Come by here, my Lord, come by here....Oh Lord, come by here.
When you live in New York City, you pretty much expect the unexpected when you sit down in a taxi. In fact, they've built a whole TV show on this very premise. It's called "Taxicab Confessions." People share their deepest, darkest secrets with a cab driver they hope they'll never see again. You don't know what's gonna unfold when you crawl inside. You just need to be ready.
On November 9th, the day after the presidential election, I sat down in a cab and I've got to tell you: I was shellshocked ... like nearly every American, however they voted. The driver Mauricio asked how I was doing and, at first, I couldn't even find the words. And then I couldn't stop. I was scared at the forces of hatred America had now unleashed. I was sad, as a black woman, to see Obama's legacy so gleefully reversed. And I was disappointed at just how deep the fault lines separating us run.
Mauricio listened. He nodded, like a good confessor. And then, I want you to know, he peered in that rearview mirror and gave me a talking to, the kind your grandmama gave when she caught you moping around her kitchen. "I've seen a lot of people today," he said, "and they're all sad," "People in my cab are sad. People in my neighborhood are sad. Yes, we're immigrants. Yes, we're poor. But here's what I told them and I'm telling you: 'I am not afraid. You can't be afraid either.'"
Mauricio's words sounded lovely and hopeful and completely divorced from reality, but he just kept going. "I'm not worried," he said, "because if the day comes when a president tries to hurt us, really hurt people, there's gonna be somebody in that Congress who believes in God. They might be a Republican or a Democrat, I don't know. But that person will say, 'No, Mr. President, you cannot do this. Because I believe in God and God lives in these people, and you cannot hurt them.' And other people who believe in God will speak up, too. I am not afraid, because somebody in there follows Jesus."
I was the one wearing the clerical collar, the priest on my way to a church function. But Mauricio--he was the preacher, the messenger who reminded me that God is mighty, that God working in God's people is mighty, and that Jesus and his followers are still on the scene.
On this third Sunday of Epiphany, the Sunday after the inauguration of Donald Trump as the president of the United States of America, I hear the voice of Mauricio. I hear the voices of my grandmothers. And as I read the gospel of Matthew, I see and feel and hear God incarnate calling people to repent and turn toward the kingdom of justice and hope and mutuality and love for the other. I see and feel and hear Jesus beckoning us to follow him. And I am not afraid. No, I feel ready--ready to follow like I never have before. And thanks be to God, I know I'm not the only one.
I fear that for generations mainline churches have been lulled into a deep, deep sleep. We've too often placed God in a pretty and inconsequential box, pulling him out as a decorative life accessory or the ultimate therapist, but not really expecting God to do anything. We humans get the job done; God inspires, teaches, soothes.
Really? Where would we be, if that's all there was to God? Surely there's more. Ask the Israelites, and you'll hear about a God who liberates people from every kind of slavery. A God who touches the mouths of prophets with burning coal and gives them a word and a truth they could not have manufactured on their own. Oh, there must be more to this God.
We Christians ought to know there's more to God. Just look at Jesus, the clear and true embodiment of God with us. Would so many people have flipped their lives inside out, literally dropped their nets, for a really good teacher, an entertaining speaker? Would the religious and political authorities have been so dead set on shutting this brother down, if he was merely a good organizer or one more wannabe messiah?
No, Jesus walked up and down Galilee, and everything about him radiated the fullness of God. He was the real deal, and when he announced the kingdom was near, people believed it because it was unfolding around him with every step he took. Simon Peter saw it, sensed it. His brother Andrew did, too. When this Jesus turned toward them and said, "Follow me," they simply replied, "Alright. We're with you."
He walked and walked, teaching like one with wisdom in the synagogue and proclaiming good news on the streets. He touched people and brought them to wholeness. With every step, every move, the kingdom unfolded in Jesus' presence.
Maybe you remember Michael Jackson's video for "Billy Jean." He's stepping down the street, and everywhere his foot lands, that block of pavement lights up. Now I'm not drawing any equivalencies between Michael Jackson and Jesus. Don't get worried. I'm just saying that image works for me. Wherever Jesus stepped, there was the light and power of God. Isaiah's prophecy was fulfilled in real space and time: the people sitting in darkness looked up when Jesus drew near, and they couldn't deny the God-power shining out of him. "Now that's light," they said. So much light that even death on the cross couldn't extinguish it. That much light.
Wealthy women and uneducated men followed it. Lonely children and abandoned elders followed it. Centurions and Samaritans, tax collectors and holy people followed it. Countless generations of every nation, race and tongue have followed it.
And when they did, something happened. Folk stepped into Jesus' footsteps, were literally baptized into his life, death and resurrection, and they became powerful, just like him. They became salt and light in the world, just like him. They rose up in the face of death, just like him. As long as they stayed hooked up with that source, as long as they kept walking the streets and studying his word and falling in love with God and sharing his body and blood and healing all that is broken and proclaiming God's dream for this world--as long as they followed Jesus' Way, fear didn't stand a chance.
If we ever needed this light and power--the light and power of Jesus before--we sure do need it now. You must have heard the yearning among our friends and neighbors and perfect strangers. People who have nothing to do with church are turning this way and that, seeking at last a truth that cannot be spun and a light that cannot be quenched.
In just last month my friend Josh reached out to me. He's a twenty-something working for one of those fast-talking Washington, DC, think tanks, you know, the kind with all the answers. And he just about broke my heart when he told me: "Rev. Steph, since the election we've been in deep trouble. I've got friends who are conservative and progressive, lots of faith and no faith. And we don't know how to trust, how to talk or even how to look at each other. It's like something inside us and between us is broken. I think we need a spiritual retreat. You're a priest. Can you help us?"
Josh hasn't been to church or even called on the name of Jesus in a long, long time. But when the secular platitudes fell flat and the think tank officially ran out of solutions, when the temptation to demonize and lash out welled up and just about took him over, he remembered. In his gut, he knew this Jesus Way could heal what's hurting us and stop us from hurting each other.
Josh and Mauricio know something about God that we good Christians have almost forgotten. So now, dear ones in Christ, wake up! Remember who and whose you are. Because the followers of Jesus were made for moments like this. Fear looms like that thief in the night; we answer with resurrection hope. Selfish lies threaten the fabric of our democracy; we speak truth til our voices are hoarse. Hate and division push people into terrified corners; we link arms and walk the loving, liberating, life-giving way Jesus showed us, humble but not humiliated, healing but not dominating, smarter than any serpent but never as cruel. We do not stop.
You feel the fire and the light of Christ burning bright and good and hot, and when it's your time, you stand up and say, "No, you cannot hurt the beloved children of God. And we are all beloved children of God." And when they ask who sent you, when they ask who you follow, you say the name above all other names. You tell them: Jesus. And watch this world turn. Amen.