Sermons

pastorEric aug2014Sermon for 3rd Pentecost

Rise Up!
By The Rev. Eric Christopher Shafer -
 

My Dad taught high school American history and instilled in my brother, Byron, and me a real love of history.  His favorite US President was Thomas Jefferson but he was also fascinated by the racist Andrew Jackson. 
 
 
But, despite my Dad’s American history interest, until the musical Hamilton hit Broadway last year, I did not know much about Alexander Hamilton.  I knew that his picture is on the $10 bill and that he fought and lost a duel with Aaron Burr and was the first US Secretary of the Treasury.  But not much else.
 
 
Like many others, because of the musical Hamilton, I have learned a lot about Alexander Hamilton in the past two years, especially since I have seen excerpts from this Broadway musical on television.  Kris and I even already have our tickets for Hamilton in Los Angeles in December!   You may remember from past sermons that I am a real fan of Broadway musicals and I am especially looking forward to this one!
 
 
And, thanks to the Rev. Robin Wilson and the Day1 radio ministry, I was delighted to find a sermon on today’s Gospel text using themes from this musical, much of which I am using in this sermon today.
 
 
HamiltonIn this Tony-Award-winning hit, Hamilton’s gloriously diverse cast uses rap, hip hop, jazz, rhythm & blues, ballads, and more to share the life and legacy of Alexander Hamilton with the 21st century. We learn of Hamilton’s tragic childhood, his gifts with the spoken and written word, his passion for justice and revolution, and his human frailties. We hear how he created our federal financial structures and how he made many enemies over the years with his fearlessness in speaking up for the causes in which he believed.
 
 
Throughout the play, Alexander Hamilton is held in contrast with fellow revolutionary Aaron Burr, another intelligent rising star with many gifts, but a man who refuses to speak out for what he knows is right.  Burr continually waits to see where the majority of society will land on important issues. He refuses to take a stand, refuses to help those who are on the side of good, refuses to lead. Burr waits so long to side with the revolutionaries that he is snubbed repeatedly by George Washington for his lack of courage and character.
 
 
Because of this, Aaron Burr gets excluded from many of the key decisions that help win a revolution and shape a young nation  Burr never gains the respect by those who embrace Hamilton for his bravery and willingness to speak up, even in the face of a powerful British government, loyalists all around, and a fledgling movement.
 
 
In the play’s song, "My Shot," Hamilton and his fellow revolutionaries get energized to lead the colonists to get out from under the oppressive burdens imposed on the colonies by King George and Great Britian, to stand up for what is just, and to wait no longer to work for the cause that they realize is worth living and dying for, a cause beyond themselves, a cause that will make their world a better place. As Hamilton and his friends become bolder and more resolute in their plans, this song reaches a fever pitch with the call to "Rise Up!" It is time to take their shot, to act for that which is most important to them.
 
 
These colonists decide not to live in fear any longer, and to join together for a cause they realize is greater than themselves.
 
 
In today’s Gospel lesson from Matthew, Jesus prepares his closest disciples, like Alexander Hamilton prepared those early revolutionaries in Hamilton, Jesus prepares his disciples to rise up. Using words that kindle the spiritual revolution they are craving deep in their souls, Jesus encourages them, "Do not be afraid of what others will say about you, rise up! You are on the side of God, my Father, who knows the little sparrow and even the number of hairs on your head! If you have any fear, better to fear God, the one with real power, not the presumed powers of this world! It is time to proclaim a better way, a higher power, another kingdom. It is time to decide who you are, where your allegiance lies."
 
 
These words were certainly inspiring for Jesus’ disciples, but they must have been fearful words also.  The disciples surely wanted to put their whole faith and trust in Jesus, but they must also have thought - What if we are wrong?  They probably longed for a back-up plan, something to provide security, safety and cover if what Jesus preached and promised did not work out. 
 
 
We Christians today can certainly understand the disciples’ doubts. We, you and I, we too want to be so secure in our faith.  If you are at all like me, and I think you are, you would also like to live a life of holy boldness, naming the evils of this world and relying fully on the grace of God, reveling in the glorious knowledge that we are all children of God. 
 
 
That would be grand, wouldn’t it?
 
 
It would be wonderful to have the boldness of Alexander Hamilton in our faith and rise up and take our shot to act against the powers and principalities of this world.  But, alas, at least for me, we too often act more like Aaron Burr in our faith: wishy-washy and hesitant to act on what we know is right, sometimes out of fear, sometimes out of just lazyness.
 
 
We want to give our full allegiance to our God, but we are afraid of what we might lose if we do! Even though we know that God's power is greater than the power of this world, we are terrified to let go of the names, titles, and security that we think this world offers us. It is difficult to talk about things like health care, refugees, public education, homelessness, prison overcrowding, or politics even with our friends and much more difficult to confront our leaders on these issues.  We do not want to be labeled as a “difficult” person and even fear what others might think of us.  Too often, even when we know that there is injustice, we want others to take the lead before we throw ourselves into something.
 
 
So, we resist that nudging of the Spirit and withhold complete discipleship and revolution in our spiritual lives. Our cowardice leads to incomplete allegiance to our God and half-hearted devotion to God's kingdom. We think we can hold onto the security of our worldly identity, our family name, our own intellect and wit, our financial security, our education, our societal standing, without realizing that by having our hands so full holding these crutches, our arms are too full to pick up the cross and follow Jesus.  At least that how it often is for me.
 
 
Jesus tells his disciples, "What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops." 
 
 
 

Jesus tells them that it is time to tell the world about God's kingdom. It is time to proclaim the good news. This is their cause. This is their moment in history. This is their shot to claim who they are: disciples of Jesus. There and only there lies their allegiance. This is the cause that Jesus disciples must live for. This is the cause that they would die for. This is what they know to be the hope of the world, for this is the Son of God. It is time for Jesus’ disciples to live fully into their identity and to claim their faith.
 
 
At a pivotal scene in the muscial Hamilton, there is a glorious moment in a song called "My Shot." At a critical gathering of the leaders among the colonists, abolitionist John Laurens calls those would-be revolutionaries to lay aside their fear and to act right now for what they know is right with these profound words:
 
 
Rise up!
When you're living on your knees you gotta rise up!
Tell your brother that he's gotta rise up!
Tell your sister that she's gotta rise up!
 
 
So, perhaps it is time for you and me, today's disciples, followers of Jesus Christ, to put away our fear of what the world might say and rise up. It is time to take our shot against racism, sexism and homophobia no matter what our families and friends might think and rise up. It is time to give our complete allegiance to the almighty, all powerful creator of heaven and earth and rise up. It is time to believe that God cares for us enough to know the hairs on our heads and the burdens in our hearts and rise up. It is time to share the Good News of Jesus Christ with a world that needs to know a better way and rise up. It is time to combat evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves and rise up!
 
 
It is time to tell the Good News of God in Jesus Christ in the light and proclaim it from the rooftops and rise up.
 
 
Brothers and Sisters in Christ, rise up! When you're living on your knees, you gotta rise up! Tell your brother that he's gotta rise up! Tell your sister that she's gotta rise up!
 
 
Rise up!  Today!  Amen.
 
 
 
(With thanks to the Rev. Robin Wilson and her sermon on this text from the Day1 radio ministry).
 

The Rev. Eric Christopher Shafer
Senior Pastor - Mt. Olive Lutheran Church
Santa Monica, California
June 25, 2017


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