#RogerBullard

Pentecost 20 – Guest Preacher – Roger Bullard – October 18. 2020

1 Sing to the Lord a new song; *
sing to the Lord, all the whole earth.

2 Sing to the Lord and bless his Name; *
proclaim the good news of his salvation from day to day.

3 Declare his glory among the nations *
and his wonders among all peoples.[1]

Eating Twinkies in the Park with God

#TwinkiesRecently a short video arrived in my inbox. It opens on an eight-year old boy. He is in the kitchen packing twinkies and juice in his backpack. His mother steps in, asks him: “Now where are you off to?” He replies: “I am going to find God!” “I see,” she says, “dinner is at six, don’t be late.” The boy departs, rides the subway, arrives at the park. He slips onto a seat on a park bench, to sit beside an elderly woman with several possessions in a large bag at her side.

The boy opens his backpack and reaches for a twinkie. As he raises the twinkie to his mouth, he pauses. He looks at the woman and, instead, offers her the twinkie. The woman beams, thanks him and accepts his gift.  The two start speaking and laughing.  He offers the woman his juice, much more laughter and smiling. “Gotta go,” he says, after a while. He hugs the woman and departs for home. His mother asks: “well, did you find him?” The boy replies: “God is a woman, mom, and she has the most beautiful smile I have ever seen.”

Back in the park the woman, smiling radiantly, joins an elderly friend. The friend asks, darkly: “why are you in such a good mood?” “Because I just ate twinkies in the park with God,” she smiles. “He is much younger than I expected.”

Israel and the Babylonian Captivity

Out of the sixth century BC, Isaiah speaks of the power and saving grace of God’s word.  Isaiah speaks at the time of captivity of the Israelites in Babylon.  In 597 BC, Jerusalem, the Jewish homeland is overrun by the Babylonians.  The leadership of the Jewish community is torn from their land. They are sent into forced exile into Babylonia, into modern-day Iraq.  Oppressed by the brutality of the most powerful regime of the day they suffer separation from their native culture and religion, from everything central to their life.

#KingCyrus

Cyrus Restoring the Vessels of the Temple

They remain captives in exile for sixty years. In those days that amounted to two generations, long enough for a culture and tradition to fade from memory. Despite unthinkable hardship, they hold on to their tradition and long for their homeland. We hear their words of lament in the opening words of Psalm 137 as they cry: ‘By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion.’[2]

Yet their Lord does not abandon them. Faith in their God is rewarded with the arrival of Cyrus the Great, King of Persia. Cyrus overthrows the Babylonian empire and brings relief to the people of Jerusalem.  Through the power of God Cyrus is sent as the great liberator. Isaiah describes Cyrus as endowed with the power to subdue nations and strip kings of their robes.  Through this agent of God,  the remnant of the faithful in exile is released from bondage. On their journey home they shall travel across mountain passes that have been leveled and through bronze gates that have been unlocked, allowing their passage onward.

Out of Bondage

From the distant past of three thousand years ago these words trumpet God’s power in our lives. God awaits to bring us out of bondage at that moment of our greatest need.  The stage was set even earlier as the Lord leads God’s people out of slavery in Egypt at the time of the Exodus.  The words we hear this morning are as relevant now, as they were then.

#AbrahamLincolnTravel forward to the nineteenth century. The African American peoples have been torn from their homeland.  From the moment of their arrival in the New World, two centuries earlier, they are enslaved by another people.  There are selective attempts to abolish slavery. One of the first was here in Rhode Island, which passed anti-slavery laws in 1774.   But the country remains deeply divided. It was left to a bloody war to end the practice.  By 1862 the country is locked in civil war to gain the freedom of those in bondage. Tens of thousands of soldiers and civilians are being killed.  The economy of the South is being destroyed.  Then, as a 19th century Cyrus,  Abraham Lincoln arrives as a force for freedom.  In January 1863, he overcomes political opposition and frees the Southern slaves through the Emancipation Proclamation.  Two years later, just a few months before Lincoln’s death, the Thirteenth Amendment is adopted, granting freedom to all in bondage.

The passage onward to real freedom, however, is a stoney one. The African Americans will not travel across mountains leveled to ease their passage.  At every turn they will encounter locked bronze gates that bar their passage forward.  But there will be other Cyruses. Other of God’s agents will appear.  As the years roll on, Martin Luther King Jr is sent as a new force from God to find the straight way.  Through Dr. King, God reveals the key to unlock those bronze gates.  It is the gift of love expressed in peaceful resistance.

King Cyrus, President Lincoln, Doctor King – these are three that the Lord anoints to subdue nations before them, to open the doors ahead, and insure the gates shall not be closed. In Dr. King’s words, “We will win our freedom because the sacred heritage of our nation and the eternal will of God are embodied in our echoing demands.”[3]  Dr. King’s legacy, in his death, lives on. The journey continues.

Today’s Bondage

Today, our world is locked in exile as we avoid contact with others to protect us from this invisible, deadly menace. Many of God’s people are suffering.  From loneliness, from separation from loved ones, from the unintended consequences of depression, suicide, loss of life savings and employment. Yet in the face of this we witness the power of God in so many examples of love. The millions of workers delivering life’s essentials, the health care workers and first responders putting themselves at risk to care for those in need. The priest who pronounces the final words of commendation via telephone to a dying person, providing comfort to the lonely, dying person and loved ones.

The story of Cyrus is a powerful example how God acts through us in our time of greatest need.  I tell you now of a son who has been estranged from his father for many years. They have come apart through difference of opinions. The son no longer speaks to his father, so to avoid anger and rejection. They no longer talk of important things, the son’s ambitions, his fondest dreams.  Their voices have grown silent to avoid conflict.

#HospiceToday his father is dying in a retirement home. To comfort the father in his final days, the son returns him home.  Here his father is surrounded in this place of life’s memories. Placed in bed, his father lies on his side, curled tightly in the fetal position. The son reaches out. He touches his father on the forehead. He speaks to his father: “Father, I love you.” At that moment, the son feels a powerful electric impulse passing from his shoulder, through his arm to his palm where he has touched his father. It causes his father to relax completely.  During these final few days of his life, the father is transformed to a former life. The son and family now speak openly as he and his father reestablish their relationship.  The old divisions and anger melt away. The son cannot describe what motivated him to reach out to his father, as he had never touched him or expressed love for him in the past. He attributes it entirely to the power of God working through him.

The Power of God

So, when did you last feel the power of God in your life?  Here is my moment. After pancakes with Della and Jere two weeks ago, I said my goodbyes and headed off for home in Connecticut. It had been a blessing to be with you at Emmanuel that Sunday morning.  I felt warm, fulfilled and, quite honestly, a little self-centered.  I crossed the bridges, gave the obligatory salute to the right to acknowledge my once Navy home at Quonset and settled in for the drive home.

Approaching Exeter I came to a busy intersection…Routes 2 and 102? You would know the place.  Ahead, under the traffic light stood a woman in need. She looked older than her age. She held a sign: “homeless, anything will help.” Something moved me.  I reached for my wallet to discover that, for once, I actually had some cash.  The light turned green and as I moved into the intersection, I called to the woman and waved a $20 out the window. In that moment of brief contact, no more than a few seconds, into the press of the traffic behind me, she called out: ”God Bless you!”

In that nano-second of exchange, the power of God coursed through me. The gift I received from the woman was far greater than that I intended for her.  I had just eaten twinkies in the park with God.

 

 

Works Referenced:

This is a homily delivered to a congregation at Emmanuel Church, Newport RI on Sunday, October 18, 2020. The Lectionary for the day included Isaiah 45:1-7 and Psalm 96:1-9, 10-13. The quotation from Martin Luther King is cited from “Letter from A Birmingham Jail,” 16 April 1963. YouTube video “Eating Twinkies with God”, Meir Kay, Director was downloaded from URL: https://youtu.be/y9N8OXkN0Rk

Roger C. Bullard, October 18, 2020

[1] Psalm 96:1-3

[2] Psalm 137:1

[3] Martin Luther King, Jr. Letter from A Birmingham Jail, 16 April 1963

 

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