I should have known this week would be hectic. The sign was there. It was not even 9:00am on Monday, and I already had an outline for a sermon. My day began, as usually, with me reading dispatches from the HOB/D Listserv. One of the delegates in our church had posted a link to a survey proclaiming Episcopalians as the most literate denomination in the United States. That same study went on to remark that Episcopalians were the most biblically illiterate mainline denomination in the United States. In other words, we like to read, we just do not like to read the Bible (by the way, this is how we described ourselves to the pollsters, not how they describe us).
Then, as I was driving to church from the kids’ school, I turned the radio channel from K-LOVE to the local Sports’ Talk radio. And to my pleasant surprise, Mike & Mike had one of my favorite singers on their show. As they were introducing him, they were describing him as a part-owner of the Miami Dolphins, a fan of the Miami Heat, the owner of the naming rights for the football stadium, and by other sports related markers. I am speaking, of course, of Jimmy Buffett. As it turned out, he had a new album coming out last week, and he needed to do some promoting. For the first time in some years, Buffett was releasing all new songs on an album (often he simply repackages old tunes and tries to take our money). When asked whether he thought any of these songs could become a classic Buffett tune, Buffett remarked that there was one.
Buffett went on to share with the hosts and the audience his thoughts regarding “We’ve got a lot to drink about.” Buffett points out that the hard part of this song was figuring what to include and what not to include in the lyrics. We have a recession, we have bailouts, we have bailed out companies refusing to work with the very taxpayers who bailed them out, we have high unemployment, we have wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, Iran wants nuclear weapons, North Korea has them—his list went on and on. What do you include in a song like that? Yes, Buffet said, we have a lot of pain to numb; we have a lot to drink about.
Now, you might be wondering what the two do with one another and our readings this week. Are we not still talking about Advent and John the Baptist? One of the themes throughout our readings this week is the idea of fear. Enemies have hounded God’s people. Sometimes, those enemies are external, like foreign armies. Sometimes, those enemies are internal, like the tax collectors who make their living extorting their brothers and sisters to pay for their licenses. Yet all the authors remind us that the Holy One is near, that He will dwell with His people, that He will protect his people, that He will save and redeem His people. So in the midst of these enemies, God’s people are reminded that they need not fear.
You and I get this exhortation often during the church year. How do we end the Eucharist most Sundays? Think of the blessing. “The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge and love of God, and of His Son Jesus Christ our Lord. And the blessing of God Almighty . . . . “ One of our last acts, as we worship together week in and week out, is to be sent out with that reminder of our needed focus. Why? Because we are headed out of church into a wilderness that has every reason to want to numb itself from the pain. In describing his song, Jimmy Buffett was only talking about the big picture. You and I are called to work locally and often individually. To him, unemployment may be high; but you and I know people who have lost their jobs, who do not know where the next meal is coming from, or when eviction will happen. To him, the healthcare crisis is nearly overwhelming; but you and I know people who cannot seek treatment because they lack funds and insurance. And so they risk death or other consequences which, in turn, impact their own families. To him those wars are events happening “over there.” To us, those wars are impacting our brothers and sisters who offer their lives that others might experience that dream we take for granted, freedom. Anger? Pain? Hurt? We see it on the faces of those whom we serve and with whom we interact on a near daily basis. And I have yet to mention the floods, the fires, the crop failures, the human trafficking, the battered women and children, and any other of localized issues of which Mr. Buffett is unaware or unwilling to mention in a song. We’ve got a lot to drink about, if we choose to numb the pain rather than face it.
But you and I are disciples of Jesus Christ. Like that wonderful prophet John the Baptist, you and I are sent into the wilderness to proclaim the Good News! You and are I called into the world to proclaim His peace, to proclaim His coming near, to proclaim His saving grace. While the rest of the world runs from the pain and hurt or tries to numb itself from the pain, you and I are sent as His hands, His voice, His heart into painful situations. And we witness to a needy world that God became human, that God walked that path to Calvary--healing the sick, feeding the hungry, and giving hope to the hopeless—that He died for all our sins and took that pain and consequence upon Himself, and that God raised Him that wonderful Easter morning, and that the same God who raised Him to new life has promised to raise all those who believe in Him to eternal life as well! You and I are given a peace that passes all human understanding and called, not to sit and idly watch the world pass by and cluck our lips, but to share that peace with all those with whom we come in contact. The events of this world, the tragedies of our lives, have already been conquered by the Risen Christ. That is our hope! That is our promise! That is our peace!
Brothers and sisters, as a denomination, we may not be very good at telling a pollster chapter and verse of a specific biblical quote (and we should not take pride that we do not know our Bibles as well as our brothers and sisters in other denominations), but we are not necessarily biblically illiterate. Many parts of our service in the Book of Common Prayer are taken nearly verbatim from Scripture. And so, in a way, you and I are bathed in the teachings of Scripture each time we gather to celebrate the Eucharist.
Do we have a lot to drink about? You know it. But unlike those who pound beers or drinks looking for an end to the pain, you and I lift a chalice, proclaim the mystery of our faith, and rejoice that the One who redeems, the One who saves, has called each one of us to that wedding feat at the end of time. And no power on earth or in hell can separate us from that party. That’s the peace He offers each one of us. That’s the peace He offers everyone in the world. And, reminded of that certainty, reminded of His promises, we go forth into the world to do all the work He has given us to do. Not fearfully. Not worriedly. But confidently, assuredly, and peacefully!