Sermon June 21, 2020

There is a African folk story of Sankofa – the story begins with a bird named Sankofa. She grows up in her community being confident in herself and loving life. One day, she decides to sneak away from her village. When she does, she meets a bird who insults her and causes her to doubt herself.

Sankofa has to return to her village in order to find herself again and confront this “voice” of the big bird. She is supported by all of her friends and ancestors. When she returns to the bird with her own sense of self-knowledge, the other bird disappears.

When she returns back to her village, her image is carved so that other youth in the village can remember her and her story. Because she had forgotten from where she came, she is depicted with her neck turned backwards.

The “Sankofa” has become a metaphorical symbol used by the Akan people of Ghana, generally depicted as a bird with its head turned backward taking an egg from its back. It expresses the importance of reaching back to knowledge gained in the past and bringing it into the present in order to make positive progress.

I love that symbolism. It’s so important that we learn from the past.

Kaj Munk was a Danish Lutheran pastor and playwright – and was a strong opponent of the German Occupation of Denmark (1940–1945). Several of His plays were direct attacks on Nazism. Despite friends who urged Munk to go underground, he continued to preach against Danes who collaborated with the Nazis.

The Gestapo arrested Munk on the night of 4 January 1944, a month after he had defied a Nazi ban and preached the first Advent sermon at the national cathedral in Copenhagen. Munk’s body was found in a roadside ditch the next morning.

Munk preached and wrote against the injustice of his time. He said, “What is, therefore, our task today? Shall I answer: ‘Faith, hope and love’? That sounds beautiful. But I would say ‘courage.’ No, even that is not challenging enough to be the whole truth.

Our task today is recklessness. For what we Christians lack is not psychology or literature. We lack a holy rage – the recklessness which comes from the knowledge of God and humanity. The ability to rage when justice lies prostrate on the streets, and when the lie rages across the face of the earth – a holy anger about the things that are wrong in the world. To rage against the ravaging of God’s earth, and the destruction of God’s world. To rage when little children must die of hunger when the tables of the rich are sagging with food. To rage at the lie that calls the threat of death and the strategy of destruction peace. To rage against complacency. To restlessly seek to change human history until it conforms to the norms of the Kingdom of God.

And remember the signs of the Christian church have been the lion, the lamb, the dove and the fish, but never the chameleon.”

Munk’s words have been echoing in my brain the last days. I wonder if we Christians in the year 2020 are brave enough to speak against injustice in our own time? Have we learned from the past? Are we willing to rage against injustice – even though that might feel upsetting and go against our inclination to keep everything nice.

I like to keep things nice. I admit that. I have prided myself on being a nice person. I like nice people. I always thought being nice was a good thing – and of course it is…But it is imperative we don’t forget that this faith in Jesus Christ is about so much more than being nice. In the gospel for today, Jesus says, “Don’t think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” The word of God – while comforting at times can also be convicting. It calls us to take a hard look at ourselves and our actions.

As followers of Jesus, he calls us to work for a better world and justice for all. It calls us to be uncomfortable sometimes – to risk having not everybody like us in order that we speak up for what is right.  Jesus understands discipleship as a series of choices made daily – to follow Jesus or to chase after something else. Jesus desires our sole allegiance. He even encourages us to pick up a cross and follow. Make no mistake – a cross made of wood is heavy. It cannot be casually thrown over a shoulder along with other things. Instead, carrying a cross takes a certain determination and persistence. But in doing so, Jesus promises we find life. Not comfort. Not ease. Life.

We have too often confused being Christian with being nice. Being a Christian does not mean being nice – it means being filled with holy anger at injustice. Being a Christian does not mean being nice – it means calling out those who treat any life as being less than other lives – no matter that person’s race or what side of the border they were born on. Being a Christian does not mean being nice – it means refusing to accept what is wrong with the world and working to be the change we want to see in the world. And as we do, we come to understand the fullness of life Jesus offers.

Usually when I pray for people, I pray for the peace that passes all understanding – but these days I also pray for us to have a bit more holy rage. A good measure of dissatisfaction with the way things are and a deep longing to use our energy to work for justice and goodness for one another. I pray for us to experience a thirst to learn about other cultures and issues and problems that we may not have paid any attention to in the past.

There’s a famous quote that reads, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” In the spirit of Sankofa, that West African folk story, in the spirit of Kaj Munk, the Lutheran pastor who died rather than keep quiet about sharing the good news of Jesus Christ, Let’s learn from the lessons that life and history has taught us, and pray for the wisdom of the Holy Spirit, and strength to work for justice and goodness for one another.

Let’s pray – dear God, we pray you guide us in these times. There’s so much hurt all around and we pray for all in need. Teach us how to care for one another as all children of the same Heavenly Father. Help us to lay down our pride and be willing to be instructed in the ways of justice and what each of us can do to work toward lasting peace. How might we do that this week? Show us, Oh God.

God, we pray for all who are struggling in body, mind, or spirit. We pray for your healing presence to be with all in any need – those who are recovering from surgery or are healing from an injury. We pray for those who feel lost or despondent. Help us to uplift one another with kindness and caring concern.

Dear God, we pray for our congregation during this time of worshipping differently. Unite us with your love and grace. Help us to invite others in and reach out to those who may be feeling isolated. Draw us all near to you.

Oh God, for these precious summer days, for friends, for family, for long evening shadows, for the cool breeze on the lake, the laughter of children, the smell of good food cooking, honest work, music – and all the millions upon millions of moments that make life worth living – we give you thanks. May we never stop giving you thanks and praise.

We pray these prayers and the prayers in our hearts in the name of Jesus. Amen.

The Reverend Dr. Ruth E. Hetland
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