God’s Word Made Visible

SERMON FOR SUNDAY – October 18, 2020
Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost, Year A, Track 1
Christ the King-Epiphany, Wilbraham, MA
Rev. Patricia M. O’Connell, Deacon
Exodus 33:12-23; Psalm 99; 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10; Matthew 22:15-22

My favorite part of sermon preparation is laying out the words before me as though spreading the pieces of a mystery quilt, and then waiting with anticipation to see what pattern the Holy Spirit is drawing my eyes to see and my heart to embrace. I seek the prophetic message within the day’s lessons. Not prophetic in the sense of what the future holds, prophetic meaning God’s word made visible.

The prophetic theme from today’s gospel could be deduced from the words of Jesus, “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s”. After all, we are in election season and it is likely that we have all stopped to consider how our civic and religious rights and responsibilities square up.

There is another thematic, though, that begs to be addressed and it is not from today’s lessons. Dare I say that it is hidden in the threads of today’s fabric. It is the Commemoration of St. Luke the Evangelist. St. Luke wrote The Gospel according to Luke and the Acts of the Apostles. It is suggested that Luke wrote with a bias toward the poor and social justice, women, and the power of God’s mercy and forgiveness. It is also said of Luke that he was a physician, a detail which has led to Luke being identified as the patron saint of healing and the healing professions and with ministries of healing.

So, as I look down on the quilt that I imagine before me, the theme that has materialized is one that brings healing to the quandary of our looming civic and religious right and responsibilities as citizens who vote with a conscience.

There is no question that for those who exercise their right to vote, the vote is sacred. Casting a vote is the societal great equalizer. It goes beyond ones’ religious tradition or politics or nationality. People have given their lives for it.  Through our singular votes, we hold the power of unity to promote change, to direct the course of history, to be the ripples of a rising tide.

And our two denominations have been clear about what our civic and religious responsibilities are in the messaging that they have imparted to us leading up to Election 2020.

As recently as June 24, 2020, The Church Council of the ELCA said this regarding the words of Jesus heard today about the emperor and taxes:

“Jesus’ response does not support a compartmentalized view of religious identity and political responsibility but rather endorses both religious and political responsibilities as legitimate. Lutherans conclude that life in society involves honoring God’s two ways of rule: the right hand, which channels God’s forgiveness and unmerited love, and the left hand, which channels God’s love into just governance on earth.”[1]

In that same statement, the ELCA affirms that the government’s failures and injustices need to be remedied through robust civic engagement. They affirm that as members of the ELCA and as residents of this nation, that Lutherans “will have serious disagreements about specific policy choices regarding what government should do or not do.” And it is recognized that “siblings in faith can, in good conscience, reach different conclusions as to how to best serve our neighbor in complex circumstances.” They conclude that “this recognition is healthy for us as a church and as residents of this nation, as we enter into conversations around those conclusions.”  And they emphasize that “Although we may disagree about the best ways to achieve the public good, we do not disagree about our shared responsibility to seek it.”

These sentiments are echoed within The Episcopal Church as well. Through ‘Vote Faithfully’,  the Election 2020 initiative of The Episcopal Church Office of Government Relations, Episcopalians have been urged to get out the vote and to vote their conscience by voting the values of human dignity and equality–the values of the rock on which this country was built. ‘Vote Faithfully’ states:

“In a democracy, voting rights are fundamental to the dignity of every citizen, and the free practice of that right is necessary for the establishment of justice. We have an obligation through our Baptismal Covenant to ‘strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being.’”

The reality of all of this voting “good will” is the prospect, that come November 4th,  our nation is going to be just as divided on the days after the election as we are now. There are going to be throngs of sad, disappointed, and angry people no matter what the outcome turns out to be. And what will be evident then as it is now, is the need for healing.

And as important as voting and getting the vote out is, there is no thing of greater importance now and in the days to come than the healing of this nation. And what better day to talk about healing than on this feast commemorating St. Luke the Evangelist.

Luke wrote from a spirit of justice and healing. Justice is that fire within us that compels us to channel God’s love into governance that is fair and equitable for all. Healing is the process through which health is restored, in this instance, the health of our nation. Healing comes from God and is for the glory of God and the common good. To be healed, we must first recognize the harm that has been done. We must see the hurt, the disease, that which has disrupted the whole and offer it up to be transformed.

Looking back on that quilt which God laid out before me, I see multiple patterns and designs stitched and intricately woven together as one. I see God’s word made visible in the work of the Holy Spirit. I see a people of God tossed and turned and divided and disrupted by the election of leaders for these United States. And I see a people of God coming together, offering to God their fears and frustrations, their doubts and concerns, their hopes and dreams that the healing may begin.

Today’s sermon follow-up question:

How is God’s word being made visible for you this morning?

[1] ‘A social message on … Government and Civic Engagement in the United States: Discipleship in a Democracy’, As adopted unanimously by the Church Council of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America on June 24, 2020.

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