I’ll be honest. I don’t know where we are right now.
I mean, this year has been bananas. Twenty-twenty started with Australia on fire and the impeachment of the President. Then we moved on to the appearance of coronavirus and a twelve-hundred point one-day drop in the Dow. And then March came in like a… I don’t even know… like a pangolin? Is that an option?
As of week-and-a-half ago, more than 100,000 people in the United States had died from COVID-19. That’s more than the number of American soldiers killed in the Korean and Vietnam wars combined. By the time you hear this sermon, we may well have passed the number of American soldiers killed in World War I.
And it isn’t just about sickness and death. As of the end of May, more than 40 million Americans had filed for unemployment. And the people who know about such things were predicting an unemployment rate in the area of twenty-five percent.
This year has been bananas.
A couple of weeks ago, a Minneapolis police officer knelt on George Floyd’s neck for eight minutes and forty-six seconds. The officer was holding George down because he was accused of passing a counterfeit $20 bill at a deli… and, according to the police, he wouldn’t voluntarily get in the police car.
The videos that bystanders recorded show George pleading with the officer, saying, “I can’t breathe…”
Until he couldn’t, anymore. And the officer stayed on his neck.
And I’ll be honest. I don’t know where we are right now.
You see, I start writing my sermon for Sunday, on Monday. In normal times, that means that I have a sermon done early in the week, and I can make revisions later in the week, and I can improvise on Sunday morning if something happens on Saturday night.
But now… in these times… I have a sermon done early in the week, and I record a service on Wednesday morning, and I spend time editing the video, and I’m uploading the video by Thursday night.
So if something happens on Friday, there’s not a lot I can do. I can’t improvise in the sermon or add something to the prayer. Because by Sunday morning, the bit where I say something to you or pray something with you is in the past.
And the last couple of weeks have moved fast. There have been protests and memorials and riots and looting. And states and cities have reacted far differently than they did when armed protestors walked into state houses to say that they wanted to get haircuts and go to church: we’ve seen rubber bullets and tear gas canisters and smoke bombs. We’ve seen curfews and national guard units.
And as I write this sermon on Monday… and as I record this sermon on Wednesday… and as you hear this sermon on Sunday… I don’t know where we are right now.
This was supposed to be Confirmation Sunday. Benen and Carter and Emily and Maggie and Taylor were supposed to be standing in the chancel making promises to the congregation, and the congregation was supposed to be standing in the pews making promises to them.
And I had chosen this passage from Revelation because it is the promise of our faith.
In the book of Revelation, John is taken into heaven to see the things that must come: seals broken, horses and horsemen; trumpets and fire and blood; dragons and beasts; wraths and plagues; the fall of Babylon and rejoicing in heaven.
It’s a weird book. I don’t think that anyone understands it. I don’t think that end-times preachers understand it. I don’t think that sober scholars understand it. I have serious doubts that John himself understood it.
But it ends like this: John sees a new heaven and a new earth and a new Jerusalem. And there’s no temple there, because God and Christ are the temple. And there’s no sun or moon, because God and Christ are the light. And the gates are always open.
And flowing down the middle of the main street is the river of the water of life. And on its bank is the tree of life, whose leaves are for the healing of the nations.
I had chosen this passage from Revelation because it is the promise of our faith: a new heaven and a new earth, in the presence of God and of Christ… a healed world with abundant life.
There are Christians who wait. There are Christians who read Revelation and look at the world and see horses and horsemen, trumpets and fire and blood, dragons and beasts, wraths and plagues. And they wait. They stand by.
But we do not. And I know that because when we take the waters of baptism, or when we stand in the chancel and confirm our baptism, or when we stand in front of the congregation and make ourselves members, we make these promises…
…to affirm our baptism into the faith and family of Jesus Christ…
…to renounce the power of evil and seek new life in Christ…
…to follow our savior, to resist oppression and evil, to show love and justice, and to witness to the work and word of Jesus Christ…
…to grow in faith, to be a faithful member of the church, to celebrate Christ’s presence, and to further Christ’s mission in the world.
And those are not small timid promises. Those are big bold promises. Those are wild and dangerous promises.
To resist oppression and evil. To show love and justice. To witness to the work and word of Jesus Christ, the one who laid glory aside to become one of us, the one who died and rose and will come again to usher in a new heaven and a new earth… a healed world with abundant life.
The last couple of weeks have moved fast… and I don’t know where we are right now.
But I know this: the protests that we have seen over the murder of George Floyd are the cries of the oppressed and riots are the language of the unheard. What we have seen—maybe, as you hear this sermon, what we are seeing—is the bubbling over of 400 years of oppression, from the ships of the middle passage, through cotton fields and tobacco plantations and slave patrols, through Jim Crow laws and lynching trees… stolen labor and stolen opportunity and stolen lives.
You see, there’s a line between the White Lion—that ship that brought the first Africans to Virginia in 1619—and a police officer kneeling on the neck of George Floyd.
400 years. And eight minutes and forty-six seconds.
And that’s just one story. There are so many more. There are communities and cultures in the United States and around the world who cannot breathe.
And I know that it can be easy, here in Iowa, here in DeWitt, here on Facebook and on YouTube, to feel distant from all of that. But we are not called to be distant from all of that.
Christ called us… and we answered with promises…
…to resist oppression and evil…
…to show love and justice…
…to witness to the work and word of Jesus Christ.
And those are not small timid promises. Those are big bold promises. Those are wild and dangerous promises. And I know that we don’t always know what to do or how to do. But I suspect that it starts with this: affirming and reaffirming—confirming and reconfirming—those baptismal promises again and again.
To renounce the power of evil and seek new life in Christ.
To follow our savior, and resist oppression and evil, and show love and justice, and witness to the work and word of Jesus Christ.
To grow in faith, and be a faithful member of the church, and celebrate Christ’s presence, and further Christ’s mission in the world.
I do not know where we are right now. But I know that my eyes are set on the horizon, on a new heaven and a new earth and a new Jerusalem, on the river of the water of life and the tree of life whose leaves are for the healing of the nations. And I know that my path is paved with those promises, and my feet are guided by God, and Christ is my map and my compass.
And I know that, eventually, Benen and Carter and Emily and Maggie and Taylor will stand in the chancel and make these promises, too, and join us all on that journey.
Thanks be to God.