Greenlining Campaign Sermon

I speak to you in the name of one God, Creator, Christ, and Holy Spirit. + Amen.

In seminary, I was taught that when you preach you are always to tell the Good News, have a message of hope, and when necessary, speak with a prophetic voice—what many say is speaking truth to power. But as I read our first reading from the prophet Haggai, I was also reminded of the wise words of my homiletics professor, Dr. Mark Jefferson— “when a prophet speaks, let them be the preacher. Your job is to help the congregation listen and hear what the prophet is saying.”

Seminary was also the first time I heard the phrase “good preachers write their own stuff, but great preachers borrow.” With this said, I going to borrow a preaching method used often by the Rev. William J. Barber of the Poor People’s Campaign. When preaching, Rev. Barber rereads portions of the lesson using the Message Bible, which is a simplistic translation of the Bible using contemporary language in hopes of helping the listener hear what the prophet is saying.

While Norm already did a lovely job of reading our Old Testament lesson from the prophet Haggai, speaking of Israel’s people returning to the Land of Canaan, the Promised Land, after their 70 years of exile in Babylon, I think The Message will help us hear more clearly what the prophet is calling us to do.

Caught Up with Taking Care of Your Own Houses

On the first day of the sixth month of the second year in the reign of King Darius of Persia, God’s Message was delivered by the prophet Haggai to the governor of Judah and to the high priest:

A Message from God-the Lord of hosts: “The people procrastinate. They say this isn’t the right time to rebuild my Temple, the Temple of God.”

3-4 Shortly after that, God said more and Haggai spoke it: “How is it that it’s the ‘right time’ for you to live in your fine new homes while the Home, God’s Temple, is in ruins?”

5-6 And then a little later, God-the Lord of host spoke out again:

“Take a good, hard look at your life.
    Think it over.
You have spent a lot of money,
    but you haven’t much to show for it.
You keep filling your plates,
    but you never get filled up.
You keep drinking and drinking and drinking,
    but you’re always thirsty.
You put on layer after layer of clothes,
    but you can’t get warm.
And the people who work for you,
    what are they getting out of it?
Not much—
    a leaky, rusted-out bucket, that’s what.

That’s why God-the Lord of hosts said:

“Take a good, hard look at your life.
    Think it over.”

8-9 Then God said:

“Here’s what I want you to do:
    Climb into the hills and cut some timber.
Bring it down and rebuild the Temple.
    Do it just for me. Honor me.
You’ve had great ambitions for yourselves,
    but nothing has come of it.
The little you have brought to my Temple
    I’ve blown away—there was nothing to it.

9-11 “And why?” (This is a Message from God-of-the-Angel-Armies, remember.) “Because while you’ve run around, caught up with taking care of your own houses, my Home is in ruins. That’s why.

Book of Haggai

Having heard what Haggai is saying, my message this morning is simple: Listen to Haggai’s words. Hear what he is saying. And then, act on it.

This sounds easy enough. A prophet is a person that carries a message from God to the people. As people of faith, we should not only care about what God wants, but we should do everything in our power to fulfill God’s will and vision for humanity. Right?! Not really. People of faith or not, carrying out God’s vision is often difficult, and for whatever reason, we choose not to do it.

According to Dr. Judy Fentress-Williams, my Hebrew Scriptures professor from seminary, “the prophetic word speaks to what is wrong in the covenant relationship, in the hopes of restoring that relationship…the goal of the prophetic word is to fix the relationship by pointing out what is wrong.” Okay, that makes sense, but what happens when the people either don’t remember the original relationship—when they didn’t even know the relationship existed?

Dr. Fentress-Williams continues, “Prophets use language that is highly metaphorical and symbolic in hopes of the people recognizing something they might not even think was possible.” She uses the example of Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech “I Have a Dream”— that speech “creates an image of something people couldn’t quite imagine…he creates the image where it didn’t exist. That is the vision the prophet offers. The prophet offers a vision of wholeness to broken people who may not know they are broken. This is why a prophetic word is often unpopular, because first you have to tell people they are broken.”

This morning, we hear of the prophet Haggai speaking to a broken people who do not know they are broken.

Haggai is the voice of a frustrated God. Haggai is speaking to a people who had been held captive and were in exile for 70 years, but at the time Haggai is speaking, the people had been back for almost 20 years. 20 years. And after 20 years, God’s patience had run out. “Take a good, hard look at your life. You have all you need plus more. You are comfortable and you’ve forgotten what’s most important. My home is in ruins. The place where I dwell is uninhabitable. You say this isn’t the right time to rebuild my temple…when is the right time?! It’s been too long, and you have become too comfortable. Take a good, hard look at yourself.”

In an article entitled “Black Lives Matter: A Movement, Not a Moment” put out by the Living Church, we learned that the intensity and dedication to Black Lives Matter is incredibly strong among many Episcopalians. But it also heeded a warning. We must listen to the prophetic voices of today, but “not all God’s prophets stand within the Episcopal Church or speak our familiar language of our piety.”

Voices of prophets are louder today than ever before. We hear them in our streets by the tens of thousands, but the key question is are we listening? Why is now any different? It has been much longer than 20 years since a portion of our population have lived lives of comfort and privilege while others live in destruction and ruin. God has the ability to be everywhere and in everything, but it is much harder for God to dwell if there is no home.

Take a good, hard look at yourselves. When is right time? How long will we wait? Back in 1963, Martin Luther King, Jr. said the following, “We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there “is” such a thing as being too late. This is no time for apathy or complacency. This is a time for vigorous and positive action.” When is the time? The time is now! But what can we do? We can continue to listen to prophets around us.

I want to introduce you to a prophet from North Lawndale. He is a longtime resident of the community and our church has been in relationship with him for the past 2 ½ years. As the Executive Director of Lawndale Christian Development Corporation, he has issued an invitation to us and in this short video, he answers a couple of questions that are a critical part of why we decided to join this him and his community’s cause. It is All Saints’ honor to introduce you to Mr. Richard Townsell. Hear what he is saying, and then, let’s act on them.

***show Richard Townsell video*** (He talks about why he is so happy we accepted his invitation to help the community of North Lawndale)

“We’ve talked to a number of churches, and only one of them has come through. Most of the churches in the city and suburbs have not done anything. Excited that All Saints’ has decided to put their ore in the water and help rebuild North Lawndale.” – Richard Townsell, Executive Director of Lawndale Christian Development Corporation (quote taken from previous video to highlight what was just said)

This week, by the invitation of Lawndale Christian Development Corporation, All Saints’ launched its “Greenlining” Campaign. Just like Richard said, Greenling is the opposite of redlining. The goal is to raise $215,000 in four weeks. $200,000 would go toward building the first of hopefully 1,000 homes in North Lawndale. This would be the first step of rebuilding a community that has been devastated by redlining. $15,000 will provide a scholarship for community organizing training for a future leader that North Lawndale has already identified.

Friends, this is our invitation to climb into the hills and cut some timber. To bring it down and rebuild the place of God’s dwelling. A chance to honor God by honoring God’s people—by sharing our privilege and telling this community that we care. A chance to listen and act.

Greg and I have already contributed $1,200 to this campaign and I invite you to join us. We contributed because we realize that it is all of our responsibility and call to listen to the prophets and act. The prophets have spoken to a broken world and to a broken people, and it is now up to us, up to the people who have heard the prophets’ calls to begin to live in right relationship. By giving to this campaign, you are taking the first action of many to build back the covenant relationship that desperately wants to be put back together. By giving to this campaign, you are listening and acting to a prophetic message.

Prophets use strong metaphorical and symbolic language. They use images in hopes of the people being able to hear them. Haggai prophesied of a temple being rebuilt. Martin Luther King Jr. gave us a dream that is real but has yet to be actualized. Currently, we hear the voices of the modern-day prophets say Black Lives Matter, and Richard Townsell is encouraging us to put our ore in the water with the Greenlining Campaign. This campaign is about building a home, the place of dwelling and security. Rebuilding the temple represented hope for the people of God—it represented the place where God could dwell and be with God’s people—and Haggai insisted that it be rebuilt. The home that will be built in North Lawndale represents that same hope for this community of God’s people—it represents the future of God’s dwelling in that place which deserves to prosper once again. I pray that through the prophetic image of a home, we, a people broken, can understand and hear what this would mean to this community in need.

Here at All Saints’, we know what it is like to hear God’s call and to take brave action. To risk because it is the right thing to do—because God’s people are worth our love and care. We know about reconstruction and rebuilding—just look at our beautiful church—and we the know hope and love that it can instill in ourselves and others.

Listen to the prophets. Hear what they are saying. And now let’s take action.