November 13, 2016

26th Sunday after Pentecost, Pastor Bradley E. Schmeling

Luke 21:5-19

Audio available by clicking microphone, upper right.

O Dear Friends, what do we say about these things?

If we had a screen, we could just watch cat and puppy videos this morning, remind each other that God is love, and go home. Maybe we would feel better.

No one saw this coming.

  • The loss seemed apocalyptic, stone by stone, region by region.
  • Nation against nation; already rumors of wars.
  • Anger growing among the disenfranchised. Some turning to violence, insurrection on the streets. Others terrified by what they see emerging in their communities.
  • Families not able to talk to one another, fear doing what it always does, turning parent against child, child against parent.
  • The one world superpower now seems more unpredictable and reckless than ever.
  • Brown people reminded that they could never be citizens.

The year it all happened: 70 CE. The temple in Jerusalem, the center of the universe, the hope for God’s presence in history, was utterly and totally destroyed by the Roman army. It was Rome’s response to what they described as instability. It was their response to the threat of change. The little Jewish, non-Roman, non-white community, already at the end of the empire, could not be allowed to experience the hope of freedom.

Luke wrote his gospel shortly after this cataclysmic event. Jesus’ words in Luke 21 do not describe some future event. They name the immediate experience of those early Jewish Christians.

Sometimes we forget that Christianity was born in a time of terror and profound uncertainty. We have always proclaimed our message at that boundary between death and resurrection. Our future has never been centered in political or economic systems; never in rulers or presidents, in flags or in military strength. Our hope has always been in God’s work through Jesus Christ, who was crucified and raised from the dead. Our hope is found in God’s apocalyptic YES to love, compassion, peace, justice, and mercy.

Certainly the election this week has been described in apocalyptic terms. In unsettling ways, the gospel text again describes the experience for so many.

It’s important for us to acknowledge the room this morning. Some of us are grieving, not ready to hear about next steps or to pray for our enemy. Some are afraid that hard-won rights might now be taken away, or that hatred has been given permission to join the mainstream. Some of us are deeply ambivalent, having voted for candidates that seemed the only choice. Some of us are hoping that dramatic change, despite its rhetoric, can be good for the country. Some of us are happy with the election but afraid to name our political commitments out loud in a church that maybe should have blue carpet instead of red. Some who supported Hillary are already ready to put new energy into the work for equality and justice. On the other side, some from his own party are ready to demand a better, more mature and open rhetoric from Donald Trump. Some are trusting that God’s power to change us is, in the end, stronger than our racism and our fear. Some are glad that we can now see a more realistic picture of our nation’s soul. I suspect all of us, no matter who we voted for, we sense the deep division and we’re worried what these next four years will be like.

I lament that we didn’t see this wave coming. Something is wrong that we are surprised to discover the depth of feeling on either side, whether it’s the wave of Trump supporters that were mobilized by their disenfranchisement. Some of us are shocked by the things that have been said out loud. On the other side, I understand that there are Trump voters have been shocked by the depth of sorrow that has been expressed among Hillary’s supporters, particularly among young women who yearn to see concrete evidence that all of us can really strive for the highest things. We live in bubbles of our own making. Perhaps this election is, indeed, an apocalyptic rending of the curtain.

What do we say to one another? How do we address this divide?

I’m comforted that Jesus says, “I will give you the words that you need when you need them. I will give you the wisdom that is finally and ultimately healing.” For those who would choose to follow him, he knew that life would put them into situations where they would have to find new courage to speak and to act. They would be put on trial. They would face endings or changes that they could hardly prepare for. Of course, he himself would be required to look into the face of death and give his future into God’s hands without any immediate assurance that his vision would prevail.

Jesus tells us that the time will come when we will be called to speak our truth, to name out loud those things that we know will save the world. The translation, by the way, doesn’t really mean “don’t be prepared,” it means “Don’t give a canned speech, words that someone else framed for you. No cliché’s. No platitudes. Speak the truth that only you and God know together.”

What is the truth that God is leading you to speak out loud?

Maybe these days are dramatic enough, apocalyptic enough for us, even as Lutherans, to consider giving a testimony. Perhaps, the aging and declining mainline church, often framed as irrelevant, has something profoundly relevant to say about God’s inclusive love, about God’s passionate commitment to justice for all, about God’s ability to open new futures, about God’s fervent plea that we pray even for our enemies, about God’s healing work to build community across the lines we paint in red and blue.

We should learn from the black church, who has been giving testimony to God’s saving power in the face of racism and terror and disappointment for as long as it has been in this country. Those of us in the white church have just enough access to privilege to imagine that change comes through our own efforts or votes. The wisdom that God has given to so many who make their way at the margins is that hope comes in God’s character and God’s history of redemptive and saving actions. They trust that God has saved in the past, so God will save again. The only way to have the kind of endurance that can save your soul, is to trust one more time that the arc of the universe does, indeed, bend toward justice.

Howard Thurman, a brilliant African American theologian, has seen suffering change people. “Into their faces comes a subtle radiance and a settled serenity; into their relationships a vital generosity that opens the sealed doors of the heart in all who are encountered along the way.”[1]

I love that: Radiance,!

Radiance, serenity/peace that is grounded in a world beyond us, generosity, openness. May that be our witness, for the next four years, and into eternity, where not a single hair on our head will perish, but we will all be made new together, once and for all.

[1] Howard Thurman, Disciplines of the Spirit (1963; Richmond, IM: Friends United Press, 1977, p. 76, as quoted in Feasting on the Word: Year C, Volume 4: Season after Pentecost 2 (Propers 17, edited by David L. Bartlett, Barbara Brown Taylor, p. 310.