An Advocacy Sermon for Ascension Day, 2010
for Luther Memorial Lutheran Church, Seattle, Washington
About a year ago an organization called 826 published a collection of letters written by kids to the president. They called the collection: Thanks And Have Fun Running the Country: Kids’ Letters to President Obama.
The subjects covered in these letters are comprehensive and offer the president advice on everything from what kind of pet he ought to get for his family to detailed suggestions for changing the tax structure. For example:
Dear President Obama,
You are just like a big me, because I am from Chicago and I am biracial and have curly hair. I live in Seattle now, but I’m still from Chicago.
How do you feel about being president?
My advice for you and your family is be yourself and you will change the world. If I were president, I would try and make the world a better place.
Avante Price, age 7
Dear President Obama,
My name is Eli. I’m ten years old. I live in Seattle, Washington. I am the oldest child in my family. I have one sister named Mahala. I have two dogs named Maggie and Roger. My favorite series of books is Harry Potter. It’s the best series in the world!
Now that you’ve heard about me, I want to give you ideas about how to make our country prosper. I need to bring up a huge problem, the economy! I have a chain of events that you could trigger to lower the economy. First, get a green design company to design a new environmentally safe piece of technology. Then, create new jobs to install the new piece of technology. Finally, from the new jobs people will have more money, there will be less homeless people, which will end in a better economy.
I am very lucky to be writing to you like this. I hope you enjoyed my idea for a better country. It was very enjoyable writing to you like this, President Obama.
Eli, age 10
I like you because you won. We saw you on TV. I hope I am your friend.
Edwin, age 6
When I read these letters again last week, I was floored by what these kids had to say. In these letters you see their clear-eyed sense of what is broken in the world, their hope in the possibilities of the future, and, maybe most of all, their boldness in seeking to make friends with another person, even if that person happened to be the president of the United States. It is truly amazing.
And yet as I marveled at these things, my heart sank, because the spirit of these letters is so different from the more, shall we say, “adult” rhetoric that is being hurled about in the public square these days.
Some of the things that have been spoken over megaphones recently have been so awful they are not repeatable in polite pulpits. We hear them at rallies and on television sets, over the airwaves and over the Internet, in statements from elected officials including even, yes, from time to time, from the president himself as a new election season swings into high gear.
Of course I am speaking about the extreme poles of the political landscape, but none of us are immune from such things. We catch the same disease whenever we say things that went maybe a bit too far into personal attack. And we show the same symptoms whenever we have just kept silent when a word of truth, a word of peace, a word of love needed to be spoken to a person – even, yes, to an elected official – who needed to hear it.
Of course, we don’t mean to be this way. We often think we have good reason for either digging our trenches or staying out of the fray. A mighty fortress is our God, right? A sword – or a shield – victorious? That’s how the hymn goes, isn’t it?
But what if we humans have, by some horrible mistake, misjudged things? What if, instead of building a fortress around ourselves with a sword or a shield, what if we are actually building ourselves prisons, and locking ourselves inside their cells? What if we have jailed ourselves?
Today we remember when Jesus prayed for the apostles he had chosen and prepared them for mission in the world. In carrying out that mission, they would face consequences. When Paul and Silas, two apostles of the early church, carried out their mission in the world, they were thrown into jail for it.
Most of us don’t often face this problem in twenty-first century America – though, from time to time, our mission does get us into trouble with the powers that be. But we are no strangers to being held back by chains of other sorts. Too often, for us, they are chains we have made for ourselves – and chains we have made for others, too. We are jailers and prisoners at the very same time.
What a mess. Is there any hope for a people like us?
Three little words provide the answer.
Christ is Risen.
He is risen indeed! Alleluia!
Christ is risen indeed, from the earth to cross, from the cross to the grave, from the grave to sky, so we lift his name on high.
But there is more. For having risen, Christ now lifts our names on high, praying on our behalf, interceding on our behalf, acting on our behalf. On this Ascension Day, we remember when Christ rose not to escape the earth but pray, to intercede, to act on its behalf. On this Ascension Day, we remember when Christ became our advocate.
Because of what our advocate has done, we are freed from our prison cells, free to go and do likewise, free to go and free others from the cells they have built for themselves and for the cells we have put them in. The prisons of our world are many and varied.
Some are shackled by hunger and poverty. Others cannot shake the chains of unaffordable housing or healthcare. Many are behind the bars of a broken justice system. In faraway countries and on our own Gulf Coast there are those who find their freedom threatened by changes in the environment brought about by unsustainable practices. There are young people who yearn for quality and equality in education. And there are those, even in our day, who still struggle for civil and human rights.
The chains are many. But Christ’s advocates are many, too, and they are making the love of the Risen Christ known in the world by speaking up for justice and peace, for freedom and for risen life, for the neighborhood and for all the earth. Christ is clothing his people with power from on high. The same power that raised Christ from the dead is being placed on us to go and do likewise in the world, to go and do God’s liberating work with our hands.
In my internship at the Lutheran Public Policy Office of Washington State, I have seen God’s people doing God’s work with their hands in so many different ways.
In congregations across the state, I have seen God’s people fold their hands and pray on behalf of those who are imprisoned by injustice.
In congregations across this city, I have seen God’s people lift up their hands to hold signs and banners at marches and rallies.
And in congregations across this synod including, yes, at Synod Assembly this past weekend, I have seen God’s people take into their hands a pencil and a piece of paper and write letters to representatives, to senators, to the governor of Washington State, and even, sometimes, to the President of the United States.
Through writing letters, through marching at rallies, through praying on behalf of others, God’s people, God’s witnessing, serving, advocating people, are not looking up toward heaven for a Christ in the clouds. For we have heard the words from Ephesians, and we know that Christ is here working through us, his body in the world.
Come to the table. Receive the body. Become the body.
In Jesus’ name,
2 years ago