A Black Friday Street Sermon

nathanielkiddnathanielkidd on 1290700718|%B %d

At 0-Dark 30, before expectant crowds waiting in line to get into a big box store with a fabulous sale.
I select my place strategically, where I am well lit and can be well heard; with something behind me that I am not crept up upon.
As is my custom, I am wearing a simple black robe, and no shoes, and carrying only a Bible. I have no signs; I am the sign.


Prayer

Almighty God, in you we live and move and have our being: be present with us in all our dealings and doings, and open our minds and hearts to see your work in all people and things, that we may draw near to you, and worthily and truly praise your Holy name, through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you in the power of the Holy Spirit, One God, now and forever. Amen


Nathaniel Preaches in Madison
Nathaniel Preaches in Madison

I recognize that what I am about to do is uncouth and unusual, and may make you uncomfortable. But believe me, I am much more uncomfortable about this than you are. I am not angry or crazy; I am not here to judge or to condemn. But I am under a commission, no, I am under a compulsion, to preach the Gospel, and to speak the Truth at all times and in all places.

I want to get at the truth this morning by asking one simple question: Whom do you worship? Whom do you worship?

Jesus tells us that where our treasure is, there our hearts will be also. He tells us that we cannot serve two masters: we will love one and hate other, or we will be devoted to one and despise the other. It is impossible, he tells us, to serve God and money. Jesus tells us not to be anxious and seek after the things of this world, but to seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness, and God will provide for us the things that we need. And St. Paul tells us that we are slaves of the one to whom we present ourselves to obey.

Here we stand, early on the morning of Black Friday, on the High Holy Day of American Capitalism, before a Temple of Consumption. Here we stand, all of us, waiting with our sacrifices and offerings, waiting to exchange them for some sacrament of the Good Life. And tell me, whom do you worship?

Now I know that this is a little unfair. We don’t think of our shopping as an explicitly religious act, and further, there is a certain necessity to buying and selling and getting gain. But look again, and look closely. What defines, and what interrupts, the rhythms of your life? Where do you place your time, your talent, your energy, your treasure? What religious festival will get you up before dawn, and draw you eagerly to the temple? Tell me this, and I will tell you whom you worship.

No one will deny that there are some, indeed, there are many in this culture for whom shopping and material gain is an essentially religious pursuit. And quite frankly, it is a bad religion. There is no more ridiculous, no more destructive system of belief in the world. Everyone knows that getting more stuff cannot make you happy, yet how many of us act as though it can? Everyone knows that our insatiable greed is crucifying the earth, but how many of us are willing to make more than the most superficial sacrifice to change their lifestyle?

Consumerism is our national religion; it permeates all of our hearts, even if it doesn’t define us as individuals. Its symbols reach us through a persistent barrage of advertizing and entertainment, through holidays organized around spending money. It defines us as a people on the deepest and on the highest level, and it is disgusting. Indeed, this faith is so pervasive that even our national leaders believe that we can spend our way out of debt!

This is an absurd belief, and it is on a collision course with reality. Our empty idols of credit and stuff are soon to be tried by fire, and they will not endure.

But let me tell you what I believe. I believe that God became Man in Jesus Christ, and dwelt in our midst. In his life, death, and resurrection, He showed us who God truly is, and also what it means to be fully human. And not only that, but by assuming our nature, He healed our nature, and by bearing the punishment for our sins, He opened the way to true and abundant life, lived in and with God.

This is the only way through the judgment that is to come. It will still hurt, but we can endure this pain with hope. On the other side, God promises resurrection, re-creation; a new heaven and a new earth, an eternity with Him; something of which we cannot even conceive of in this present life.

My faith is not a web of lies and fantasies and deceit; my faith is in the Real and the True. At the center of my faith is Jesus’ call, “Take up your cross and follow.” At the center of my faith is the one sure reality: I must die. Yet the promise of God in Christ is this – if we die with Him, we will be raised with Him. This what I earnestly hope for and expect; and every time I deny myself and obey Him, every time I die a little to myself, the promise is confirmed: I find ever more abundant life in Him. And so I have every reason to trust that His promises will hold true even after I die. And so I press on that I might somehow obtain this prize, thinking nothing of the hardships that I endure in seeking it.

One theologian put it this way: if Christ is risen, nothing else matters. And if Christ is not risen, nothing else matters. This is obviously true! If Christ has defeated death, we should do whatever it takes to share in His defeat of death. But if He has not, then “Let us eat, drink, and be marry, for tomorrow we will die.”

Therefore let us seek the risen Christ. Therefore let us turn to the Living and True God, and seek Him with the same zeal that we hunt for bargains. Put my words to the test, and see if you do not find God.

Take that Bible off the shelf, and brush off the dust; crack open the aging leather binding, and seek Him in those living words. Fall to your knees, and seek Him in prayer. Surround yourself with people who are seeking Him; support and encourage one another to persevere in following Him in a world that is full of wickedness and deceit.

Jesus told a parable about a wayward son, who, when at last he returned home, his loving father saw him at a great distance and ran out to meet him. So it is with God. Take one faltering step towards Him, and He will take two great and bounding leaps toward you. Open your hard heart only a crack, and He will open the floodgates of His mercy and love and totally overwhelm you. Stop trying to draw rancid water with broken buckets from the well of consumerism, but come, drink freely from the Fountain of Life, Jesus Christ.

May the Father bless you, may the Son be with you and among you, may the Spirit draw you to Himself as we eagerly await His appearing. Amen.

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