A sermon preached at the Cathedral Eucharist on the feast of the Birth of John the Baptist. In the light of how we treat children - and the images from the US border and boats crossing the Mediterranean - the question of what this child/these children become is acute. The parallels with reflections on Hamilton in relation to John were thought provoking. The texts were: Isaiah 40:1-11, Galatians 3:23-end and Luke 1:57-66, 80
Hamilton. Alexander Hamilton.
First US Secretary of the Treasury.
Overlooked as the face on a ten dollar bill.
Brought to life in an exuberant mega-musical.
A score infused with hip-hop, rap, indie-rock and operetta.
Hamilton: praised on this side of the pond for its ‘political passion’ and ‘nimble wit’.
Alexander Hamilton: who lives, who dies, your tells your story?
This is about the independence of a nation: about revolution and government; interpreting the constitution and managing the economy.
It’s about American identity and European destiny; it’s about urban entrepreneurs and agricultural labourers.
It’s about opportunists and visionaries: the people in the room with power and immigrants getting the job done.
It’s about Alexander Hamilton, as the opening song puts it:
How does a bastard, orphan, son of a whore and a Scotsman,
dropped in the middle of a forgotten spot in the Caribbean by providence,
impoverished, in squalor grow up to be a hero and a scholar?
It’s about us too - our history, legacy and identity; our cries for comfort, justice and unity.
For something so historically engaged, Hamilton fizzes with contemporary challenge.
From this week’s news headlines we are confronted by: the orphan, the forgotten, the impoverished; the migrant, the president, the constitution; the negotiations behind closed doors, the concerns of business, public services and national debt.
As we navigate these challenges as people of faith, we unite our cries with the voices of scripture.
When we’re angry, bewildered and heart-broken, we ask who lives, who dies, who tells God’s story?
One who does just that is John the Baptist.
Today we celebrate his birth:
How does an only child, son of barren woman and an old man,
dropped in the middle of a forgotten spot in Israel by providence,
with rejoicing, a sign of mercy grow up to be a prophet in the wilderness?
At the point at which Zechariah and Elizabeth had given up all hope of parenthood, they are promised a son. A son who will bring joy; who will be filled with the power of the Spirit.
In the words of the angel, this child who will turn our hearts: moving us from disobedience to wisdom, bringing reconciliation to our households. This child will make us ready, will prepare the way for the Lord.
Whist his father, was literally speechless, this child leapt in the womb as his mother, embraced Mary: the God bearer.
John’s birth is greeted with rejoicing. His name meaning God is gracious expresses something of paternal gratitude. But his name and calling will be challenging too.
What will this child become?
It’s a question which hovers on our lips when we see an infant: godchildren, nieces, grandson; the orphan, the longed for, the impoverished; the child wailing at the American border.
What a child becomes depends on the stability, nurture and opportunities we provide. We give thanks for them, worry about them and rejoice in them before ultimately letting go of the children in our care. It’s the risk of teaching, parenting or mentoring.
This child, John, grew and became strong. He wasn’t to be the practical consolation in his parents’ old age. John was drawn to the wilderness and there is name and calling become one - declaring God’s name and inviting us to walk in God’s ways.
Echoing Isaiah, he is a voice crying out in the wilderness.
He lives, he dies, he tells God’s story.
Words which declare comfort to the afflicted; which speak tenderly of God’s love to the brokenhearted.
Words of comfort when we go astray and face the consequences of our selfishness and disobedience.
Words which remind us that whilst our human life is fragile and limited, God’s love endures forever.
Words which speak of God’s glory being revealed: the vulnerable lifted up, the mighty brought down, a path made straight for us to walk in through the wilderness.
Elizabeth and Zechariah let John go: freeing him to speak truthfully to those in power; to challenge the complacent; to encourage the visionaries; and to bring compassion to the weak.
His father’s words of praise - the Benedictus we say or sing at morning prayer - invites us to share in John’s prophetic message.
It’s a message which calls for repentance, an acknowledgement of all that hurts us and breaks our hearts; sins of negligence, weakness and our own deliberate fault.
It’s a message which proclaims forgiveness, the promise of healing, freedom, compassion and peace; being justified by faith.
We too are called to lift up our voices as heralds of this message of good tidings.
Like John, we are to point others to Jesus: declaring, here is your God!
The God who in Christ Jesus, rebukes and forgives, feeds and guides, lives and dies for us; who dies and lives for ever.
This proclamation includes a commitment to fulfil the promise of feeding, gathering, carrying and leading others.
Feeding, gathering, carrying and leading our children: those who’re anxious about exams or ensnared by debt; those whose relationships falter or who face addiction; those whose ideas challenge and inspire; the revolutionaries and visionaries; those fleeing across the Mediterranean to seek refuge.
What will these children become?
Feeding, gathering, carrying and leading our children: those who slip through the net of social security; those abused within the church; those whose lives are shaped by our immigration control; those who will graduate in this cathedral to be lawyers, politicians, scientists, musicians, financiers and nurses.
What will these children become?
We like them, are called by name; we raise our voices in praise and protest, tenderness and hope; we like them are children.
By the power of the Spirit, in union with Christ, we are all children of God: There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.
We are called by name not simply to tell our story but to take our part in proclaiming God’s story; not to make a name for ourselves, but to speak tenderly to God’s people; our legacy in life and death is to prepare a way for Jesus our Lord; being Spirit led and seeking God’s Kingdom.
Who lives, who dies, who tells your story?
For Hamilton, it was his wife Eliza. She was proud to set up an orphanage - a legacy which showed responsibility for enabling others to take their place in society.
Who tells God’s story?
We who break bread together are to be heralds of good news - tidings of repentance, forgiveness and peace. In every gesture, every task, every donation, every conversation, every vote, every petition, every act of compassion and every legacy: we live to tell God’s story.
© Julie Gittoes 2018