26 Pentecost—Proper 28-C-2
November 13, 2016
Malachi 4:1-2a, Psalm 98, 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13, Luke 21:5-19
On Wednesday morning after the election someone emailed me an article with the title: “Today is a difficult day to be a Christian in America.” As I thought about that, two things occurred to me. First, I would say 2016 has been a difficult year to be an American—Christian or not—because of the partisanship and reactivity that has come at us from all sides, including from inside our own souls. It even affected my Sunday night mixed doubles tennis with a group of 20 mostly older men and women. Six months ago, as my foursome gathered at the court one of the women said she was going to vote for Trump. The other woman said she was a huge Clinton supporter. Well, I won’t share the rest of the conversation because you’ve all heard it all before, but it wasn’t pretty.
Today Clinton supporters are devastated and depressed, and Trump supporters are dancing with delight and the great divide in our country continues. That was my first thought—no matter which side or no side you’ve been on, it’s been a difficult time to be an American.
My second thought, which surprised me, was, “Now is a great time to be a disciple of Jesus Christ in America.” Where did that voice come from, I wondered?
If we were living in a country in which most people live on just $2 a day and the country was also filled with religious and ethnic violence, we would know that every day is a good day to work under Jesus Christ who calls us to feed the poor and to work for justice for those whose cries are not being heard. He would call us to challenge all narratives, liberal or conservative, that seek to divide the land into “us versus them”, making it okay for my group to demonize your group and vice versa. It would be a powerful time, though not without suffering, to be the Body of Christ because our work would be so obvious, fulfilling, and Biblical.
That is why the church is growing in much of the third-world. People are open to the God of the Bible to rescue them from this failed and bloody story of poverty, division, and violence. While there is way too much poverty in our wealthy country, many of us can go through a typical week and never see it up close and personal. Most of us also don’t run into the racial and religious divides either.
In a cocoon of privilege it is easy for the suburban church to become bored and boring. When there is little sense of the suffering of others the church turns trivial concerns into ultimate concerns—like the long fight that affected many Episcopal churches from the 1960s to the 1980’s over whether the priest should have his back to the people or face the people during the Eucharistic prayer or how the people are to hold their hands when we pray.
When all seems well we no longer need to seek the sources of inspiration that have sustained the church through countless struggles. Instead of daily following the Collect for the Day to “read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest” the Bible, we think we have the luxury to take hours each day to “read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest” entertainment which feeds, not our souls, but our narcissism.
Now is a great time to be Jesus’ apprentice, which Dallas Willard defines as: “someone who has decided to be with another person, under appropriate conditions, in order to become capable of doing what that person does or to become what that person is.” Our nation needs people who can live Jesus’ vision of the peaceable kingdom and the beloved community.
At our Bible study on the Book of the Acts of the Apostles Wednesday night Diane and Adolf Olbert who were leading the discussion divided us into 4 groups to discuss an important question: “What can we as followers of Jesus be doing to heal the hostility that is dividing our country?”
Each group came up with a list of practical ways to embody the healing of Jesus, but one item made all four lists: each group said we could practice the art of listening to those with whom we disagree.
We talked about the kind of listening in which we seek to understand not only the words the other person is saying, but also the emotion and the reasoning behind those words. To listen so deeply that while the other person is talking we are not stuck in our own heads formulating our clever response. Maybe this is part of what Jesus means when he says, “don’t think out ahead of time what you will say” but trust Holy Spirit to tell through us the story of the God who so loved the world that he gave his only Son that everyone might know the Divine Compassion.
Now is a great time to take our faith into the world, because our ultimate allegiance isn’t to a political party and its policy proposals, as important as they may be. Our ultimate allegiance is to the one who says at the end of Matthew’s gospel, “all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” Matthew 28:18. We are citizens of heaven called by our Master to be ambassadors for his Kingdom while living in the kingdom of this world.
Jesus calls us to live as he lived, so filled with the love of the Father that he could love his enemies as he loved his friends. It is this love that transforms a murderous partisan like Saul of Tarsus into Paul the Apostle who writes to the Galatians: “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 3:28”
Once we get straight who is our true leader, and that he wants us to be salt and light in the world, then, and only then, should we get involved in the hard, gritty work of politics.
I heard a definition of politics in a recent Garden Church podcast:
The preacher said: Politics is a good thing and said, “Politics is how we as citizens arrange our common life together.” Podcast from October 30, 2016. See the website at Garden.church
It is our task to make sure our politics works for everyone, and not just some. The Pledge of Allegiance says we believe in “liberty and justice for all”, but God knows we aren’t there yet.
As we were printing the bulletins for a large funeral for a non-member this Thursday it occurred to me too late that we should print All Saints’ “Statement of Inclusion” in every funeral or wedding bulletin just as we do in every Sunday bulletin: You know how it reads at the end: We promise “to seek and to serve Christ in people who voted like us—NO–in all persons; strive for justice and peace among all people; and respect the dignity of every human being.”
This is why so many of you have told me you find power in the words of invitation to communion: “Whoever you are, wherever you are on your journey of faith, come to the holy table….”
This is who we are and right now and it’s who the country desperately needs us to be—not just on Sunday morning in this beautiful building, but wherever we go, with whomever we meet.
Of course it’s a difficult because love and hate are mixed together in all of us! So we must daily and weekly return to Christ—the pioneer and perfecter of our faith–to heal our hearts so we may share his heart for the world which desperately needs it.
That’s why it’s a great time to be a Christian.