Besides a bunch of college history professors, who in recent memory talked about the American Revolution until the musical "Hamilton" hit Broadway? In this Tony-Award-winning hit, a gloriously diverse cast uses rap, hip hop, jazz, r&b, ballads, and more to share the life and legacy of Alexander Hamilton with the 21st century. We learn of his tragic childhood, his gifts with the spoken and written word, his passion for justice and revolution, and his human frailties. We hear how he created our federal financial structures and how he made many enemies over the years with his fearlessness in speaking up for the causes in which he believed.
Throughout the play, Hamilton is held in contrast with Aaron Burr, another intelligent rising star with many gifts, but a man who refuses to speak out for what he knows is right. Burr continually waits to see where the majority of society will land on important issues. He refuses to take a stand, refuses to help those who are on the side of good, refuses to lead. Burr waits so long to side with the revolutionaries that he is snubbed repeatedly by George Washington for his lack of courage and character. Aaron Burr gets excluded from the key decisions that help win a revolution and shape a young nation, and he never gains the respect by those who embrace Hamilton for his bravery and willingness to speak up, even in the face of a powerful British government, loyalists all around, and a fledgling movement.
In the song, "My Shot," Hamilton and his fellow revolutionaries get energized to lead the colonists to get out from under the oppressive burdens imposed on the colonies by King George and the British rule, to stand up for what is just, and to wait no longer to work for the cause that they realize is worth living and dying for, a cause beyond themselves, a cause that will make their world a better place. As Hamilton and his friends become bolder and more resolute in their plans, this song reaches a fever pitch with the call to "Rise Up!" It is time to take their shot, to act for that which is most important to them.
These colonists decide not to live in fear any longer, and to join together for a cause they realize is greater than themselves.
In this scripture from the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus preps his closest disciples, like Alexander Hamilton prepped those early revolutionaries in "Hamilton," to rise up. Using words that kindle the spiritual revolution they are craving deep in their souls, Jesus encourages them, "Don't be afraid of what others will say about you, rise up! You are on the side of my Father, who knows the sparrow and the number of hairs on your head! If you fear, fear the one with real power, not the presumed powers of this world! It is time to proclaim a better way, a higher power, another kingdom. It is time to decide who you are, where your allegiance lies."
Surely these first disciples were inspired by the words of Jesus, but I can only imagine the fear that they still held onto. They wanted desperately to put their whole faith and trust in Jesus, but what if they were wrong? What if they could still rely on a backup plan to provide some security, some safety, some cover. Couldn't they still hold onto something in this world that could protect them from potential pain: a relationship, a family connection, something for extra security?
We Christians today can certainly understand the plight of these early disciples. We want to be so secure in our faith that we live this life with brash holy boldness, naming the evils of this world and relying fully on the grace of God as we revel in the glorious knowledge that we are children of God. To continue this loose analogy, we want to have the boldness of Alexander Hamilton in our faith and rise up and take our shot to act against the powers and principalities of this world; but we find instead that we are more like Aaron Burr in our faith: wishy-washy and hesitant to act on what we know is right, out of pure fear. We want to give our full allegiance to our God, but we are afraid of what we might lose if we do! Even though we know that God's power is greater than the power of this world, we are terrified to let go of the names, titles, and security that we think this world offers us. We don't even want to talk about things like health care, refugees, public education, homelessness, prison overcrowding, or politics at dinner parties, much less to our community leaders, for fear that we might be labelled or that others might disagree with us. Even when we know that there is injustice, we want there to be momentum, energy, people like us behind a cause before we throw our names behind it. So, we resist that nudging of the Spirit and withhold complete discipleship and revolution in our spiritual lives. Our cowardice leads to incomplete allegiance to our God and half-hearted devotion to God's kingdom. We think we can hold onto the security of our worldly identity, our family name, our own intellect and wit, our financial security, our education, our societal standing, without realizing that by having our hands so full holding these crutches, our arms are too full to pick up the cross and follow him.
Jesus tells his disciples, "What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops." It is the time to tell the world about God's kingdom. It is time to proclaim the good news. This is their cause. This is their moment in history. This is their shot to claim who they are: disciples of Jesus. There and only there lies their allegiance. This is the cause that they must live for. This is the cause that they would die for. This is what they know to be the hope of the world, for this is the Son of God. It is time to live fully into their identity and to claim their faith.
At a pivotal moment in "Hamilton," there is a glorious moment in the song, "My Shot." At a critical gathering of the leaders among the colonists, abolitionist John Laurens calls those would-be revolutionaries to lay aside their fear and to act right now for what they know is right with these profound words:
When you're living on your knees you gotta rise up!
Tell your brother that he's gotta rise up!
Tell your sister that she's gotta rise up!
It is time for today's disciples, followers of Jesus Christ, to put away their fear of what the world might say and rise up. It is time to take our shot against racism, sexism and classism no matter what our families might think and rise up. It is time to give our complete allegiance to the almighty, all powerful creator of heaven and earth and rise up. It is time to believe that God cares for us enough to know the hairs on our heads and the burdens in our hearts and rise up. It is time to share the Good News of Jesus Christ with a world that needs to know a better way and rise up. It is time to combat evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves and rise up! It is time to tell the Good News in the light and proclaim it from the rooftops and rise up. Brothers and Sisters in Christ, rise up! When you're living on your knees, you gotta rise up! Tell your brother that he's gotta rise up! Tell your sister that she's gotta rise up!
Let us pray.
Almighty God, may Christians all over the world have the courage to rise up and share your Good News with this world that desperately needs to know the powerful and overwhelming love of Jesus Christ. Give all your followers around the world the faith to place our full hope in you, and to live with you as our strength for today and our hope for the future. May we not throw away our shot to work for justice and righteousness for the least, the last, and the lost, and give us the courage to continue the work of Jesus the Christ in this world. In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.