The Second Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 4
May 29, 2016
The Celebration of Africa Day
(May 25th, 53rd Anniversary of the founding of the African Union)
The Rev. Austin K. Rios
St. Paul’s Within the Walls
I want to begin this sermon today by offering some thanks.
I want to say thanks to those of you who have come to this church today in honor of this celebration and in order to add your voice and spirit to the worship we offer here today.
I want to say thank you to the the organizers of our celebration and give praise to God for all the hard work and dedication they have given in order to make this day both festive and meaningful.
I want to give thanks for all those around the world… those who give of their resources, their time, and their lives in order to “make a better Africa and a better world.”
This of course is the theme of this year’s Africa Day celebrations, and in the world outside our church doors, Africa Day is a time to celebrate the coming together of the many nations of the continent in order to pursue a shared destiny through the efforts of the Organization for African Unity, and later the African Union.
But any of us who have been convinced by the truth of the Gospel… any of us who have heard the Word of God preached from our pulpits, and more importantly…lived out through the lives of the everyday saints who have transmitted the faith to us…
We KNOW that Africa Day, in the context of our faith, is much more than a remembrance of an organizational anniversary.
It is a time for us to both tell the truth about the pains and shames of the past, some of which still infect our common life today, and to celebrate and lift up that which is good and pleasing in the sight of the Lord our God.
We give thanks to God for the preaching of the Gospel in the many nations which we hold dear… giving thanks for the unique shape and root the resurrected life of Jesus Christ has taken in the cultural contexts in which it grew.
And yet we decry the sin of persecution and forced conversion that happened among the many tribes and peoples of the continent, and renounce any form of Gospel transmission in which the love of God in Jesus Christ, not the sword of the conqueror, is what leads people into the kingdom of God Almighty.
We give thanks for the zeal and missionary spirit of current day Christians on the continent… a dedication and commitment to sharing the Gospel that is virtually unmatched anywhere else throughout God’s green earth.
And yet we hurt when fellow human beings of other religions, those whom our Savior has taught us and commanded us to love, are facing persecution and pain from the very Christians who should be reaching out to them in love instead of in fear.
And finally we give thanks for the wealth and riches… agricultural, ecological, economical, cultural and interpersonal… that are found throughout the continent.
And yet, we weep when the wealth and riches of Africa continue to be exploited for the gains of the few, and often the foreigner, rather than allowing Africans to hope and believe in a future that is shared and better…a future where the kingdom promises in which we believe are more present and real on earth and in our days as we know them to be in heaven.
It is important on this Africa Day 2016 to acknowledge that one can be African and a lover of Africa… fully celebrating all these gifts and more… while also lamenting all the ways in which “building a better Africa and a better world” is hard and beset by many challenges both from within and from without.
But this is nothing new to us people of faith.
We have always lived with the paradoxes of the “already, and the not yet.”
From our early ancestors who fled the Middle East looking for relief from famine in Egypt in the times of Joseph and finding it, only to see that hospitality turned into chains and forced labor generations later.
God’s power and promise was present with them when Pharaoh was gracious and when Pharaoh was cruel, and God manifested a mighty hand to save when slavery and despair looked like they would dominate the future of Israel forever.
Or how about the time of the kings, from which we hear mighty Solomon’s prayer today in our first reading?
Never before nor again would Israel know the temporal power of a united kingdom…a time of great wealth in which the nations of the earth came to David and Solomon to trade and pay respect to the God that had brought them such goodness.
And yet, in a few generations, poor leadership and tribal jealousies within the kingdom weakened it to the point in which the Assyrians and then the Babylonians plundered its wealth and brought to ruin the majestic temple in which Solomon prayed this prayer today.
God’s people have struggled to comprehend the balance between the promises of the future and the present day reality, and to figure out how to work for change and justice in our lifetimes while also celebrating the markers of the kingdom always breaking out among us.
Nowhere was this dichotomy more present than when Jesus walked the earth.
As the Word of God made flesh, Jesus was the incarnation of all the promises of God becoming real in front of people’s eyes.
Old divisions were shown to be conquerable.
Lost causes were shown to have new life.
And though the political and religious powers of his day so misunderstood him that they conspired to put him to death on a cross, God saw fit to turn an instrument of political humiliation and torture into a sign of liberation and victory.
Jesus, a man under authority from God alone, and yet manifesting that power through service and humility…here was the living example of how all that has every been promised to us as people of faith… since the dawn of the first day over the face of the deep until the last day when the time for work will be done and the deeds of all will be made plain before the throne of the Lamb… all those promises were both here and now… and still to come.
Already and not yet.
And we who have come to believe in his name, in ways both wonderful and at times tragic…we who have faith beating in our hearts and veins even now…we too live in the midst of this already and not yet.
How can we do this in a way that is faithful and true without denying those things which still need to be redeemed in our world nor allowing their existence to overwhelm us and drive us to despair?
I would venture that one way is through investing in this “house” that God has built among us.
If you look over the words from Solomon’s prayer today, they are about consecrating the First Jerusalem Temple for the glory of God so that all the nations of the world might know the might and promises of God through their encounter with it.
Solomon even asks God to hear and answer the foreigner’s prayer on account of the Temple, “so that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you, as do your people Israel, and so that they may know that your name has been invoked on this house that I have built.”
It is a worthy prayer and a powerful invocation.
However, we Christians know that the house that the Lord has built does not primarily consist of brick, stone and timber, but rather in blood, bread, and spirit.
St. Paul spent chapter after chapter in his letters speaking of the “Body of Christ” which was a Temple that no army could ever destroy, and no moth nor rust could ever consume.
It is THIS HOUSE that holds the promise of our spiritual treasure, and whenever two or three of us are gathered together in the name of Jesus Christ, God dwells among us and fills this spiritual construction with glory, power and hope.
By acknowledging all the places in which love is conquering hate, all the places in which the sacrifices of the faithful bring about a better Africa and a better world… then we are choosing to lift up the fallen rafters of the temple of God and raise the roof of the tent of God once more so that all may come within the reach of God’s saving embrace.
Who among us cannot point to examples in our own lives in which the strength of this spiritual fortress allowed us to withstand the tempest and the tide… when it was the witness and words of our fellow members of the body who made us strong when we were weak and allowed us to stand once more so that we could give our support to others?
Did those moments not speak to us of the already power of God present among us, and did they not reinforce our belief that it was worth our time and energy to address all the areas in which those promises remained “not yet” in our world?
I pray that each of you can say yes to this.
That you know the power of God that animates this body of Christ spread throughout the world and throughout Africa, and that on this Africa Day in 2016, you can recommit yourself to working to build up that body in all the ways that God gives you the ability to do so.
This is the way to “build a better Africa and build a better world.”
To strengthen the bonds of humanity and shared destiny among those of our tribe and those whom we consider foreigners.
To experience the transformative power of God in our own lives and allow the Spirit to use our efforts and energies to transmit that power to others who are in dire need of it.
To live in the already and celebrate the wonder, beauty and faithfulness of God…while working diligently together so that the not yet comes nearer still.
Should all of us do that… Africans and North Americans… Europeans and South Americans…politicians and priests… chiefs and commoners… then the world which God created in goodness and glory will be ours and shared… and the kingdom of our God will be known fully on earth as it is in heaven.
What a worthwhile effort for which to give our hearts, souls and minds… what a better Africa and world this would be!