Sunday, November 13, 2016

"Not the End of the World". A sermon on the Sunday after the Election, Nov. 13, 2016, on Luke 21:5-24

"Not the End of the World"

Luke 21:5-24

During the long, long months of the political campaign, many of us looked forward to it finally being over.  We were weary of the rhetoric—some of which was hateful.  Some people on either side described in apocalyptic terms how catastrophic it would be if the wrong candidate won. 
            The passages we heard today from Luke and Isaiah were given to us by the lectionary.   “When you hear of wars and insurrections, don’t be terrified….Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom… there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven….they will arrest you and persecute you.  They will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name….”
            By the time Luke wrote his gospel around 85 CE, the Temple had already been destroyed, in 70 CE.  So for Luke’s readers, what Jesus says here is more a reflection on the Temple’s destruction than a prediction of it.  Luke uses the destruction of this magnificent temple to make a statement on the impermanence of human achievement and institutions.
            “Don’t be terrified,” Jesus says. 
After the election, a few of my Facebook friends posted sentiments like “It’ll be Ok.”  “Your side lost—better luck in 4 years.”  “Stop whining and move on.”
But this time, it feels different.  A lot of people are afraid, because of things that were said during the campaign, and because of the increased incidence of hateful harassment and intimidation since the election.
            The election results show how divided our country is, and also how frustrated people have been with politics as usual.   No matter which way the election turned out, half of the people in the country would have been unhappy. 
            Even if your candidate won—no political leader is a messiah who will save us, or solve all the problems of our society, regardless of what they may have promised.  Political solutions are only partial solutions, at best, and they involve compromise. 
In our time, we have such divisiveness between red and blue, rich and poor, rural and urban.  How do we unite and find common ground and work together for the common good?
Both Secretary Clinton and President Obama gave good speeches after the election and talked about how in our democracy we value “the peaceful transfer of power” and about the need for unity, and I commend them for that.  
But I think it’s clear that we won’t be able to just “move on” without some significant work that leads over time to healing and reconciliation in our society.  That can’t happen without dealing with injustices that have been uncovered. 
There’s a meme that’s being shared on Facebook that says:   “Things are not getting worse.  They are getting uncovered.”   This election cycle has uncovered the racism, sexism, and nativism that has always been present in our society but was partially hidden-- to persons of privilege-- in recent decades under the covers of political correctness and multiculturalism.  It’s painful for a lot of us to see these “isms” more fully exposed. 
            We’re in a time of crisis.  I’ve been reminded that the Chinese character that represents “crisis” has a dual meaning that includes both danger and opportunity.
So I wonder:  what if we understood what’s going on as not only challenges, but also as an opportunity?  An opportunity for our society to change for the better, to live more fully into a future in which there is true freedom and justice for all?
            Are we discerning a call for the church to be more fully the church?   Now, when I speak of the church, I’m not speaking of church as a place you go or something you attend or agree with.  I’m talking about a beloved community in which we find love and comfort and hope and challenge—and through which we are sent out to bring the love, and hope and truth of Christ to a broken and hurting world.

            So, what does it look like for us to be the church? 
            I’ve had conversations with some of you in the past few days, after the election.  Many of us have been working to understand and to process our emotions, including fear for loved ones and neighbors and for those who are most vulnerable.  Some of you have said you want to do something to make things better.  But what do we do? 

            In the days following September 11, 2001, our Muslim neighbors had reason to fear for their safety.  So Littlefield and other churches and organizations in the community put up signs on their doors that proclaimed, “This is a hate-free zone.”  Because we let them know we were a safe place, some of our neighbors asked to come in and pray, and they’ve felt safe and welcome here ever since.
            We’re being the church when we hold our summer Peace Camp and when we host interfaith worship services to build bridges of understanding.
            When we’re being church, one of the things we can each do is to foster one or more authentic friendships with someone who is completely different, a friendship that goes beyond superficial pleasantries to honest conversations about what it’s like to live in our society as a Muslim or an African-American or a GLBT person.  Develop a friendship that’s deep and trusting enough that, during a tough time, after a crisis that affects your friend, you can ask,  “So how are you doing-- really?” 
            For me, personally, this means continuing to develop relationships with people who are different, and also being in conversation with old classmates, friends, and extended family who live in rural areas and have never had a relationship with a person of color or a Muslim.  It can be hard work.  I think of it as a spiritual discipline to be very respectful and patient with people whose political views are very different from mine.  Over the past couple of months, I’ve had some Facebook conversations with friends from my past that I think were significant, and hopefully transformative in some small way. 

Many commentators have been observing how the level of civil discourse has deteriorated in our society in recent years.  It can feel uncomfortable to talk about tough topics with people who disagree, but it’s something we can learn and practice.  I think the church, where we’re commanded to love one another unconditionally, should be a safe place to work on this.  Could we do this—with God’s help?
            I believe we don’t have to be afraid.  I believe the words of our Presbyterian Brief Statement of Faith:   “In a broken and fearful world, the Spirit gives us courage to pray without ceasing, to witness among all peoples to Christ as Lord and Savior, to unmask idolatries in Church ad culture, to hear the voices of peoples long silenced, and to work with others for justice, freedom and peace.[1] 

            So what are some practical ways we can choose faith over fear?   If we see the safety of a vulnerable person or group in jeopardy, how will we respond?  What are some hopes we have for the future of the church?  For the future of our nation?  This is something we need to be praying about… and talking about with one another. 
             Some of the writers I’ve been reading this week pointed out that they needed to write their weekly columns before the election results were known, but regardless of who won, the gospel is the same.   Our faith teaches us that God loves us with a love that is greater than our understanding.  We have God’s promise that God will be with us. 
            The most basic commandment is to love God completely and to love your neighbor as yourself.  The Bible exhorts us to “weep with those who weep.”  It doesn’t say we get to judge whether they should be weeping.  We don’t have to understand fully the depth of somebody’s fear or grief to empathize with them and show compassion and solidarity. 
            We are called to go out into the world, to proclaim the good news.  Our friends, our neighbors, and our nation need us to be authentic, grace-filled, hope-bearing, truthful people. 
            I believe part of being grace-filled people involves giving people who are having a hard time the space and time to feel whatever they’re feeling, whether it be anger or grief or whatever.   We need to encourage one another in hope and remember that even from prison, the apostle Paul was able to write, “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.”[2]

            When Representative John Lewis talks about his journey as a civil rights leader, we hear a hard truth:  that the work of justice is not a sprint.  It’s a marathon.  As the Rev. Dr. Blaire Monie writes, “justice will not be won by one election, nor will it be defeated by one election.  We need to double-down and stand on the side of those who are marginalized by a society of privilege.”[3]
            Blair reminded me of the wisdom of Reinhold Niebuhr, “Nothing that is worth doing can be achieved in our lifetime.  Therefore, we must be saved by hope.  Nothing that is true or beautiful or good makes complete sense in any immediate context of history.  Therefore, we must be saved by faith.  Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone.   Therefore, we are saved by love.  No virtuous act is quite as virtuous from the standpoint of our friend or foe as it is from our standpoint.  Therefore, we must be saved by the final form of love, which is forgiveness.” 
            Through the prophet Isaiah we hear God saying, “I am about to create new heavens and a new earth.  The former things shall not be remembered or come to mind.  But be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating…”[4]
            Imagine it:  God invites us to be co-creators with God and one another.  Imagine the possibilities, when we choose to respond in love and presence, to find and work for ways to lift up the brokenhearted, to do the work that will let the oppressed go free.[5]   Imagine a place where all are invited to live in fullness of life and joy, a place where all can flourish, where all can enjoy the work of their hands, where all can live together in peace and wholeness. 
            We can rejoice because we are active participants with God in this ongoing act of creation, as we work together to create a beloved community in which we are all invited to live together in the fullness and goodness of God.
            Thanks be to God!

Rev. Fran Hayes, Pastor
Littlefield Presbyterian Church
Dearborn, Michigan
Nov. 13, 2016

[1] “Brief Statement of Faith” of the Presbyterian Church (USA), 1991.
[2] Philippians 4:13
[3] The Rev. Dr. Blaire Monie, in a Facebook post on November 12, 2016.
[4] Isaiah 65:17-18
[5] Luke 4



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