What the Hell Happened to My Sweet Little Sermon?

The First Sunday after the insurrection attempt and the Storming of the Capitol Building in DC.

January 10, 2021

In the Christian Calendar, Sunday, January 10, 2021 was to celebrate the Baptism of Christ. It is an auspicious day for baptisms. Last year on this date, we baptized two babies, Ace Agnew and Sutton Clark. I was almost finished with a lovely, sweet sermon about babies and remembering your baptism and how baptism brings us into the family of faith and such. It was a sweet little sermon; not very deep or challenging, just a sweet roll to go with your coffee while you watch the Livestream of worship from your couch. If sermons were clothing, this one was well-broken in flannel pajamas. Comfy.

Then Wednesday happened. A rioting mob, incited to violence, invaded the Capitol building, the very symbol of our nation’s constitutional government. They interrupted the constitutionally-mandated work of the Congress. They destroyed, vandalized, gloried in their lawlessness. They came prepared with weapons, with plans to execute lawmakers with whom they have political disagreements. So far five people are dead, including Brian Sicknick, a Capitol Police officer who gave his life defending the Capitol building and the public servants who were working there at the time.

After that, I looked at my sweet little sermon and it was just pablum. Not only unfit for the day, but to keep to that course would have been to insult the hearers who came seeking a word of Truth from the God who is Truth.

But what is there for a preacher to say? Where is there a Word from God for the people of God in the midst of this heartbreaking assault?

When events like this one have happened before, Nine Eleven, other personal calamities, I return to the Bible for strength, for the words to express my soul-deep pain, and for words of hope. I am drawn to the Hebrew Scriptures especially. For nearly two thousand years before the time of Christ, Jews have known what it means to suffer. They have known invasion, desecration and occupation of their sacred spaces; they have known what it is like to be trampled by enemies who ridicule their faith and mock their devotion to God. If any group can teach me about suffering, it is the Jews. If there is any store house of wisdom and faithfulness to God in the face of suffering, it is the Hebrew Scriptures. And so that is where I go.

Here are some of the places I found solace and strength this week:

Psalm 56, Psalm 137, Psalm 31, Ephesians 2:14-22, Isaiah 43, Isaiah 40, and Second Corinthians 4:7-9.

My first inclination was to simply read these texts in their entirety and leave them stand without any comment from me at all. That still might have been the wisest move. But preachers being preachers, well… and even with minimal comment, to read every verse of every one of these passages would take longer than we have time for today. So I have edited out a few verses here and there for the sake of focus and clarity, and time. I encourage you to seek out these texts for yourself. Read them aloud, read them completely. Read them slowly and then sit with them for a time. Some of them offer us words to express our anger. That is ok sit with that anger. Anger is an emotion; it is to be felt. Trying to stifle what you feel, to pretend you are not feeling angry is harmful to your body and spirit. Feel the feelings. You do not have to act on those feelings, but your body deserves that you feel them and acknowledge their right to exist.

Psalm 56

1 Be gracious to me, O God, for people trample on me; all day long foes oppress me;

2 my enemies trample on me all day long, for many fight against me.

O Most High,

3 when I am afraid, I put my trust in you.

4 In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I am not afraid;

    what can flesh do to me?

5 All day long they seek to injure my cause; all their thoughts are against me for evil.

6 They stir up strife, they lurk, they watch my steps. As they hoped to have my life,

7     so repay them for their crime; in wrath cast down the peoples, O God!

8 You have kept count of my tossings; put my tears in your bottle.   Are they not in your record?

9 Then my enemies will retreat in the day when I call. This I know, that God is for me.

10 In God, whose word I praise, in the Lord, whose word I praise,

11 in God I trust; I am not afraid. What can a mere mortal do to me?

12 My vows to you I must perform, O God; I will render thank offerings to you.

13 For you have delivered my soul from death, and my feet from falling, so that I may walk before God in the light of life.

(these words in [ ] are mine. Feel free to ignore them in favor of the greater wisdom of Scripture.

[God has kept account of my tossings in bed at night; I struggle and weep, unable to rest, but I am not resting alone. GOD has seen, God knows, my tears do not fall wasted, God has gathered them from my cheek and stored them as precious offerings.

And when I feel my spiritual strength is at its breaking point, when I am certain I can take not one moment more, not one more grievous insult to decency and civility, I am reminded that God has delivered my soul from death before; God has kept my feet from falling so that I may walk before God in the light of life. In the midst of crushing heartbreak, that reassurance clings me to the rock.]

Psalm 137

1 By the rivers of Babylon— there we sat down and there we wept

    when we remembered Zion.

2 On the willows there we hung up our harps.

3 For there our captors asked us for songs,

and our tormentors asked for mirth, saying,

    “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”

4 How could we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?

5 If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand wither!

6 Let my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth, if I do not remember you, if I do not set Jerusalem above my highest joy.

7 Remember, O Lord, against the Edomites the day of Jerusalem’s fall,

how they said, “Tear it down! Tear it down! Down to its foundations!”

8 O daughter Babylon, you devastator! Happy shall they be who pay you back what you have done to us!

9 Happy shall they be who take your little ones and dash them against the rock!

[There are some of us who are craving vengeance, violence against those who have violated our beloved national spaces. The feeling is what it is; feelings just are. It is not an evil feeling. The challenge for us is that Jesus teaches us to deny acting on that craving; to answer hatred with love, to reflect back the love of God when we are attacked and trampled.

How shall we sing the songs of Zion while feeling as if we have been made aliens in our own land? We do it by remembering our baptismal vows to God. We sing by rendering our extra thank offerings to God, remembering that God has rescued us, has delivered our souls from death and our feet from falling.

We feel the anger, and it is righteous anger. If allowed out, that energy can entice us to repeat the same evil as the destroyers, and we become destroyers ourselves. If channeled, that energy can be used to rebuild the shining city on a hill we believe we can be, anger turned to productive work building better, stronger. Channeled into productive work, our anger gives us the energy to restore the breach between us, to build a society which cares for all its citizens, which protects the vulnerable from the strong, with liberty and JUSTICE for all, no exceptions. We feel that anger; we give thanks for the Psalmist for giving us words for our feelings. And then we use that energy to make our world better. For all.]

Isaiah 43 

But now thus says the Lord, who created you, O Jacob, who formed you, O Israel:
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;    I have called you by name, you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
    and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
    and the flame shall not consume you.
For I am the Lord your God,  the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.
Do not fear, for I am with you;  I will bring your offspring from the east, and from the west I will gather you;
I will say to the north, “Give them up,” and to the south, “Do not withhold; bring my sons from far away and my daughters from the end of the earth—
everyone who is called by my name,  whom I created for my glory,
    whom I formed and made.”

Bring forth the people who are blind, yet have eyes,  who are deaf, yet have ears!

[In Baptism you are Called by the name Child of God; you are claimed as being one of God’s own children.

Yes, we strive against they who have eyes yet refuse to see what is right in front of them, ears yet refuse to hear truth. There is none so blind as he who will not see. We must not close our minds, we must let our hearts be free.]

Isaiah 40

Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God.

2 Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.

3 A voice cries out:

“In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.

4 Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain.

5 Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

21 Have you not known? Have you not heard?

    Has it not been told you from the beginning?

    Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?

22 It is GOD who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers; who stretches out the heavens like a curtain,

    and spreads them like a tent to live in;

23 who brings princes to naught, and makes the rulers of the earth as nothing.

31 but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary,

    they shall walk and not faint.

Second Corinthians 4:7-9 (2nd, not Two)

7 But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us. 8 We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed.

[Hear this, and let your spirit be at peace. The events of last week are serious, indeed. They threaten our very nation. And the threats may not be over yet. But no matter what happens, in our baptism we remain securely children of God. No matter what happens, we are not destroyed. God is our Protector, Parent, and Provider. We will survive; even this. It will not always be this way.]

Brice Hughes,

Burlington, Iowa

January 10, 2021

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