The Rev. Rebecca S. Myers, CSW
St. John’s Episcopal Church, Corbin, KY
Advent II, Year A, December 8, 2013
Merciful God, who sent your messengers the prophets to preach repentance and prepare the way for our salvation: Give us grace to heed their warnings and forsake our sins, that we may greet with joy the coming of Jesus. Collect for Advent II
Please be seated.
Today we hear about the human messenger God sent to let people know about Jesus Christ. Good stewards are messengers, bearing communications from God. We are all called to be messengers of the gospel of peace.
Let’s look at some of the characteristics of a messenger….
- John is described as a character…someone who doesn’t quite fit in with the others of his time. He dresses funny and eats funny. At the time, John reminded people of Elijah, the most revered prophet who was supposed to be returning. So maybe he didn’t seem as odd to people of the times, but more exciting in the hope that he was Elijah returned. In any event, a messenger can be someone who is unfamiliar.
- Also, John’s quirkiness grabbed people’s attention. If you’re going to deliver a message, you need some way to get people’s attention.
- A messenger often delivers a message that radically transforms our lives. John’s call to repent was understood to be a call to turn around from how people were behaving at the time. To reform our lives. That may be the toughest part of being a messenger of Jesus Christ… turning around from the way we are living and being that model. We must first repent of our own sins and our own ways of living that are against God.
- A messenger must deliver the message again and again. I don’t know about you, but I remember my parents saying in exasperation, “How many times have I told you….?” John insists that we bear fruit worthy of repentance and not rely upon shallow claims of our connections.
- A messenger takes risks and may be killed in the process, which is what happens to John. But the message is so powerful, that it must be proclaimed and without fear of death. John was killed for his prophetic voice. We may not be killed, but we can lose friends or even be alienated from our families and friends because of the messages we are called upon to deliver.
I believe that this past week, we have witnessed the death of a messenger, Nelson Mandela. He was not flawless. He was human. He grew and changed over time. Earlier in his life, he believed the only way to overthrow the oppression of apartheid was through violence and some people died as a result of his actions. At his sentencing in the early 1960s, he was sure he was going to be hung. He took the opportunity to proclaim this message:
“During my lifetime I have dedicated my life to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons will live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal for which I hope to live for and to see realized. But, My Lord, if it needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.” http://m.motherjones.com/politics/2013/12/nelson-mandela-epitaph-own-words-rivonia
He brought a message of peace and harmony; of respect for all people.. of tearing down superiority. And as a Messenger, he was prepared to die to see this vision.. a vision of Jesus Christ for all people… there is neither Jew nor Greek… become reality
As we know, he did not die, but instead was taken to Robben Island prison and kept in solitary confinement for most of his 17 years there. He was then transferred to another prison and eventually to a house, spending a total of 27 years in prison, nearly 1/3 of his life. He was not with his family nor his children.
But one of the most amazing things is his understanding that revenge was fruitless. I heard he said if he came out of prison hating those who imprisoned him or those who enforced the system of apartheid, it would mean he was still in prison. Hating others is a prison. He invited his jailers to his inauguration.He had tea with the lawyer who prosecuted him.
When former president Botha did not want to appear before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission because he believed he would be mistreated, Mr. Mandela called Archbishop Tutu who headed the commission and said to let Mr. Botha know that Mr.Mandela would be there every day that Mr. Botha testified and not only that, Mr. Mandela would sit next to Mr. Botha the entire time!
And even though there were terrible atrocities that occurred during apartheid, instead of blame and trials, he asked Archbishop Desmond Tutu to lead a process of truth and reconciliation… in essence a process of repentence. If people who had committed these atrocities came forward and confessed, in some cases, they received no punishment or lighter punishment than if they had not confessed.
His ability to forgive…his compassion for his persecutors has led to a very different country. No, South Africa is not perfect. The country has its issues for sure, but I was moved when I was there in 2008 by the society that had been created. Can you imagine, the national anthem is made up of three different songs, including the Afrikaans anthem – the oppressors words. The anthem has three different languages in it and people know the words. There are 11 official languages with English being the language of business. There is a joy in their diversity.
In all of the coverage this week, I heard Mr. Mandela say in an interview that when he died, he wanted people to say, “Here lies a man who has done his duty on earth..”
We are called to be messengers of God… to work to bring the Kingdom of God here on earth. There are messages God calls each of us to deliver with love and compassion. Let us repent, turn around and reform so we can with grace, love, and patience convey the messages God needs us to convey. Amen.