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August 13 & 14, 2022, 10th Sunday after Pentecost: Fire and Passion for God, by the Rev. Canon Fred Miller

Aug 14, 2022

In the Name of the Spirit among us Who is One, Holy, and Living within each one of us, drawing us into community, calling us to be one, and sharing love with us all.

Luke writes of Jesus: “I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!” When we hear those words from Jesus about fire and how he wishes the fire was already lit. It is alarming, until I link those words with ministry & mission. Unfortunately, if we can admit it, ministry & mission are words heard so often that they are not electrifying until those words are linked to meaning, purpose, & direction, and the meaning Jesus wants for us today, in this place is to loose the bonds of injustice, to lift up the broken hearted, & let the oppressed go free. Another way to hear these words of Jesus from our story might be this way: “I came to bring a passion & a zeal for ministry & mission. That ministry & mission that I have shown with my life is this; to loose the bonds of injustice, to lift up the broken hearted, & let the oppressed go free.” 

Passion & zeal, do we have it? Do we share it? One of my favorite hymns when I was very young that inspired passion & zeal was hymn #293 “I sing a song of the saints of God” because it tells about all the many who have gone before us, but perhaps most especially because it tells about those beside us and around us, “You can meet them in school, or in lanes, or at sea, in church, or in trains, or in shops, or at tea”. Many here within these very walls today, have given a bold witness at times in the face of great opposition and yet they remained true. But most of all, that hymn inspired me at a young age because it ends with a calling, a personal calling, I accepted years ago, “and I mean to be one too.” It is humbling to admit. I want to live out that passion & zeal for which Jesus invites us from the Hebrew Scriptures of Isaiah, those words Jesus read in the synagogue at the very beginning of his ministry, to loose the bonds of injustice, to lift up the broken hearted, & let the oppressed go free. 

May we have the strength of the Spirit bringing love over all the earth. But, good people, my flesh is weak and my will wavers in the face of the mighty winds of opposition. When I see hoards of people flock to the voices of authoritarianism silencing the voices of the poor. I think to myself, my father fought in WWII to bring about a new order in the world leaving behind the authoritarianism in north Africa, & Italy & heading to Japan from the base in Washington state before the bomb dropped on Hiroshima & Nagasaki in this very month of August 1945. Growing up, I was certain it was part of our national DNA to show the world a way apart from authoritarianism. I was taught what America stood for was that all voices were to be counted. I marched in my high school band year after year with the veterans of WWII proud of these who defended the oppressed around the world.

Years earlier when my family moved back from St. Louis to New Jersey I attended an elementary school that only a few years before was forced to eliminate the separate school for people of color. Teresa, a black girl in my class, was assigned “my partner” sitting directly behind me at first, and then our desks were side by side. She was to help me catch up in 4th grade with some of my subjects from Missouri where I was behind, and I found I could help her with math. I was convinced my country was becoming that place where all voices were to be heard & represented. People were marching for civil rights, the kind of equality I saw Jesus lift up. You remember from the Jesus stories; the outcast, women, children, lepers, including those who believed differently, a Gentile Centurion, & a Samaritan woman at the well to name a few. There were terrible & vicious setbacks, even leading to the death of Jesus, but there also were those who carried on.

We are those called to go on with the fire of passion & zeal despite the obstacles. In his day, Jesus was up against the authoritarian rule of the Roman Empire, one of the largest & strongest known on earth. Pontius Pilate gave the order to crucify Jesus who dared to stand against the power of his day because people were cheating the poor in the Temple. It’s hard to imagine such an important shrine, but that Temple money affected the whole economy of the region. 

Today authoritarianism seeks to align with White Power, Christian Nationalism, & antisemitism. Alluring those who wish to throw off all restrictions to polluting our environment, to go back to days when it was easier to discriminate against people of color so they could not purchase the same inexpensive housing or have the same job opportunities, or have their children receive an equal education or even have basic healthcare. Authoritarianism attempts to entice those who would go back to days when women followed the lead of men in all things, spilling over to reproductive rights, back to days when whites of male gender excluded any who identified as LGBTQ. Self-disclosure, I resemble those last two characteristics, white & male. 

Authoritarianism seeks to appease those with wealth & influence for the soul purpose to keep power. Authoritarianism does not create equality as it promotes an atmosphere of scarcity & fear. We would hear the lie that, “Society would break if we cared for all people, so healthcare & education can only be provided to those who with their own funds can afford it. Since children, women, the LGBTQ community, and especially people of color have been historically & systematically oppressed they are the ones who suffer, and we cannot allow that anymore. Jesus saw this in his own time and raised up all people. 

Authoritarians point to sexuality as the greatest threat to our civil society. Authoritarians take rights away from young mothers, and our LGBTQ sisters & brothers, but it won’t stop there. Jesus made no barrier to inviting the woman who had 5 husbands and was now living with another. He paid no attention to those who scolded him for socializing & eating in the presence of prostitutes. Like this societal exploitation of sexuality is solely the responsibility of women. We need to teach the world that our Jesus would have led us away from sexual assault, domestic violence, human trafficking & sexual exploitation of any kind. 

Our Jesus spent time teaching & making friends among the outcasts. The poor & the outcasts at the far end in Jesus day were prostitutes & tax gatherers. Who are the poor & the outcasts at the far end in our day, that following Jesus, we can raise up?

Jesus warned us that divisions will come when we take this stony path, “father against son and son against father, mother against daughter,” and so on. The south wind Jesus mentioned is already blowing, and the scorching heat is already here. 

Martin Luther King in his, to this day, compelling book “Where do we go from here”, tells how the oppressors will tell lies, and make up stories to divide the people. That book “Where do we go from here” was published the year after he died, but it was clear then and it is clearer today, the lies continue. 

For those moving on: we take heart that we are not alone, across the seas Pacific Islanders raise awareness of rising sea levels & polluting ocean waters, and they continue on. Our nation is reaching out to our historic European allies to protect against the bullying tactics of the mighty against the weak, while Sweden & Finland join our alliance. In our nation we are leading away from gun violence, by enhanced background checks for those under 21, new laws prohibit abusive partners from possessing guns, and we will benefit from expanded mental health services for children & teens. For those continuing on, we are expanding healthcare for 3.5 million veterans. We are anticipating the possible hostage of the semiconductor industry with a $52 billion investment in semiconductor manufacturing, which runs everything from our lighting, our heating, and the transportation many used to get here today. Many are continuing on, and we can join this caring for our neighbor, as love continues to spread.

The work ahead will take fire, passion, & zeal for our mission. We can break down these walls that separate us. We must stand strong as the authoritarian storm is coming. We must stand united because it is a formidable temptation. We must stand united for the cause of love. As Jesus stood in the midst of tyranny many years ago, he shared love, we must stand united with Jesus pointing the way. 

May it be so.“

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