Sunday, April 26, 2009

"Let no one deceive you."

Sermon on video here.

Sermon for Easter 3B: April 26, 2009
All Saints Church, Pasadena ■ 1 John 3:1-7 ■ Luke 24:36b-48 ■

There is a quote that I’ve heard variously attributed to Karl Barth, to Billy Graham … and to Ed Bacon. And that quote is this: “A preacher should preach with the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other.”

I narrowed it down to Karl Barth as the original source of the quote – thanks to GOOGLE – but what I’m wondering this morning is if we don’t need to update it to reflect how we live and work and communicate in the 21st century – update it to read: “preach with the Bible in one hand and “the newspaper AND “YouTube” in the other!” And here’s what got me thinking …

If your email inbox is anything like mine, every third or fourth message lately is a link to something on YouTube that someone sends you labeled “must see” or “don’t’ miss.” Well, that’s all well and good … and I appreciate the generous impulse to share cute pet tricks and the latest political commercial parody … but it’s been a busy couple of weeks around here and I had a SERMON to write and a Covenant One class to get ready for heaven’s sake … I didn’t have time to just “click here and watch this” at the drop of an email.

But finally, they wore me down. Maybe it was the 25th forward with the same link saying “you’ve GOT to see this!” Or maybe it was Zelda Kennedy sticking her head in my office and saying, “I can’t believe you haven’t SEEN this yet!” Whatever made me do it, I finally “clicked here” … and watched in awe as a Scottish singer named Susan Boyle transported an auditorium of Brits and a panel of cynical judges to a place of hope, joy and beauty with her rendition of “I Dreamed A Dream” from Les Misérables.

And -- after I found my Kleenex -- I sent an email to just about everybody I know saying … you guessed it … “you’ve GOT to see this!” And then I spent a little time reflecting on just why this YouTube moment had touched such a chord with me and with so many others.

It wasn’t just the lyric of the song she sang (and no, I am NOT going to sing it for you this morning … I am no Susan Boyle!) … although they are words that speak in a deep and meaningful way of the universal human dream of love and hope and life worth living that we share with all members of our human family:

I dreamed a dream in time gone by
When hope was high and life worth living
I dreamed that love would never die
I dreamed that God would be forgiving.

But it is something more than the profound humanity of this dream that I believe touches a chord with us “no matter where we find ourselves on our journey.” I believe it moves us the way it does because it is not only a dream we all dream … it is a dream the One who created us in love -- TO love and live and dream -- has dreamed for us as well.

It’s what our friend Archbishop Desmond Tutu has called “God’s Dream:”

"God says to you, 'I have a dream. Please help me to realize it.’ It is a dream of a world whose ugliness and squalor and poverty, its war and hostility, its greed and harsh competitiveness, its alienation and disharmony are changed into their glorious counterparts. God’s dream is that all God's children everywhere will know we belong in one family."

And yet, the world conspires to tell us that dream is not real, not possible, not attainable … that it IS “only a dream.” (Or “grow up and live with it” – as one commenter on my blog put it this week.)

And sometimes – all too often – those voices succeed in stamping out the hope and the joy – in trampling on the dream – our dream and God’s dream … as Susan Boyle sang at the end of her 15 minutes of YouTube fame:

I had a dream my life would be
So different from the hell I'm living
So different now from what it seemed
Now life has killed the dream I dreamed

“Now life has killed the dream I dreamed.” How many beloved children of God dwell this morning in a place of despair and hopelessness – how many find their dream of a life worth living – of love that never dies – of a forgiving God – killed by life in a world that tells them they’re not good enough or faithful enough, that their lives and hopes and dreams do not matter, that whoever they are and wherever they find themselves on their journey they are NOT welcome – unless they shape up, follow along, fit in.

Or not. And that’s why I think this YouTube clip was up over 100 million hits (and climbing) when last I checked. Susan Boyle did NOT let life kill the dream she dreamed … if she had, she’d have never managed at the ripe-young age of 47 to walk out onto that stage and face those eye-rolling judges and incredulous audience members and let loose with a performance that didn’t just sing a song but incarnated a dream – HER dream -- and … in the process … give us all the hope that if her dream was possible, then so is ours.

As Christians, during this season of Easter we both claim and proclaim a hope – a promise – a dream – that has been called “the great Easter truth.” That Great Easter truth is not that we will be born again someday-- but that we are to be alive here and now by the power of the resurrection! And we claim in that resurrection promise the love of God for each and every one of us that the writer of I John proclaimed in the epistle this morning: “See what love God has lavished on us, in letting us be called God’s children! That is in fact what we are … and the reason that the world does not recognize us is that it never recognized God.”

And so -- with the Bible in one hand and YouTube in the other -- let’s take a look at the closing words of I John 3:1-7 … and of Les Misérables –

From John: “Let no one deceive you. Everyone who does what is right is righteous, just as Christ is righteous.”

And from Les Miz: Remember the truth that once was spoken: “To love another person is to see the face of God."

Let no one deceive you – the dreams you dream – the dream WE dream here at All Saints Church – are real. Turning the human race into the human family isn’t just something Ed Bacon thought up on retreat one January … it is the dream of God, it is the foundation of our historic faith, it is God’s kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven. And if the world could start recognizing that to love another person is to see the face of God – well – then it could stop killing each other over dogmas and doctrines that have nothing to do with the dream God dreamed and everything to do with how human beings have distorted it.

Let no one deceive you – the Jesus we follow KNEW that the Good News he offered was going to be met with the world’s best efforts to kill the dream God dreamed. Indeed, that’s the very story of Good Friday, isn’t it? And that’s the reason we’re Easter people … not Good Friday people: because love wins, grace trumps, Christ is risen indeed, Alleluia, Alleluia!

In that rising again, we are promised that NOTHING the world can do can triumph over the dream God dreamed for us – so there is nothing for us to fear. And freed from fear, we are freed to risk and dare and follow and witness to the truth of the risen Christ present in our lives – and invite others to come and dream with us of a world where hope is high and love will never die.

Let no one deceive you. There are plenty of forces at work trying to kill that dream – both inside and outside the church. In the Episcopal Church, they are voices that insist that only by continuing to exclude a percentage of our members from full inclusion in all the sacraments can we maintain the unity of the church. (Never mind that leaving people out doesn’t seem to add up to “unity” – maybe it’s the way I’m doing the math.)

Meanwhile, in the secular arena, the dream that’s on the chopping block is the dream of equal access to the civil protection of marriage for couples who aren’t – as Miss California put it last week – “opposite.” (Another YouTube moment!) The good news is that progress has been made in four states – with another three coming along and the California Supreme Court decision still to be rendered. The bad news is it is way too often people of faith who are leading the charge against equality – and the other good news is that there ARE people of faith who are stepping up and speaking out – and we believe … at the end of the day … we WILL weather the storm!

Those are just the tip of the iceberg of the challenges we face -- the ones that are all over the newspaper – and YouTube – but the good news we share today is that none of those challenges are greater than the power behind us.

The love of God greater even than death. The dream of God of a human race turned into a human family. The grace of God enabling us and empowering us to be part of making that dream a reality.

Let no one deceive you … we’ve got miles to go before we rest – before that kingdom comes – before that reign is realized. But we’ve got each other as companions on the journey – we’ve got this feast of bread and wine made holy to feed us and sustain us – and we’ve got voices of inspiration like Susan Boyle – just a YouTube click away – reminding us that there is beauty that is more than skin deep -- and that there ARE dreams that life cannot kill!

Thanks be to God, Alleluia, Amen!


Diane said...

this is absolutely excellent!!!!

I heard the "Bible and the newspaper" was Barth, and somewhere, I even heard, "The Bible and the New York Times."

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Wonderful. I see the Sermon Fairy did leave a sermon under your pillow.

John Sandeman said...

In 1878 Charles Haddon Spurgeon published "The Bible and the Newspaper" which is a series of sermons he preached from the paper (from memory The Times)

Frair John said...

Barth said it often.
While I don not think they are in any of the versions of the Dogmatics, I do know he grumbeled it at Princton Seminary and I think it in his (short) book on homoletics.

This was one of th ebest sermons I have read in a very long while. Thank you.

Sidney said...

God must have a sense of humor to give us Susan Boyle and Miss California Carrie Prejean at the same moment in time. It's almost as if he's asking us to consider: which one should you take more seriously?The real story of these two is that today, as always, the Susan Boyles of the world will fade from the scene and Miss California has a great future.

It's bad enough that women are desired by men for being beautiful, but what's worse is when - adding insult to injury - a woman's talents and abilities are showcased proportional to her beauty.