February 24, 2019

Epiphany 7C

The Divine Dreamer

GOSPEL

Jesus said, “I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you.

“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

“Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.” Luke 6:27-38

 

SERMON

Ten years ago a homely, middle aged, English woman, named Susan Boyle captured the hearts and brought tears to the eyes of the tens of thousands of viewers who caught her performance on a show called “Britian’s Got Talent”.

 

An unassuming, unattractive, very plain-faced, unfashionably dressed, rather dowdy, matronly, middle-aged woman – you get the picture – walked onto the world stage.  In the minds of the television audience, as it clearly manifested itself in the faces of the panel of judges – it would have read – you’ve got to be kidding me.

 

But then Susan parted her lips, opened her mouth and began to sing that beautiful aria from “Les Miserables” – “I Dreamed a Dream”.  Her voice was absolutely magnificent. It was nothing less than perfection. But what stole hearts and caused tears to flow was that the song was, obviously, her personal song, and the dream of which she sung was her own personal dream of being a professional song artist.   And in that moment the audience was gifted with the sheer joy of watching a dream come true.

 

Susan Boyle most probably grew up the butt of over-weight girl jokes and ugly girl taunting.  But the world would finally see Susan. This magnificent aria was not being sung by a stunningly beautiful soprano.   But in those moments the sheer beauty of her voice revealed the sheer beauty of Susan’s soul and she became as the most beautiful creature that the good Lord had ever fashioned.  Oh, the power of a dream and the sheer joy of a dream come true.

 

We all learned early on that we are made in God’s image and after God’s likeness.  This core belief is usually translated to mean that we are creatures gifted with intellect and gifted with the freedom of our wills – which, in their finest choices, give expression to light rather darkness, faith rather than fear and love rather than hate.

 

I would suggest that an often-ignored facet of our likeness to God is to be found in the gift of imagination.  God is the Dream Maker and we share the Divine imagination thru our own capacity to dream.

 

We can dream tomorrows worthy of our noblest efforts and even our own life’s blood.  Dreams, for whose realization, we would never count the blood, the sweat and the tears.  Our innate capacity to dream gives us the springboard, if we are willing to leap into God’s dream for us.

 

Yes, the Divine Dream Maker has dreamed a dream that He passionately desires to share with us, to have us share in, and to have us share with one another.  In the person and mystery of Jesus: in His life-giving words; in the actions He engages on our behalf – the exorcisms, the healings, the teachings, the suffering, the supper and the cross, God’s dream is revealed as the vision of the Kingdom that is within us and that God wants to draw out of us that the Kingdom might become ever more visible, in our living, in our loving, in our giving and in our dying.

 

We have known a number of stellar dreamers.  Men and women who were not at all frightened to give flight to their imaginations, to think big and to dream even bigger.  

 

The dreams of Dorothy Day of Manhattan’s Bowery, Nelson Mandela of South Africa, Oscar Romero of El Salvador, Martin Luther King of Birmingham were dreams of Kingdom size – dreams as high and as wide and as deep as God himself is wide and is high and is deep.  

 

They dared to dream of alternatives to the status quo – alternatives inspired and animated by the gospel; of alternatives to social and economic paradigms that contour our lives and become our comfort zones and our prisons; of ways of being together that we generally hold at bay and refuse to operationalize; of ways of being, sharing and relating to each other that reflect the largeness of God rather than the smallness of our primitive impulses.

 

In the Sermon on the Mount, from which this morning’s gospel is drawn, Jesus presents what we might call the

Magna Carta of the Kingdom of God.  He articulates the Kingdom’s priorities and its agenda.  He contours the Divine Dream.

 

It doesn’t take a genius to appreciate the revolutionary and even radical nature of a world according to God, and His will for us in its regard.  It is anything but business as usual.

 

As a matter of fact the central teaching of Jesus is a profound invitation to question all that we have created, to turn the world, its priorities and agenda, as we have fashioned these, upside down.   It’s directive is that we seriously question and then be prepared to dismantle things as we have put them together in favor of a grace inspired and infused sacred order. God created and wills to continue creating this world.  And while He wills our cooperation and participation in his ongoing creative action, He remains the Architect of the Dream.

 

At the beginning of His sermon, Jesus says, “Blessed are the poor.”   Is He naïve?  Is He a fool? Why doesn’t He get with the program? The world’s economic engine drives more and more wealth into the pockets of the super rich at the expense of the poor and the dwindling middle class.  This is how it goes. This is how it always went. We were recently reminded that most people live from paycheck to paycheck – and this in the wealthiest nation in the world. Can we begin to let in what it is like in Haiti, our neighbor – the poorest nation in the world – to which we cruelly deport economic refugees?

 

Before our eyes passes a parade of prosperity gospel peddlers.  These charlatans would sanctify greed for us. How much must the Sermon on the Mount be twisted to come to the moribund conclusion that wealth is a measure of God favor and that God desires us to be rich?  What do we do with the paradigm, based on the sermon of Jesus, presented in the Acts of the Apostles, that describes the community of God’s dream? They made it their practice to sell their possessions and goods and to distribute the proceeds to anyone who was in need”?

 

Again, in Matthew’s presentation of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says, “Blessed are the peacemakers.” Is He naïve?  Is He a fool? The world has always known its romance with power and its love affair with violence.  Competitive militarism predicated on the size of a nation’s arsenal of weapons is the order of the day. But is this not the antithesis to the way presented in the gospels?  

 

Again the Evangelical crowd, who find comfort in a fear-based living, and in identifying and rallying against enemies of all persuasions, would sanctify this way of being. It is as if Jesus never preached the Sermon on the Mount that defines God’s dream as to how we are to deal with even those who would make themselves our enemies.   Could Jesus actually be serious when He says, “”Love your enemies.  Do good to those who persecute you”?  But then what does He know about life and how God would have us live?

 

When the military is made THE emblem of a nation, as so much of the rhetoric that surrounds its ordinary presentation would have us assume, we move away from what it holy.  We move away from God’s dream. Although they are always presented as defenders of our freedom, must we not face the fact that we have, in more instances than not, used the military to advance our economic model and our dominance in the world.

 

I served a white middle class parish in Staatsburg for 18 years.  Its size and age demographics were the same as the second, predominantly Black parish I served in Beacon.  In the first, only one child went to military service in Afghanistan or Iraq. He was the son of a single mother on public assistance. The rest of his white peers went to college and to better paying jobs.  

 

When I arrived at Saint Andrew’s, I was taken back by the stark contrast reflected in the number of their children who had been co-opted into harms way –practically all.  Admittedly both these parishes represent a small population sample, but when the final tally is made of the casualties of contemporary military engagements, I would be very surprised if people of color and the children of the poor will not comprise the lion’s share of war fodder.

 

God’s dream is for justice for the poor.  We read in Deuteronomy, “Justice, only justice, shall you pursue, so that you may live and take possession of all that the Lord is giving you.”  God’s dream is for peace. We read in the Prophet Micah, “They shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.”

Martin Luther King once said, A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual doom”.  He obviously saw the intrinsic connection between militarism and the victimization of people of color and of the poor.

 

I am not naïve.  I do not believe that God will realize His dream in our time, but I do believe that as Christians we have a pressing responsibility, to reflect gospel imperatives in every personal and social choice we make, for the sake of that dream.

 

As we must be truth-tellers, so too we must be hope-tellers.  God’s dream rests on the lips of hope-tellers. We must dare to speak the seemingly impossible, trusting that God will not be thwarted.

 

Our children, who are already “reaping the whirlwind” of the choices we make, are watching and listening.  The only way to protect them is to engage them in a vision that trusts not in power but in selfless service to the Kingdom of God. We must never forget that Jesus said, “If you would be great, you must be a servant.”

 

The Rev. Frank J. Alagna

February 24, 2019