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A Sermon for New Year’s Eve

“It is New Year’s Eve, and this is our Watch Night. This is truly Freedom’s Eve. Except instead of remembering and praising God for the freedoms won in the past, we are looking forward to and praising God for the freedoms that will be won in the year and years to come.” — Mike Kinman, New Year’s Eve 2016

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And Jesus said:

Rise up!
When you’re living on your knees you
Rise up!
Tell your brother that he’s got to
Rise up!
Tell your sister that she’s got to
Rise up!

Jesus said:

I’m past patiently waitin’
I’m passionately smashin every expectation
Every action’s an act of creation
I’m laughin in the face of casualties and sorrow
For the first time, I’m thinkin’ past tomorrow

 And I am not throwin’ away my shot
I am not throwin’ away my shot
Hey, yo, I’m just like my country
I’m young scrappy and hungry

And I’m not throwin’ away my shot. Amen.

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Ok … so maybe it wasn’t Jesus who said that.

But it could have been.

Hamilton has struck such a resonating chord throughout this nation not just because it is absolutely off-the-charts brilliant – though it certainly is – but because it tells a story that is as old as humanity, a story that is old as creation, a story that is the heart of Torah, the heart of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is the story of liberation.

Liberation as our birthright. Liberation as God’s ultimate dream for us. Liberation as our destiny.

We are meant to be free – all of God’s children. “And we’ll never be truly free until those in bondage have the same rights as you and me.”

In our Gospel reading, Jesus says “You are the light of the world.” And this light cannot be constrained. Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it. Light is not meant to be hidden under a bushel basket but to be put on a lampstand and to flow freely and shine everywhere.

“In the same way,” Jesus says: “Your light MUST shine before others so that they might see your good acts and give praise to your God in heaven.”

Not may, not might, but your light MUST shine before others. Your light MUST freely shine. Liberation is our birthright. Liberation is God’s dream for us. Liberation is the destiny of all of God’s children.

We are meant to be free.

You can just hear Jesus cry out and sing:

Raise a glass to freedom.
Something they can never take away.
No matter what they tell you.

And so, we tell the story of tonight.

It is New Year’s Eve. December 31, 2016 is turning into January 1, 2017. January is named for the Roman God, Janus, who had one face looking backward and another looking forward — and that is the story of tonight. We are looking back at a year that has had incredible trauma and loss – to the point where there was a movement to have the Grim Reaper named Time’s Person of the Year. And we are looking forward into the next year with as much fear and anxiety as I can remember in my lifetime.

Particularly those of us who are most vulnerable are looking forward to 2017 and trembling. Fearful that the blessings, the birthright, the dream and destiny of freedom will be increasingly reserved for the few and not for the many.

Fearful that this will be the year of deportations and even more mass incarcerations, of rising oceans and steep cuts in services for those who need them the most.

Fearful that this will be the year of rollbacks in civil rights, the year of even more consolidation of power in the hands of the already powerful.

Fearful that this will be the year when those among us already manacled will see our shackles tightened, and where those among us already on their knees will have the rest of our legs cut out from under us.

Fear paralyzes. Fear lies to us and says we are not salt, because blandness is all there is and all we need ever expect.

Fear paralyzes. Fear lies to us and convinces us that the darkness will always overcome the light and that in fact we should get really comfortable with the way that bushel basket feels placed over us.

Fear paralyzes and lies to us. But as Paul said in his second letter to Timothy, “God did not give us a spirit of fear, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.”

We may be afraid at times – that’s natural. That’s human. And that is certainly not a sin. But we are not people of fear. As followers of Jesus and as children of God, we are people of hope – and hope is what we hold each other in. And not hope that is merely the wishful thinking of the poor man standing in line at the gas station waiting to buy his lottery ticket in the hope that, against all odds, he will be delivered from his economic oppression. No, we are people of hope that is grounded in the certainty that liberation is our birthright. Liberation is God’s dream for us. Liberation is our destiny. Liberation is the reason God became human in our brother Jesus the Christ.

Hope grounded in the conviction that we and all of God’s children are meant to be free – and that anything that stands in the way of our freedom will, no matter how strong it appears, eventually crumble and fall like the walls of Jericho themselves. Hope that is sure and certain. Hope that is the death of all fear. The death of all anxiety. The death of all that would keep any of God’s children in chains.

That is why as we stand, Janus-like, with one head turned toward the past and the other turned toward the future. That is why as we tell the story of tonight, we read Martin Espada’s “Imagine the Angels of Bread.”

Because to all those who say that this will be the year of deportations and even more mass incarcerations, we who are salt and light, we who know that liberation is the birthright of all God’s children say,

“No! THIS is the year that squatters evict landlords, that shawled refugees deport judges.

 “No! THIS is the year that police revolvers, stove-hot, blister the fingers of raging cops, and nightsticks splinter in their palms.”

To all those who say that this will be the year of rollbacks in civil rights, the year of even more consolidation of power in the hands of the already powerful, we who are salt and light, we who know that liberation is the birthright of all God’s children say,

“NO! THIS is the year that darkskinned men and women lynched a century ago return to sip coffee quietly with the apologizing descendants of their executioners.”

“NO! THIS is the year that the hands pulling tomatoes from the vine uproot the deed to the earth that sprouts the vine, the hands canning the tomatoes are named in the will that owns the bedlam of the cannery.”

 To all those who say that this will be the year when those already manacled will see their shackles tightened, and where those among us already on their knees will have the rest of our legs cut out from under us, we who are salt and light, we who know that liberation is the birthright of all God’s children say,

“No, THIS is the year where we have a vision of hands without manacles, the imagination of a land without barbed wire or the crematorium.”

“NO, THIS is the year where we Rise up!

Because when you’re living on your knees you
Rise up!
Tell your brother that he’s got to
Rise up!
Tell your sister that she’s got to
Rise up!”

As we stand on the precipice of 2017, Jesus reminds us that we are the light of the world. The LIGHT of the WORLD. Imagine that. We are the light of the world! And if we are the light of the world, we know that bushel baskets are not for us. That THIS is the year we let our light shine. THIS is the year we rise up. THIS is the year we are done patiently waiting, that we’re passionately smashing every expectation. That every action’s an act of creation.

That THIS is the year that the food stamps of adolescent mothers are auctioned like gold doubloons and that every humiliated mouth, teeth like desecrated headstones, fill with the angels of bread.

It is New Year’s Eve, and this is our Watch Night. This is truly Freedom’s Eve. Except instead of remembering and praising God for the freedoms won in the past, we are looking forward to and praising God for the freedoms that will be won in the year and years to come.

For every abolition begins with a vision – and God makes us the bearers of that vision.

Every rebellion begins with an idea – and God breathes the inspiration for that idea into our minds and into our hearts.

Every fear begins to die with the advent of hope – and we are that people of hope.

Jesus looks at us and reminds us, “You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world.”

 This is not the year of fear. This is not the year of anxiety. This is not the year of the tyrant, the year of the abuser, or the year of the slave master.

This is not a moment, it’s the movement
Where all the hungriest brothers and sisters with something to prove went.
Foes oppose us, we take an honest stand.
We roll like Moses, claimin’ our Promised Land.

This is the year of the children of God. And liberation is our birthright. Liberation is God’s dream for us. Liberation is our destiny.

We are meant to be free – all of God’s children. “And we’ll never be truly free until those in bondage have the same rights as you and me.”

And THIS is our year.

THIS is the year of the children of God.

For “God did not give us a spirit of fear, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.”

THIS is the year of the children of God.

And we will get prayed up, planned up and suited up.

And we will RISE UP.
And our light will shine.
And we are NOT throwing away our shot. Amen.

A sermon preached by Mike Kinman, Rector of All Saints Church on New Year’s Eve 2016.

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