On March 24, 1908, in the Chapel of the Hospital of Divine Providence in El Salvador, Archbishop Oscar Romero began to preach a sermon that called on the soldiers of his country, as Christians, to obey God’s higher order and stop carrying out the government’s repression and violations of human rights. Romero preached against poverty, social injustice, assignations, and torture. Romero was a believer in the divine right of every human being to be treated equally. As he finished his sermon on that March evening and stepped out from behind the pulpit an assassin’s bullet struck him in the heart and killed him instantly.
On August 28, 1963, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC. Rev. King had come there as part of the non-violent protest in Washington to demand jobs and freedom. This was his famous “I have a dream” speech where he dared to dream about such things as equality, freedom, brotherhood, justice, and character. On August 4, 1968, five years later, an assassin’s bullet killed him in Memphis, Tennessee.
President Abraham Lincoln, President John Fitzgerald Kennedy, Senator Robert Kennedy, William McKinley, Harvey Milk, all gunned down because they were trying to bring change to a world that sometimes, hates change. What they all have in common is that knowing the risk, they still told the truth and even after they were dead and buried, their words continue to this day, and bring hope to millions of people around the world.
Today, we heard the continuation of the story from last week. You remember, Jesus was in the synagogue and had just finished reading from the scroll containing the Book of the Prophet Isaiah. He read the passage about preaching good news to the poor, proclaiming freedom to prisoners, recovery of sight to the blind, and release to the oppressed. The rolled the scroll back up and sat back down. All eyes were fixed on him to now expound on the passage that had just been read. He simply said, “Today, this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”
The people were confused. They had heard about him and what he had been doing in other places but they also had known him since he was a boy. They knew he was Joseph the Carpenters son and were confused that he was now claiming to be the one had been waiting for. He told them “no prophet is welcome in his hometown” and this did not help matters, in fact, it fanned the flames even more.
In reading the scripture, and then saying it was fulfilled that very day, Jesus was ushering in a new way, a new way for the poor, a new way for the prisoners, a new way for the blind, and a new way for the oppressed. In other words, their world was about to change, and they were not happy about it.
Last week, temperatures in the Midwest portion of our country sank to all-time lows. At one point in Minneapolis the real temperature at fallen to -23 degrees, the same temperature at the same exact time in Antarctica. The government and television news people were warning folks not to go outside even for a moment as the risk of freezing to death was so great. But an amazing thing happened in small cities and towns all around that part of our country, churches began to open their door to house the homeless population. They opened their doors to an underserved population and provided a warm meal and a warm place to sleep during those frigid nights. They did not ask if they were members of the church or if they were Christians. They simply opened the doors and let the people in, in other words, they lived the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Who knows, they might have saved a life during those days and nights.
We are living in a world where truth no longer matters. We live in a world where to 30 second sound bite and a halfhearted apology when the lie has been exposed, is the name of the game. It does not matter any longer if something is true all that matters is if we can get others to believe it and when confronted with the truth they still don’t believe it. We live in a world where it is not enough to defeat someone, we have to destroy their character and attack their family. We are so afraid of the truth that some carry torches and run people down in the street to scare them into silence. Some hide behind the anonymity of the keyboard and social media and say horrible things about people, and then in the next breath post scripture passages and go to church. Today we live in a world where a scripture passage is twisted in such a way as to prove a point and oppress others something Jesus spoke very plainly against and about. But through all of this, knowing the risks and despite the risks, there are prophets in this world speaking the truth and attempting to make a change with love and acceptance.
So enraged were the people in the synagogue that they forced Jesus out into the street and led him toward the edge of a cliff with the point of throwing him off and killing him. These church people were so focused on the rules and the status quo that they were willing to kill to preserve it. This young man, who, they knew, so enraged them with his talk of love and equality that they wanted him dead. Their hatred, coupled with the hatred of the religious leaders, would see that this young man was eventually killed.
What is so radical about equality? What is so radical with the very idea that we need to love everyone regardless of their race, religion, gender, sexual orientation and all the rest? But there are people today, who are willing to kill others to ensure that equality does not become a reality.
A few weeks ago, I mentioned that I believed that we are on the verge of another reformation in the church. The old guard sees the changes in church attendance as a lack of spirituality and belief in God and will say things like the church are dying, and we are living in a post-Christian world. Let’s get one thing straight right here and right now, the church of Jesus Christ will never die. The Romans could not do it, the Communists could not do it, the Nazis could not do it and, despite their best efforts, some Christians could not do it. The old institutions that we call church might be dying and I say good riddance to them, but the Church of Jesus Christ, that world of love and acceptance is stronger now than it ever has been because there are prophets who are willing to take it to the edge of a cliff to preach and speak the truth regardless of the cost, and I am one of them.
I have told you before, I have a simple theology, does whatever show the love of God and love of neighbor? Does what I believe about another human being bring them glory and God glory? Does the policy I support bring honor and glory to the divine spark in each human being or is it, in some way, lessening that divinity in each one of us? If the answer to any of these questions is no, then our theology is wrong, plain and simple, it is wrong.
The world needs prophets. The world needs people who are not afraid to speak the truth and to seek the truth. The world needs people who are going to stand when everyone else is sitting down because it is the right thing to do. The world needs people who will advocate for others even when people are carrying torches of intimidation and hate. The world needs each of us, in our own sphere of influence, to make this world a better place by merely loving everyone.