It is already halfway through the week at the 2018 Festival of Homiletics, and I can barely catch my breath! It’s one thing to lay out your color-coded calendar and see ten worship services and nearly as many lectures in five days–and that’s just in one location!–but being in the midst of such fire and passion and wisdom will take quite awhile to process.
I am so grateful to MTSO for the Student Enrichment Program grant that helped me get here this week. Classmates, if you haven’t done SEP, go do it now! Find the conference or festival or spiritual retreat that sparks your soul, fill out the app, and go. We’ll wait.
And, we’re back for reflection on Monday and (mostly) Tuesday!
There has been so much prophecy happening in this space. The Spirit has anointed preachers, politicians, and the whole communion of saints to speak difficult truths and prepare for the ultimate class warfare.
First things first: Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church is gorgeous. The cornerstone for the building was laid in 1881, making this building nestled on M Street NW the longest-surviving property consistently held by Americans of African descent. Stained glass windows around the sanctuary honor the various annual conferences that contributed at least $100 to the building project, and a large etched stone at the back of the sanctuary honors all those who settled the mortgage. The lay servants, helpers from Luther Seminary, and lead pastor Rev. William Lamar IV have offered radical hospitality and grace to all of us gathered for the entire time, helping ease congestion in crowded spaces and keeping things running smoothly.
Now…it is a kindom view to see so many preachers who are unafraid to explicitly name the sins and the Good News in this broken world! These are the messages I try to preach, and the messages I yearn to preach. When I hear so often that my sermons won’t fly in other congregations, I usually vacillate between anger and discouragement. Now, after I have heard the fire already spit from this pulpit, I will remember and take heart that it is fake news. There is always space for prophecy in God’s church.
I see here what I aspire to be: the bold and fearless prophet my church thinks I am (thank God for them). But I’m also forced to deconstruct the strange privilege of “wokeness” that sneaked into my backpack for the trip, the sense I carry into some ministry spaces that “this sermon/lecture isn’t really for me, because I already do this.” Because I’ve realized that my “wokeness” is barely a peeled eyelid at the first rays of dawn. I want to make gumbo with my sermons, as Rev. Dr. Otis Moss III tells us to do–to integrate from various traditions–but I’m still sitting here working on getting the roux right.
This year’s theme is “Preaching and Politics,” and so far everyone is living into that pretty seriously. Yesterday, we were honored to have Dr. Walter Brueggemann offer both his final sermon and his final lecture as a speaker at the Festival of Homiletics. And, since it was his last time, he decided to just tell us what he really thinks. His sermon, “Meat, Anxiety, Injustice,” engaged with 1 Kings 4:20-28 and 9:15-19, and Luke 12:13-31 to illustrate oppressive structures of empire with King Solomon as an object lesson–the slaves and low wage labor, cities for storage, complicit officials that made it possible for that wise king to eat more meat, more grain, have more women, more gold, more, more, more…
Sounds like a certain would-be king tweeting next to his growing sinkhole… (it’s real, check the news.)
The problem is, we too get caught up in the “regime of anxiety.” We too fall victim to the illusion of “more.” “More” aims to keep us afraid, dissatisfied, too busy to see the system we’re caught up in. The Gospel, our calling, is the alternative to that anxiety system–if we can get over thinking we’re better than the Creator’s system of abundance that works just fine for every other living thing. Our job from the pulpit, then, is to invite the congregation to reject the illusion of “more” and pursue the kindom–or, as Dr. Brueggemann put it during his afternoon lecture, to invite God into the existing class warfare as an advocate for the vulnerable.
And not a word about Swiss steak dinners. Thanks be to Jesus.
Dr. Moss gave a wrenching lecture and invitation to bid farewell to sanitized, “nice” Jesus and acquaint ourselves and our congregations with the couch-surfing refugee activist from Palestine.
“The cute Jesus never showed up in Selma” ~Dr. Otis Moss III
We need to move our congregations into the pain and tears of the world, but to do so we need to start with the pain and tears that are local to them. From there, we can trace the pain to the systems that cause it. We can and must be #truthtellers! And the truths we need to tell must be the whole truth. As Rev. Grace Imathiu reminded us during her lecture on privilege in preaching, part of our privilege and responsibility as storytellers is to choose which stories we tell. If we align with the oppressed, if we follow Jesus, we must leverage our privilege to raise up the stories of the oppressed so they will not be forgotten and cannot be ignored.
Yesterday’s session closed with remarks from Senators Cory Booker and Elizabeth Warren. I am so excited to share the recording of Senator Booker’s remarks when the Festival staff posts it; for now, just know that he may say he’s a politician but he can preach. Each of them shared how their personal faith guides them to reach across the aisle; to speak out against unjust policies; and to love and seek justice for all of our countrymen and women. Side note: Senator Warren taught 5th-grade Sunday school and was a casserole-cooking pageant costume mom in her Methodist church. In case you need one of those.
In closing, a story. Some of you may know that I majored in politics and government in undergrad. I interned for Sherrod Brown once upon a time, and I am still a political junkie. So, I fangirled about as much for our guests as I have done for the speakers we’ve seen thus far. When Senator Booker came in, I got up to unplug my phone so I could take a picture. I turned around…and my friend gave Senator Booker my seat. Fortunately, I got a selfie out of the deal.
And, in case you wondered, Senator Booker is a hugger.
I’m still reflecting on the richness of today’s sessions. Stay tuned for a Day 3 update sometime before Day 5!