Epiphany 6C- Fr. J. Devin Rodgers
“The kingdom of this world
Is become the kingdom of our Lord
And of His Christ, and of His Christ
And He shall reign for ever and ever”
The triumphal sounds of the Hallelujah Chorus poured over me.
Deep rich voices of baritones, echoed by sopranos,
blasting trumpets and large, full bow strokes of strings
The chorus sang the final strains.
“And He shall reign forever and ever
Forever and ever
Forever and ever
As the final note resonated, I tugged on my dog’s leash and we continued our walk.
I tugged on my dog’s leash and continued our walk.
This Heavenly music was not heard in a concert hall with a large choir and orchestra. It was not heard in a church. The music blasted from speakers suspended over the door of a condo building on High Street in downtown Columbus.
I often stand on the sidewalk and listen to classical music played at full volume. However, I’m the exception, not the norm.
This music is not played for the enjoying ears of downtowners.
It is played to prevent my unhoused neighbors from sleeping in store fronts and apartment buildings, lest their presence insult the sensitive eyes and ears of our neighbors often augmented with the unfounded excuse. “These people are dangerous, mentally ill addicts.”
“Not on my front sidewalk.”
To these sentiments, and to this injustice, I choose to loiter in protest.
While I do not claim to have the fool proof answer to housing crises or any number of social issues.
I know that we do have the answer to human brokenness.
We seek and serve Jesus in all persons, loving our neighbors as ourselves. We actually see people, not obstacles or nuisances.
At times this seeing of Christ in the other moves me to help, I offer them food, shoes or coat- never money as money will not solve the issue or keep them warm or fed.
Other times it may lead to a warm and intentional “hello.” An act of kindness to let them know that they are seen in the same way I see and greet my neighbors in my own apartment building.
At my worst, in my self centeredness, I ignore the image of God sitting on the sidewalk or I hand them a dollar so they will just “leave me alone.”
But this particular afternoon, my seeing led to standing still, at least for a moment.
I stood and observed what is created for beauty, both in human form and in music.
As I stood, anger welled inside my chest.
Using Handel’s Messiah to “shuffle folks along” crosses a line. Using sacred texts like this is an insult to the Holy scriptures.
Using this piece to drive people away is an insult to the millions who have been drawn to God in this sacred masterpiece.
Most of all is an insult, and a spiritual assault, on unhoused, suffering people.
After listening and standing for a few moments, Wallee and I walked on. I began to think about the lyrics and the One of whom they speak.
“He shall reign forever and ever. Hallelujah.”
The anger dissipated, and something else emerged, a feeling of closeness to God.
Blessedness is found in brokenness – God works through human ill for always for good. In order to see this, it requires us to seek and serve Christ.
God is ALWAYS found in the outcast.
It’s one of the most fundamental teachings of Jesus in The Sermon on the Mount.
Blessed are you who are poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God.
“Blessed are you who are hungry now,
for you will be filled.
“Blessed are you who weep now,
for you will laugh.
Jesus continues to name woes that lead us to brokenness and estrangement.
Woe to you who are rich,
for you have received your consolation.
“Woe to you who are full now,
for you will be hungry.
“Woe to you who are laughing now,
for you will mourn and weep.
With this in mind, the use of Hallelujah Chorus to turn people away, points to something that is brokenness.
Sacredness, religion, and our structures around these are abused for self serving purposes.
It leads to a great problem we are facing. Our decline.
Hypocrisy is easy to spot for people who are keeping their eyes open.
If we want to find the reason the people are “shoo’ed” out of the church. (yes I’m using the same word as the word used to move along the unhoused) it comes down to this…
The church is not living into the blessedness, nor cherishing the blessedness, that God has called us to find in the lives of people. Instead we are choosing institutional perpetuation, power, and privilege.
Instead of seeking Christ, we are bent on seeking the golden calf.
If that makes you uncomfortable…it should.
It should because we all do this, and to an extent all churches do this.
We have to ask ourselves some question about Godly vision.
Am I willing to see that person – any person- face to face, and directly engage with that person so that I, not them, might be changed in order to be more loving. We are only responsible for our ourselves.
Then we must turn to our community of faith, Is my religion supporting this?
Religion can be a blindfold. All of the prophets, Jesus, the apostles and every true prophet that followed, talked about something else beyond rituals and institutions.
Discipleship. It moves us to take off the blind fold and use religion to live as if the words I heard sung are true.
“The kingdom of this world
Has become the kingdom of our Lord”
They are true.
Truth requries us to be vulnerable and see the Vision that God sees in its raw, real and honest form.
When I was youn,g a poster of the Beatitudes hung on the wall of our second grade Sunday School classroom. It was one of those old school church posters with flowery and fancy font and religious imagery – sheep, lily decorated crosses, and disembodied, folded prayer hands.
I still remember reading the listing of blessedness. I tried to align it with people with whom the descriptions fit.
Some were easy.
The pure in heart – my wonderful choir director and the absolutely devout elderly ladies who week in and week out helped make Emmanual Lutheran a place of welcome for us kids. Blessedness.
There was also Mrs. Roth, our Sunday school superintendent. Every Sunday at 9:15 she greeted us with a smile, and as ocne we were seated in our classrooms, her voice came over the intercom telling us who had perfect Sunday school attendance. Then she came around for us to deposit birthday pennies in a small church-shaped bank.
An hour later she took her favorite seat in the choir loft and sang hymns and anthems. She sang and she sang with blessedness.
Others on this list were hard to identify.
I didn’t know any people who were poor, or at least I couldn’t name them.
Mourners? Wasn’t this simply people attending funerals?
I was a child. What did I know about persecution, hunger, or fighters for justice?
These blessed people were far detached from my circle of experience.
Yet, discipleship and religion teaches us that we can seek Christ. There are prayers and songs about God’s love, which make it made it possible to see and feel this love..
In our tradition there are opportunities for growth for questioning for being heard and seen.
These help faith take root and flourish, but we have to be willing.
If we are willing, we discover the blessed image of Christ all around us.
The poor – a man I saw standing next to the bank in my hometown day after day wearing the same dark blue sweatshirt, even in the summer, and torn up jeans who nodded “hello” as you rode your bike past him on your way to the swimming pool.
As a teacher I saw what it looked like to be hated when a trans student was denied entry by a teacher who scolded, “Come back to class when you look like a real boy.”
I saw persecution and weeping when a clergy woman peacefully protesting outside of Trinity Episcopal Church downtown was tear gassed by Columbus police following the murder of George Floyd.
I saw weeping and wailing at a church I once attended when a toddler was denied communion. She screamed that she “just wanted Jesus.” and was told she was “too young to understand.” As if anyone can actually understand the miracle of grace.
Blessedness almost never comes across looking like flowery images and disembodied folded hands. It doesn’t look like magnificence and splendor. Blessedness is messy, unclean, and unwanted by “polite” society..
Blessedness must be sought.
We are always assured of finding Christ in the vulnerable and outcast because the message of Christianity is this:
God took on the full vulnerability of humanity so that humanity might be elevated to the REAL magnificence and splendor of God.
No facades. No hiding behind institutions, buildings and money. No blindfolds. No feel good therapeutic flowery images or complacency.
Christ teaches us to see…to truly see.
We must imagine what our own Beatitudes might say.
Blessed are those who sleep on the streets, for their rest is in the one who had no place to lay his head. Blessed are those who comfort them.
Blessed are they for whom death is a real and imminent threat due to disease, exposure to the elements, violence or addiction. Christ suffers with them.
Blessed are those who are “moved along” for the comfort and chosen ignorance of others. Their comfort is in God.
Blessed are those who are abused and estranged and violated by religion, for God will meet them where they are.
Blessed are those with approach discipleship with the curiosity and joy of children. The kingdom of God belongs to such as these.
Blessed are they who have no choice but to be vulnerable.. They show us the Christ.
Blessed are the forgotten, the overlooked the unseen, the closeted. You reveal the Creator.
We get to choose, and only by grace we will choose rightly.
Blessedness of Woe?
Blindfolds or Vision?
Half gestures or transformation?
Facades or vulnerability?
Hallelujahs for the cloistered and comfortable or the Hallelujah heard by the blessed?
Disembodied folded hands or the nail pierced hands of a suffering God?