I See the Promised Land

Sermon preached at
Open Door Metropolitan Community Church, Boyds, MD
January 15, 2017
2nd Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A
Martin Luther King Sunday

Audio version available from the church; click here

The story is that the Hebrews wandered forty years
in the wilderness before they crossed into land
promised to them by God.
The prophet Isaiah claims he was called before he was born,
the divine inheritance present at the moment of his conception
and thereafter at his core without loss or interruption
even as he, like us, fell short in his servanthood. Like Isaiah,
we have been shaped and polished to be God’s help as God
has been our help in ages past and our present and future hope
without end, world without end.

Wandering likely seemed endless to these Hebrews,
and we know they grumbled
and acted out against Moses and God.
To me that seems a lot like what is going on in our nation today—
people tired of feeling left behind by those seeming to have
everything they want, denied by fate
of being born in the wrong place or by the wrong parents
from the wrong country or color or loving the wrong person
or living as the usually subordinated gender
or choosing your correct gender while being denied by others
who think you don’t know your own soul and body,
or maybe people who feel left behind
because the job they thought to have forever
is now gone and they can’t find a new one that pays
nearly enough, or things they were taught to believe
about who is good and who is bad
or what behavior is acceptable and what is not,
no longer seem to be the law of the land
let alone the ironclad rules of civilization.

Still the space for these Hebrews was not all that big
and sometimes it seems hard to believe they wandered so long.
But don’t we all do that, at least time to time,
wander around and around in the same space of our minds, sometimes
even of our jobs or social life, maybe even our nation, thinking that somehow, sometime,
things will change? But they never seem to change the way we want and need
and pretty soon we despair—that can
feel like 40 years when it lasts a day or a week or a year or even longer,
and some of us have wandered for 40 or more years
only to wake up and see the promised land in twilight years,
at least then it is not too late.
I did not know I was wandering for more than 40,
call it 50 to keep it simple, but now I see the promised land,
 indeed I am in it.

But some people never get there,
despair going bone deep, and more,
and then someone speaks up, naming our grievance, or maybe
saying something ugly one time too many and someone else goes off,
yelling and making threats, maybe shaking fists
or shooting at someone or arguing with an angry cop,
pretty soon the cops are shooting,  
there are headlines and accusations and bodies, too often dead ones,
people march, protesting the killing, while others
defend the cops; the arguments go on and on,
where it will end nobody knows.

That’s the scariest part, nobody knows…..
or maybe more scary is that many seem to know
but we don’t agree on where we are, let alone where are going
and certainly not where we need to go.
So as a people we wander
even if our own lives feel good,
because the larger picture produces fear and even anger
and tweets and headlines and angry social media exchanges,
and family dinners which are very tense if they still happen at all.
We are no longer in Egypt, or have we returned to it . . .
or maybe we still are, having never really left?
Even so, many of us claim our land is the one promised
by God to our ancestors long ago
but of course others know it as land taken from their ancestors
by ours, and still others as land to which their ancestors were dragged
against their will—and yet, and yet,
we all love it one way or another,
even as we seem to wander, even despair.

In less than one week there will be a new leader
of this wandering band in which we have membership—some
may see a Moses, others a Pharaoh, few are without opinions;
unlikely anyone sees this leader as much likethe one
whose name and memory and sainthood we honor today.

But perhaps that one, that king of hope and truth and love,
has guidance for us? He knows about difficult days,
he knows what it means to have your spouse and children
threatened in your own home, what it is to
comfort the parents of little girls killed in a church
bombing, what it feels like to watch friends and allies
beaten and hosed by thugs playing cop;  he knows about serving
jail time.
He also knows glory,
honored with a Nobel prize, confidant and prodder of Presidents,
praised abroad as well as home, people hanging on his every word.
God called him up the mountain, allowing him to look over.
He saw the promised land.
He knew he might not get there with us,
and yes an assassin’s bullet stopped his journey.

But that ugly shot did not stop ours.
He told us so, he told us that we will get there,
we will get to the promised land.
We know, as he may have intuited but not known for sure,
that he told us that glorious truth the night before that bullet
struck him down, not unlike Jesus who fed his companions
the night before his death upon the cross.
Both knew, as we must know, too, that death is not the end,
that no mere human act or construction, no matter how dire,
no matter how much it threatens to undo our liberty
or strike against human dignity or knock down one group
to raise another or abuse the bodies of those less powerful
or deny basic care to those in need, none of it
ever spells the end, nor should it create such despair in us
that we cannot go forward, that we feel paralyzed in fear
any more than others who celebrate what we fear
can believe that claims by any person to know more
than all others about important matters make it so.

I see the promised land.
You can see it too. We are reunited there
with each other every time we gather at this table
to share in the holy meal or at a potluck,
and with others every time
we pray for and visit the sick
or spare some change or a dollar
with a street person or speak up against ugly talk
aimed at others or write a letter to the editor
or even call or tweet our leaders to stand
not for themselves but for justice and wholeness,
indeed every time we stand not just for ourselves
but all those in need, every time we not only pray
to end world hunger but also actually feed a
malnourished child down the street or in Africa or Gaza
or put our arms around a wounded friend
or even stranger or take the hand of someone
afraid to march for justice so both of us can join
a happy, determined throng.
Oh, this promised land is right here, right now,
my friends! Don’t we know? Have we not been told?
Did the prophets not tell us? Did not Jesus make it clear?
Did not the evangelist tell us what the Baptizer proclaimed,
Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world?
Have we not been baptized, like John baptized Jesus
in the Jordan?

Do we have to go on living in the sin already taken away?
No!
Will we?
Yes, of course, we are human and fallible.
But do we need to stay stuck there every time we fall into it?
No!!!
The healing of God never dies, the love of Jesus never ends,
the hope of the Holy Spirit lives forever, right here, right now,
and we can dwell in the House of God forever,
world without end.

But we are going to have to let go of the fear that others
will ruin it, that any election, that any stock market up or down,
any war, any law or proclamation of official ugliness,
any pronouncement by legitimate or illegitimate authority
will end it all—all of that has power yes, but it is not ever
the biggest power, unless we let it be so.

I see the promised land right here, right now, with you,
in this lovely building on this beautiful land,
and later today I will see it in the old converted garage
that is MCC Baltimore in the midst of a storied city
struggling to keep body and soul together,
and later tonight back in my cozy little
Depression-era co-op home in Greenbelt,
because everywhere is the promised land
when we learn to see it and treat it that way,
trusting God to always be on the move
and the lookout for us, always desiring
our highest and best as God knows and defines it,
telling us again and again that we are God’s beloved,
that everyone is God’s beloved without exception,
the ones we fear as well as the ones we love,
the ones who hurt us and the ones who help us,
all children of divinity and grace
even when they or we or all of us together screw things up.

It’s not too late. We are not done, and more, God is not done,
God is not done with us. It is never too late with God–that is what
makes God, God. She, or He, or They, refuse, despite ancient testimonies
to the contrary, to give up on us, you and me, too, and the others,
even those whose agendas seem foreign and evil.
No one is a hopeless case with God, and if we claim
to follow God, to love God, then we will make that our truth,
our way of life, too. We will not stop looking, and like the disciples
of John we will ask, where are You staying—
to which Jesus always answers if we listen—
and like them as well, we will go and see and know, we will go and see and know
the beauty of the promised land and the promised people,
we will not stop listening and we will hear the love song
of the promised land and its people,
and most of all the never-ending melody of our God,
and we will, like the disciples of John, keep asking over and over,
to get our bearings, to stay connected to God and our souls,
where are You staying, and we will discover, again and again,
if we are honest, that God is in our souls, that Jesus is already
at our side and walking, that the Holy Spirit is dancing all around us,
so close we can actually taste and see, we can know, we can feel;
we can, my dear ones, walk with God along the highways and byways
of the promised land under our feet,
indeed we can march with joy and hope,
singing as others did long ago in other troubled days
when this wandering people, our people, us,
seemed torn asunder, confused, angry and sad . . .

The Battle Hymn of the Republic

My eyes have seen the glory of the coming of our God,
who is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored,
And has loosed the fateful lightning of a terrible swift sword;
God’s truth is marching on.

Chorus: Glory, glory, hallelujah! Glory, glory hallelujah! Glory, glory hallelujah!
God’s truth is marching on.

God has been there in the watch-fires of a hundred circling camps,
where they built a sacred altar in the evening dews and damps;
I can read the righteous sentence by the dim and flaring lamps;
God’s day is marching on.

Chorus

God has sounded forth the trumpet that shall never call retreat;
and is sifting out the hearts of all before the judgment seat;
O be swift, my soul, to answer and be jubilant, my feet!
Our God is marching on.

Chorus

In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea,
with a glory in whose bosom that transfigures you and me;
As Christ died to make us holy, let us die to make all free;
While God is marching on.

Chorus
©Robin Gorsline 2017 (sermon only)

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