Sunday, November 13, 2016

An Opportunity to Testify: Sermon after Election 2016

Sermon preached at St. Mark's Episcopal Church, Penn Yan, NY, November 13, 2016:  Isaiah 65:17-25, 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13, Luke 21:5-19

          The only thing that is clear on this Sunday after Election Day is that we are a deeply divided nation.  The chairman of the Steuben County Republican party said, “The people have spoken.”  Well, some of the people have spoken, not a majority of them even, but our system of electing a President is what it is, and we have to move on.

          My interest this morning is asking, what is the task of Christian people like you and me in this deeply troubled place and time?  The readings we just heard point us in some clear directions.  I think they tell us three things.

          First of all, everyone has a part to play, everyone has to contribute.  The church to which Paul was writing in the text this morning was in a very troubled place, as increasingly were all Christians as the faith began to spread throughout the Roman Empire.

          I’m sure most of your ears perked up when you heard the well-known statement of Paul:

Anyone unwilling to work should not eat.

          This verse has been used to criticize social welfare programs, and it seems to state a conviction held by many that a lot of people are milking the system by being unwilling to work.  It’s important that Paul chose his words carefully, because “unwilling” is not the same word as “unable.”

          Paul is conjuring a vision of a world here, a world where all contribute not for the sake of themselves, but for the sake of all. Underneath this seemingly easy to understand statement about work is the biblical vision of neighborliness.

          Walter Brueggemann says,

The church…is a body of folk who believe that in Jesus a new world has begun, a new world of generosity and forgiveness and hospitality and justice. Church folk are those who by their lives and their actions give evidence of the new world.[1]

          This new world does not break into our old world without everybody who is called by God to participate does so.

          On to the second thing these readings have to tell us about living beyond November 8:  Watch your mouth!  Our tongues can be tools of building one another up or tearing one another down.  I think we can all agree there was plenty of “tearing down” language in this election. We rely increasingly on channels of communication that lend themselves to the language of tearing down. Social media can be anything but social; it can also be a minefield of things said that would rarely be said face to face.

          Paul says to the Thessalonians, Watch what you say! Watch what you talk about, watch how you talk about it, and watch how you say it. Say anything you want, I think Paul would say, but expect to be responsible for what you say, for what you say and how you say it has consequences.

          In this morning’s Gospel reading, Jesus has something better for our mouths to do. This is a tough Gospel reading. Jesus warns us about the times of tribulation that will come among us, and he names just about everything except poisonous water in Flint, Michigan, which would have been there if he had known it.

          He says that there will be people who will use these times of crisis to put themselves forward as saviors. “I am he! I can fix this!” Do not run after them. It might get so bad, he says, that they will throw you in jail because you refuse to follow. In all of this potential craziness, you have one job:

This will give you an opportunity to testify.

          Again, back to Brueggemann:

Christians are people who tell the truth they know about the rule of God that challenges all of our old practices and about the implications of that new rule of God for all kinds of policy questions from health care to immigration policy and all of those tough issues.[2]

          Affecting how we use our mouths is the fact that our commitment is first and foremost to the truth into which Jesus leads us, whether that agrees with the majority position, or our favorite ideology or political party.  Those things are all like the Temple. They are temporary. They will all be thrown down.

          So watch your mouths. This is a time when telling the truth with respect and humility matters a great deal.

          The third thing these readings give us is the imperative to live in hope. Again, Brueggemann,

Live in hope. Live in the sure conviction that God’s promise for the world can be resisted and can be delayed, but it cannot be defeated.[3]

          We must be careful here. Hope and optimism are not the same thing. To be perfectly honest, I am not very optimistic about the immediate future of our country, but the hope I have for the world cannot be shaken.  The vision the prophet Isaiah gives us this morning of the new world that God wishes to create with us remains my vision.

          Notice Isaiah’s vision is not of heaven. He dreams of a new heaven, but doesn’t describe it.  What he does describe is a new earth vision, and it is not an ancient, and therefore outdated vision.  It is a vision for us. A vision of

A new way of living together, a new economy, if you will:
          They shall build houses and inhabit them;
            They shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit.
            They shall not build and another inhabit,
            They shall not plant and another eat.

In other words, an economy of plenty, not scarcity, where generosity, not hoarding reign.

A new way of health care
            No more shall there be in it
            An infant that lives for a few days,
            Or an old person who does not live out a

An entirely new environment and way of being together for God’s creatures
            The wolf and the lamb shall feed together,
            The lion shall eat straw like the ox;
            But the serpent—its food shall be dust.

The serpent is the temptation to go it on our own, every man or woman for him or her self.  That is not the reign of God.

          We have been given our way of life to practice after this Election, and it’s the same life we have always been called to live.  It is a life in which

·      We know ourselves to be accountable, not just for ourselves, but for the neighborhood. We are called to contribute to the well-being of all.

·      We take accountability for how our words and actions tear down or build up, and commit ourselves to speaking primarily the truth that Jesus has taught us and the way he has taught us, not the way of social media or 24-hour news.

·      We stubbornly live in hope with a vision that is able to lift us out of fear and despair.

          And perhaps one more thing as we approach Advent:  We stay alert, we watch, not allowing the nastiness of this campaign season become a way of life among us.

[1] Walter Brueggemann, The Collected Sermons of Walter Brueggemann, vol. 2 (Westminster John Knox, 2015), p. 237.  This entire sermon owes much to the ideas put forward in Brueggemann’s sermon containg this and subsequent quotes.
[2] Ibid., p. 240.
[3] Ibid., p. 241.

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