Sermon Archives

Sunday, May 21, 2017
Easter 6 (Year A)
The Reverend Areeta Bridgemohan, Curate

Loving God, in you we live and move and have our being, help us reflect your light through our lives as we grow in our knowledge and love of you. Amen.

In May 2009, the White House hosted an evening of poetry, music and spoken word.

Lin-Manuel Miranda was invited to perform music from his hit Broadway show, In the Heights. Instead he did something a little different.

In his introduction to the piece he performed, he said: “I’m thrilled that the White House called me to perform here tonight. I’m working on a hip-hop album – a concept album – about the life of someone who I think embodies hip-hop: Treasury Secretary, Alexander Hamilton.”

Everyone in the audience laughed.

He continued: “You laugh but it’s true! He was born a penniless orphan in St. Croix, of illegitimate birth, became George Washington’s right hand man, became Treasury Secretary, caught beef with every other founding father, and all on the strength of his writing he embodies the word’s ability to make a difference.”[1]

Lin-Manuel Miranda’s brilliant use of language and creative blend of music performed by a multi-racial and multi-cultural cast brings that part of American history to life in a startling new way.

Miranda’s play ‘Hamilton’ has caught the attention of the public, especially that of young people.

Last year, the White House hosted a workshop with the cast of Hamilton for youth from high schools across the country. At the end, they had a q+a. One youth said that he’s not very good at history, and asked Miranda whether part of his purpose in creating this musical was to help young people learn about the founding of this country. Another youth asked why the directors of the musical paid so much attention to the diversity of the cast.

These questions reflect the strategies the producers used to bridge the distance between the contemporary audience and the story which took place in the 18th century. 

That act of bridging culture, time and language, is a process of translation - something we see in the Acts passage today.

Paul was a master at this kind of translation which was crucial in the early spread of Christianity beyond Palestine. Today we heard of Paul’s visit to Athens, a city with an ancient heritage as a centre of intellectual and artistic activity. Paul’s speech is carefully crafted to reflect the rhetorical structure of Greek discussion and debate; he draws on Greek poetry and philosophy to allow conversation between Athenian religious beliefs and practices and the Gospel.

He begins with the timeless strategy of complimenting his audience, saying: “Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way. For as I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship, I found among them an altar with the inscription, ‘To an unknown God.’” (Acts 17:22-23).

From there he proceeds to introduce them to the God that he has come to know and love. 

This act of translation, of making our faith alive and engaged with the world around us, and of passing it on are all part of the Christian journey and the work of the church, that is all of us gathered here.

Today we recognize those engaged in that work of translation in our children and youth ministries – of listening to our children and youth – and speaking into their lives the truth that the God that we worship and know is active and working in our lives, gently tending to our growth. This work of translation requires humility and hope, rooted in the belief that Christ is already present in our lives and in the lives of the young people we love.

And one of the most effective ways of transmitting that message, involves more than simply speaking the words, it involves embodying the message. 

Robert Fulghum, the Unitarian minister who wrote Everything I Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, attended a conference at an institute dedicated to human understanding and peace, located in Crete, the largest Greek island. The institute overlooks the site of an atrocity that took place during WWII.

In that location, Nazi paratroopers invaded Crete and were met by peasants wielding kitchen knives and hay scythes. In retribution, whole villages were lined up and shot.

Dr. Alexander Papaderos, a native of Crete, an academic, peace activist and politician, who himself was interned in a Nazi concentration camp, founded this institute. He had a vision that the Germans and Cretans could set an example for the rest of the world. If they could find forgiveness and peace, he reasoned, anyone could.

On the last morning, after Dr. Papaderos had finished the last talk, he asked if there were any questions. Robert Fulghum has a habit of using those moments to ask: “What is the meaning of life?” He reasons: “You never know, somebody may have the answer, and I'd really hate to miss it because I was too socially inhibited to ask.” So Fulghum asked his question. 

As people began to laugh and gather up their stuff, Papaderos held up his hand and stilled the room. He said: "I will answer your question."

Taking his wallet out, he fished into a leather billfold and brought out a very small round mirror, about the size of a quarter. And he told this story:

"When I was a small child, during the war, we were very poor and we lived in a remote village. One day, on the road, I found the broken pieces of a mirror. A German motorcycle had been wrecked in that place.

"I tried to find all the pieces and put them together, but it was not possible, so I kept only the largest piece. ... I began to play with it as a toy and became fascinated by the fact that I could reflect light into dark places where the sun would never shine -- in deep holes and crevices and dark closets. It became a game for me to get light into the most inaccessible places I could find.

"I kept the little mirror, and as I [grew] up, I… came to understand that this was not just a child's game but a metaphor for what I might do with my life. I came to understand that I am not the light or the source of light. But light -- truth, understanding, knowledge -- is there, and it will only shine in many dark places if I reflect it.

"I am a fragment of a mirror whose whole design and shape I do not know. Nevertheless, with what I have I can reflect light into the dark places of this world … and change some things in some people. Perhaps others may see and do likewise. This is what I am about. This is the meaning of my life."[2]

In our passage from Acts today, we have one of the most beautiful phrases from scripture, also found in the Collect for Guidance in Morning Prayer: “in Him we live and move and have our being”. It turns out that Paul picked it up from Greek poetry, possibly written about Zeus[3]. The adoption of this phrase into our own liturgy, underscores the risk of translation. In the work of translation, we open ourselves up to the other, we begin to see the beauty of their world and we risk being changed ourselves.

That phrase also reminds us that the light that we reflect and the content of what we translate is much more than propositions or a set of prayers. Our faith lives and moves with us, it is planted in the soil of our lives and being. Just as God translated God’s self into humanity through Jesus, planting Jesus in the soil of history, in a particular time and place, to be with us, to listen to us, to live, move and have his being here on earth.

The work of the church, and the ministry of all the baptized, is a constant work of translation. The work of translation means that our faith places us in a creative tension with our life experience and the world around us. We are invited to dialogue with the world, and to keep our hearts firmly planted in God. We are asked to make meaning of our lives, and to never lose sight of our call to reflect God’s image into the lives of those we are called to love and the systems we participate in.

As we reflect God’s love into the world, shining God’s light onto those we are called to nurture, and into the crevices of injustice and pain, what we might discover is that we are better able to see God, as the Word is made flesh before our very eyes.


[2] From the book, It Was On Fire When I Lay Down On It, by Robert Fulghum

[3] possibly from a poem about Zeus written by Epimenides – Wikipedia