The Rev. Canon Leonard L. Hamlin, Sr.
I invite you to join me in a word of prayer. Almighty God, we come once again, asking that You would bless us, hold us, cover us, but most of all, fill us for all of the places that You are preparing to send us. This we ask in Your name. Amen.
I must acknowledge right from the start, how exhilarating and humbling it is to once again, be in this place and in this space today. Time and time again, I along with my colleagues and others, have climbed these steps to stand in this pulpit, only to look out upon the vast empty landscape and imagine those who were connecting by way of the digital highway and prayerfully by way of the spirit. Now experiencing and looking out and seeing the faces who have gathered to see you from this vantage point, let me say, you all look good from here. But I must admit that looking at the faces and being present with all who have joined us online, it should feel familiar, but it is almost overwhelming mentally. It is almost shaking physically, and stirring emotionally, but most pointed, lifting spiritually to once again be in this place of community with others. We find ourselves gathering on a weekend when many hopefully have paused for just a moment to remember the life’s witness of the honorable John Lewis.
I was reminded by good friend, Carol, just the other day, that today is also International Nelson Mandela Day. Two lives that had a major impact on how we view community and how we are called to live out meaningful lives while dealing with what may be for some, these unsettling themes of love, power, and justice. Both of these witnesses lived their lives, wrestling, challenging, confronting, and encouraging others in such a sincere, authentic, and committed actions of words and deeds that we are all, when thinking about their lives, pushed to reflect upon the meaning of our own lives and how we have an effect upon those who are around us. There are moments in all of our lives where the reflection on life’s meaning and on our contributions are embraced by us. And there are other moments when that deep reflection is almost thrust upon us. I find myself this morning, navigating the affects and the effects of experiencing both of these realities. One where I’ve grasped, “What is the meaning of all of this?” And the other way it’s thrust upon me because of the faces that I’m looking at, and the experience of being together once again. Having just experienced a recent birthday, I have reached a point in my life where I must confess that I am more routinely experiencing and encountering one of life’s unique occurrences that both calls me and pushes me into reflection.
I confess this this morning and confess to this reality, knowing that many of you have had, and also have this similar experience. You may not want to admit it, but I have to confess it this morning. I confessed to this, knowing that while confession is good for the soul, it is true, it’s not always good for the reputation. It is that occurrence that takes place when you are in one room and then the realization or thought of something you need, but it’s not immediately in your possession comes upon you. The need is conscious and accepted, so much so that it causes you to move, to get up out of your seat, to go seeking and searching, because you recognize it is something that you need in this moment. Yet I confess that what I experienced and am experiencing more of in these days is that somewhere along the journey of leaving one space and my arrival to the next space, I forget why I went for in the first place. You may not want to admit it, but it happens in so many situations where we start out on the journey and forget why we’ve taken the journey in the first place. We move to accomplish something and forget what the purpose is all about. We arrive in a place and forget what we’ve come in here for. It is in that moment of standing still, where I am aware of the truth that I was in need of something and searching in order to meet that need, but I have forgotten the purpose of my journey. It is one of those human realities and experiences that we find ourselves in moments throughout life, knowing that we lacked something, and we’re seeking and searching for something that we desperately need, and we forget the purpose somewhere on our journey. And our needs are never met with sufficiency.
I must further confess that this is a concern that grasps me, sometimes weekly, and is highlighted in particular on a day that we call the worship day. When we woke this morning, as we may have even given thanks at some point, knowing that all is in front of us, before us, the possibilities exist. There is a moment that many of us recognize that we are not perfect in ourselves and begin to recognize that in the world there are needs. We set out in search of how to satisfy those needs, begin to reflect upon how to meet those needs. We begin to see those spaces that need to be filled and start to recognize and wrestle with the actions in order to fill that space. How do we satisfy our longings and our yearnings? I concern myself with this. And I am concerned with this this morning, as all of us have set out from our homes, we set out from our jobs, even those watching online may have moved from one room to another, but hopefully you have not forgotten why you’ve come in here in the first place. Hopefully somewhere between home and between here, somewhere between room and another room, you have not forgotten that we are all standing in need of something. We’re living in a world where we can recognize that the world is in need of something more than where we are standing in this moment.
As we have gathered in search of something, this concern came to life for me, as I listened to the gospel and witnessed the crowd that was moving from place to place, searching and seeking and chasing in order that their needs would be addressed and that their living might be moved from simply surviving to thriving. Here is a crowd that is searching for something. And right at the center of the reading of the gospel, it writes, and it records, you heard it and you’re reading it says, as he, being Jesus, went ashore, he saw a great crowd. He had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. He began to teach them many things. When they had crossed over, they came to the land of Gennesaret and moored the boat. But here, when they got out of the boat, the people once again recognized him and rushed about the whole region and began to bring the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. Now, I read that once again, and I shared it with you, but before we move too quickly, let’s be honest. We are quick to see ourselves standing with Christ or to claim equivalency with the disciples. It is easy though, to overlook the crowd.
Many of us don’t want to be part of the crowd. We want to stand with Christ or to see ourselves as one of the disciples. But in this, it is easy to overlook the crowd because we want to claim the positions of authority. We want to be in the perceived privileged positions. We tell ourselves that we are closer to duplicating their activities and identifying with Christ and the disciples than we are with any characteristics of the crowd. Yet the gospel and Jesus are calling us to see the crowd. I know it may not be where you want to focus, but truth is all we’ve got to do is look at ourselves. We are the crowd. We aren’t in a rush to be the disciples, when we have not yet committed ourselves, perhaps as true followers. We want to have their power, when we have not yet grasped the power’s true purpose. We desire to be seen as wise and compassionate without ever seeking to be, even in the presence first of the divine. The crowd comes seeking, searching in order that the yearning in their spirit might be satisfied. The crowd comes, perhaps homeless, needing housing that they could afford. The crowd comes sick, needing access to good healthcare. The crowd comes with a voice that is being marginalized and set on the side and needs someone to just show that they care. The crowd gathers, needing fair labor and fair wages. The crowd gathers, suffering from being ostracized for numerous reasons that cannot be justified. They come seeking freedom, or perhaps because they believe that change would come and change could come. They gather and come as a crowd. And we have gathered, seeking and searching. We are here, searching for ourselves. We’re here, searching for our families. We’re searching for our communities. We’re searching for our nation, and even searching for this world.
But where and who do you turn in those moments when the need is so grounded in your spirit? Where and who do you turn when you’ve stayed up all night long? Where and who do you turn when you get tired of reading bad news, after another news headline after headline, children being shot in the street, lives being lost? Who do you turn when the crowd is in need? Where do you turn when this need is grounded, deep in your heart? Where do you turn when all of these needs may be characterized as simple to complex? Here is a crowd in need and searching, and truth is, I’m in a crowd right now that has needs. Although we’ve dressed up, we fixed it up, we look good, but deep beneath our, here, the skin and the clothes that we have, the makeup that we put on, all that is here; there’s some needs in this crowd. It may not be true that it, or it may be true that some came and were in the crowd because they were there simply for the miracles. But the text helps us to understand that it was his teaching that transformed them.
What Jesus taught was so in separately bound up with what he did and his own character becoming so essentially part of the message that it transformed them. And truth is, our walk and our talk should so be aligned today that it gives a great witness of who he is. The crowd needed his good news. They desire to learn from him and be challenged by him. They listened to discern the parables he shared with them. It was the Spirit that empowered them and guided them. They longed for the love and the compassion that flowed from him and the community that came together through him. It was his love, his care, his compassion for them that would eventually be extended through them, that would not only transform them, but it would transform the world. Through him, the crowd would become community. Through him, the walls would come tumbling down between the divisions that had been set up between them.
It was in a recent conversation with a colleague, where we had to admit that not everybody who makes claims about community believes that community, or that the community that Jesus speaks of, is really possible. They believe in community when community looks like them, lives with them, walks like them, talks like them. But community that Christ is talking about, his beloved community, where the stranger is who I love, where the enemy is who I can sit down with, where the communication can be no matter where I come from or what color I am, that is what community is all about. A community where there is more than just concerned for self, but love of neighbor that is not in competition, but in concert with one another. As a crowd, we find ourselves searching for community. We find ourselves seeking to even embrace more capacity, to make our words reality, to make the words that we lift have true meaning. That even these words would not be talk, they would have meaning. That we hold these truths to be self-evident that all men and women are created equal. That they are endowed, not by law, not by pen and paper. Endowed not because some agree, and some don’t, but endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights. That among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Will we believe and give ourselves to transforming this crowd, this crowd, into community before we leave this space? Will we remember what we come in here for while we’re in this space? Will we not just see ourselves, but see the others who are around us in this space? Will we hear be transformed into community when the peace is passed? When the prayers are prayed? When the songs are sung? When the announcements are given? When the communion and the Eucharist is served? When the all is being lifted, will we really be community or just a crowd?
We must remember, it does not begin with others, it begins with me. I must believe that it can begin with me. I cannot wait for someone to speak to me, I’ve got to speak to them first. I cannot wait for someone to be kind to me, I’ve got to be kind to them first. I cannot wait for someone just to pray for me, I’ve got to pray for them first. I cannot wait to be the recipient of their love, I’ve got to show them what love looks like first. I still hear the words of John Lewis as we continue seeking and searching, where he says, “Freedom is not a state. It is an act.” It is not some enchanted garden, perched high on a distant plateau where we can finally sit down and rest. Freedom is the continuous action we all must take. And each generation must do its part to create an even more fair and more just society.
Freedom. I remind you that both Canon Duncan and Dean Hollerith have reminded us in succession that we did not just have freedom from, but freedom for. Fortunately, I have not forgotten why I came in here. Fortunately, today I remembered why I walked into this room. Fortunately, today I did not get distracted on my way here. Fortunately, today, my priorities did not here take a back seat in some way to what I needed when I walked in here. When I left home, I was seeking to be in the presence of the divine. When I left home, I was looking forward to fellowship with my neighbor. When I left home, I was desiring to hear about that man named Jesus. I have seen, because of that name, I’ve seen possibilities become possibilities. Because of his life, I have seen divisions turn into bridges. Because of his life, I’ve witnessed many confront the central and crucial issues of the day. And throughout my life, up until this present day, I’ve seen victory when some said it would never happen. In Jesus, we center our faith and center our hope. Through Jesus, new values are seen in dark moments. Through Jesus, new insights have been gained for solving old problems that even take on new methods. We face moments when we are seeking and searching, seeking to turn crowds into community, seeking to lift and strengthen our spirit and lift our heads. There are moments when we must keep on searching and keep on seeking. We must see what a difference faith and Jesus’ love has made in our lives. In order to believe that it will make a difference in someone else’s life. We cannot be content with any concept that leaves static any corner of our universe.
I leave you this morning, thinking about all of those that I saw searching. And I often speak of my mother who shared the gospel with me. I often speak of my father, who here taught me how to pray. I often share with you and remember an aunt whose knee I sat next to while sitting in pew after pew, Sunday after Sunday, who has blessed her with 97 long years of life. I remember hearing the words, and hearing the choir sing, “Searching, searching, kept on searching till I found him / Changed my feet so I could walk right / Changed my heart so I could live right / Changed my tongue so I could talk right / And changed my mind so I could think right.” And now I say, yes! Y’all excuse me for a moment, but yes! Yes! I found the King of Kings! Ashe and amen.