Sermon for the Billings

Greetings friends– This is the sermon that I plan on preaching tomorrow for the preaching contest at Harvard Divinity… lemme know what you think; hopefully its not too bad!


Psalm 137

There was a little fish who lived in a river that stretched long, and wide and deep. And that little fish was in the company of many other fish, who together would travel along the river’s currents, flashing silver and gold and bronze as they flitted left and then right. One day, the little fish found itself swimming upward, faster and faster until suddenly she burst out of the water and up, up, up, into a bright and beautiful spring sky. Amazed by what she had just seen, she tried again. This time as she leapt she looked about her and saw rich, lush hills covered in bright flowers and dark, vibrant pines. Again she leapt, and caught site of the warm, sandy beaches which lined the river and a brilliant sky speckled with clouds and lit by the warm, far-reaching rays of the sun. Breathless with excitement, the little fish found her friends and told them of all she had seen, saying “Friends! You will never believe what I have just seen! I jumped out of the water and saw so many wonderful, beautiful things! Trees, and clouds, and flowers, and warm beaches! I never knew these things existed! You should come with me and see!” Her friends, however, looked back at her and asked…. “What’s water?”

Sometimes the water we swim in is warm, inviting, comforts us and sustains us. And sometimes we find ourselves in waters never knowing there is something beautiful, something extraordinary, waiting for us just beyond the surface under which we swim.

For those who mourned by the rivers of Babylon, the waters were a reminder of what had been lost, a visible sign that they were not home but in a foreign land, a land of occupiers, a land of captivity that threatened to render their identity invisible. That threatened to render THEM invisible.

And they are not alone. Many of us, myself included, have experienced the desolation of captivity on various scales. Many of us have sat by the rivers and wept. Many of us have been held captive by a force so deep and so powerful that it threatened to render me invisible. Many of us have been weighed down by forces so heavy and so dark that we could not see the light beyond the waters edge. Many of us have lived in waters where we could not imagine sunshine beyond the surface.

And if we have not experienced it ourselves, we cannot have failed to see the daily desolations of the world. For we all have turned on the television or opened our newspapers and computers and been brought face to face with the modern day captives of so many Babylons-the many homeless and mentally ill who walk the streets of our cities, the homebound elderly who live out long, dark, lonely years in dark, lonely homes, the starving nations that cry out to us in the face of a small child, the warring nations of the world which refuse to be silent, the victims of domestic violence who walk quietly amongst us everyday, the victims of our prison systems whom we shun and refuse to open our businesses and communities to. So many faces of desolation wade in the waters around us, with us. And we have witnessed the despair upon the faces of these our brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers, cousins, friends, and strangers who are imprisoned by the waters which consume them.

So many treacherous waters, both visible and invisible, in which the people of God swim:

There are waters in which violence against brothers and sisters prevails, waters which delude us into thinking peace is nothing but a foolish dream, that it is an impossible illusion, until finally we believe it and resign ourselves to it.

Waters of self-denial and self-hatred, which convince us that we are not worthy and that we will never be worthy of the love that we receive from others and from God, waters that sweet-talk us with culture’s promise that success and money and fame and fortune and perfectly sculpted bodies will give us the love and acceptance that we so desire.

Waters of compulsive behavior, which convince us that we are only doing well if we are always doing something, waters which convince us that stopping is failing, that silence is wasted time, that not doing is not worth doing.

Waters of complacency, which convince us that it is not our job to be in communion with others, that it is not our job to care for the sick, the needy, the thirsty, the imprisoned, the poor, the strangers that cross our paths every minute of every day as long as we live.

We all swim or have swum in waters such as these. We all have felt numbed by the rivers as we have watched those we love slip deeper, deeper, deeper into the water. We have all cried out to God and to each other as those waters have overcome our loved ones. We have all wept bitterly as those waters have carried them as they drift out of communion with one another and with God and into numb resignation to their fate.

Sometimes, in our anger we have cried out loudly for vengeance against our captors and against those in whom we find fault. We have shook our fingers angrily when governments fail to work for peace as we would have them, when officials whom we elected have not executed justice and dispensed mercy as we believe they ought. We have decried those people and systems which have failed us and which continue to fail us. And we have cried for blood, for the right to dash our captors against the rocks, and we have believed that with this blood we will finally find peace we are searching for.

But our captor’s pain will not heal us. Capital punishment will not resurrect a loved one. Impeaching a President will not heal the divisions that exist between us. Building walls will not protect us from the divisions that reside within our hearts and keep us from communion with one another. These are only distractions, angry reactions that intensify our pain and deny the true source of our hurt, deny the truth that the pain that we feel is a part of us that we must deal with ourselves, a pain that will not be wiped away even if we wipe away those who have inflicted it upon us.

And in our cries for vengeance we forget the truth-that there is a land beyond those waters. That there is life beyond captivity. That there is a home to which we all belong, a home where we are longed for, searched after, prayed and cared tenderly for. Most of all, we forget that we do not swim alone. In our pain, we forget that there is a God who loves us, a God who weeps as She swims alongside us, begging us to look up from our sorrow and into the sun. We have forgotten because we have let ourselves believe that we are not worthy of such love, that we are not worthy of the sunlight that glitters at the water’s edge. We have let ourselves believe we deserve our captivity, that it is a necessary corollary of our human condition. We have forgotten what hope feels like.

And it would be so easy to prove ourselves wrong, for all we have to do,…. Is jump. Just jump. Jump out of those waters and into the fresh air. Jump out of captivity and into the bright light that warms our hearts. Jump into a new way of life that resists the rumor that those waters ever defined us, that those waters ever were us.

And when we jump we can begin to be healed, for when we jump we signal our refuse to give in to Babylon. When we make the choice to leap out of the river, we reject captivity, we reject negativity, we reject passivity, we reject insensitivity. We reject them, knowing that they will not define us ever again. We reject them, trusting in the Truth that promises us, “Do not worry, I am with you,” the Truth that convicts us and sustains our hearts, and our minds, and our bodies, and the communities. The Truth that God is Love, and that we are Loved by God.

So in the name of a God who loves us and will never let us go, we reject them, and we leap into a life that offers hope beyond our wildest dreams. Alleluia, Amen.

2 thoughts on “Sermon for the Billings

  1. So the sermon went alright… i learned some things and enjoyed the experience, as weird as the concept of a sermon competition was.

    I didn’t make it into the final, but the friends that I was really hoping would did, which made me happy. I look forward to seeing how they all fare in the final!

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