Sermon, November 13, 2016
The Rev. Dr. Jack E. Skiles
This has been a week for me to put into play my most sacred spiritual practices.? Starting late Tuesday evening as the voting trends began seeming obvious?, I stole away to be by myself.? Several of us had gathered to watch the results.? I stopped by the Democratic Party that was to be held near the courthouse square and it was more funereal. I didn?t stay long and drinking beer or Scotch does not help me at such moments.
My most sacred spiritual tasks are:? I went home and I vacuumed.? I did my laundry.? I folded my laundry.? I have vacuumed the house three times since Tuesday evening.? I even cleaned my chimney and put new seals on the doors of my wood stove.? I took all the cushions off my furniture and cleaned in the cracks.? Cleaning away the dirt that I can is settling, centering and gets me ready for the cleanup that is more societal and demanding.? Putting my own house in order is essential.
Out in Brown County where I live, this past week saw 100% of the leaves that will drop fall down.? Only a few trees have leaves left that will not fall until the spring, when new buds push away the dead ones.? There is, out in the woods, the ability to see more clearly now.? Things once hidden are more clearly in focus.
Luke 21:10 Then Jesus said to them, ?Nations and kingdoms will fight against each other. 11 There will be great earthquakes and wide-scale food shortages and epidemics. There will also be terrifying sights and great signs in the sky. 12 But before all this occurs, they will take you into custody and harass you because of your faith. They will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name. 13 This will provide you with an opportunity to testify. 14 Make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance. 15 I?ll give you words and wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to counter or contradict. 16 You will be betrayed by your parents, brothers and sisters, relatives, and friends. They will execute some of you. 17 Everyone will hate you because of my name. 18 Still, not a hair on your heads will be lost. 19 By holding fast, you will gain your lives.
It doesn?t pay to be a biblical literalist.? I have had massive hair loss even during the good times of my life.? Stand fast, because the times of trouble are at hand.? Stay true to your faith, because it will get challenged. What a text to hear for the Sunday following one of the most contentious and divisive elections in recent memory. We, the American people, seem at odds with ourselves and with our country. There is discord in the world?wars and rumors of wars. Fear dominates our hearts, seemingly stoked everyday by the headlines. Families are affected. Congregations are affected. Certainly minority groups fear that they will be targeted?AGAIN and with even less protections than before! Could it be that the end is near? How do we as women and men of varying amounts of faith respond? Should we give in to the fear? Is it the time for unrelenting anger?? Is it na?ve for us to live with hope instead of fear?
It has been a long and dangerous week to try to give voice to what it means for our country to have turned in the political direction it has.? Just about everyone I read on a weekly basis has been condemned for whatever tack they have taken into the winds of public discourse.? It reminds me of one of the challenges of being a parent.? There are some days, if not weeks and months, when no matter how we try, we are just wrong, even if we are right.? Some things we have to live through and even then there are no guarantees.? Na?ve hope is not in my practical tool box of survival skills.? Well thought through and practically orchestrated hope is in my chest of necessary tools that will be required in the days ahead.
We have had really bad presidents before and most of us survived, though certainly many have not.? ?Hundreds of thousands, if not over a million Iraqis and Afghanis have not survived the Bush/Cheney years.? Targeted immoral tortures were deemed appropriate by the lawyers of that administration.
These next years are going to be the times for us to pull together in strong community formations?, to organize and prioritize our efforts.? It is going to be a time when we must be watching out for others as well as making sure we are not putting ourselves into danger that ought to be avoided.? Our efforts to protect the sacred human rights of the most vulnerable in our midst will be a reality that churches like ours must be involved in, helping to define the issues and providing sanctuary not only for ourselves but those others who will be in great need.
Sara Frommer and I do a lot of trainings for the Interfaith Winter Shelter.? It is a sanctuary movement for those at risk of freezing and starvation and abuse right here in Bloomington.? We know on a very pragmatic level that the more trainings we do the greater is the volunteer base.? I always find myself at these trainings going through the list of people, naming the sort of folks that we need to protect and reminding volunteers that it is our job to be the eyes, the ears, if not the very bodies that will protect those most at risk from harm.? And, I always tell them a story or two of how some of the folks who will need to be protected might well be dirty, gross, drunk, drug crazed, already hurt and bleeding and we might feel fear doing the work of providing safety and security.? But, we tell these helper people, Fear not!? You will not be working alone.? Many of us will be there.? Ask for help and count on us to be there.
So many of us fear that the social progresses we have seen in the past eight years are at risk.? Since last week?s election there has been a huge uptick in sexual aggressions, religious intolerance, racial harassments, misogynic comments and every conceivable sort of horrible behavior directed toward those in the GLBTQ community.? Telling ourselves, telling others that it will all be okay is na?ve optimism and dangerous.? Those of living in the Hoosier Blue Spot are going to be easily targeted, though I worry most about the deeds done in darkness to those who do not have the protection that comes from being surrounded by the larger groups.
The Bush/Chaney years have taught those who have ears that can hear, eyes that can see and memories that still work that narrow-minded government officials and those who take advantage of their weak moral/ethical positions can be so very cruel.? It has taken a long time for us to begin to step out of the shadows of a few straight white men acting badly and we certainly know to be more on guard this time.
There is no magic in life except when we look back and say, ?Oh, it happened so magically.?? Magic is the result of hard work, dedication, training and very often sacrificial action.? We can say, appropriately so, ?God will see us through.?? But, seeing and doing are two different realities.? God believes in us.? God desires through us.? God wants with us.? But, we must do that which is ours alone to accomplish.
If Jesus be our guide then we need to pay close attention to him this morning. He was undoubtedly a gentle angry man.? Jesus was a man of his time that saw his people oppressed not only by a foreign occupying force but also by many of his own people who went along not only to get along but went along to their advantage.? Was there a black man or woman who voted for Trump?? Was there a gay or a lesbian, bi-sexual, Trans person who voted for the Trump/Pence ticket?? How about a Latino or Latina?? Very few undoubtedly, but the mass votes were made up of white men and women who voted to keep the advantages, the privileges, the resources that so many fear are in short supply.
Jesus gave everything away and we have not one recorded story of his ever doing without.? You, as a congregation, have given so much away to those in need.? You are known around this town as not only generous but generous to a fault.? Our giving so that at the very least others might at least have some is a formidable religious accomplishment.? People around this town know that by design, by our belief, by our critical examination of what we value, the people at all echelons know that we can be counted on to be givers.? And, you know as well if not better than I that giving only of dollars is never enough.
I want to pause this morning to give thanks, a most sincere thank you to Shelli Yoder, one of us, who has probably taken a few years off her life span to run twice for Congress, to stand tall, to stand firm, to stand in the midst of values for all that so many of us find essential and to then lose graciously after being vilified, lied about; she fell victim in addition to a misogynistic force that our society remains entrenched in and that we must continue to confront.? She worked long and hard and stood for so much that we all value and she would have and will continue to be an ambassador for all people?even to those who voted against her.? Call by God, she responded and is a winner despite not getting the office to which she aspired.
What happens when we do not get what we wanted?? We have still run the race.? We are stronger and perhaps even more determined than we were before.? Never has it been more clear what we are up against and we must strengthen our resolve and even when they go low, we must respond by going high.
In this morning?s Scripture story there is a pall of apocalypticism that permeates the scene.? We talked some about this, well, in truth, perhaps it was only me doing the talking, but never the less.? Jesus was not successful as he understood success.? He most surely believed that in his faithfulness to God?s call, that God would intervene and bring about the kingdom, the realm of the righteous, and the reality of God fully on earth as in heaven.? That same apocalypticism is found continuing through the 1st century and is still alive this morning for so many, even for many of us.? I?ve heard it countless times, that we are in the end times, the end has come, there is no future.? We must resist such temptation to succumb to such foolishness.? This is not a football game with a time clock.? This is life lived with tremendous challenges and it simply continues as long as we have breath and the fortitude to persevere.
Abraham Lincoln was so close to the finish line when he was killed but the more perfect union continued to? progress.? Dr. King did not survive an assassin?s bullet but the march he helped sustain did not look up and see a clock with time expired but a mission yet to accomplish.? Jesus died with those words that haunt, ?My God, my God why have you deserted me.?? If Jesus felt deserted, well then God bless us as we feel depressed and down-spirited for merely losing an election by such a narrow margin.
Friends, the time to stand is approaching.? No matter how beautiful the song, I disagree.? I am not a gentle angry person.? I am moved to action with a firmness of resolve that must stop all aggression toward those under my care.
If Trump and others find a way to declare that all Muslims must register for national security reasons, I hope you find it in your heart to understand that I will convert and you will have an Islamic/Christian pastor.? Civil and religious disobedience is a must in the face of proposed and actual tyranny of minorities.? I am not oppressed, I am strongly and vehemently angry and I must be, you must ponder becoming the strength our nation needs to be the kind of people that God has long envisioned for us to become.
We must be in community and strengthen ourselves.? Lone fighters tire and cannot easily sustain the long battle.? If Jesus was anything, he was a messenger of God sustained by a phenomenal support network that became even stronger in his death.? We need front line advocates and we need kitchen help to feed us and prayerful quiet people to sustain our spirituality.
Anger and fear are only good as they are aimed toward goals that are worthy.? There are a lot of people that you and I are called upon to care for in the days and months ahead.? Let us all be ready to stand tall and supportive often.
And most importantly of all we have a lot of truly scared and angry neighbors and friends that need firm assistance in how to be more open and level headed.? We must rise to the occasion for not only our friends, but for those who have voted for fear and true domestic terrorism.? I don?t have an answer, I have resolved to not be anything but strong in the face of a significant set-back.? We must continue to prayerfully, purposefully and powerfully be the presence of the One who took on his country and the most oppressive government in history and who lives still through our actions.
Be the Christ.? It is our calling.
Oh!? And if he builds that damn wall, I will be glad to help tear it down.