Sermon for Sunday 9th November 2008
It would be impossible to get up and preach today and say nothing about the events of this past week, and I am not talking about the events in Moneygall, but rather the focus of those celebrations.
Barack Hussein Obama, an African American man with a very suspicious sounding name is president elect of the United States - Just in case you missed it ;-)
Whatever happens from here on in, the world is changed by an event such as this. Regardless of whether he is a good president or a bad president, the very fact that he will be president changes the shape of the world. In a nation that within living memory refused black people the vote, the right to travel on public transport and in some cases burned and lynched them for the simple crime of being black, the sons and daughters of the perpetrators of such evil have in the privacy of a poling booth proclaimed their trust in one who was not so long ago ‘The Enemy’!
In his victory speech Obama talked about a 106 year old woman Ann Nixon Cooper from Atlanta, Georgia whose grandmother was a slave and who had lived through all the turmoil of the civil rights movement and now had the opportunity to vote for an African American president. He talked about the pain she had endured in her life due to the colour of her skin and in remembering these bad times in the context of his election there was a sense of closure, a sense of the healing of memories and the breaking of the chains of history.
Memories, or more specifically Remembrance is an important theme for many people this week. Today is Remembrance Sunday and Tuesday is Remembrance Day, a time when we call to mind all those who have died in war both long ago and more recently. As a observance it is becoming less and less politically sensitive as people acknowledge the importance of remembering those who suffered so much for a cause that they believed in, and in some cases for a cause for which they were forced to fight! We could get hung up on the rights and wrongs of war but essentially this is about largely young men and increasingly women as well who pay the ultimate price..... ‘Greater love has no one than to lay down down their life for their friends.’
So why do we keep remembering? We remember for the same reason that a 106 year old woman in Atlanta Georgia remembers; we remember because those who have gone before us live on in our hearts and in our lives and sometimes the healing of their pain and the completion of their story is something that may take generations to accomplish. One of the essential elements of our Christian understanding of death is that we share a fellowship with all the Saints, living and departed which transcends time and space, and it is this understanding of death which allows us to find healing for our memories.
But this is only half the story - In remembering what others have done in their lives there is a challenge for us to learn from these memories and act in response to them. That is what RE - MEMBRING means! It is a call to action! Not just words but action! Today’s Old Testament reading from Amos 5: 18-24 puts it so well:
Take away from me the noise of your songs;
I will not listen to the melody of your harps.
But let justice roll down like waters,
and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.
I cannot help but think of the similarity of this sentiment with the criticism of Barack Obama; He is all rhetoric and flowery speeches, the critics say! Well that remains to be seen, but it is a genuine concern - Will he walk the talk? I personally believe he will but if he doesn’t a lot of people will be very disillusioned - There is of course far too much expectation put on one man’s shoulders and the reality is that it is only together that we can achieve lasting change in our world. We are not spectators and words alone will not suffice.
But what motivates us to act? As a Christian it is a desire to follow Christ, but we live in a world that asks us to park our faith as soon as we leave the church or the home. It is seen as something private that is only to be shared with those who wish to experience it and it is to play no part in the politics of the world. And so if we are to compare ourselves to the bridesmaids in todays Gospel, not alone would we have no oil for our lamps but we would not even be carrying them in the first place. As children of the light we are only allowed to light our own little corner of the world!
But the events of the past week have changed this too - I am not going down the road of comparing Barack Obama to a Messiah figure - He is not that - he is mortal human being like the rest of us and there is a real danger of setting him up as the answer to all the worlds problems. Or Hope is in Christ alone! But in Barack Obama we find a man who is not ashamed of his faith in Jesus Christ, a man who believes that faith is an integral part of who we are as human beings and that we cannot turn off our faith when we go out into the world. Faith in Jesus Christ has political implications, not party political but political in so far as informing our respect for the dignity of all humanity and the creation in which we exist. If we believe like Jesus, that the outcasts in our society are every bit as important as the people of power then that will change our politics and how we relate to our fellow human beings.
Things are changing in the world and all is not doom and gloom. This just might be the beginning of a change in direction that is sorely needed. Perhaps it signals a world emerging that is not so antagonistic to faith and belief. On this Remembrance Sunday we remember not only the dead of war but primarily the life, death and resurrection of one whose story is our story and who has the capacity to bring healing and hope to a new generation.