Sermon by Rev. Todd Weir
Sunday, November 13, 2016
Scripture: Luke 21:5-19
I wish I could preach a sermon that will explain everything so the world makes sense, sprinkled with large doses of hope and optimism, and a clarity of action and purpose that will guide us into the future. I am in awe of people who can bounce back after months of acrimony and write articles like “The five things we need to do next.” Another title said, “Don’t Grieve, Organize.” I’m still moving through the Kubler-Ross cycle of grief, denial and anger, basically everything by acceptance.
It tend to forge ahead, deal with the task and not the emotion, and we had our staff meeting, still numb after little sleep, we talked about what needed to happen for the church fair next week, and made plans for Advent. We opened the doors and had lunch with people who came to talk, and then we began to plan for our evening post-election prayer vigil held jointly at Edwards Church. We set this up a week ago, aided by the handy UCC post-election tool-kit. But there are things you just can’t prepare ahead of time, like 250 people showing up, and where will we get enough candles. Wednesday night I said, I am not rushing the strategic, action-planning part of my brain right now, because I need to connect to the source of life, the ground of my being, to God. How can I think straight unless I am first grounded in the deepest reality of life, grounded in hope and love, and not fear and frustration? And that is where I still am, because we may need to change and adapt in the face of a new social reality. We have come to that gap on the map where the GPS doesn’t work, and keeps saying “Recalculating…Recalculating…” So this morning I am going to trust in what I know how to do, which is to look at a scripture text and try to let it speak to us. God is still speaking!
Here is our scene. Jesus and his disciples are in the great Temple in Jerusalem. They were marveling at one of the ancient wonders of the world. It was likely crafted by some of the descendents of Hebrew slaves who built the Great Pyramids. Gillett Stadium in Foxboro, Giant Stadium in New Jersey, would have fit inside of the outer stone walls and nobody would see these from the outside. From the high point of the city, the Temple could be seen for miles by thousands of pilgrims, the pride and fortress of Judaism and Israel. Whether you like the message of the current set of priests are not, you can’t help being in awe of a great holy place.
So why was Jesus such a killjoy? He says, don’t be too impressed, “The days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.” Mr. Negativity. Note to self, do not invite Jesus on next trip to the National Mall in Washington D.C., or capital campaign speaker. Was this a political or theological statement, a biting, prophetic commentary on the “den of thieves” hawkers in the Temple? Jesus had already made that point on Palm Sunday, knocking down their tables. The first lesson of the text is that Jesus had a healthy dose of skepticism about the status quo. Remember that Luke’s Gospel begins with the Magnificat:
God has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. He has cast down the mighty from their thrones and has exalted the lowly.
So disciples, think for yourselves, trust your own logic and inner voice, and listen to the voices of the suffering and marginalized, not just those who work in the might stone Temples.
When the disciples ask for clarification as to the timetable for this astonishing statement, Jesus says,
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…. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; 11there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven.
Stop it Jesus, you are scaring me. I don’t want to think about war, climate change and Rio and Florida disappearing under the sea, (well, maybe Florida, but we would evacuate first.) Next you will be saying that bees will become extinct, along with democracy and human decency, and a woman will never, ever get to President. Why must these things happen? Can’t you stop them?
Human life is so often shockingly fragile, not just little old me in my small boat on the ocean, also stone monuments to human achievement like Temples or the World Trade Center fall, institutions can fail, governments have coups, elections are won and lost, churches can close their doors. Ideals falter, marriages can end in divorce, our very bodies decline. But none of this is the end. It is sad and frightening when these things happen, but it is not the end because none of it can separate us from the love of God. Cherish all the impermanent human creations, nurture what is best around us, and don’t take them for granted. Faith gives us the courage to act even when things we love crumble. Our need and desire for love endures, and God’s love endures through all human failure. God is still speaking and a light shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot overcome it.
I don’t know what will happen next, in reality I don’t understand what has already happened. Not knowing can raise anxiety and fear, but not knowing can also lead to openness and recognition of opportunity. We are in uncharted territory, so let’s keep our eyes open, and not see things through fear or cynicism. Fear can be disempowering when we treat our worries as inevitable. We are not alone, not powerless, and surrounded by people of good will. In my lifetime the Berlin Wall fell, Apartheid ended, the Reagan revolution came and left, the Clintons came and went and came back again and are going again. We don’t know what will happen next, but I do trust that God is in all things, working for the good, ready to surprise us with hope.
Jesus says that even when we are persecuted, it doesn’t mean God has left us, but rather the Holy Spirit will give us the words we need to speak, even to kings and presidents.
This is an important time to be the church, and do what we do best, living in joyful community, care for the poor, fight for the powerless, forgive often, share earthly and spiritual resources, embrace diversity, make God’s love and justice real. The one thing I hope we can all agree to do right now is to denounce violence and defend people from intimidation. We have been and open and affirming church for 20 years, and our statement of love and affirmation of gay, lesbian transgendered people, people of color, people of differing physical abilities and handicaps, everyone, is in our bulletin every week.
I appeal to all of you to join me in supporting a campaign to wear safety pins to declare ourselves safe space. Let me explain where this came from and what it means to me. The original idea came from the UK after the Brexit vote. Seeing the rise in anti-immigrant violence and intimidation, people began to wear simple, silver safety pins as a sign that they were safe and will stand in solidarity with immigrants. This is not just a political statement, or a protest, it is meant to be an act of personal solidarity. I need to do this for myself to stay awake. Wearing a pin says, “I have your back.” It means I will not stand idle if someone is treated unfairly in my presence. And it is happening all over America, from graffiti on Mount Tom that is hateful, racist, anti-gay, anti-Jewish, to a gay priest finding a note on his door Wednesday morning saying that “fags” are not welcome. An 11 year-old child in LA was told by his teacher that his parents will be deported and she knows their addresses and phone numbers. Mitt Romney, that radical rabble-rouser, said in June, he was concerned about trickle-down racism, saying “Presidents have an impact on the nature of our nation, and trickle-down racism, trickle-down bigotry, trickle-down misogyny, all these things are extraordinarily dangerous to the heart and character of America.”
So step one is to keep everyone safe:
It means if you are trans, I will escort you to a public restroom.
If you are a person with disabilities, I will make sure you are included.
If you wear a hijab I will sit by you on the bench or the bus.
If you are an immigrant, I will welcome you.
If you are a survivor, I will believe you.
If you are a woman, I will make sure you are heard in room full of men.
If you are a person of color, I will check my privilege, listen, and watch if you are stopped by police.
If someone attacks you on Facebook, with your permission, I will post on your page in solidarity.
If you need a hug, I’m not a big hugger, but I still have an infinite supply.
If you are tired, me too. But we can hold each other up and be strong together.
Be not afraid. Be the Church.