The reflection below is one I gave today at Christ Church Cathedral, St. Louis, MO. The verse cited are from the Daily Office lectionary and can be found at: http://bible.oremus.org/?passage=Isaiah+44:9-20 and http://bible.oremus.org/?passage=Ephesians+4:17-32
I am so proud to be here today, a part of this historic wonderful day. As I watched the first Inauguration ceremony, "We are One" on Sunday evening, I began grinning foolishly. A friend emailed me and asked, "Is this really happening?"
It is an amazing thing to think about – yes, it is really happening. There is so much Hope…I am filled with it. I see it in the faces of all who surround me. It is alive and breathing.
And it is smiling.
But there is a certain fear that lives just under the surface of the hope.
As I read these readings for today, it became more clear to me how that fear was growing and why.
Isaiah speaks to the idea of all that we, as humans, are capable of making and doing. The blacksmith takes a piece of iron and shapes it in the fire into something useful or beautiful. The carpenter, out a piece of dead wood, fashions a thing of beauty, even to the point of human likeness. Yet the tool or art that the blacksmith makes cannot feed him; it cannot save him. That which the carpenter makes may look like a human but it cannot be compared to the "image of God". We can plant trees, water and nurture these and they are useful to us and these are good. But these are not gods. These are not God. Just because these things are useful or beautiful, these material objects cannot save us. We cannot make these things, neither the art or the artisan, into idols.
Paul speaks to the Ephesians, warning them about living "in the futility of their minds." Basically, they think too much of themselves rather than of others. He worries that their hearts are hardened and that they are distancing themselves from God because of this ignorance and loss of sensitivity.
I love the next part – "Be angry but do not sin." Paul talks about a righteous anger, born of a desire to see justice and righteousness prevail – where our lust for dishonesty, pettiness and greed are set aside and we realize that we understand we are clothed in our new selves, created by God in that image of righteousness and holiness.
Today is the day that we watch as the 44th President of the United States of America is sworn in to this elected office. It is a historic day. It is a day when the people of the United States show the rest of the world that we want to change. We want change so radically that we did something few people thought we would ever do. We put aside our idol of bigotry, our ignorance and pettiness and elected the first African American to the highest office in our country.
We set aside racism, an evil that haunts us still and exists within every nook and cranny of these United States. Yet in spite of our bigotry, the citizens of this country became angry enough to speak truth to the power and say – the greed has become a stench…this is too much; we have strayed from that image of righteousness and holiness.
Even if it is only for a moment that racism is overcome, it is a beginning. Through Barack and Michele Obama and their two little girls, America will see into the lives of a world we never thought we would witness. And it will make a difference. It will make a difference.
But we have to take care. Barack Obama is just a man. Right now, we think he is very useful and very beautiful. We see his righteousness; we may even declare it holy. We even believe that he can help turn the tide of anger against the US so that people do not hate us.
But he is just a man. This is not his to do alone. Nor can he do it alone.
We have given him – he has given us - the tool to begin the work. We gave him our vote – he offered himself – not as a living sacrifice but as a leader who can lead us into a way that is right and just.
This does not mean that the people of the US are done. It is up to us to erase the idols of bigotry – of racism, sexism, heterosexism, classism and all the other isms we can name. While he is working from the Oval Office, we have to work on the streets, in our homes, at our work and in our church.
We must remember Paul's words to the Ephesians – Be angry but do not sin. Be angry at the injustices that have brought us to this place – injustices we have allowed by our neglect, our silence, our desire to just get along. But do not sin.
Do not let the sun go down on our anger – act so that as the sun sets, we can look back at the day and say, this is what I did today and it is good.
We must remember the lesson about the idols – do not make graven images and neither can we make humans into gods.
President elect Obama is our leader…that means he is not alone. We are behind him.
We must be willing and active participants in this thing we proudly hail as Democracy.