Please take a few minutes to read Father Manny's Sermon for today.
Heavenly Father, I surrender to you every aspect of my mind, my will and my life to You. This day, I choose to dwell in your goodness and faithfulness. May those seeds you have long planted in me take root and grow. Keep me close to you, like a father would his child, and direct my steps like a father would his child. Amen.
Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, we’re now dealing with racial tensions. There are daily demonstrations over issues of justice that have been simmering for a very long time. It looks like our world and life is on the edge. There’s this unsettling feeling wherever you turn. Today’s gospel doesn’t make things any easy for us. It has placed the gospel burden on us-that, like our master Jesus, we have to disturb the apple cart-we have to take up the cross-lose our lives for the sake of the cross-by standing up for what is Godly and right- that each of us is of more value than any sparrow. The charge then is to stand up and let your voice be heard. Let not the fears of the morrow cripple what you know to be right. Let not the fear of a repercussion weigh so heavily on you, to the extent that you choose to ignore what you know to be right and descent, for the convenience of fellowship with those who can destroy the body but cannot destroy the soul. Stand up and be counted. Let your faith be bigger than your fear. On this Father’s Day morning, my charge to you is to stand up and be counted.
Remember Paul’s question, should we continue to sin so that grace may abound? Not so. He says. You and I both know that the failure to stand up and be counted is in itself an endorsement of the sins of the pastshould we continue in that sin? By no means. As manifold as God’s grace maybe, we should not take that grace for granted and believe that we can continue to give life to the sins of yester years. As great as the mercy of God may be, we cannot take God’s mercy for granted. And so, I implore you to stand up and be counted. Stand up and shake any remnant of fear that has consumed you and weakened you from taking a stand. My beloved, stand up and boldly proclaim the gracious favor of the God who dared to reconcile with us in Christ Jesus. Stand up and proclaim in the light what you hear in the dark. Stand up and proclaim from the housetops what is whispered to you. Stand up and be counted, let your faith be bigger than your fear.
What we need to understand is today’s gospel story isn’t about peace or unity or some kumbaya event. Jesus says to the twelve, do not for once think that I brought peace to the earth. No, not at all. I brought the sword. I have come to set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. Your foes will be from your own household. This is all because you will have to stand up, and beginning from your own household, counter any prevailing narrative that seeks to place more value on the sparrow than your fellow man. You will have to stand up and counter any narrative that seeks to injure the dignity of another person. You will have to stand up, and beginning from your own household offer a compelling vision of a future rooted in the newness of life. This is how you make enemies in your own household, you decide to reject all that which is not of God. You decide to reject the caricature into which others have been created since the summer of 1619 along the shores of Jamestown, Virginia.
Last year there was a celebration of the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the first enslaved Africans in Virginia. Those were innocent souls who had no idea what awaited them in this strange but beautiful land. The tragedy is that right from the very beginning, Africans were not counted or recognized as being fully human. There’s a story of an Anglican priest in Virginia, who before the baptism of each Black person, would have them take an oath, that the Baptism doesn’t confer upon him or her, the right of being equal with his/her owner.
The priest knew that all who have been baptized into Christ, are also baptized into his death, and just as Christ rose from the dead, they will rise with him. The priest was aware that baptism confers the power of equality, dignity and grace on each person. That power is two-fold, one, it is on the person who has been baptized, and two, it is also required of the baptized to extend the grace which he or she has received to even those who have not been baptized. It is imperative on the baptized to make real and tangible the intrinsic value of everyone.
But for fear of disrupting the status quo, the priest could not stand up and uphold the virtues of the baptismal narrative. The problem is, the failure to stand up and proclaim what we believe to be right, the failure to acknowledge Christ before others and the myopic benefit of denying Christ before others makes Christianity unattractive. We wonder why our pews are empty. We wonder why sanctuaries, places of solace, places where the good news of Christ is shared has to close down because there aren’t people coming to worship-when the harvest is plentiful.
I am yet to come across any one person who doesn’t like good news. We all like good news, but the question is, what is good about the news which is being shared by someone who doesn’t believe that people who look like George Floyd, Rayshard Brooks and myself deserve to be? The news may be good in and of itself, but 3 who is sharing that good news? Who is it? Is it someone who believes in finding his own life or someone daring to lose the life for the sake of the gospel, just so by the grace of God, they may find it?
My former Rector told me a story about a parishioner who decided not to honor his pledge. The Rector had called the parishioner to remind him about his pledge because he had not paid for some time. The Rector knew that he was an honorable faithful man. But when he called, this is what the honorable parishioner told him “I am not going to pay the pledge.” He said. “Why. What happened?” Asked the bemused Rector. “I am not paying because you brought a Black man on staff.” His jaw dropped. He knew him to be an honorable man. He knew him to be a faithful man. The shocked Rector simply replied. “Thank you very much. We will do just fine.” This is how you create enemies in your household. You set yourself against any narrative that places more value on a sparrow than a person, you decide to stand up because your faith is bigger than your fear.
In no uncertain terms, my former Rector rejected the bigotry of a man-a Christian man who shares the same baptismal death with Christ, the Rector and me, the person he sought to denigrate with his money. I have such a deep and abiding respect for this priest because he did not fall into the trap of having to choose between money and dignity. He did not allow himself to buy into a destructive narrative which perpetrated a myth about the inferiority of African Americans. He stood up to a man for whom Black lives were not even worth his faithfulness to the gospel of Jesus Christ. He stood up for a Race and a people who have suffered for so long simply because of the color of their skin. Stand up, and let your faith be bigger than your fear.
To stand up and be counted may be synonymous with bearing the cross. Remember what Jesus said, whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. To be worthy is to take up the cross with all its pain, suffering and shame. To take up the cross is to be committed to the vision of the one who calls us to lose our lives for his sake. More than that, to take up the cross is to take a stand of commitment to the one who calls us to walk in newness of life.
Today, this Father’s Day, I invite you to begin that walk. To stand up, like a father who stands up for his children and stands up against those who may seek to injure those children. Today, like a father, I invite you to begin the walk of newness of life, where your motivation isn’t about what’s in it for you, but rather what you can give. The new life and meaning that you can give to another I learned from Eugene Peterson that “Anyone who holds on to life just as it is destroys that life. But if you let go, reckless in your love, you’ll have it forever, real and eternal.” I think it is about time we stand up, let go of life as is, and be profligate in sharing God’s love and justice for your faith is bigger than your fear.