Sermon – December 7, 2014
The Rev. Rebecca S. Myers, CSW
St. John’s Episcopal Church, Corbin, KY
the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
`Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight,
Please be seated
In 1970, when I was 14, my parents decided we’d take a trip to the southern United States. A major purpose was to show me the town where I was born, Ft. Smith, Arkansas. My father was in the army, stationed at Ft. Chaffee, when I was born. He and my mother lived there only six more weeks afterwards, because my father’s Army time was up. So I have no memories of Ft. Smith or Ft. Chaffee. Another purpose was to visit friends my parents met while my dad was in the Army and to show my two brothers and me the United States.
Off we went, first to Dayton, Ohio, and the airplane museum at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. Then to St. Louis where we rode up the arch and saw the baseball stadium. Then south to Ft. Smith, visiting what remained of Ft. Chaffee, and standing in front of the house my parents lived in when I was born. Then we took a side trip over to Oklahoma to Tahlequah, the Western Cherokee capital. Then to Lake Charles, Louisiana, to visit friends and swim in the Gulf of Mexico. Finally, we went to New Orleans, eating at the famous restaurants, listening to jazz music, staying in the French Quarter, and having our portraits done in Jackson Square.
Then started the LONG ride home, stopping along the way to spend the night. We had the big blue Buick and things got a little boring in the car, so we’d start to sing. I have this image of my mother in the back seat with one of my brothers and me (the other brother was riding shotgun) and we were singing “Country Roads, take me home….”
We got to Rt. 81 in Southwest Virginia and at Wytheville, my father decided he wanted to show us a new tunnel that was being built. One of my father’s law clients was Langenfelder from Baltimore, MD, and they built tunnels. Besides hearing the name quite a bit in our home, I knew them because they allowed my dad to use their baseball box seats at the Orioles game about once a year and boy, those were great seats!
We got off Rt. 81 and onto this new highway going West. No one else was on the road. We drove and drove, until we reached a big mountain and there it was…this HUGE hole built into the side of the mountain. The tunnel would connect to Bluefield, WV. Once it was completed, people wouldn’t have to snake up and over that big mountain; they’d just breeze through the tunnel.
In today’s Old Testament lesson from Isaiah, which is then quoted in the beginning of the Gospel of Mark, we hear these words:
‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way;
3 the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
“Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight” ’,
This was quoted from Isaiah 40, words from the prophet in exile in Babylon, but anticipating the peoples’ return to Jerusalem. You see, Israel didn’t have roads. The terrain was difficult, so mostly there were beaten paths – that’s what the Hebrew word for “road” means – beaten path. They were really well-used footpaths. There was no highway department nor transportation money to care for these roads. No repairs were made to them nor obstacles removed.
On certain occasions, a king at the time, had roads made so their armies could travel from place to place. It’s that idea that prompted the words from Isaiah and subsequently Mark. A great King is coming. People, in this case John the Baptist, have been sent ahead to prepare a road, so the King and the King’s army can travel the land with ease.
That tunnel through the mountain at Bluefield, WV, or the tunnel at Cumberland Gap, are modern equivalents. No longer must you snake up and down the mountain to travel. That big tunnel through the mountain has made your path straight.
And in the same way, we are called to prepare the way for Jesus’ coming. We’re called to stop the snaking up and down the mountains and instead, to make a straight and easy path for God to break into our world.
There are many ways we need to do this – some of those are unique and special to us – things God is calling us to do. For instance, last week, Emily Cardwell talked about her call to prison ministry. There are some things we must do together in Christian community and as the community of St. John’s.
As I reflected upon the events of the past couple of weeks in Ferguson, MO, and Staten Island, NY, I believe one way we must prepare the way of the Lord and make straight a highway is to address the issue of racism. Now, I could preach for a long time on what I think needs to be done. Yes, there needs to be education and discussion. But that needs to then lead to action. There are a couple of action things I suggest we can do together as St. John’s.
When Elmer Parlier was looking at the old deeds for our property, he discovered some restrictions on some of the older deeds that prohibited the property from being sold to a person who was African-American. Now those old deeds used a common name that we now consider pejorative.
And most of us know about how the African-Americans in Corbin were put on the train north and their part of town burned down in the early 1900s, something that happened in lots of places at the time.
In addition, Corbin was a “sundown town” almost into 1990! That is, a town where African-Americans were told by signs leading into town, that they needed to be out of the city limits by sundown.
In looking at these things, I believe we must ask, what does that mean for us today? What did those restrictive covenants and the burning of property, and denying people to be in town based upon their race, do to us today? What is the legacy of those rules and events? And then, what must be our response to that today? How do we repent of the evil that has been done?
Another area where we could do more involves supporting Ken and Shelia and the Kentucky Native American Museum and the Annual Pow-Wow. For a number of years, we hosted the pow-wow in our park. We also have handed out water to attendees and participants each year. But while the museum travels all over Kentucky, many of the local schools have not participated in either the education day before the opening of the pow-wow nor in having the museum come to their schools.
And while the Pow-Wow is a great event tourism-wise, with people renting rooms in the hotels and eating in the local restaurants, none of the local tourism agencies contribute dollars to it. And there were murmurs after the first year, that the people who attended and participated were “dark skinned,” so there was an undercurrent to move the pow wow somewhere else.
What is this legacy that remains of viewing native people, especially the native people of this land right where we sit, as not human? How has that legacy affected us and how does it continue to affect us today?
In addition, to handing out water at the pow-wow, are there things God is calling us to do to address this particular issue in this region? Can we accompany Ken and Shelia to the hearings regarding whether money should be given for these events? Can we write letters of support?
You see, right now when it comes to addressing this pervasive issue of racism in our country, we keep snaking up over the mountains, switchback after switchback, single file on worn footpaths, with obstacles, and ruts. But our God is coming and has asked us to make a straight road…has asked us to prepare the way. We, like John the Baptist are the messengers of God’s coming. Let’s prepare the way!