The Rev. Canon Leonard Hamlin
Why don’t you join me in a word of prayer. Almighty God, it is once again that you have called us into this sacred space. We are grateful and ask now that you would cover us, you would keep us. You would hold us. You would unite us. But once again, we ask that you would fill us, for all the places you are preparing to send us. This we ask in your wonderful name. Amen.
Let me say once again on this morning what a privilege it is to be gathered together, to come together in this worship experience. Recognizing that several weeks ago it was communicated that the Cathedral, along with many others, as communities of faith, committed to joining others in the Be Campaign. Our commitment to this journey was one that would carry us throughout the month of October. It would be rooted in the prophetic tradition of the Hebrew prophets, while specifically rooted in the prophetic witness of the prophet Micah. That verse that is found, the sixth verse, the eighth chapter in Micah that says that, “The Lord has told you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you, but to do justice and to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God.” Many of you who are here today are joining online and you too have previously heard and perhaps those that are here have read, and I remind others today the words that have been shared to help communicate this in a very missional way, that as we head into the November elections, the Cathedral is joining with other churches from around the country. A call to action rooted in the prophet Micah’s exhortation to be just, kind and humble. A call to action.
This call to action is rooted in a tradition that challenges our understanding of social justice, social action, and our responsibilities to one another, as we challenge the issues confronting the people of God in this specific season. In the prophetic tradition of those who we are reading and others who we may be mindful of, it was more than just the words. There was a call to action. We are pushed into this moment with a prophetic statement followed by a question.
The statement first. “The Lord has told you, O Mortal, what is good.” There is much shared by God about what is good, but I wonder if any of us are thinking about what he has said or what he has revealed about being good. I’m reminded if I just look at a piece of what is good and that there is good all around us, even while we wrestle with the chaos that is trying to consume us. What is good has been sown into our spiritual DNA as God throughout the days of creation, day after day, looked at all that had been made and saw that it was good. It was on the sixth day after creating, forming and breathing into humanity, mortals, and looking on all that had been created, that God saw that together it was very good.
The question. “What does the Lord require of you?” It is the question that invites our reflections in order to transform our actions. The question is not long unanswered as we are told to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with God. The question though can be heard individually, or it can be heard collectively. He has told you, meaning you individual, or he has told you, the gathering in this place and those who are watching online, bound together in this collective moment. What does the Lord require of us? There is a call to action that must be lived out, though within community. We can claim that we are good, but our actions don’t always give a witness of being good.
In my tradition, there is a common call and response often lifted in recent years and still can be heard today no matter where you go. In many of the communities of faith where someone will call out “God is good” and there’s an automatic reply and response that would come back depending upon where I was, where it would say “all the time”. When we’d look at the call and response in this moment, this claim about God says something and should also say something about us. But it also requires something from us. We are preaching these messages because there is a recognition that something in our world, our systems, our relationships is out of balance. Something is just not quite right. Let’s be honest. You have come here listening to news, hearing stories, talking over tables. Something is not quite right. In listening and watching and seeing and doing, there is something that is required of us more than words, but action.
I remind you, Dean Hollerith reminded us, that humility requires us to think of ourselves less and remember how valuable we are as we have been created in God’s image. God is good all the time and all the time God is good. Someone’s starting to answer me. But in this moment, in order to do this, it is evident that we need help with this. The help we need comes as we are called to walk with God. In a publication, The Tenderness of Conscience, the author stated many years ago that walking with God is walking with Jesus. Walking with God is to stand where God stands and to fight for whom God fights, the poor, the weak, the powerless, the defenseless. To walk where God is walking, not to walk and ask God to walk where we are walking, but to walk where God is walking.
In Luke’s gospel that was read today, we are challenged and called to walk with Jesus and required to love our neighbor. The crowd in Luke’s gospel had gathered, but in the midst of the crowd, Luke records that a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. I have to walk very carefully when the lawyers stand up because I’m married to one. But there is a possibility that this individual came in complete sincerity, looking to Jesus to receive an answer to one of life’s questions as he could not find the answer that satisfied his soul anywhere else. Not that might satisfy what be written on a paper, but what was written on his heart, written in his soul, written on his mind that would transform his actions. He came with a question asking, Jesus, help me with this question because I haven’t heard it maybe answered to my satisfaction. And isn’t this why we have gathered? We look to Jesus because we believe Jesus has what we need for the fullness of life.
Isn’t this why we are here today? Because we believe that we can pose our questions to Jesus and Jesus will show us the way. Isn’t this why we’ve gathered here today, responding, questioning, looking, speaking and all of this because when we think of Jesus, he is the way, the truth and the life? The question, what must I do to inherit eternal life? He asked Jesus a question of eternal importance. He wanted to know if Jesus could tell him how to live in this life in order that he would be able to experience eternal life. Not that I would have on one side with a disregard of this side, but what must I do on this side that would connect me to the other side? What must I do to change all the things that I’m seeing around me and in me that I can see the kingdom in front of me? Jesus responds to this question with a question. “What is written in the law? What have you read?” The lawyer answers. You’ve heard it read before you. He answers correctly when stating, “We are to love God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and we are to love our neighbor as ourselves.”
Here, the answer, even in its correctness, may have appeared even too simple to the lawyer. We must be thankful that the lawyer dug deeper even after hearing that he had answered correctly. When he asked, “Who is my neighbor?” He pushed it further, went a little bit deeper and I hope today there’s a call to action, not to sit where you sit and stay in the same place, but dig a little bit deeper, to wrestle a little further, to question a little bit more and to ask the question, seeking an answer, “who is my neighbor?”. Let me give you the Hamlin translation of that “Who is it that I’m required to love?”
Jesus shares the parable of the Good Samaritan. Three men, a priest, a Levi, and a Samaritan, at the same time of day on the same stretch of road and encountering in consequence, the same experience. A fourth individual is lying in the road, helpless, unconscious, and in need. The first two who came upon the man lying in the road made a decision to have nothing to do with him, to go around him and to not be inconvenienced by the circumstance and to not see or hear a call to action. But the Samaritan. I stop there for just a second. The Samaritan. I say it one more time. The Samaritan. Because that could be translated into language today that if I were to put it in different identification of where we come from, who we are, folk who you may not see as your neighbor, the Samaritan, the white, the black, the rich, the poor, the Democrat, the Republican, whichever might stir your thoughts. It is they who may have stopped in this moment and decided to heed the call to action. That the call is not just for some but for us all and sometimes by those who you least expect.
It was the Samaritan’s actions that allowed Jesus to show us that it is not enough to define who is my neighbor, but it is essential to be neighborly. The call to action requires a compassion and a love that is not bound by social constructs, but motivated by heavenly compassion to transform and move beyond these binding constructs that we have put in place. That we have created that limit our community, that limit our relationships, that keep us separated one from another. In Luther Smith Jr.’s publication about Howard Thurman entitled The Mystic Prophet, he wrote, “All of life is related and life is a unit. If community is to be established, love must be the prevailing ethos of relationships. Love has the power to form community right here and right now.”
The Lord has told us what is good and we are living in a moment when the claims of innocence outweigh the desire to be good. I’ve watched too many court cases. I’ve seen too much of the law trying to decide who’s innocent, because many are seeking innocence but not trying to be good. Hear this as we look in this moment, two men on the road, were not neighborly or witnesses of God’s love because they have made me settle to be found innocent but not be good. They went by him laying in the road. They listened perhaps to other stories and conversations later, and their claim was, “It’s not my fault. I was not the cause of that. I had nothing to do with that.” Think about all that you’ve heard, when we wrestle with history, where we’ve come from. The denials about what history has looked like and all different things. It’s not my fault, I’m going around it right now. I had nothing to do with it, right?
I just want to be found innocent, but just because I’m innocent doesn’t mean that I can always be identified as being good. In one of Howard Thurman’s sermons on community and the will of God, Howard Thurman wrestled with this notion of innocence. He stated, “We are born innocent with a sense of inner wholeness. However, we eventually lose our innocence and find ourselves between our highest ideals and the reality of our lives. This tension between who we are and who we strive to be creates an inner need for balance. Thurman says, “ That this is the nature and fate of human beings to seek the redemption of wholeness after this loss of innocence. In this search for community and wholeness, we seek what God seeks.”
And so, on today, God loves us, but are we going to love our neighbor? God forgives us. Will we forgive our neighbors? God loves us and lifts us, so will we lift our neighbors? Will we seek what God seeks? I wrestle with this. I make this call to action. I lift this before you and this morning even before walking out the house, as here, listening to so many things and music is playing within. As my wife is in the house, a particular song left me and shifted everything or met me and shifted everything on the way out. It’s an old Walter Hawkins particular song that Jesus is the Way, and the passage in that song simply says this: “When I think about the hour, then I know what I must do. When I think about what God has done for me, it is then I will open my heart to everyone I see and I will say, Jesus Christ is the way.” Today, he is the way, the truth and the life, and the question is before us, will you love your neighbor as you love yourself? Amen.