Sunday, November 13, 2016

An Opportunity to Testify (one Christian lady's response to the Trump election)

Below is my sermon for today. Preaching after the 2016 Presidential election is an odd experience.  I heard from many fellow preachers that they were nervous about this particular task of preaching.  For some reason (arrogance? stupidity?) I did not share that same batch of nerves.  The task of preaching the gospel, diving deeply into the assigned scripture text and connecting it to the lives of the people I serve is the task before me every week.

I am struggling with the results of this election.  I profoundly disagree with the hatred, prejudice and objectifying ways of our current president-elect.  I am grieving the deep, deep division of our communities and heard from many church members this morning that they feel isolated from neighbors and family members. 

And I am struggling with the reach of the seems like the intensity of discipleship is rising, the voice of the advocate needs to be louder.  This whole week I carried around a small notebook that said "If you change nothing, nothing changes." The task of preaching and discipleship seems the same...but I cannot get rid of the gut feeling that the church's actions (or inaction) needs to change. Brilliant answers and insights welcome...

Luke 21: 1-13
He looked up and saw rich people putting their gifts into the treasury; he also saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. He said, ‘Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them; for all of them have contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in all she had to live on.’
 When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, he said, ‘As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.’ They asked him, ‘Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?’ And he said, ‘Beware that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name and say, “I am he!” and, “The time is near!” Do not go after them.
‘When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end will not follow immediately.’Then he said to them, ‘Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven. ‘But before all this occurs, 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.
This will give you an opportunity to testify.

When you walk into a new place, what do you notice? What is important enough for you to observe, evaluate? Think for a moment how you report back to your spouse or friends about new places you might check out.  When leaving a restaurant do you review the food or the ambiance first? When you visit a church do you notice the building or the people first? What is the nature of the lasting impression left on you?  I invite you to reflect on this because I think it says something about what we value or what we are truly seeking.  

In our gospel story this morning we are eavesdropping on Jesus in the temple.  He has finally entered Jerusalem where he headed straight for the temple and got to work cleaning it out.  Jesus then teaches for a lengthy time about civic duty, the resurrection and he, of course, challenges the scribes and Pharisees of that community.  Then Jesus looks up and observes rich people giving an offering in the temple and one poor, widow giving two coins. While others are looking all around the building commenting on how lovely and beautifully adorned the temple was. Now the lectionary started right with the people complimenting the building, but I think it’s really important to back up a couple of verses and so we know where Jesus’ focus is.  Jesus isn’t just saying don’t compliment structures that will one day be rubbish...Jesus is also telling the people where their focus should be residing, and he does this while watching a poor widow donate all she had.  Who we see, notice and talk about says a lot about what we value.  And who we do not see, notice and talk about says just as much.

Then Jesus turns his teachings to the tension filled political environment and the religious anxiety that followed him wherever we went.  He begins talking about nation rising against nation and kingdom against kingdom...hate speech, ground shaking, persecution and intolerance of those most wretched kind. So let’s pause for just a moment and let our hearts grieve that this scenario is too close to home, too familiar, too constant throughout the centuries of the human story.  And then Jesus says this, “This will give you an opportunity to testify” So much more important that our reviews of gym facilities or restaurants or church buildings (and we’re all guilty of that, going to a house of worship and come away talking about the decor)...we have an opportunity to testify.  And opportunity to tell our neighbors about the eternal ruler of the nations, the creator of the earth as it shakes, the teacher of the Holy Word, the healer and miracle worker that is our Savior...we have an opportunity to talk about forgiveness, love, welcome and peace beyond even our own understanding. Discipleship hasn’t changed much in the last 2000 years. Following Jesus still means testifying to our trust in God in the midst of circumstances that test our confidence and our hope. So we keep going on, with endurance as a hallmark of what it means to be a believer.

Will you let me be your servant, let me be as Christ to you?

Pray that I might have the grace to let you be my servant, too.
We are pilgrims on a journey, we are trav’lers on the road.
We are here to help each other walk the mile and bear the load.
I will hold the Christ-light for you in the night time of your fear.
I will hold my hand out to you, speak the peace you long to hear.

That hymn is beautiful, one of my very favorites and one that I want to sing all the time to everyone I encounter these days. Yet, I want to be careful and not romanticize the power and solidarity of the words of that hymn or the scene from our gospel.  There is nothing easy or romantic about the poor widow who gave two coins in the synagogue.  She did so relying on the strength of her faith, but because she was not attached to a man, her place in her society was vulnerable, dangerous and a promise of poverty for all her days.  I can just imagine Jesus’ disciples sitting in the synagogue, listening to their incredible rabbi and when they saw a women in need and they knew the rules of their society would keep her in need and keep them from really changing her life’s’s no wonder they quickly became distracted by the decor of the synagogue.  Because who wouldn’t rather compliment something beautiful than have their heart torn open by an unsolvable, ugly reality?

Nor should we romanticize the “opportunity to testify” as Jesus put it.  The opportunity that Jesus spoke of was persecution, war and division -- these would not be cozy faith stories shared in the church youth room, these would be life and death situations in which the power of God’s wisdom and words would be the salvation of the disciples.  And yet, Jesus tells the disciples that these ugly realities would be the key opportunity for them to continue God’s story through their words and their lives.

What we, the body of Christ have to say is important.  What and who we notice and pay attention to matters to God.  What and who we ignore and neglect also matters to God.  Now, I have never ever preached about politics and I’m not about to start this morning...however, I have felt such grief in this past week, perhaps you have too? I have felt grief over the tremendous presence of division and fear that has led us to this presidential election and filled the days that follow.  But least we think ourselves too precious or unique, may I also point out that our gospel story is filled with a tremendous presence of division and fear too. And

Jesus responds in two clear ways…

First, Jesus takes notice and honors the poor and neglected in the synagogue and tells his disciples to do the same.

Second, Jesus tells of difficult days and ugly realities ahead and tells his followers they will have the opportunity to testify.

I do not have clear answers as to how to be an agent of healing and hope in this world, I do not have clear answers to the Christian response to these difficult days and ugly realities. But I believe, strongly, that following Jesus’ lead is where we, the baptized and called people of God, can begin. These are opportunities to testify, to be embodied love: fierce loving protection for those who suffer—immigrants, black and brown people, Muslims, LGBTQ people, women, our planet!—and radical agape love that Jesus embodied that prays for enemies, persecutors, and the hate-filled with hope that humanity can indeed be transformed by love.I pray for all of us—for this broken country, for those scared beyond belief and for our church.  May we learn new ways to be prophetic, to repent, to build bridges, to embody love that transforms. In the words of MLK, Let us be extremists for love.
I will weep when you are weeping, when you laugh I'll laugh with you.

I will share your joy and sorrow till we've seen this journey through.

What would it mean for you to notice the poor and neglected among you? Would this mean a change in your schedule? In your volunteering? In your advocacy? In your spending and supporting?

What would it mean for you to tell your neighbors and our nation about this God who believe in and worship? This God who promises to be present and to be stronger than fear and division, this God who brings redemption to deep pain and hope to impossible circumstances.  What would that sound like?

Will you let me be your servant, let me be as Christ to you?

Pray that I might have the grace to let you be my servant, too.

Let us pray...Holy One, give us the eyes of Christ that notice the poor widow and we pray for your wisdom to seize the opportunities To PROCLAIM the Gospel of Jesus Christ through God’s Word, the sacraments and loving service; To BE a loving and caring community where each person feels genuinely loved; To PROVIDE opportunities for spiritual growth through prayer, worship and study; To MINISTER to the needs of the congregation, the community and the world as the Holy Spirit empowers and leads us; To WELCOME without exception; LISTEN without judgment; and SUPPORT without prejudice all people, and in this way, TO BE CHRIST FOR OTHERS! Amen.

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