Preached by the Very Rev. Mike Kinman at Christ Church Cathedral on Sunday, November 22, 2015
They are a couplet, side by side, both designed and executed by Emil Frei’s studio here in St. Louis. They pair two scenes – one from our Biblical story and one from American history. The most western window depicts Moses delivering the children of Israel from slavery in Egypt, and the companion window shows Abraham Lincoln freeing the children of Africa from slavery in America. The quatrefoil above the window has the Chi Rho symbol … the first two letters of Christ’s name in Greek.
For more than 60 years, these windows have been a part of this Cathedral, a reminder of a truth that our ancestors in this space believed so strongly they insisted it be literally imprinted on this very building. That it become physically a part of this Cathedral so that it would last even when their generation had gone to dust and was lying beneath our chapel floor.
And that truth is this:
God is about liberation.
God is about setting people free.
And if we are followers Jesus. We are too.
As we read scripture, we find that God is inconveniently and maddeningly consistent. God unfailingly stands with those who are oppressed, God unfailingly stands with those who are enslaved, God unfailingly stands with those who are cast out and vulnerable and wounded and told their lives don’t matter and God does it every single time.
The people of Israel were suffering and dying in slavery, a slavery they were bound into for no other reason than they had to leave their own land or starve to death. And God looked down on them and God, yes God took a side. And God did not take the side of Pharaoh. God did not take the side of the enslaver, of the oppressor. God said:
“I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey.”
And God said these things not to a general with an army but to a shepherd who couldn’t even say a complete sentence without stuttering. God said “Hey you, Moses. You who is so sure you are nothing special. You who is standing there wondering if you are going crazy because you’re hearing a voice come out of a burning bush. You will stand in front of Pharaoh, and you will tell the most powerful person in the world what to do. You will stand before Pharaoh and you will say ‘Pharaoh, let my people go!’”
And when Pharaoh turns all his worldly authority on you. When Pharaoh says, “Who the hell are you? Who gives you the authority to even presume to stand before me?” Well that’s when you say, “Pharaoh, I have authority that you on your throne in your grand palace cannot even touch. Pharaoh, my authority comes from one so great I dare not even utter her name.
“The great I AM is who sends me with this message to you.”
And Moses did it. And the great I AM delivered. And the people were set free.
If only that were the end of the story. Wouldn't that be wonderful?
But that was not the end of the story. Because sin endures and slavery re-emerges.
It’s centuries later, the people of Israel were again bound in slavery. Only this time they were prisoners in their own land. The Roman Empire had colonized them and terrorized them. And once again, God was watching. And God looked down on them and once again God took a side. And this God became human in Jesus not as a prince in a family of royalty but in a child born to a family forced to leave their home at the whim of an occupying government.
And in this morning’s Gospel, we hear that child, that Jesus, all grown up, standing as Moses did before the throne, but this time not as God’s messenger but as God herself. And like Moses before him, Jesus challenges Pilate saying, “Your authority means nothing to me. My kingdom is not of this world, and I will not be bound by its rules.”
“I am here to testify to the truth. And the truth is that which is cast down is being raised up. That which has grown old is being made new. Those who are enslaved will be set free. And this world, this world which is so far from what it should be, so far from the dream of God for God’s people, this world will be restored to the vision that birthed it in creation, and you may break this body but there is nothing you can do to stop it.”
Jesus sealed his earthly fate with those words. Pilate washed his hands and sent Jesus to his execution. But God’s passion for liberation could not be stopped, and the Jesus movement could not be killed. And the Jesus movement helped bring down the mightiest empire the world had ever known.
If only that were the end of the story.
But sin endures and slavery re-emerges.
And the window above us reminds us that centuries later, when a perversion of the Jesus movement supported the kidnapping of black bodies and bringing them to this country where our economy was built on the labor tortured out of them, God once again took a side. And the true Jesus movement, planted in the hearts of leaders like Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln once again stood up for liberation, and once again God’s children who were enslaved were set free.
And so we come to today. We sit beneath these windows and we hear the story of Jesus standing before Pilate, and we are reminded that God indeed is inconveniently and maddeningly consistent. That God unfailingly stands with those who are oppressed, God unfailingly stands with those who are enslaved, God unfailingly stands with those who are cast out and vulnerable and wounded and told their lives don’t matter, and God does it every single time.
Nearly 2,000 years later, WE are the Jesus Movement. And our history is written in scripture and etched in these windows and implanted on our hearts.
Nearly 2,000 years later, the torch is now passed to us. We are the heirs of Moses. We are the heirs of those who brought down Rome. We are the heirs of the great emancipators who stood up against what Frederick Douglass called “the corrupt, slaveholding, women-whipping, cradle-plundering, partial and hypocritical Christianity of this land.” Who stood up and said, “The Christianity of the slaveholder is not the Christianity of Christ.”
Who stood up and said, God is about liberation.
God is about setting people free.
And if we are about Jesus. We are too.
Nearly 2,000 years after Jesus stood before Pilate, the torch is now passed to us, the church, the Body of Christ. And like generation upon generation before us, we grasp that torch with trembling hand. We are weary. We do not relish standing before Pharaoh or Pilate. Like Moses who said with stuttering tongue, “surely not me.” Like Jesus in Gethsemane praying that the cup would pass from him, sometimes we wish that someone else will pick up that torch, someone else will step up and say the words and take the risk, someone else will stand in front of the throne. Like Harriet Tubman who feared for her life and Abraham Lincoln who feared for the Union, we stand in history’s gaze sometimes desperately wishing history would look somewhere else.
But sin endures and slavery re-emerges. Taking new forms with each new generation.
Sin endures and slavery re-emerges, and we are in the midst of slavery again today.
It is the slavery of educational, economic and a multitude of other disparities that keep people of color bound in an America that may be post Jim Crow but far from post-racial.
It is the slavery of women making 78 cents for every dollar men make – and much less for women of color – and that they make it amidst continual harassment, double-standards and threats of losing their livelihood should they stand up to demand justice.
It is the slavery of pundits, politicians and people who echo “the corrupt, slaveholding, women-whipping, cradle-plundering, partial and hypocritical Christianity of this land” as in the cloak of Christ they deny hospitality to refugees fleeing oppression and war.
It is the slavery of those among us who are trapped in homelessness in a world where you can’t get a job if you don’t have an address and you can’t get an address if you don’t have a job.
But it’s even more than that.
It is the slavery of body image, of believing beauty is tied to a cultural image of how we should look instead of beauty being living as the image of God in which we were made.
It is the slavery of the American doctrine that life is an economic transaction and our only worth is based on what we can produce.
It is the slavery of every voice we let oppress any child of God. Every voice that tells a child of God she is less than. Every voice that tells a child of God to sit down and shut up. It is the slavery of every voice that tells a child of God that her gift is less valuable, her dance is less delightful, her heart is less precious than another’s.
It is every way that is that should not be. Every way the lie of our powerlessness convinces us cannot be changed. Every way estrangement overcomes unity, guilt threatens forgiveness and despair overshadows joy.
And in the face of each and all of these, as the world tempts us to surrender, we come together and remember that God is about liberation.
That God is about setting people free.
And if we are about Jesus. We are too.
That in the face of every enslavement each new generation creates, we as followers of Jesus get the best job in all creation. In the face of every enslavement, we get to be nothing less than liberators sent in the name of Jesus not just into the palaces of government but to the boardrooms and the bedrooms, the dinner tables and the office cubicles, the boarding houses and the investment houses to proclaim that God is still alive and God is still faithful. That the cry of the people on account of their taskmasters is heard, that the suffering is known, that deliverance is at hand and that we are the Good News of Jesus Christ, the Good News of getting free, the lobbyists for the poor, and the unfailing, inconvenient, maddening eternal presence of God with the oppressed in this moment in history.
How the people of God have followed God’s path of liberation in the past is written in our scripture and etched in the windows of this Cathedral.
How we the people of God, the Body of Christ will follow it today and in the days to come is this very hour being written on our hearts. The torch is being passed to us, and though our hand might be trembling Jesus is there to steady our hand, to stand by our side and in the moment of truth to give us the words to say.
Because God is about liberation.
God is about setting people free.
And because we are about Jesus. We are too. Amen.