In light of what’s going on in Boston, I thought I’d share this sermon I preached two years ago. Vandalism is hardly in the same category as the horrors that took place today, but the message of the Sermon on the Mount ring true.
“Seeking God in a Shattered World”
Matthew 6:24-34; Isaiah 49:8-16
February 27, 2011
First Christian Church
This was one of those weeks that no body told me about when I was in seminary.
If you have not heard, the church building was hit twice this week by vandalism on Monday and then again on Wednesday. Someone decided to throw some bricks in the windows in the Fellowship Hall. As many of you know, these aren’t the only two acts of vandalism that have taken place recently. Since the beginning of the year, I’ve counted six incidents. It started with someone spray painting the words, “No God!” on our church sign on First Avenue. Then we started getting the broken windows.
I have to hand to Max Hurlocker, the Property Chair and our Office Manager Chris Wogaman, who were busy making calls to repair the windows, call the police and our landlord, the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. Since Bob was out of town, I stepped in to do…well not a whole lot, but to at least provide a listening ear. As I sat in on a meeting on Tuesday with representatives from the Institute and the alarm company I could hear some the questions coming from our members. They all boiled down to one simple question: why? Why was someone targeting us? What did we do to deserve this?
Having someone vandalize your property once is bad enough, but then it happens twice in the space of 48 hours, it can be downright unsettling and produce a lot of worry. You don’t feel secure anymore. You wonder if it will happen again or if it will get worse.
It’s funny that this is all taking place as the Lectionary texts deal with Jesus’ Sermon the Mount. Last week we hear the call to love our enemies and this week Jesus tells his followers not to worry.
I’ve heard people say that the Sermon on the Mount is basically a guide to living an ethical life. But if Jesus was trying to make a living as a self-help guru, then this is an epic fail. Jesus is asking us to do the impossible. Love some jerk who throws a brick into our building? Really? Don’t worry about things?
The Sermon on the Mount is impossible to follow. The fact is, we will fail in trying to live by it. And yet, here it is, here Jesus is, calling for us to not worry about what we are going to eat or what we are going to wear.
If it seems odd to hear this in the aftermath of vandalism, it’s even harder to hear it in this current economy, where people worry constantly about keeping their homes and their jobs. Jesus tells us not to serve God and money, but let’s face it: we worry about our finances. We have debts and mortgages and bills to pay and we wonder if we will always be able to pay them.
We could just ignore this passage and go on with our lives, and in many ways we do that anyway. How many times have we heard this passage and just move on? It’s a nice saying, but it has no bearing on reality.
But we can’t ignore this passage. It does speak to us, even as it calls us to do the impossible. Jesus calls us to trust that God will take care of the details. As the old Stevie Wonder song goes, “Don’t You Worry ‘Bout a Thing.” Matthew 6:33 says, “seek first the kingdom of God.” Some versions use the word “strive” instead of “seek.”
Either way, we are being asked to try to strive to live as God calls us to live in this world. The Sermon on the Mount is a step-by-step guide on how to live a good life, but it is a way , a rule of life, of how the followers Jesus should live. We are following a high calling from God to be a peculiar people in the world even though we will fall short time and time again.
I don’t blame people for worrying about all the vandalism. That’s a natural response. It also makes sense to do what you can to prevent from happening again. I think we are always going to worry about things.
The concern is when our worry about things gets in the way of striving to be God’s people. A broken window should not deter us from reaching out to our neighbors. It should not prevent us from giving out bus cards to those who are homeless or poor. It should not stop us from feeding the poor or finding ways to shelter those without homes. Despite the worry, we seek to be a faithful community that shares God’s love in word and in deed.
You all know that I’m a bivocational pastor. I work as the Communication Director for the Presbytery of the Twin Cities Area. This week, I was asked to take pictures for an open house at Kwanzaa Presbyterian Church, which is located in North Minneapolis. As the name suggests, it’s an African American congregation. One of the co-pastors there is Alika Galloway, and she took about an hour to talk about all the various ministries going on at the church and there is a lot. There is an after-school program that provides a lot number of African American kids who live in poverty and meal and a stable place to learn and play. There is also a program called Northside Women’s Space which is done in conjuction with a researcher from the University of Minnesota. The Women’s Space simply offers a refuge for women who work in the sex trade. Many of these women live chaotic lives where they face abuse from pimps and johns. This space, housed in one of the congregation’s buildings gives these women a place just to be and even give them some help.
All of this takes place in a part of town that is not the safest. I would guess there is a lot of worry that takes place at Kwanzaa. But yet, they seem to strive for God’s kingdom, feeding those who are hungry and giving hope to the outcast.
As I was getting ready to head to the church, I had to make a phone call to the congregation. I got their voice mail and heard Alika’s voice. Towards the end of the recorded voicemail message Alika said “It’s True, it’s true, it’s true. God loves you, God loves you, God loves you.”
That’s a message that people in North Minneapolis need to hear, especially if they live in poverty and feel that no one cares for them. They need to know that someone cares for them, and as the passage says today, if God cares for the lilies and birds, God cares for these folks. Kwanzaa makes sure that the residents of North Minneapolis know that by saying it and doing it.
It’s also a message for us. In the midst of our own worries and struggles remember that “it’s true, it’s true, it’s true. God love us, God love us, God love us.” Thanks be to God. Amen.