Rev. Dr. Joel Mitchell, Interim Pastor
Rev. Millie Myren, Support Minister
11024 S. Bell Avenue
Chicago, IL 60643
Sermon December 13, 2015
68“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them. 69He has raised up a mighty savior for us in the house of his servant David, 70as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old, 71that we would be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us. 72Thus he has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors, and has remembered his holy covenant, 73the oath that he swore to our ancestor Abraham, to grant us 74that we, being rescued from the hands of our enemies, might serve him without fear,75in holiness and righteousness before him all our days. 76And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, 77to give knowledge of salvation to his people by the forgiveness of their sins. 78By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, 79to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”
“THE DAWN FROM HEAVEN”
Rev. Dr. Thomas Aldworth
Sisters and brothers, today we hear a very early New Testament hymn from Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist. This happens just after John’s circumcision in the Temple. Recall Zechariah was mute for over nine months because he questioned the angel Gabriel. Now he speaks again – filled with the Holy Spirit in proclaiming a prophecy. Maybe Zechariah broke out in song like an old-time movie musical?0
This ancient hymn is known as the Benedictus – the blessing! It’s a bit confusing – because it begins as a hymn about Jesus and then switches to a prophecy about John the Baptist. But what Zechariah is proclaiming is worth hearing: “because of our God’s deep compassion, the dawn from heaven will break upon us, to give light to those who are sitting in darkness and in the shadow of death to guide us on the path of peace.” (Luke 1:78-79)
Sisters and brothers, does it feel like the dawn from heaven has happened? Does it not seem that all of us are still sitting in darkness, still sitting in the shadow of death? Is God really guiding us on the path of peace? It doesn’t seem so – does it? Doesn’t it seem that darkness and the shadow of death has swallowed the whole world?
Brothers and sisters, is Zechariah telling the truth or is he just delusional? When will this dawn from heaven come to dispel the darkness that overhangs every human endeavor? It seems to me that we’ve been sitting in darkness and in the shadow of death long enough. When will this dawn finally come about? Isn’t more than two-thousand years plenty of time to wait? What’s happening in heaven that prevents the bringing of this dawn so long ago promised? Of what use, then, are Zechariah’s words? Where is our deliverance?
Is God delivering us from all that troubles us here in Chicago? Is God delivering us from all the myriad problems piling up around us? Is God’s deep compassion bringing our world to peace? Doesn’t seem like it, does it?
Shouldn’t God be delivering us – as promised – from our enemies and from all those who hate us? Shouldn’t God be delivering us from terrorists, delivering us from assaults of injustice, delivering us from hucksters and con artists? Shouldn’t God be delivering us from the dark forces and evil energies attacking us?
Shouldn’t God be delivering us from the ravages of poverty? Shouldn’t God be delivering us from the physical, psychological and spiritual ravages of time? Shouldn’t God be delivering us from the assault of deadly pathogens? Shouldn’t God be delivering us from the plague of cancer and the plague of heart disease?
Shouldn’t God be delivering us from all the demon-possessed people who believe violence is godly? Shouldn’t God delivering us from all the wars brutalizing our sisters and brothers throughout the earth? Shouldn’t God be delivering us from the blasphemy of racism and the blasphemy of bigotry?
So, sisters and brothers, what’s the deal here? Do we believe what Zechariah proclaimed? Or do we conclude that his was just another empty promise – another dream deferred? Where is God and why have these promises not come to pass? When will the dawn from heaven break upon us? I’m ready for it to happen today! Are you not ready for it to happen today? Lead us, God, to peace. We are weary of war and destruction!
One serious reason why the Jews at the time of Jesus did not accept him as the wished-for Messiah was because he did not usher in the expected age of peace. The Messiah, according to the prophets, would bring world-wide peace. Jesus obviously didn’t bring peace to the world – so he could not be the Messiah. And, in fact, this makes some sense, does it not?
Where’s the peace? Why doesn’t the Prince of Peace bring us peace? But according to the prophets, especially Ezekiel, one thing keeping peace from happening is because too many of us are addicted to lies.
Sisters and brothers, it may be that we sit in darkness because too many of us easily and often disregard the truth. Too many politicians disregard the truth about what binds us together while distorting our differences in order to get votes. Too many pastors disregard the truth, telling lies about the so-called prosperity gospel – which has absolutely nothing to do with the gospel; telling lies about a misperceived conflict between science and the Bible, generating a dangerous, appalling split in the Christian church.
As the eminent Bible scholar, Walter Bruggemann states it: “Truth-telling is the (main) condition for peace. Without truth, no peace! Without truth-telling, no peace-making! … We also know that truth-telling is dangerous and costly. We do not like to hear or speak the truth, so we tone it down and cover it over. We mouth pleasant slogans which please (others) and seduce (others) … All the while, however, we know we are the ones who must speak. And when we speak the truth, the whole civil community … has (the) possibility of peace.”
In other words, the dawn from heaven hasn’t happened because too many refuse to speak the truth, our only hope for healing the world and bringing peace. Bruggemann calls this “the truth about human hurt and human hope.” As church, brothers and sisters, we’re called to an on-going conversation about human hurt and human hope.
Again from Bruggemann: “The deep hurt in the body politic and in our bodies, the wounds of not caring and not being cared for, of not belonging, of being unrelated and unconnected, are wounds endemic to our social situation. We cover up the alienation we all feel and the angry fear that is so strong among us. The circle of concealed hurt grows wider. It touches our young, so fearfully driven to success and security, so tempted to disengagement ... and as the truth-telling stops, we become (even) more brutal.”
Is this not what we see around us? Is this not what drives so many of us, especially our young, to despair? The dawn from heaven can’t happen because too many of us prefer sitting in darkness to courageously confronting the truth that will set us free – the truth that will bring peace. As Bruggemann notes: “We lie because we have forgotten how to believe.”
Sisters and brothers, our belief must be based in hope. Hope is what we preach. Hope is what binds us to each other. Hope is what keeps bringing us back to church Sunday after Sunday. No hope is generated by sitting home and watching the NFL! Hope can only be generated by coming together and hearing what God has promised. Do we believe, as did Zechariah, in a God who can bring the dawn from on high? Or do we not?
Again from Bruggemann: “The problems that beset us are almost all insoluble. The world is full of scarcity and we must scramble to get and hold onto our share. There is little talk among us about the lame walking, the hungry fed, the lepers cleansed, the dead raised. There is no caring embrace of resurrection or new life, no remembrance that God can act beyond our imagining for the sake of human well-being.
“Our ears are empty of the daring cadence of ‘I have a dream,’ for we have only nightmares. We have so little hope in a God who promises, and who walks in the ruins to raise a new world – such talk sounds too awkward or has been captured by a religious cheapness – that we grow silent.”
But here at Morgan Park Baptist Church, we will not be silent! Here at Morgan Park Baptist Church, we will speak the truth about human hurt. Here at Morgan Park Baptist Church, we will speak the truth about human hope. Here at Morgan Park Baptist Church, we will engage in truth-telling because, as the prophet Ezekiel pointed out thousands of years ago, “when we lie, we die (and) when we speak truthfully about human reality, God sends us peace.” (Bruggemann) Amen!