Diocesan Convention Sermon

Sermon Title: Those who are Christ Among us

Scripture: Matthew 25: 31-40

I come this morning to talk with you briefly about those who are Christ among us? Perhaps this sounds funny. Perhaps even blasphemous. But we look for Christ everywhere but among ourselves. And because we don’t look for Christ among everyday people we are not looking at reality from an involved committed stance in light of a faith that does justice. And when we are not looking at reality from an involved committed stance in light of a faith that does justice, we cannot connect what we believe as people of faith with what we do as followers of Christ.

I like the verse in our scripture reading that asks the question, “When, Lord did we ever see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you a drink? When did we ever see you a stranger and welcome you in our homes? And the King says, “I tell you whatever you did this for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me!”

So this morning I come to talk to you about those who are Christ among us, the least of our brothers and sisters in light of the Millennium Development Goals.

And certainly the question this challenge raises is what can one person do? There is so much poverty and hunger; so much gender inequality and poor education; so much division and greed. The HIV/AIDS epidemic has brought our world to its knees. And in the midst of all of this we are a world community estranged from each other yet bonded in both our alienation and our need for one another.

Really, what can one person do!?

This challenge, no doubt, is a daunting one, and I don’t come here today to profess to know the answer. I do, however, come today to begin a dialogue with you about how you might get at the answer by talking about moral leadership, and to share with you my thoughts on the topic as one who has benefited from the moral leadership of the Black Civil Rights Movement in this country in the 1960’s but yet one who has also suffered from the lack of moral leadership by our elected officials, clergy, and even ourselves in the 1980’s to the present-day on the issues of sexual orientation, race, gender justice.

Moral leadership has never been consist in my lifetime, and I presume for us all. Like most social and global issues that are shaped by human actions and inactions, moral leadership has its ebbs and flows. Right now most people today would say that the world is sadly lacking in moral leadership especially in light of the eight Millennium Development Goals we hope to achieve by 2015.

As citizens in a world community many of us are in a state of moral outrage. Why? Because we have seen our world leaders co-opt morality to push political agendas. We have seen them use moral arguments as a justification to maintain the oppression of other people, keeping in place also their concomitant structural injustices.

So to begin tackling this challenge I decided to do an up close and personal examination of moral leadership by asking myself these five questions: What is moral leadership? What have been examples of moral leadership in my lifetime? Who embodied or embodies it? What should moral leadership look like today? And, where should I look for it?

However, before I begin this endeavor I must be honest with you and tell you of the presumptions I bring to this task and the social locations which shape my lens. I come out of the black religious tradition born of struggle for human acceptance at a difficult time along America’s timeline. The bible, with all its inconsistencies, has moral authority in the African American religious community. Functioning as a moral text, the Bible is used as a subversive tool to form and to frame a new moral order and new moral leaders under the persistent reign of white supremacy. For example, when slave masters gave my ancestors the Bible, their intent was not to make us better Christians, but instead better slaves. The Bible, at least according to slave owners, was used as one of the legitimate sanctions for American slavery. However, my ancestors had the moral outrage and moral courage to take this authoritative text that was meant to aid them in acclimating to their life of servitude and turned it into an incendiary test that not only foment slave revolts and abolitionists movements, but also the nation’s civil rights movement. The Bible told African Americans how to do what must be done. And, in so doing moral leaders sprung up. Nat Turner revolted against slavery, and Harriet Tubman conducted a railroad out of it. My ancestors expanded not only the understanding of what it meant to be human, but they also expanded the parameters of what it meant to be a Christian which entailed both moral outrage and moral courage.

Within a Christian context I have come to understand moral leadership as a type of leadership that is rooted in acts of helping others and it is arched toward justice. It is a leadership that calls attention to the present-day social and global injustices and institutional ills that bring about people’s forced eviction from the Kingdom of God. Within a Christian context, moral leadership is a theology-in-praxis that looks at reality from an involved committed stance in light of a faith that does justice. It sees the faces and hears the voices of the damned, the disinherited, the disrespected, and the dispossessed. In other words, moral leadership reflects the authentic expressions of the lives of all of God’s people. And moral leadership helps us to see the image of God in ourselves, the image of God as ourselves, and the image of God in each other. Within a Christian context of moral leadership God symbolizes for us all a unified plurality that helps us create a multicultural world community so that no one is left behind and every voice is lifted up.

When I think of what moral leadership is, it was leaders who had moral outrage transformed into acts of moral courage. For example, had Rosa Parks, an unassuming black seamstress, not have the moral outrage to refuse giving up her seat to a white man on a segregated bus in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1955 this nation might not have seen the fierce moral courage of African Americans in the South during this country’s Jim Crow era. Moral leadership is neither gender specific nor centered around one person. Both Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, Jr. were leaders in the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Why? Because had Rosa Parks not sat down, King could not have gotten up.

While moral leadership does not call us to be prophets, where one person leads and all others are to follow, moral leadership does, however, call us to be prophetic in this particular time in the life of the world community. Moral leadership is about the inclusion of all people, where people are part of participatory governments and/or movements that are working to address all of the Millennium Development Goals in the fight to advance world democracy. And as followers of Christ we have to connect what we believe by not hiding our faces, or by running away from the situation or saying to ourselves let someone else do it. But instead as followers of Christ we have to connect what we believe by looking at reality from an involved, committed stance in light of a faith that does justice.

So what must we do? Leave here today adopting just one of the Millennium Development Goals and be a leader in achieving the goal. Martin Luther King said there are two types of leadership. There are those who are thermometers, who measure the temperature in the room, and there are those who are thermostats, who change the temperature. I come to tell you to be thermostats. Change this global situation!

Where then do we look for moral leadership? Well, in doing an up close and personal examination of moral leadership I offer to you today two suggestions where you might begin to look for it. First, we must realize that if we look for moral leadership where it is consistent in only one person it is problematic. Why? Because it maintains the wrong belief that moral leadership is not out there in the world or come only once in a life time. However, if we look for moral leadership in brief instances in people’s lives, in our own lives, we will see it more often. And can act. Second, I believe that when we use our gifts in the service of others we then shift the paradigm of looking for moral leadership from outside of ourselves to within ourselves, realizing we are not only the agents of change in the world, but also realizing that we are the moral leaders we have been looking for.

I want to conclude by saying that in our radical obedience to the gospel of Jesus Christ that the longing for God is also the longing for social and global justice. We come here today holding onto a vision to do something in addressing the Millennium Development Goals. Why? Because our life’s work is bent on helping others and it is arched toward justice.

Let us see that it is today that our best work can be done and must be done in the face of our won self- respect as religious activists. Let us be united in this journey. Let us speak in harmony of a common goal. Common be our prayer. Common be our resolution. Common be our intentions. Unified be our hearts. And when you get tired which we will, and when we get discouraged which you also will along the way, I want to leave you with the words of the old Hebrew prophet Isaiah spoken in his 40th chapter: “We will mount up our wings like eagles; we will run and not be weary; we will march and not faint. “Let the church say Amen

Published in New Hampshire Diocesan newspapaer-  http://www.nhepiscopal.org/artman/publish/article_457.shtml

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