Scripture: Luke 4:18-19
Jill A. Kirchner-Rose, MDIV, DMIN
January 1, 2017
Happy New Year! So, are you excited about this new year? Are you looking forward to 2017 with immense hope? Do you believe this new year is filled with wonderful possibilities and amazing blessings? If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, you can go back to sleep for you are probably the ones who stayed up partying until the stroke of midnight, filled with great anticipation for the beginning of the new year. But if you answered “no” to these questions, then this sermon is for you. Overall, I think many people are filled with anxiety, doubt, concern, uncertainty, fear as we begin this year, in particular. And we may even wonder, “Where is God in the midst of it all?” Rest assure – this is not a new question. There have been many times throughout history when people thought it was all over, and then God showed up. In his gospel, John declares, “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.” Let’s look at some of our ancient Bible stories when God showed up.
In the beginning, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, and God showed up.
Remember Abraham left everything – his country, his family, his father’s house – and set out for a future he couldn’t see, he looked up at the dark sky and wondered whether he had made the biggest mistake of his life, and God showed up.
After centuries of crippling enslavement in Egypt, the people packed their possessions and gathered their families and they began to feel the sweet winds of freedom. But suddenly, they heard the shouts of soldiers, the creek of chariot wheels, the trampling hooves of the horses and terrified they sped up and looked up to what was ahead. They saw the blue water of the Red Sea. It was a certain death for them, and then God showed up.
For 40 years they wandered in the Wilderness. They got so lost. They ran out of water. The children cried because they were thirsty and their tongues stuck to the roofs of their mouths, they knew this was the end. And God showed up.
A young woman just a teenager living in ancient Galilee discovered she was pregnant, certainly the end for any woman living back them. She delivered the baby in a stable and laid him in a manger and God showed up.
The young rabbi’s message began to catch on. Crowds gathered around him. They hoped that he would deliver them from Roman rule, but his message was not about political power but radical love. Many did not like what he had to say. After all, it is hard to win people over when you insist that they turn the other cheek, love their enemies, and give away their possessions. But this rabbi stuck to his true message and when he went to the river to be baptized by his cousin, John, as he came up through the waters, the heavens opened, a dove came down, a voice affirmed “This is my Son with whom I am well-pleased” and God showed up.
It was hardly believable, but they hung the rabbi on a cross. As he struggled to take his last breath, the sky went completely dark, the curtain in the Temple tore in two, and people wailed. They took down from the cross and buried. It looked like it was all over. Hope had died. But then three days later, God showed up. (All of these examples come from Rev. Diane Bass, “God Showed Up”, preached at The Riverside Church, 11/9/2016).
Over and over again, in the ancient scriptures, God shows up. “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.” And God continues to show up even now.
There’s no doubt that 2016 had its fair share of heartbreak. We remember with horror the Orlando Nightclub shooting – the deadliest mass shooting in American history. Yet, in response, many, many prayer vigils took place around the world. Rainbow colors lit up cities across the globe — the White House in DC, the One World Trade Tower in New York, the Eiffel Tower in Paris, Tel Aviv’s City Hall, the Sydney Harbor Bridge. Angels with large wings arrived in Orlando to block anti-gay protests from the Westboro Baptist Church during the funerals so that those who were grieving would not be disrupted, but protected by a heavenly host. Yes, God showed up.
Race relations have been very tense this past year with the killings of unarmed black men by police and the killing of police officers in places like Dallas and Baton Rouge, for example. Yet, in response law enforcement and Black Lives Matter came together in places like Kansas to have a “First Steps Cookout”. In Wichita, they danced and broke bread together. But the event wasn’t just about fun. There was a Question and Answer time in which police officers gave this promise, “We will all treat people fairly, with dignity, and respect.” Bridge building – we saw something similar at the Mentone UCC when they hosted the Law Enforcement Appreciation Day. Yes, God showed up.
Climate change is on the rise, unfortunately. We see it with higher temperatures, more droughts, wilder weather, and melting glaciers. Yet, many in 2016 worked toward a more environmentally friendly world. World leaders from 175 countries signed the historic Paris Climate Accord on Earth Day in which the rate of global warming will be reduced significantly. In addition, Costa Rica ran on 100% renewable energy for months demonstrating that life without fossil fuel is possible. A solar plane completed an epic trip around the world without using a single drop of fuel. Volunteers in India planted 50 million trees in 24 hours. A former NASA engineer commits to planting 1 billion trees a year with drones without having to set foot on the ground. And a Florida Brewing company created the first 6 pack rings that can be eaten by wildlife. Giant pandas, humpback whales, and green sea turtles are no longer on the endangered species list. And the tiger population grew for the first time in 100 years. Yes, God showed up.
An environmental crisis, a religious crisis took place at Standing Rock. A Texas company is building an oil pipeline that will extend from North Dakota to Illinois, 1200 miles. It is called the Dakota Access Pipeline. Part of the construction was to extend across a portion of the Standing Rock Lakota Reservation, a Native American sacred burial site. In response, thousands and thousands of people around the world showed up (including our own Peter Tupou) to protest the building of this pipeline through Standing Rock. The Army Corps of Engineers gave the indigenous people the deadline of December 5th to vacate Standing Rock in order not to be dangerously impacted. On Dec. 4th, hundreds of veterans came flooding in to Standing Rock. One veteran said this as he reflected on the years of injustice the indigenous people faced, “We came. We fought you. We stole minerals from your sacred hills. We blasted the faces of presidents onto your sacred mountain. We signed treaties that we broke. We didn’t respect you. We polluted your earth. We hurt you in so many ways. We came to say we are sorry and we are at your service. We beg your forgiveness.” On Dec. 4th, the Army Corp of Engineers decided to reroute the oil pipeline so as not to interfere with the Standing Rock reservation. God showed up.
Undoubtedly, God shows up. God showed up in the stories of ancient scripture. And God shows up in our lives today. Think about all of those moments in your personal life when there appeared to be no hope to be found anywhere, and remember how God showed up. God will show up again.
God showing up – that is the message of our song in the air today, “Go Tell It on the Mountain”. “Go Tell It on the Mountain” was created by an unknown African American slave. Many spirituals focused on the joy of the afterlife – that is wanting to escape the brutality and cruelty of slavery. But this is a spiritual that focuses on the present, not the afterlife. “Go Tell it on the Mountain” that Jesus Christ is born. Why would a slave want to sing a song about Christianity? After all, slaves were often oppressed by Christian slave owners. It was in the Bible belt of the South that African enslavement was most enthusiastically practiced and defended. Then, there is the KKK, a supposedly Christian organization. So why would slaves want to sing a song about Christianity. Simply put, slaves heard the same Bible stories as their white oppressors, but the focus was on the plight of the marginalized. God, they noticed, had been on the side of the slaves, not the Egyptians. Jesus, they heard, was one (as we read in our scripture this morning) “who was anointed to bring good news to the poor, release to the captives, to let the oppressed go free.” In other words, Jesus brought exceedingly good news for slaves. Yes, slaves could get behind this Jesus of liberation and justice. And so writes one unknown slave, “Go tell it on the mountain, over the hill and everywhere. Go tell it on the mountain that Jesus Christ is born!” In other words, go tell it on the mountain that God showed up through the birth of Jesus!
That is the message of this song in the air. As we stand at the beginning of a new year, I invite you to take a moment and share aloud (if you choose) what you will go and tell on the mountain this year… Yes, I believe that God will show up this year through YOU!