I’m beginning to think about my sermon for next week. It will be Advent 3 and the Narrative Lectionary brings us to Isaiah 42:1-9. This is the famous “Suffering Servant” passage that foreshadows Jesus’ ministry of passion. Juliana Claassens’ commentary got me thinking about how Jesus’ kind of power, and the kind of power we, as his followers, are called to exert is the kind of power that comes through weakness and vulnerability. That thought sparked the memory of a photo I had seen shared on Facebook the day before that showed a young black boy hugging a white police officer. The boy had been standing in the midst of a Ferguson protest holding a sign that said “Free Hugs.” The police officer asked if he could have one. The photo of this hug became an overnight icon. I thought this might be a provocative way to imagine what it must have been like for the Israelites in captivity during Isaiah’s time. How could they hope for a Messiah to bring light to the nations when those very nations were oppressing them? I thought the boy could represent Israel and the police officer the oppressive nations.
I wasn’t sure of the photo’s source, so, of course, I Googled it. The first hit was an article from Jonathan Jones at the Guardian titled, “The touching hug photo from Ferguson protests is a blatant lie.” Jones rails against sentimentality and suggests that making this photo the icon of Ferguson “is the equivalent of locking yourself in and turning up the volume to weep at [Disney’s] Frozen while the streets are burning outside.”
His article got me thinking about a conversation we had in our course Gospel and Cultures at Luther Seminary. We discussed the power of frames. What we choose to place in a frame is as important as what we choose to leave out of a frame. I wrote about this here.
What does any of this have to do with Advent, Isaiah 42, and preaching? Everything, really. Crafting a 15-20 minute sermon is an act of framing. Choosing what to put into a sermon is as important as choosing what to leave out of a sermon. It is easy to make a text say what you want it to say. It is impossible not to do this, because we interpret the text through our own frame (most of which we are completely unaware).
The task of the preacher is to be faithful to the context of the original text (as much as that is possible–which is almost impossible, but that’s a different conversation), to be aware of one’s own context and the questions the congregation is truly asking, and to discern what the Spirit wants to say to the congregation in this moment. We must frame the text in such a way that it allows the light of God’s Spirit to shine through.
So, does this picture tell us anything about Isaiah, Advent, or Ferguson?