Leading up to my boyfriend’s confirmation service, I was standing in line with him to get some paperwork signed by the Bishop of Atlanta: Rob Wright. I had been telling my boyfriend how much I adored the Bishop, and that I really hoped he would be giving the sermon- as this man knew how to preach.
Preach, he would. I was flattered that he somewhat recognized me, and I referred to myself as “the Troublemaker at St. Paul’s in Macon”- and that he likely remembered me because I fussed at my son who was running away from me in his presence. But my son’s name is Bishop, which made the Bishop of Atlanta jump, and I had to wave my hand casually and say “Not you- him!” He laughed at me referring to myself as a troublemaker, and said “well then you’ll LOVE today’s sermon!”
He was more than right. More so than he could have known.
He opened with how much he loved Advent, and that this sermon would be about John the Baptist- and that Henry David Thoreau reminded him of John. “If I repent of anything, it is likely to be my good behavior…. in the face of so much injustice”. Bishop Wright said it leads him straight to John the Baptist.
John the Baptist who was in the River Jordan, his feet muddy in the waters, who wasn’t- as Bishop Wright thought aloud to so many new and old Episcopalians in their beautiful Gothic cathedral raised to be in that river. “John knew his dessert forks and his Windsor knots,” he smiled at us, reaching me to my core. What gets him in that river when he was raised just oh so proper?
He was there because he GOT GOD. He paid attention to it all. The beauty of God is to do something for God- “to show up in Hell for the sake of Heaven”. Offering himself to the WORLD. “Ended up with sinners because the church had forgotten it’s purpose to tell sinners that God is LOVE-”
Yes, let me stop some of you Theological Historians and say yes, we all know that there is no “church” at this point in the time of church history. But there is the beginnings of it all, the roots of our faith. Keep bearing with me here.
We are all blemished on this Earth, there is no one without Sin. But the Glory of this season is that we are reminded that the Christ Child is on his way to us and he will be here to take that sin away. But there is still John- John who would teach him many things. John who would muddy his feet in the waters of the river to bathe our sins away and to get down and dirty with us. To not be sanctimonious. To SHOW us what God and Love is because they are one in the same. God can put his/her arms around you and make you know love.
The best indicator of our faith is what we will do with it. John was a troublemaker. He did things that we wasn’t supposed to do in the name of fighting for those who could not.
The previous Sunday I was in church, I was concerned about the salvation of my soul. Was I fighting too hard? Was there a chance of this? The first reading was from Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24:
I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out…. I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, but the fat and the strong I will destroy….
Could that be me? Am I the fat and the strong? Or do the very American ideals of Manifest Destiny and ties to Calvinism somehow protect me from this?
Second reading, Ephesians 1:15-23:
God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name is named….
This would include politicians, celebrities, all those who say they are better than someone else- who are we to think these things? They are not of God, but we are also sinners and as such we are subject to the evil that lays before us. The sermon that day from Father Bryan would tell me that if I am saved then so is everyone else- if I can be both powerful and weak then so can others- even those others who I might not deign to be worthy of my time. Just like that troublemaker John the Baptist.
Be the person who can guide those into the Love of God. “We are called to be like John the Baptist and be sinners amongst all other sinners-” Bishop Wright would say.
It made me think of some things happening in my hometown right now.
There are children who need a Christmas. Every kid deserves this. There are families working hard to get that Christmas for them, who plan and do layaways, but sometimes they just can’t quite get there. There are other families who, for various reasons, turn to other agencies for help. Groups like Layaway Santa & the Salvation Army help. Christmas is an easy time to think of these people, but what are we doing year round?
There’s a debate about what to do with the homeless population, the city is going to be evicting their tent homes- for lack of better terms. There’s been Facebook statues, and people rightly pointing out their fears of those who are aggressive, and people rightly saying that people are simply people… can’t more be done?
And then there are those who are called into action, taking clothing and food to these people. I don’t have a better solution. I don’t have a home I can safely open to these people, and I also would have to protect my children even if I did have room in my home. At the very least, I can do more. Something more.
At the very least, I know I can welcome those to church. Not just for the sake of church, not to shove down some kind of Gospel led fire and brimstone Christianity. But… perhaps a home.
As Bishop Wright said, letting those in the dark know that they are not judged. Whether it be for addiction, adultery, lust or whatever ails your heart. You are LOVED.
And then he spoke of the rapper Logic. Yes, the Bishop of Atlanta spoke about a rapper named Logic to a largely white audience about his hit song. The title of it is 1-800-273-8255.
The phone number for the Suicide Prevention Hotline.
That cut me to the core. You see, I’ve never spoken about this “out loud”- but I have been someone who has had to call that number. When you are lost it can be so hard to find your way out of it. And I am lucky- I was in that place before my children were born and as bad as it can and has gotten…. I have always got my kids to look to. They are the brightest lights in my life and they let me know that God loves me- because how could he not if he gave me them?
To some extent, I am still covered in grief by those who did not take a similar potential loss I could have experienced earlier this year so seriously. And I am still left fighting for those who cannot fight for themselves. There are so many children left with a sadness that someone has not taken away.
Does this fight end up leaving my soul dammed? This wave of anger and hurt that can overcome me? Bishop Wright says the troublemaker can do good.
We’re now seeing a little boy who went viral for an anti-bullying video come under more attack because of the views of his mother. Perhaps the video was concocted, perhaps it was true, but at the heart of it all is a child who in some form was bullied- either by his parents or his peers or both. And now he’s got the world coming down around him. What must be happening in this child’s mind?
Not everyone is as lucky as we are, and the holidays can be a grim reminder of that for some.
Bishop Wright used this as an example of being the light for others. That Logic’s song and it’s VMA performance led to an increase of 50% in phone calls to this number. Be a light. Bishop Wright quoted the lyrics and asked us how have WE benefitted from knowing God?
John the Baptist understands this thirst that others have for God- he is a troublemaker in that he gets down with those who need God the most.
“How do you know you are doing the right kind of misbehaving?” Bishop Wright asked us. “If it extends the Reach of God- if life is to be of great use them we might have to rebel against separate and strive for equal”.
“Baptism gives us a quarrel with the world if done so in the name of Jesus.”
Go out- and be a warrior for Him. Be like John- the Raised Right Troublemaker. Fight in the best way there is for those who cannot and show them the greatest love there is.
Love to all y’all,