Monday, September 05, 2005

Pentecost 16 - Year A

NB: Sections of this sermon are based on sermons by William Willimon and George Everett Ross

A reading from the letter of Paul to the people of New Orleans,

To all in New Orleans who are loved by God and called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.

I have heard of your troubles. Your city has drowned. The fury unleashed by Hurricane Katrina has made plunged your city into chaos. Many of you have been asking what you did to have God’s wrath visited upon you. You ask, what did you do to anger the Almighty?

I implore you to remember the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, who said that God rains down upon the just as well as the unjust. Rain happens. Rain has the power to save life and take life; to cleanse and to destroy; to heal and to hurt.

Just as the waters of baptism drown our old sinful self, and we rise to new life with our Lord Jesus, the waters of Hurricane Katrina remind us that we are not creatures of our own destiny. Life is fragile. That’s what makes it so precious.

I have heard of the deserted dead decaying under the hot Louisiana sun, corpses floating down the flooded streets, the sick and elderly abandoned to die hungry and alone.

I have heard of your babies dying from hunger, medicine being denied to the sick, water contaminated by the disease ridden corpses and the backed up sewers.

I have heard of snipers shooting at Aid workers, looters pillaging through the wreckage of peoples’ lives, sexual assaults in wide open spaces.

I have heard your cries of despair.

You ask how this could happen in the United States of America. You ask how such chaos could erupt in the richest country in the world. You ask how the strongest power in the history of the planet could fail to protect its own citizens.

As you look out at a sorrowing city, I’m guessing that you now understand the difference between anarchy and freedom. You’ve learned that the freedom we have in Christ is not a lawlessness that leads to destruction, but a way of love that brings life to the world.

“Owe no one anything,” I told the Christians in Rome, “except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet’; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’
Love does no wrong to a neighbour; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.”

You know The Law; Judaism’s gift from God. When Moses came down the mountain after freeing the people of God from slavery in Egypt, he held in his hands the tablets upon which God had written the Ten Commandments. Later, more laws, by-laws, policy directives, and values statements crept along side of these original Ten. And they all held the same weight.

But I say that we are freed from the Law. Obeying the Law won’t save us. There aren’t any works good enough to earn our way into heaven. When Jesus died and rose again, he gave us another path to God; a path where God takes us by the hand and leads us into the promised Kingdom. So we are free.

Freedom. It’s a great word. But freedom from what? Freedom for what?  There’s a lot of talk about freedom today. Freedom of choice. Freedom of movement. Freedom of religion.

Freedom, and its cousin, known as “rights,” are the cornerstone of your society and culture. But do you really know what freedom is? And just because you call it “freedom” does it make it so? And would God agree with what you call “freedom?”

You are free. But how will you use your freedom? The looters are free. But their freedom is selfish. The snipers are free. But their freedom takes life.

But of course, there is a difference between a freedom that makes us joyful and a freedom that makes us selfish. Freedom is not simply the right not to take whatever you want, when you want, or to shoot at people who are trying to help others.

God’s Freedom means speaking out passionately against injustice in our neighbourhood and around the world. God’s Freedom means crying out in frustration when violence, greed, and brutality appear to prevail over the weakest and most helpless. Freedom means living a life that matters both to God and the world.

God’s Freedom means seeing something beyond the world we’ve been given so we can live with the hope that the destructive forces around us will not triumph.

God’s Freedom, means “Loving your neighbour as yourself.” Take those words of Jesus to heart, love yourselves sincerely, joyfully, robustly, and then when you offer that self to others, you will offer a beautiful and precious gift. The first mark of those who love deeply is that they are themselves free the way God wants them to be free, and have placed the experience of freedom above all other values in their lives.

But there will be times when, like the looters and snipers, you might be overcome by the demons of selfishness and violence, greed and gluttony; or are tempted to throw away your gift of freedom to follow the siren call of safety and security.

But that’s when we need each other to be witnesses to the freedom that God wants for all of us. The mark of the cross on your foreheads will remind you of your own baptisms and I hope you will be steered back to the hard but joyful path of Jesus.

Remember, God has embraced you and made you God’s own beloved child. Through the waters of salvation you have put on the garments of resurrection and God has declared you to the universe as a child of heaven. Maybe this is part of what God wants to teach you: to learn to live the freedom that God wants for you.

It is my prayer that through this ordeal, you will be a people who, by God’s grace, will be free and will become more and more aware of the glory of being fully alive in God’s world; even when the forces of darkness have closed in around you; even when death is hidden behind each red painted door; even when unimaginable sorrow makes a home in your midst, cling to the good news that Jesus has overcome the world; that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Through the next couple of weeks, months, and even throughout your lives, I pray that you will be a gift of God’s grace to all who need Jesus’ healing, compassion, and mercy. In short, I pray that you will be an instrument of resurrection in these troubled times.

So, be strong. Trust. Work hard to re-build your lives and the lives of others. Open your eyes to the places and people through whom God is most powerfully alive. God is with you.

My love to all of you in Christ Jesus. Amen.


Blogger TheDevilIsInTheDetails said...

Be prepared for the next hurricane season or find another one that's similar. As the Boy Scouts say: "Be Prepared"!

6:30 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home