Pledging Allegiance and Blessings for the Latter Days: Luke Powery and Anna Carter Florence

Luke Powery
Luke Powery
Luke Powery

Our time at Festival of Homiletics 2018 is coming to a close. In total, close to 2,000 preachers, vendors and staff have been a part of the week of continuing education and growth as public ministers of the Word. The final day began with worship led by Luke Powery and liturgy by Dawn Hand. Powery powerfully preached a sermon on “Pledging Allegiance” (Matthew 22:15-22). Who is it you pledge your allegiance to?” Powery asked those gathered.

We are conditioned to equate God and country, but Jesus reminds us to give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and God what is God’s. There is no earthly image that can encapsulate all that is God. Powery implored the audience to put an end to the fake news that declares the emperor is God, that equates patriotism with loving God and to start spreading the faith news that there is one Gospel, and one love and one Savior who is not Caesar and it is not Rome and it is not.

Our deepest self is God’s and it is impossible to be loyal to both God and Empire. Powery declared, I will take a knee at the altar of eternity and pledge my allegiance to Jesus. Following Jesus isn’t necessarily the same thing as following the church. Powerry reminded us, “You don’t belong to your denomination, to your bishop, your synod, your congregation. You belong to God.” Sometimes following Jesus means you might have to resist the church which has lost its way.

The day concluded with Anna Carter Florence who shared a lecture on “The Book of Esther and a Truth for the World.” Carter Florence began with an account of taking a class of hers to a synagogue to enjoy the festivities of Purim where their experience of the Esther story was re-invigorated when their expectations of engagement with the text were turned upside down. Does pushing against the sacred help us remember what is sacred? Florence’s students were left asking, “Why are issues of identity so often at the heart of violence?”

Carter Florence asserted that engagement with scripture is subjunctive, liminal, duplicitous and dangerous. And left the audience wondering about the strangeness her students experienced at Purim festivities asking, “What is truly profane in this world? Margheritas in worship, or genocide we observe and do not stop.”

We finished out the day with spirited music led by the Metropolitan AME community and a sermon by Anna Carter Florence on “Blessings for the Latter Days.” Carter Florence led us through the puzzle that is Job 42:1-17. She described Job as a handbook of political preaching not by inspiring us but by infuriating us. Throughout the book, readers are forced to endure painful accounts of Job’s suffering and awful speeches from Job’s friends. The author of Job could have condensed the story but brings us through 40 chapters to help us really experience the frustration Job may have felt.  

Carter Florence took those gathered through the meaningless and harmful phrases of our day often shared with those experiencing loss by others and also by us as well. After all, offering words in Job moments is both utterly necessary and utterly inadequate. It is from this place that Job is strangely comforted by the mystery of God.

An offering was collected during the 11 a.m. worship service for the Daniel Alexander Payne Community Development Corporation. This organization sponsors educational and cultural events in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics for children and families in the Washington, D.C., area. A highlight of their recent work is Girls Who Code, a program that teaches girls how to build applications for smartphones and computers. Their work facilitates academic excellence and community building for many families each year.

Worship left the gathered with the message that political preaching is embodied preaching unafraid to name truth. A talking preacher must also be a walking preacher in the world. May we go out into this world with Carter Florence’s benediction in our hearts, “This little light of mine, I want to let it shine, I want to let it shine and I want yours to shine too.”