As I fight my way through a small stack of papers and fend off the daily barrage of small-but-urgent tasks, I’ll take a second to add yesterday’s homily to the “Extended” portion of this post. Everything went smoothly, I think, aided considerably by the fact that we used the same liturgical from all the way through the service (a rarity here). The sermon would benefit from some simplification toward the middle — I recognized, as I was preaching, that at least one clause had outgrown its surroundings and needed to be a sentence on its own. If I were preaching it again at another service, I’d have been busy editing and emending. . . .
Anderson Chapel of St. John the Divine, Seabury-Western
Amos 5:21-24/Ps 50:7-15/Luke 4:14-21
February 7, 2005
“Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an everflowing stream.”
In the Name of God Almighty, the Blessed Trinity on high – Amen.
On a good day, I can keep myself pretty fair-minded. I can remember to give to those who ask of me; I can shape my actions toward you, sisters and brothers, with generosity and patience. It doesn’t come easily from a stubborn old grouch such as I, but on a good day I can wring a few drops of justice and righteousness from the fabric of my soul. Sometimes I can put a few good days in a row – but let’s not push our luck.
On a good day, I can work up a certain degree of justice and righteousness – and that’s nothing to turn up your nose at. If we all bent our strength toward that goal, with cooperative help from our allies, we may be able to loosen the rust that hinders our efforts. We may as a group push further than the sum of our strength could get us as individuals. Laggards and activists, concentrating on the vision of God’s exquisite realm of freedom and abundance, we can set aside the liturgical planning sheets for a few hours and inch forward toward the prophet who sketches for us the oracle of liberation.
On a good day, we can grit our teeth and muscle out a few yards of justice. On a better day, we can let go, for one precious instant, the mistaken notion that justice lies within our grasp, that indeed we would recognize justice if it bit us in a sensitive place; on a better day, we can let go of the temptation to trade God a list of accomplishments in exchange for a certificate of righteous conduct. On a better day, we can remember the grace of God made known to us in the beauty of our loved ones’ smiles; in the precious trust of true friends; in a calling that entails both joy and pain; in the recognition that the deepest, wisest spirit for change comes to us not through our grim determination or strident scolding, but that Spirit comes to us on the Spirit’s own terms, by grace, regardless of our deserts or achievements. On the best of days, the Spirit of the Lord descends upon us, anoints us, energizes us for the discipleship that reverses our impulse to grind out justice, to extrude righteousness by force from the balky elements of reluctant flesh, and the Spirit sets us free with a gift of joy and relief to offer our praise of God in worship that expresses and inspires a restless hunger and thirst for righteousness. On the best of days, such righteousness never slakes our longing, but it vitalizes us to pursue our calling to celebrate, to rejoice, to liberate our strength in an abundance we can enjoy only when it is shared with everyone, anyone else: not to enforce justice, but to let justice flow down like rivers, and righteousness as an everflowing stream.