Michael P. Thomas OSLC
November 13, 2016, Pentecost 23C, Sunday after the 2016 Election
NOTE: The post-election sermon I preached this past Sunday received more response at coffee hour than most of my sermons. I would welcome further conversation. The sermon was preceded by a children’s message that focused on naming the things we fear such as tarantulas voiced by a child, falling offered by an elder, fear of the unknown by another. These fears were written on sheets of paper, placed in an offering plate and brought to the foot of the processional cross to offer up to God. Liese Shewmaker then offered a lovely prayer.
I normally preach from a manuscript, but often diverge from it. The sermon below is very close to what I said.
For some of us this week’s Presidential Election was really hard news, a kick in the gut. For others it felt like long-hoped-for good news. My periodic spiritual advisor, otherwise known as my barber, Bob, for example, thought it was great and didn’t hesitate to express how relieved he was, especially about the future of the Supreme Court. Not a feeling I shared. But we kept talking and listening to one another. And the conversation no doubt will continue.
I’ve tried to remember this week that the gospel, too, can sound quite different to its hearers, depending upon your vantage point, what you see when you step out your front door. News of release to the captives and of the mighty being cast down from their thrones sounds like good news to those on the bottom and terrifying news to those on the top. Having tried for many years to listen carefully to scripture in different contexts, I do have some idea of how the same news can be heard differently.
This particular news has been a call to listen to the signs of the times, and not just the New York Times. A call to listen to scripture and to one another. We don’t know the future. We don’t yet know the effect this election will have on our country or the world, or our own daily lives. Some of us are legitimately frightened by the possibilities, and that fear must be taken seriously. Because signs of the intolerance unleashed are already rising. But we aren’t there yet.
On Reformation Sunday at our public conversation with Ron Shaiko about the upcoming election, Deb Beaupré said something that has really stayed with me. For those of who don’t know her, she is an African American educator, a member of OSLC, who drives many miles through rural New Hampshire to the school where she is Assistant Principal. As she observed the increasing number of Trump signs after leaving the Upper Valley, she asked herself if she would be able to go to the door of one of these Trump supporters if she needed help if her car broke down along the way. She wondered what kind of reception would she be given? Now Deb is disarming, female, polite. She has accommodated herself to living as one of an extreme minority in this state. And yet, she wondered.
Now, those of us who are white could easily say, “Of course you can go to a house that has a Trump sign if you have car trouble.” But for her, given the racism of both our history and our present time, and the kinds of things being said during this election, this was not an idle question nor could she give an automatic answer. The uplifting message she did give to us at the same time was that she knew she could go to any house of anyone in this faith community and know she would be helped, regardless of which political signs they had in their yard.
So the question is how do we enlarge that circle of openness to include not only being welcoming of other known members of this congregation who have different experiences of living in this country, to the more challenging practice of opening our doors and hearts to the stranger, the alien, the refugee?
I return to the call to listen well to scripture and to one another. Both scripture and our neighbor (or enemy, depending upon our perspective) are in a sense works-in-progress, living things, full of contradictions that perhaps can be best understood only by continually applying the rubric of love. A love that, no pun intended, trumps everything.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, German Lutheran theologian martyred by the Nazis during World War II, reminds us that good listening is an act of love. Half-eared listening, he says, “despises the brother [or sister] and is only waiting for a chance to speak and thus get rid of the other person.” Poor listening rejects, good listening embraces. Poor listening diminishes the other person, while good listening invites them to exist, and to matter, which if we have learned anything in this election season is that so many, many of our citizens feel unheard, which is to say, invisible and therefore forgotten. Bonhoeffer writes, “Just as love for God begins with listening to his Word, so the beginning of love for [our brothers and sisters] is learning to listen to them.”
So don’t give up my brothers and sisters. We’re hearing “Don’t give up” from every quarter if we listen well. Listen to the Trump supporters who tell us not to assume that this is the end of the world but to see that it might be a shake-up that could bring some good. Give him a chance, they say. Listen to Hillary and Barack and Bernie and their supporters who tell us that now the real work begins, the daily engagement in the political process to work for and elect change. Listen to the Apostle Paul writing in our second lesson, “Brothers and sisters, do not be weary in doing what is right.”
In a moving departure from the usual, the television program Saturday Night Live opened last night with Kate McKinnon, the actor who has been playing Hillary Clinton, sitting alone on a darkened stage, in a white pantsuit, at a piano. Then the silence was broken as she played and sang a version of Leonard Cohen’s haunting song “Hallelujah,” made even more touching by his death this past Monday. The message was, as it is in Cohen’s original version, that no matter what happens, you come before God and raise your Hallelujah. You don’t give up. By your endurance you’ll gain your soul.
“Do not grow weary in doing what is right.” Hillary Clinton in her concession speech quoted a very similar passage of scripture from Paul’s letter to Christians in Galatia, “You know,” she said, “scripture tells us, let us not grow weary of doing good, for in good season we shall reap.” Paul had been dealing for some time with the fact that some members felt they were more worthy than others. Paul knew good material when he formulated it, and wasn’t hesitant to reuse it in his letter to the Thessalonians. They are words we need to write on our hearts and our front doors for us to see each day and for anyone—ANYONE—having car trouble or any other kind of trouble or fear. “Do not grow weary in doing what is right.”
Another voice in the congregation [Katja Koeppen] posted these words on Facebook: “If you voted for Trump, but do not consider yourself a racist, misogynist, xenophobe or bigot, please keep reading. Here are 3 points that I would like you to consider:
1. Acknowledge that racism, sexism, xenophobia, islamophobia and discrimination of other minorities actually exist in this county. Just because you can’t see or feel it does not make it any less real.
2. Take the fears and feelings of those who feel targeted by Trump and his supporters seriously and don’t dismiss them as exaggerated overreaction or whining.
3. Speak up and stand up against hate and discrimination against minorities. If you remain silent in the face of this, you are effectively condoning it.”
She writes further, “I want to be optimistic and refuse to believe that 60 million people in this country are white supremacists. So if you are not one of them, we need you to take a strong stand against hate speech and crimes. Millions of people in minority groups who are now in fear for their lives and safety need to hear from you that you would stand up for their constitutional rights. As a German, I have always believed that welcoming everyone is what makes America great.”
Do remember that to love your neighbor is an act of resistance to the political forces that try to divide us. We can take immense hope and comfort in knowing that no matter what happens we have in this community the Word of God to guide us, the songs of faith, the prayers we lift up and the bread and wine we receive, the body of Christ in our hands, strengthening us to do the work of God. Perhaps most of all we have the Spirit of God energizing us to do the work of compassion and healing.
Don’t give up. Don’t give up on yourself and don’t give up on each other. If we know anything, we know that God never gives up on us, calling us again and again to be faithful. We are sent out to do the work of God. I love how Allan Boesak, the South African anti-apartheid activist and theologian, describes this trinity of being sent for the healing of the word [Unsure where this appeared in his writings]. Just listen to this Trinitarian image of God as a Fountain of sending love: The Father sends the Son, the Son sends the Spirit, and the Spirit sends us… [Repeat]
Hear the words of the call you issued to Susan and me in 2002.
“We call you to exercise among us the ministry of Word and Sacrament which God has established and which the Holy Spirit empowers:
To preach and teach the Word of God in accordance with the Holy Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions;
to administer Holy Baptism and Holy Communion;
to lead us in worship;
to proclaim the forgiveness of sins;
to provide pastoral care;
to speak for justice in behalf of the poor and oppressed;
to encourage persons to prepare for the ministry of the Gospel;
to impart knowledge of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and its wider ministry;
to endeavor to increase support given by our congregation to the work of our whole church;
to equip us for witness and service;
and to guide us in proclaiming God’s love through word and deed.
And hear the Baptismal promise made either by us or on our behalf and then later confirmed in confirmation, or made in re-affirmation of faith.
We are—you and me—to “…live among God’s faithful people; hear the word of God and share in the Lord’s Supper; proclaim the good news of God in Christ through word and deed; serve all people following the example of Jesus; and strive for justice and peace in all the earth.”
Finally, hear these words: the absolutely wonderful, mercy-filled words and music contained in Marty Haugen’s liturgy that we’re currently using. At the moment we begin to share in the brokenness of the world redeemed through the brokenness of our Lord, we sing:
Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world. Have mercy on us.
Lamb of God, you break the chains of hatred and fear. Have mercy on us.
Lamb of God, you are the way of justice and peace. Have mercy on us.
Lamb of God, you are the way of mercy and love. Have mercy on us.
Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world. Grant us peace.
Believe it! For how else after this election, after this sermon, could we pray and sing together, share the peace of God with one another, and come with open hands to this table to receive the mystery of God incarnate in Jesus Christ if we did not believe that Jesus’ love is stronger than our fear? Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah. May it indeed be so for us.