Sermon: Fifth Sunday of Easter 2007
May 6, 2007
Rev. Tripp Hudgins
Alleluia! The Lord is risen!
The Lord is risen, indeed. Alleluia!
Here are some song lyrics for you…ready? Sing out if you are so inspired.
Somewhere out there on that horizon
Out beyond the neon lights
I know there must be somethin' better
but there's nowhere else in sight.
It's survival in the city
When you live from day to day.
City streets don't have much pity
When you're down, that's where you'll stay.
In the city…
- The Eagles
Hot town summer in the city
Back of my neck getting dirt and gritty
- Joe Cocker
Into the city
Where the girls are pretty
And you can't go wrong
- The Who
Oh don't lean on me man, cause you cant afford the ticket
I'm back from suffragette city
Oh don't lean on me man
Cause you ain't got time to check it
You know my suffragette city
Is outta sight...she's all right
- David Bowie
We built this city on rock and roll.
- Starship (Formerly Jefferson Airplane, then Jefferson Starship)
What is it that is so fascinating about cities…These song lyrics are easy examples of how we identify ourselves with city life. We can find suffering with the Eagles, romance of a sort with Joe Cocker and The Who. We find Bowie beinge, well, Bowie. We can find a claim to crativeity with Starship. Our cities claim us somehow...and we identify with them. The cities are also difficult for us. There is something morally and ethically challenging about cities.
Think about it, to be "citified" is not a compliment. It is how one describes the loss of rural self-sufficiency. How can we be complete, the ethos suggests, if we are so dependent upon someone else to feed us? And the list of problems implied by being "citified" goes on. It suggests haughtiness, uppitiness, classism reigns. We are aprehensive about our cities.
This apprehension about cities is not new or unique to us in this country.
In Genesis, we encounter the first menitioning of cities in the Bible. The writers of Genesis send Cain off to the city. Where did Cain go after he had been banished by God? He went into the city. Listen to this passage as it speaks about entertainment and industry…and crime. Remember, this is after Cain has killed Abel, and has had his "run in" with God.
16Then Cain went away from the presence of the Lord, and settled in the land of Nod, east of Eden.
17 Cain knew his wife, and she conceived and bore Enoch; and he built a city, and named it Enoch after his son Enoch. 18To Enoch was born Irad; and Irad was the father of Mehujael, and Mehujael the father of Methushael, and Methushael the father of Lamech. 19Lamech took two wives; the name of one was Adah, and the name of the other Zillah. 20Adah bore Jabal; he was the ancestor of those who live in tents and have livestock. 21His brother's name was Jubal; he was the ancestor of all those who play the lyre and pipe (The entertainment industry?). 22Zillah bore Tubal-cain, who made all kinds of bronze and iron tools (Industry?). The sister of Tubal-cain was Naamah.
'Adah and Zillah, hear my voice;
you wives of Lamech, listen to what I say:
I have killed a man for wounding me,
a young man for striking me.
24If Cain is avenged sevenfold,
truly Lamech seventy-sevenfold.'
This last bit of the passage may be the most telling. Remember, this is the Old Testament, and justice is that "eye for an eye" justice. Killing someone for wounding you might very well be construed as lawlessness. The cities are frightening places...lawless places.
The city is a difficult place to live. But we seem drawn there…and repulsed by it at the same time.
Throughout the Bible, the Israelites struggle with settling down. They struggle with what it means to live together in community. Things in the promised land seem to be going well, but eventually the land cannot support them when a great drought comes along. So, thanks to the help of Joseph, the Israelites settle in Egypt. This, as most of us likely know, does not work out so well for the Israelites. They are enslaved. Eventually, Moses will come and with God's help, will rescue the Israelites.
They live as nomads again. But this time it is in the wilderness…it is forty years of trial and struggle and the city seems more and more ideal. They are stuck between a rock and a hard place. The city has always been a danger to them. Yet it is no longer desirable to live as nomads.
So where do they go? In the end, they choose the city…
Jerusalem. The city of Peace. The city of Harmony. The city of Wholeness…
Take me down to the paradise city
Where the grass is green
And the girls are pretty
Take me home (Oh, won't you please take me home)
- Guns n' Roses
The city, brothers and sisters, is a mixed bag for us. We know this. Whenever you bring so many people into one location, you condense both the assets of such a life together and the troubles of such a life together. If you all recall, in Chicago Cabrini Green, the (in)famous public housing project, was right across the street from Lincoln Park. Wealth and poverty are neighbors. One cannot escape the sight of the other.
The University of Chicago sits in the center of Hyde Park and is bordered by some of the most under-served neighborhoods in the Chicago metropolitan area. Though you can cross the street to walk the campus, getting out of Woodlawn or Inglewood and into the hallowed halls of the University of Chicago is a pretty steep climb. Our cities have huge problems. They highlight all of humanity's ills, our beauty and potential.
Our cities have become a strange poetry.
And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away."
When America was young, only five percent of our population resided in urban areas. Scholars suggesti that the population structure has almost completely reversed. Our sprawling metropolises are now home to the vast majority of Americans. Suburbs stretch off into the horizon. Cities collaborate and assume one another, absorb one another, annexing land and businesses. Their infrastructure is so complicated that historians and urban planners alike struggle to understand them, to maintain them.
And yet, America has a love affair with its cities. We write songs about them. Chicago Is My Kind of Town, and New York, New York are now iconic. We can have the Kansas City Blues. We have asked the question, Are You Going to San Francisco? Heck, we have even referred to the entire country as the City on a Hill adopting the vision from Revelation as a national vision, a proclamation of God's providence in giving us the Holy City, the city in Revelation, the city that descends from the clouds ushering in God's permanent residence among us.
But this optimism denies a need in our cities. This distracts us from the truth about our cities. Jerusalem has been known as the city of peace. It has also been known, if you recall, as the city that kills the prophets. Now it is a city divided between three faiths, a place known for its violence and cruelty as much as it is known for its sanctity.
Our own cities terrify some of us. "White flight," the movement of affluent white Americans to city suburbs abandoning the inner city to poor minorities, is a great example of how we struggle to make peace with ourselves, how we struggle with our own sins as a nation.
So, where then do we start? How then do we respond to the needs of the city, proclaiming instead the holiness of a city?
Tony Campolo, the popular evangelical theologian and preacher, has an interesting theological notion that may help us...and it is likely even more appropriate to share on Communion Sunday.
A couple of weeks ago, some of us were at the ABC/MC Discipleship Dinner. Tony Campolo was the preacher for the worship service beforehand. In the midst of his sermon he looked out at us and said "The poor are the sacramental presence of Jesus." He reminded us of the passage from scripture where Jesus says "whenever you do this for the least of these..."
"Don't get thrown off by the word 'sacramental.'" he said. "I know that some of you are thinking about the Roman Catholic idea that bread and wine become flesh and blood. Now, I know that as Baptists we cannot go there even though we turn wine into grape juice every Sunday. We need to find a middle way, like the Anglicans and the Lutherans have done. The sacramental is the fulfillment of a promise made by Jesus. Jesus promises to be present in bread and wine. Thus, we trust that he is. His love is manifested in the symbolic. Thus, because he said so, he is present in the least of these."
The poor are the sacramental presence of Jesus. There is wisdom in this that can be seen in our passage from Revelation. If the poor are the sacramental presence of Jesus, what then of our cities? Our communities? Our communities are the sacramental presence of God. Can this be? Is it too far a stretch? Can God's love be known in our communities? Can they be seen as sacrament? Can our communities be the focus of our love and affection as Church?
Father Edward Foley, a liturgy professor at Catholic Theological Union in Hyde Park, says that "God has a love affair with the world." We may be called to be known by our love in John's gospel, but the entire premise of the gospel is that "God so loved the world." The love we learn to share with one another is the love that is to be given to the whole world. The focus of that love is not one another. The focus of that love is upon the world. We love the world because in its completion, God is present in it..."I am the Alpha and the Omega."
In this new way, we are called to be citified.
The focus of God's love is upon our villages, our town, our cities, our communities, urban and rural. If we want to know what it means to be relevant, it is in this truth of the Gospel. The focus of the love of the Church, the Body of Christ, is the world.
Alleluia! The Lord is risen!
The Lord is risen, indeed! Alleluia!