According to the 24 members of Confirmation class, who range in age between 11 to 18 and, as attested by my granddaughter Avery, who herself ranges in age between 5 and 30, the most popular songs this year are "Let it go," from Disney's Frozen and "Shake it off," by Taylor Swift. "Let it go" and "Shake it off." I've heard them; the first, incessantly. As we used to say in an earlier age, "it's got a good beat and you can dance to it." But as I "read" our times and our people I think something more is going on here. "Let it go" and "shake it off" is an attitude, a way of responding to just about everything in these last days of 2014. Endemic racism? Militarized police forces? "Let it go." Immigration injustice? "Shake it off." Our insatiable appetite for fossil fuels and gluttony for cheap gas versus undeniable Climate Change? "Shake it off." "Let it go!" Not from all of us, but from most of us, these seem to be our collective response. "Let it go." "Shake it off." Let us be. It seems we have lowered our expectations lest they morph into more and deeper resentments. Let it go. Shake it off. We can live with it. And now after yet another week, as Avery occasionally puts it, "It's dawk and scawy."
I'm glad you're not laughing because I really
don't want to be funny today. Far from it, we are living in yet another very serious time when laughter for some is offensive to others. We celebrate this hope-filled, joy-anticipating Second Sunday in Advent and this 37th anniversary of this wonderful building bordered by death, tinged by loss and sorrow, and infected by injustice, fear and pain. Aside from being in the presence of Jesus Christ with you now, I am most grateful that we have readings from yesterday similar to our today.
Whenever I read or hear biblical prophets, I like to picture the original audience. I have just such a picture in my mind today. I'll call him Josiah, a third generation Jew living in exile at in 5th Century B.C.E. Babylon. His grandparents and parents were dragged here, kicking and screaming about 70 years earlier, in the great forced-march exile from Jerusalem. Following the advice of another prophet, Jeremiah, they had settled in Babylon and sought "the welfare of the city" of their exile. They built homes, started businesses. As I imagine it, Josiah studied law and became expert in the "Code of Hammurabi." Josiah and his family and friends adapted to life in exile. Amidst high rise luxury ziggurats, they accepted Babylonian dominance. They lived with constant anti-Jewish rhetoric. They taught their
children how to deal with the never-ending intimidation of well-armed enforcers policing their streets. They adapted; let go of their dreams; shook off daily indignities. They simply wanted to be left alone with their righteous conviction that God had failed them and maybe even had treated them like dirt. Their vaunted history, their storied city, its legendary temple, their loving God? Let it go. Let it go. Shake it off. Shake it off.
They would have remained content with this existence but for those pesky prophets from the school of Isaiah, who insisted that the exiled life was not enough; that their lowered expectations were not enough; who clung to the silly notion that life was meant to be more than accommodation; that Josiah and his people had a vocation; that, rather than being abandoned by God, they had been chosen by God to transform the world; that their
nation and their people, their city, its Temple and their God were not just long ago and far away, but was, in fact, their future; meant by God to be a model of what life in the city should be.
Not accommodation, but transformation. Not the absence of God, but the presence of God who
had been with them in exile; who would remain with them always; who was ready to lead them home so that ".. The glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh might see it together."
Not everyone was happy to welcome that message as Good News. It called for commitment. It called for involvement. It required vision. It meant change. It called trust: in one another and belief in the God they thought had abandoned them, if he even existed at all. It demanded conviction that God who was calling them so their life would meaning and purpose; so that they would not settle for accommodation or indignity for anyone. John the Baptizer proclaimed the same message, later. Even later, Peter did too.
A bit over 40 years ago, no less a figure than the President of the United States told the people of this city, as the Daily News headlined it, to "drop dead." "Let it go." "Shake it off." Many did.
This building was designed β and just as importantly, this building continues to be used β to say an emphatic "yes" to life in the city and to the remarkable God who will not flee the people, but be with the people in physical, tangible form. To celebrate this consecration anniversary is to
re-commit ourselves to the inspiring idea that life is never meant to be a lowering of expectations, a series of accommodations or an accumulation of indignities, but a calling, a vocation to model and "creatively shape life" as God means life to be so that ".. the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh might see it together." To use Mark's language, to celebrate that this day and every day is "the beginning of the Good News of Jesus Christ the Son of God" for when Christ is present at font and table and in community, God makes all things new.
We need God to make all things new, to "creative shape life" in the Church, the city, the nation and the world. I believe, and so I teach and preach, as do my lay and pastoral colleagues, as do all of you who have so enthusiastically β and so counter-culturally β made your stewardship pledges so strongly β we believe and so we proclaim that God lead us here and God kept us here β in the very center of this city at the center of the world so that here in this place God can creatively shape us so that together with others, we can creatively shape life in the Church and the city, in the nation and the world.
Not everyone is happy to hear this message. "Let
it go;" shake it off" continues to be the theme of some. It was for some back then, whenever you choose "back then" to be; it remains so for some now. Yet there are some, in every age, who hear God's call and respond to it, and who by their response encourage us all.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him, so that you may not grow weary or lose heart.
Amandus J. Derr
Saint Peter's Church
In the City of New York