It has been quite a week.
Many of us here today might be shocked or angry or devastated or maybe confused is the best word for it, but as Christians we are told that we don’t give in to despair- despair is paralysis, hiding, giving up, it is what comes when there is nothing left to hope for, no action left to take, no hint of light or redemption at all, and no matter how it might feel right now, as we are still reeling, we aren’t there yet.
And Christ promises us that we will never be there, because we are a people of hope.
On Wednesday morning, in the midst of everything else, I was worried about how I was going to walk the tightrope of preaching about a controversial situation, struggling with how to be pastoral without being political, because I don’t know who each of you voted for- and if I’ve learned anything this week it’s that I can’t assume to know.
But this anxiety about how to talk about events in national politics and fears of what might be to come for folks of color, religious minorities, women, without offending or alienating anyone, this concern was completely wiped out by the events that happened on this campus at the end of the week. As soon as someone in Oklahoma went to the trouble of finding contact information for all of our African American freshmen students here at Penn, and added them to a GroupMe account in order to harass them, to terrorizer them, everything went from hypothetical to very real aggression.
Now we are no longer talking about hypothetical situations- our young people of color are under attack. And as Christians, as human beings, we are called to action.
All of our lectionary readings today are part of the apocalyptic readings that dominate the end of this season after Pentecost, to set the liturgical stage for and make way for the beginning of Advent, a season of cautious hope, expectant waiting, for the Incarnation, and I wondered- do I dare preach about the end of the world when for some it feels like it has already come? Maybe I’ll preach about the stages of grief instead, give us some time to sit with our bewilderment and process before jumping straight to action.
But once again, the gospel passage selected years ago for this day by those who designed the lectionary, is strangely prescient.
In Luke: Jesus tells his followers that one day the temple, the holiest site, the spiritual home of the Israelites, will be torn stone from stone, that the worst possible thing they can imagine will happen, and then they will be persecuted, abused, hated, some even killed- but they will endure. What they stand for, what some of them will die for, this will endure.
It’s important to understand that this book was written after the events Jesus is describing had already taken place- the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed by the romans in the year 70, Luke is generally agreed to have been written between 80-100. So this isn’t a hypothetical portent, this is the reality that the author, that the contemporary readers, are living in the thick of.
This story is being told as a reminder of survival. And here we are, 2000 years later, still surviving. This is the Gospel we need to hear today, to cherish today.
So how do we move forward?
We are going to Pray–
Years ago a brother from the Society of St John the Evangelist talked about how to pray in anxious times, and suggests that maybe what we can do is to pray for the conversion of our anxiety. Because, he says, when anxiety is converted, you know what it becomes? it becomes hope.”
So we will pray.
We are going to live our faith more publicly than ever before.
We are going to reach out to those in our midst who are living in fear right now, we are going to spread it abroad far and wide that this church is a sanctuary for any who are under attack, who are in fear. We are going to continue to do all that we can to help newly arriving immigrants and refugees through the Nationalities Service Center, we are going to continue to feed the poor and homeless, we are going to continue to care for the friendless and the needy.
We are going to be allies, and you can use whatever symbol you might want to indicate this to the world but more importantly I think we need to be clear about what it means to each of us to be an ally, to educate ourselves on how to be an ally- for those of us who belong to majority groups, it will often mean listening, rather than speaking, as those with experiences different than ours share their experiences and stories.
For all of us it means speaking up when we hear hate speech, or the rhetoric of racism and misogyny and homophobia and all the terrible things that have become too familiar over this last year. It means risking being uncomfortable, and speaking out when someone we know and maybe love and respect says something offensive. We need to make it clear that those values are not values we share as Christians or as Americans.
Mostly, we are going to listen– listen to the people in our midst who feel most at risk, who fear attacks like the one on our campus this last week, or further marginalization, and sit with them in that.
And this might be the hardest thing, but it will be the most Christ-like action we can take- we need to listen to those we disagree with. We need to engage with those who are on the opposite sides of issues we care about strongly, not to offer or suffer abuse, but to see the humanity in each other. To see Jesus’ face in each other. To quote Paul we are going to be wise as serpents, and innocent as doves, and we are going to embrace kindness as a radical act of resistance.
You don’t have to be ready to do all of these things today, but as a body we know are not helpless- on Christ the solid rock we stand.
As many of you know, Barbara Harris was the first female bishop in the Anglican Communion, and the first African-American bishop and first female bishop in our Episcopal Church, so she knew a whole lot about experiencing racism, sexism, hatred, often and especially from fellow members of the this church that had consecrated her. She has said, “We are an Easter people living in a Good Friday world.”
Her words were shared earlier this week by Tim Schenck, a colleague in ministry, and he went on, as he discussed preaching these texts in this time in the life of our country and on this morning, to say: “Now more than ever we will embrace the promise of hope embedded in Christ’s resurrection. We have been forced early into the season of Advent- and so we know that out of darkness, there is light; out of death, there is life. Together, we must embody hope, so that love will prevail.”
Love will prevail, indeed- because Love laid down his life on the cross for us so many years ago, and defeated anxiety, defeated despair, defeated death.
Our hope is built on nothing less.
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