it all is that phrase:
Drive fast and take chances.
In the book of Jeremiah, we encounter a prophet in the midst of turmoil: a prophet who is lamenting his prophetic mission. God has placed upon Jeremiah the task of proclaiming to the people of Jerusalem that their city will be destroyed. Jeremiah expresses deep grief and anger for this call, and that is exactly what we hear this morning.
Now these words from Jeremiah are not the words of some mental breakdown, or existential crisis. These are words of his tradition. They are an expression that finds its place rooted in the psalms. Jeremiah has been influenced by the tradition, he has been immersed in it, and therefore cries out in that familiar language. So he offers his lament.
You can almost feel Jeremiah’s anguish at the beginning of today’s lesson:
O LORD, you have enticed me, and I was enticed;
you have overpowered me, and you have prevailed.
Lord you have lured me in, it is as if Jeremiah is saying. There is something almost seductive in the way the Lord calls Jeremiah.
And because of that call, Jeremiah has become the laughing stock of his community. Proclaiming that message, proclaiming that the great city of Jerusalem will be destroyed is certainly not winning Jeremiah any popularity contests. But Jeremiah has no choice. He does not take on the mantle of prophet because it seems like a glamorous way of life. He does it because he cannot not prophesy.
If Jeremiah refuses to speak then a burning fire is kindled inside of him – a fire so hot that he cannot hold it – a fire so hot that it will incinerate all his bones.
And because of this in the midst of his anger and grief, in the midst of his pain and anguish, he cannot help but trust in God. Jeremiah trusts that God will indeed protect him, protect him like a dread warrior, and therefore has no choice but to worship God and go on prophesying. For Jeremiah there is great urgency and intensity in his prophetic witness.
What if we allowed ourselves to channel that same prophetic intensity?
What if we allowed ourselves to be so overcome by the word God has placed on our hearts, by the vocations that God has laid before us that if we did not act upon them, if we do not proclaim them, then an intense fire would be kindled in each of us – a fire so intense that we could not bear to keep it in?
What would Hope Street look like if we lived with that same prophetic intensity as Jeremiah?
If despite any anger or grief, any pain or anguish we went on glorifying God?
Singing to the Lord
Praising the Lord
Proclaiming the words that have been revealed to us.
Living fully into our identity.
But what is this word . . . what is this identity that God has laid upon us.
The Word is Jesus.
The identity is:
Paul in his letter to the Romans is unequivocal about what that identity means:
Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.
Being the Baptized means living in a completely new way. Baptism is not just some rite of passage, or familial obligation. When we are baptized our very being changes – we are united with Christ in a particular and intimate way. When we are lifted out of the waters of baptism we share in the death, and resurrection of Jesus. We are empowered with a new identity and if we fully embrace that identity it will have implications for every aspect of our lives.
As baptized people we are called to share in the life and ministry of Jesus. That means it is our responsibility to teach, to preach, to heal the sick, feed the hungry, clothe the naked. It is our responsibility to build relationships in our community through such ventures as the East Side Community Alliance. It is our responsibility to support the work of Camp Street Ministry. It is our responsibility to continue working to break down the systematic oppression of racism that plagues our neighborhood.
Being the baptized is a great responsibility. But through the gift of the Holy Spirit we have been empowered to take risks: to make bold proclamations in word and deed. For Jesus is clear, that we will do greater things if we truly believe.
Baptism places before us a road of discipleship that ultimately leads to the cross. But through the grace, mercy, and loving-kindness of God we can trust that God will protect and care for us. We can trust that this life is not a burden, but a journey to the most glorious way of living imaginable.
So be not afraid.
Let go of the anger and grief, the pain and anguish for we are alive in Christ.
But let’s be real. There is plenty to fear on the Christian journey.
Once again this week we hear some pretty startling words from Jesus:
Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother . . . and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.
Despite what we might think at first glance, Jesus is not against family. But Jesus is making a profoundly clear statement as to where our loyalty should lie.
We are to love God above all else.
We are to serve God about all else.
We are to follow God above all else.
And sometimes that is going to lead to conflict. Sometimes that is going to mean we will have to reject expectations from our families and friends. It is not an uncommon story to hear family ties and ties of friendship being strained and broken because one person answered the call to follow Jesus.
In the midst of this warning, Jesus also offers words of comfort. Jesus knows exactly what he is asking us to do. Those who sacrifice for the sake of Christ will ultimately be rewarded – those who lose their life will find it. Those who give everything up to answer the call of Jesus will find the path to glorious and abundant life.
By virtue of our relationship with God we are the beloved of God and thus will be cared for by God: So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.
Knowing the risks. Knowing the cost. Jesus still asks us to follow. Jesus still invites us to claim our identity as disciples, as Christians, as the Baptized.
It is that invitation that allows us to proclaim with boldness, to shout from the housetops that which was whispered to us, to declare in the light that which was spoken in the dark.
It is that invitation that allows us to drive fast and take chances.
And that my friends, is exactly what the Church of the Redeemer has been doing for the last 100 years.
100 years ago, the people of the Redeemer understood the urgency of the being followers of Jesus. They listened to the call from their Bishop. They prayed together. And they decided to get up and go. To leave the place they had known and come to a new neighborhood. 100 years ago the people of the Redeemer proclaimed with boldness that they were not afraid to take risks for the sake of spreading the Gospel. And ever sense then, this community has been striving to fulfill that call – to live fully into the identity as disciples of Jesus.
It was with a sense of determination that this place – was set apart to be a temple of the Most High God. To be a place that would continually offer prayers and praise to the Most Holy Name of God. From the very beginning of the Church of the Redeemer at 655 Hope Street that life of prayer has been carried out with integrity and dedication to our Anglican tradition and heritage.
This is a place that has been profoundly blessed by the grace of God. This place has been filled with the Holy Spirit in ways that surpass almost every other that I have experienced. But most importantly this is a place – this is a community – that is unabashed in sharing that grace with those whom we have been called to serve.
This place has been a refuge for the broken and hurting. This place has been a haven for those society places at the margins. In this place there is truly a place at the table for each and every person who dares to enter the doors. That is the legacy that was built upon the cornerstone 100 years ago.
Today as we mark this important anniversary we have the responsibility to continue to build upon the foundation, which previous generations have laid. We must continue this legacy for the next 100 years, and we do that by laying new foundations. Foundations that further embed this community within the fabric of our wider neighborhood.
Foundations laid at Camp Street.
Foundations laid at the East Side Community Alliance.
Foundations laid with the emerging choir program.
Foundations that will serve as a tangible witness to the reconciling love of God that has inspired this community for the last century.
As members of the Baptized gathered here on Hope Street a great trust and responsibility has been laid upon us. So act with urgency to proclaim with boldness the love of God in your words and deeds. Let go of fear so that you might be able to take risks to spread the Gospel and follow Jesus on the road of discipleship.
Dear friends of the Church of the Redeemer. It has been my joy and privilege to be among you for these last few years. You have enriched and blessed my life in ways you will never know. So today I say to you that quirky dismissal my godmother said to me: drive fast and take chance.