August 18, 2019

2019 August18

 

Proper 15 - Year C

A Sermon Preached by The Rev. Ian M. Delinger

 

Both Jeremiah and the Psalm warn against false prophets and corrupt priests, and they ask for God to again be in control of the universe and bring righteousness to all. Hebrews recounts the great and the good of the Old Testament, but suggests that, though martyrs, they await their salvation through Jesus Christ. Each person written of in Hebrews was a fierce advocate for God’s demand that we care for all of God’s people, particularly the most vulnerable in our communities. The list includes the author of the Old Testament reading, the Prophet Jeremiah. Jeremiah, much like Jesus of Nazareth, was a very divisive figure, constantly in the face of the elite of Israel. Chapter 20 of his prophecy tells of his persecution and how he was put into chains. Jeremiah, along with the long list of other pre-Jesus champions of God’s message, comprise the great cloud of witnesses who are models of how to live in the Lord.

 

Among that cloud of witnesses are those in our lifetime who have fought for the message of loving all of God’s people and whose messages divided people in this country.

 

Martin Luther King, Jr didn’t so much divide this country as force the country to address its division over equality for blacks and for all people. King waged a war on segregation without using guns. His nonviolent protests began at age 26 with the Montgomery Bus Boycott, which was just a few days after Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white person. The Boycott lasted just over a year, and led to other anti-segregation actions across the country.

 

This was just the beginning of the unraveling of Jim Crow Laws, which segregated blacks as if they were inferior to whites. King led and supported nonviolent protests all across the United States. For just over a decade he angered as many people as he aided. Like Jeremiah and Jesus, his greatest threat was to the comfort of the wealthy establishment, who themselves claimed to be God-fearing Christians. As we all know, King was assassinated at the age of 39 simply for wanting all of God’s people to be treated equally. King’s work is unfinished, and as with the Old Testament Prophets, it may be some time before there is another leader who will accomplish as much as Martin Luther King, Jr.

 

George Moscone was another divisive figure because of his dream to see all people have an equal shot at offering society their gifts and talents. As Mayor of San Francisco from 1975, he pushed for, and achieved, several controversial issues, chief among them fighting against racial and gender hiring barriers in the Police Department, and embracing the city’s gay and lesbian community. While in the State Senate, he passed a law legalizing sexual behavior among consenting adults, and at City Hall, he served alongside Harvey Milk, California’s first openly gay elected official.

To us today, Moscone epitomizes the culture of San Francisco. However, in the 1970s, he had many vocal supporters and many angry opponents. An article written by Moscone’s Deputy Press Secretary in the LA Times in 2008, Josh Getlin captured the anger some had toward the Mayor:

 

[M]any San Franciscans were alarmed. They deplored the emergence of new groups, especially gays, and felt their power slipping away. Despite its freewheeling image, San Francisco was bitterly divided, and the mayor’s daunting task was to push through changes while respecting sensitivities on the other side…Some…could not handle change. [Supervisor Dan White] had been elected from a largely white, working-class district, and his campaign urged voters to “Unite and Fight” against the city’s new political landscape. In a fiery election pamphlet, he declared: “I am not going to be forced out of San Francisco by splinter groups of radicals, social deviates and incorrigibles.”www.latimes.com/opinion/la-oe-getlin23-2008nov23-story.html

 

Dan White eventually murdered George Moscone and Harvey Milk in November 1978. Because of his high-profile activism, most remember Milk, but few remember the quieter Moscone. Yet, Moscone shaped what San Francisco is today, the city which welcomes and embraces people of all types. While not a perfect city, then or now, George Moscone used his influence to deliberately and systematically improve the lives of the marginalized of the society he lived in.

 

In a statement on the 40th anniversary of the shootings, San Francisco Mayor London Breed said:

“While 40 years ago we may have lost two great San Franciscans, we also were gifted with two great legacies on which our city has continued to build its passion for advancing the rights of all San Franciscans. Mayor George Moscone made many contributions leading the City where he was born and raised, including his work to make our government reflect the diversity and backgrounds of the people of San Francisco. He appointed Commissioners who were women, people of color, and LGBT to serve the City and the communities they represented. As a black woman who served as a Commissioner before becoming Supervisor, I know these opportunities opened up paths for people like me to serve our City in ways that were not possible before.”https://sanfrancisco.cbslocal.com/2018/11/27/san-francisco-still-stunned-by-1978-city-hall-assassinations/

 

Moscone’s work is not done. People of color, women and LGBT persons still find it difficult to be treated as equals in the workplace and at the ballot box. But the 150 openly-LGBT persons, a record number of women and a record number of ethnic minorities elected in 2018 are a testimony to the legacy of Moscone’s divisive leadership.

 

The importance and urgency for the equality of humanity that King and Moscone were fighting for were too much for many people to bear, and both lost their lives for their continued advocacy for equality.

 

What makes them different than
some other divisive leaders is
that King and Moscone were
advocating for the full inclusion
in society of all of God’s people.


No one was to be excluded except those who chose to exclude themselves or deem themselves exempt from the Divine Inclusivity Statement of “Love your neighbor as yourself”. They devoted their lives to the single cause of equality, and they gave their lives as a result.

 

So it is with Jesus’ message today. Jesus devoted His life to a single cause: loving God and loving neighbor. Through the Incarnation, God came to earth, enfleshed as Jesus of Nazareth. His important and urgent message was for humanity to love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself (Luke 10.27). This message is a fundamental truth that humanity had failed to live. Humanity had failed to live the Law that had been given to them through Moses. They had failed to listen to God’s Prophets who were sent to rebuke the wealthy elite who were not caring for the poor, the immigrants, the environment or any of those things that God had instructed Humanity to do through the Law of Moses. So, God came as Jesus.

 

As Jesus points out several times in His ministry, He didn’t come for those who were truly healthy and genuinely focused on God, those who were righteous and wise. Jesus came for those who had lost their way and who needed to be guided back to God, who need health and salvation.

 

Who is truly healthy, righteous,
wise and genuinely focused on
God? Only the elite who believe
themselves to be.


They are the not the ones whom Jesus came to save because they do not believe themselves to need salvation. Instead, Jesus in His earthly ministry welcomes:

  • Those poor in spirit,
  • those who mourn,
  • the meek,
  • those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
  • the merciful,
  • the pure in heart,
  • the peacemakers, and
  • those who are falsely persecuted.


Jesus reserves His contempt for those who believe themselves to never exhibit these qualities, who believe they don’t need a Messiah, those who, by their elite status, believe themselves to hold all the power. But Jesus’ message insists on a reversal of power roles, and eventually, Jesus’ demand that all live the Golden Rule to love God and love neighbor will cause division even within individual households.

 

Right in front of their faces – in the present time – was God-in-Jesus demanding a return to a proper relationship with God and the whole of Creation. Failing to understand this will result in a divided society, a divided community and even a divided household. The urgency and the message have not expired. Today, we are also called to repair our relationships with God, one another and all of Creation.

 

Martin Luther King, Jr and George Moscone were not the Messiah; they were human beings. Yet, they were divisive figures whose mission aligned with Jesus’ mission. They were modern examples of how Jesus was so divisive in order to help us see where we are serving our own selves rather than loving God and loving neighbor.

 

Jesus calls us – nay– He demands of us that we love God and love neighbor. If our self-interests or prejudices get in the way, if we do not, daily, follow in the blessed steps of His holy life, we will, Jesus says, suffer the purification – the fire. Having the perseverance to run the race that is set before us – to love God and love neighbor – is our life’s task. Let us not court division, but let us look to Jesus to perfect our faith.

© 2019 St. Stephen's Episcopal Church
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