Sermon Archives

Sunday, November 29, 2015
The 1st Sunday of Advent (Advent 1, Year C)
The Reverend Areeta Bridgemohan, Curate

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our strength and our redeemer.

Prophets are strange people. They often say things that get people annoyed – particularly people in power. They don’t seem to pay attention to public definitions of reality – they don’t seem to mind if they destabilise the status quo by asking questions that no one wants to hear – much less answer. They seem to have a need to criticize the consensus.

Even if this means that they might end up in exile or get thrown into a muddy cistern or get put under house arrest, or have bans placed against their appearance in public – all of which happened to Jeremiah.

The English word ‘prophet’ comes from the Greek ‘prophetes’ which means ‘to foresee’. This is unfortunate because it reinforces the idea of prophets as a type of fortune teller.

While it is true that the Bible includes stories where prophets predict the future, they are much more than fortune tellers – they are boundary spanners. They sit in that liminal space straddling the past, present and future. They remind us of the things that we cannot or do not want to see.

As part of my reading list to learn about the Detroit metropolitan area, I recently read Charlie LeDuff’s book called ‘Detroit: An American Autopsy’. Towards the end of the book, he recounts the events that led to his resignation from The Detroit News as a staff reporter.

Leduff was investigating the death of a police officer which occurred during a home invasion. The suspect of this offense had a history of violent crimes. As Leduff began to investigate, he uncovered a variety of ways in which the judicial system broke down to result in the death of the police officer. One of these breakdowns involved a judge who had previously tried the suspect for another offense. This judge had a reputation for being lazy and, according to Leduff, was a symptom of a legal system where judges are elected and therefore not always in position for reasons of merit. The day after the police officer was killed, the judge came under fire from the police for her leniency towards the suspect.

As part of his research, Leduff requested the case file, but the judge refused to release it. Leduff went ahead and wrote a piece with the information that he had available to him, but when it came out in the paper, his editors had watered it down to make it less inflammatory, to the point where he barely recognized the article. At that moment he decided to leave the newspaper. As he left in anger and disappointment, he reflected that this incident represented the loss of the ideal of the news, falling short of the vision carved in the stone panels on the Detroit News building, part of which reads: “Troubler of the public conscience”.

In addition to looking into the past, the prophet’s job description involves looking into the present. They examine the world we live in, cast a light on the trajectory that we’re on and urge us to action if it leads down a disastrous path – a path that leads away from God.

This past week, the House of Representatives passed bill HR 4038, which awaits a Senate vote upon its return from Thanksgiving break. The bill requires that the security clearance for each refugee resettlement case include a personal approval by both the Director of the FBI and the Inspector General of Homeland Security, to take place after the extensive vetting process that already exists. If passed, this bill will indefinitely halt refugee resettlement from Syria or Iraq. This policy reflects a response to the Paris attacks voiced by 31 governors in this country.

In September, Governor Rick Snyder said that he would ask the federal government for additional visas for refugees. However, after the Paris attacks he was the first governor in the nation to speak out on refugees saying that he was hitting the “pause” button on efforts to get more visas for Middle Eastern refugees to settle in Michigan. Gov. Snyder led what became a chorus of a voices calling for closing borders and refusing to accept Syrian refugees.

But if you listen to the broader national conversation, you can also hear other voices, urging us down a different path. Julie Quiroz from Ann Arbor started an online petition asking the governor to reconsider his position, and to comply with the Refugee Act of 1980, under which the President has the power to admit refugees who face “persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion” into the U.S. This petition has more than 5,000 signatures last time I checked and is growing.

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan affirmed that Detroit is a welcoming community and welcomes refugees. He states “we’ll fight the terrorists but provide refuge to their victims… we’ll do our fair share.”

Ismael Basha is a project organizer for a group seeking to build a Syrian refugee relocation center in an abandoned elementary school in Pontiac. The center they are building will have a gym, will offer English classes, driving instruction, day care, an area where people can socialize and possibly a medical clinic.

These voices through their words and actions provide a prophetic witness – trail blazing a path into the world from God’s own heart – a heart of compassion, welcome and grace. A heart that remains open, vulnerable and loving in the face of fear and distrust.

Our Old Testament reading from Jeremiah comes from what is known as ‘The Book of Consolation’. This part of scripture features a series of oracles and statements with God’s purposes for us. Jeremiah describes God’s desire for God’s people to live securely, to enjoy wholeness of relationship with God and one another and offers hope in a time of despair.

Because finding hope and comfort where it may seem difficult to locate is also part of the prophet’s job. The prophet’s role as spiritual guide is to help us find God; to recalibrate our spiritual compass.

Sometimes God is to be found in reflecting on the past and seeking forgiveness in order to transform the present. Sometimes God can be found in looking at the present and finding paths of justice that lead us to right relationship with God and one another. Sometimes God is to be found in the infusion of hope from God’s promises for the future.

And that is what Advent is about. On the one hand we are to be present to the world around us, but also aware that the signs of hope and love point us to the abundance and joy of redemption. As the days grow shorter, the season of Advent invites us on a pilgrimage towards the source of our light and hope – the birth of the Christ child, the in breaking of God into our midst.

May we embrace God’s invitation on this pilgrimage towards our hope of redemption. And on this pilgrimage, may God transform us into prophets and give us the courage to proclaim through word and action the promise of God’s grace. Amen.