Third after Epiphany - Year B
Sunday, January 21, 2007
Third after Epiphany - Year B
Sunday, January 21, 2007
Let us pray: You, who are One, gather and send us all. Your gifts, that are many, work through each one of us. Remind us, O God, of your care for us and the care you seek us to exercise for one another. For with you and with one another, we are better together. May these words be a reflection of your gifts to us. Amen.
†† †Have you heard of Barack Obama? Certainly, until a few months ago, I had not. Then I saw a short news item that suggested this relatively unknown man might become the next president of the United States of America. That information alone should not be completely surprising. Presidential candidates more than once seem to have come out of relative obscurity, at least to those of us who live outside the USA. After all, how many of us had heard of John Kerry before the last American election? According to the news piece, Obama had put himself into the public eye with a keynote address at the 2004 Democratic Party Convention - the same one that confirmed John Kerry as the Democratic nominee in the 2004 presidential race. I was intrigued by what I heard in that news piece, so I went to find out more. I liked what I saw, and so I kept my ears open for word about this man. Perhaps you hadnít heard about him until this past week. Barack Obama took the next step in a run for the American presidency. An exploratory committee in a run for the Democratic nomination. That announcement might have been overshadowed later in the week by a similar move by the more familiar Hillary Rodham Clinton, but already people are touting Obama as the former First Ladyís main rival.
†† †I went back to read the text of that speech he gave at the 2004 Convention. Of course, it loses something without the oratorical flourishes, but nonetheless it still has power to excite and inspire. Further research revealed a statement at the Wikipedia entry for Barack Obama, regarding the faith commitment of the Illinois Senator and his family. They are members of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, Illinois. The United Church of Christ in the U.S. is perhaps the closest in ethos and practice to the United Church of Canada of any American denomination. It has congregational roots just like The United Church of Canada, with a strong tradition of work for social justice and standing at the forefront on issues of radical inclusion and critical thinking coupled with active faith. That nature, I believe in this statement which I found. Here is what Barack Obama has to say about his place in the Body of Christ:
†† † ďI was drawn to the power of the African American religious tradition to spur social change. [...] In the history of these struggles, I was able to see faith as more than just a comfort to the weary or a hedge against death; rather, it was an active, palpable agent in the world. [...] It was because of these newfound understandings Ė that religious commitment did not require me to suspend critical thinking, disengage from the battle for economic and social justice, or otherwise retreat from the world that I knew and loved Ė that I was finally able to walk down the aisle of Trinity United Church of Christ one day and be baptized. It came about as a choice and not an epiphany; the questions I had did not magically disappear. But kneeling beneath that cross on the South Side of Chicago, I felt God's spirit beckoning me. I submitted myself to His will, and dedicated myself to discovering His truth..Ē
†† †About the only thing I would change in that statement are the male references to God. Of course, my endorsement doesnít count for much. Iím not American, and I donít suppose too many of you will have a vote in 2008 either. I will see what I can do with my Lutheran colleague down the hall. He does have a vote, but I look forward to Steveís insight more than trying to tell him how to cast his ballot.
†† †I mention all of this not to endorse a particular candidate at this early stage in the American presidential race, but to emphasise the power that a speech can still have in this day of sound bites and fifteen second analysis. We heard about the importance of speech in two of our scripture readings this morning - both of them apparently spell binding even as they were simply readings of the writing of others - Moses and Isaiah respectively.
†† †The number of similar truly spell binding speeches I have been witness to are but few. Similar to todayís readings, I heard former United Church moderator Bruce McLeod read from one of Paulís letters at the 1988 General Council in such a way that you could have sworn that Paul was there on the stage dictating it. There have been a few interviews with Jean Vanier, Canadian founder of the LíArche program, and some by Stephen Lewis, and less memorable but still inspiring speeches by others - some by notable figures and some whose obscurity was diminished in my eyes by the power and inspiration of their words. Itís important to me that in many cases, the most spell binding speeches have been ones which have invited me to reflect on the nature of God and Godís relationship with humanity. I think I mentioned one such speech a while ago in the form of a sermon delivered by the Rev. Dr. James Forbes, Jr at Riverside Church in New York City, coincidentally on the Sunday following the 2004 Presidential Election. Riverside Church has dual affiliation with the American Baptist Church and the aforementioned United Church of Christ.
†† †Itís good to have people who can talk the talk. Thereís nothing like a well crafted and well delivered speech to bring forth the dreams and motivate the spirit within us. We also know that the ability to talk the talk can only go so far. We need people who can walk as well as talk - and the hypocrisy of words without actions is perhaps the most transparent hypocrisy of all. A well written phrase counts for nothing when the speaker leaves the podium and in action shows that the words were only hollow imitations and had nothing to do with what the speaker really believed.
†† †I was reading this week, a small resource which expands on the idea of honouring spiritual gifts within a faith community. One chapter focussed on leadership. It explained how good leaders know how to lead both from the front and from the back. Inspiring the followers with spoken dreams and supporting them with encouragement and respect. A good leader knows when to switch from one style to the other. It like all the others, is a gift and an embodiment of Godís presence in the world and in our lives. But Paul tells us that all the gifts are important. One is not more important than the other. A leader is useless without followers.
†† †And that, ultimately, is what I want to take from the readings for this week. Inspiring, spell binding, speeches are important for us, especially when they help, in a paraphrase of the prophet Joel, our women and men to see visions. But speakers and speeches are not the only gift of the spirit. There is no spiritual gift more important than any other - they all work together to bring about Godís way in the world. No matter how inspiring the words and the work of Barack Obama, or any other candidate for that matter, it will be successful only because of the work done by many others in a supportive role. Political leaders get to be leaders by the way they inspire and very clearly, but less heralded, by the way they support the people who work for them. If indeed he does become the first African American president of the USA, it will be because of the committee forming right now, and the many other committees and groups of supporters that will form along the way. We can hope that if and when it all comes to pass, that Mr. Obama will remember his commitment as a follower of God and will continue in his words (paraphrased) to submit to Godís will and dedicated to discovering Godís truth. Another member of the body of Christ - just like each one of us. Amen.