30. The Protest, Pt. 3: Sermon
20 Jan 2055 | 1600h
Frederick Garland stood under a tree ten feet behind the makeshift stage that NIANS had erected in front of the Government Building. At this point, the crowd had already cycled through about five different chants, and the energy was still rising. Frederick could feel it like a sixth sense. It was similar to the vibe he got during some of his more popular streams.
The difference here, of course, was that this was reality. Frederick had been preaching in virtual reality for so long that it was odd to go out in front of a crowd of real faces. He rarely even made it to this part of town, content to spend his time in his home on the Western Edge of the Mountain Ring. All he needed was there—his family, his chapel—a perfect oasis in Idaho amidst all this chaos.
Every now and then, however, having a real crowd in front of him felt nice. To know that a great portion of the crowd had come today solely to hear him was also quite satisfying, although he knew that spending too much time thinking about this was a dangerous path to travel upon.
He would give the crowd a few more minutes to chant before he went out on stage. Virtual or not, working a crowd was an art that Frederick had near perfected during his time with FuTech. The energy of a crowd was like a wave: You want to paddle up and over the top just as the bulge of water is starting to crest and pour over. The only way a surfer can keep the wave going, however, is through divine interference. Frederick hoped that, with the Lord’s help, he would be able to keep this energy going as long as he was on stage.
After another minute or so, Frederick walked out onto the stage to scattered and intense cheers from the crowd. He had expected as much. There were pockets of the crowd that were elated to see him in person. He wondered whether this would clue Gamma in to how lucky she was to have him as a father. Whether she would rethink the amount of respect she had been meeting him with.
Suppressing any feelings of inadequacy that his daughter may have inspired in him, Frederick smiled, waved, and took the wireless microphone from its stand on the center of the stage.
‘Hello New Idaho!’ Frederick said as the cheers swelled. ‘It’s so nice to look out over faces that I know are from my own city. Though I love all God’s children, there will always be something special about looking out onto the faces that I know care about my home town as much as I do.
‘Today, of all days, is a day of tension. Can you feel it?’ There were some nods throughout the crowd. ‘Today, there is a division that is felt among us all. A large group of citizens has banded together to make a request of other citizens in the same City. Those of us here, however, are united, our bond strengthened through the common purpose of helping our brothers and sisters who may be less fortunate than the rest of us. I pray that we all remember this bond we feel with each other today, and that we can someday soon extend that bond to those of whom we request more.
‘For today, however, you are here because you have perceived life to be unfair. I come not to tell you that you are wrong, nor that we can change this basic characteristic of life. The truth is, brothers and sisters, life has been unfair since the beginning of human history. For thousands and thousands of years, humans just like you and me have been attempting to crawl out of an infinite hole of suffering. Simultaneously, through our sin, we often dig this hole even deeper. The ground was broken, of course, by Adam and Eve, and since then, evil has had a constant presence in each of our lives. From Cain and his descendants, whom God saw fit to wipe out with waters of heaven, to Sodom and Gomorrah, to even Gods own chosen people, the Israelites, who did not reach the promised land for two generations, and even then, were invaded by Assyrians and Babylonians when they could not control their wickedness.
‘From time immemorial, we have had to contend with evil alongside good, darkness alongside the light. Just as the Jews were uprooted from their promised land for their transgressions, even after Jeremiah warned them that God would “hurl out those who live in this land”, that he would “bring distress on them so they may be captured,” just so, God brings punishment to those who oppose his law, and rewards to those who seek his love.
‘For years and years, we could not hope to attain the level of righteousness that God requires of us to return to our original state of Eden. We ourselves have seen firsthand how hard it is to live a righteous life in this chaotic and disturbing world. We ourselves have sinned, we ourselves have been sinned against. For two millennia, we have been blessed with the example of Jesus the Christ, the Son of Man, who offers forgiveness even for the most wretched. I come here to relay the words of our savior, he who has made salvation ever more possible through him, as we prepare for his successor.
‘Jesus has offered salvation to even the poorest of souls, for even Paul, the Pharisee Saul turned apostle, found his way to the saving grace of our Lord. I come here to tell you today that even the poorest in spirit and in property, some of whom are standing beside or within you today, stand to gain much more than the wealthy who live on the peripheries of our town. For did our Lord Jesus Christ not tell us in the book of Luke, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the Kingdom of God”? Did he not say, “Woe to those who are rich, for you have already received your comfort”? Did he not tell us in the book of Matthew that “the last will be first, and the first will be last”? I tell you all, the Lord told us all this and more, so that even the poorest of us may be saved.
‘We who have gathered here today appreciate the difficulties and disadvantages experienced by those in this city. We empathize with those who are poor in both property and spirit, in this town that they call the “City of the Century.”
‘In the Gospel, we hear the story of Jesus entering the temple of his father. Here, he finds that the merchants have turned this temple into a marketplace. Upon seeing this he flips over the tables, shouting at the merchants for disrespecting such holy space. This very Christmas, the poorest in our community were made to work while the rich had the opportunity to celebrate the birth of Our Lord. We have known since the Israelites camp near Sinai that work must not interfere with days of worship. Now, in our modern day, as conveniences of technology have allowed even the best of us to, at times, ignore the message and example of our Lord, the worst of us have become like the merchants in the temple of our Lord, desecrating his house by requiring that those most in need of the word of God work on a day set aside to engage with the Holy Spirit.
‘Now, as I mentioned at the beginning of my sermon, I do not begrudge any of my luckier brothers and sisters in New Idaho. It is not my place to judge any of God’s children, for, like Christ, I strive to love them all the same. There comes a time, however, when those who have been trod upon must speak. And, when they cannot find a voice to speak for themselves, there comes a time when others must speak for them.
‘None of us can see the future, but many theologians, including myself, believe that the day is coming soon where someone much holier than myself will stand before you in virtual space, speaking to the entire world, absolving us of our sins and shining a light in the transgressions of our oppressors. When that day comes, we must be prepared. We must follow the example of the Christ, and as we see the temple of our Lord mocked and desecrated, we must be the ones to overturn the tables.
‘As I leave this stage, I ask you all to consider how you may help your downtrodden brothers and sisters. I ask you all to consider the situation of those without a voice. I ask you to consider how your voice may be used to lift up those who feel they cannot speak. I ask this in the name of Jesus the Christ, our First Lord and Savior.
‘Amen!’ Charlie enthusiastically shouted the word from the left side of the crowd. He stood in awe, amazed that he was finally seeing Papa Frederick, his Idol, in person. He always prayed he would see the preacher around town, so he could tell him how much he meant to him, but finding Papa Garland out and about was a more rare occurrence than one would expect in a relatively small city.
Charlie’s eyes followed the preacher as he left the stage. He didn’t want to miss any behind-the-scenes information he might gather on the most inspiring figure in his life. He watched the preacher exit stage left and walk up to what must have been his family. There was a woman, who must have been his wife, and a girl, who—
Who Charlie recognized. It was Gamma, from FTVHS. The girl Charlie had had a crush on for years happened to be the daughter of the man Charlie had looked to for spiritual nourishment since he could remember. He immediately wondered what this meant for his relationship with Gamma. Would her father allow her to date boys at her age? If he did date her, would he get to meet her father?
Charlie pushed those thoughts out of his head, expelling any possibly impure thoughts from his mind. Instead, he focused on the message he had just heard. He was a little confused by the message, and by the protest in general. Everyone seemed so happy around him, but they also seemed very angry. And even though Papa Garland had begun the sermon talking about unity, he had ended it with talking about the need to “flip the tables” of the sinners. Weren’t they supposed to love their enemies? In this case, it seemed like the love in the crowd was inspired by a common enemy. Charlie could understand if the enemy was Satan, but most people here just seemed mad at the rich people in town. A lot of people were even mad at the mayor. Charlie wasn’t mad at anyone, but after that sermon, he wasn’t sure if maybe he should be.
Oh well, Charlie thought, he would just have to ask about it next time he was in class. Maybe he could even ask Gamma about it. He wondered if he could ask her about her father, too. Then he realized, when he thought about it, he hadn’t been able to talk to Gamma after class since the beginning of the new year. Maybe she really didn’t want to talk to him after all. In that case, there was no use thinking about whether he would get to go on a date with her at all.
Charlie shook his head and looked up to his mother, who was chanting along with the crowd. He had never seen her so worked up and passionate about something. He felt pressured to chant along with her, but something stopped him. He still didn’t feel right about chanting. Instead, he just kept his head up and his mind open to learning, as he tried to decide what Jesus would do—would he love his enemy, or would he flip the tables?