“Promises, Promises” – Sermon for November 13, 2016

Categories: Sermons

1113-1119_lect33_c“Promises, Promises”

A Sermon on Luke 21:5-19 for the 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C; preached November 13, 2016, by the Rev. Matthew Emery, Senior Minister

 

Psalm 124, verse 8, reads: “Our help is in the name of the Lord, maker of heaven and earth.”  In the Reformed family of Protestant Christianity—a family that historically includes our Congregationalist heritage—these words have been used in many times and places as the ‘solemn declaration’ that opens each and every worship service.  You see it in most of the historic liturgies, and still today these words can be heard in many churches as the first ‘word’ spoken as people gather to worship God.  “Our help is in the name of the Lord, maker of heaven and earth.”  It is a confession of faith both negative and positive—negative in that these words declare that we are unable to save ourselves, whether by good deeds or our good intentions or even by the worthiness of the worship we are about to commence to begin… and positive in that to join with the psalmist in uttering these words is to testify to an ultimate trust in God, in the Lord who hath made heaven and earth, and also to testify that the “help” of God is, in fact, our help.

I am telling you all of this today because I have found my mind and my heart returning to these words a lot this week.  “Our help is in the name of the Lord, maker of heaven and earth.”  With a great deal of weight and import behind them, these are the words that came to me Wednesday morning as I stood numb and in shock looking out over our backyard.  Our help is in the name of the Lord.  Our help is in the name of the Lord.  Our help is in the name of the Lord.

I suspect that for most of you here in this church this morning, I don’t need to explain how the results of our presidential elections this week stand for something far deeper than mere differences of political opinion or philosophies of governance.  What has people—including myself—running scared (yes, downright scared) today is not a disagreement about the role of government in addressing economic issues or a difference in priority between individual responsibility and social obligation, or any of the other ways that classical Republican and Democratic political philosophies have distinguished themselves in American history.  We are scared because 49% of the voters in our country appear to believe that overt racism, blatant disregard for women, explicit contempt and suspicion for people of a particular religious faith, dehumanizing views of LGBTQ people, and fear-mongering about immigrants to this country—49% of the electorate did not believe, it seems, that these things are a big enough disqualifier for the top elected office in our land.  This reality has so many of us wondering just who these neighbors are with which we share this country.  It feels to some of us like we’ve woken up in a different world than existed before Tuesday—although the wiser among us will tell you that it’s not so much that the world or our country is different, merely that the truth of what was already here has finally been revealed and put out into the open.  Doubts that such is the case surely have been wiped away by the countless acts of intimidation and hate crime that have happened around the country, and even here in Connecticut, as this week has gone on.

Now, before anyone gets up and walks out on me this morning… let me say that I do know there are some people here—not a lot, but at least a few—who voted for Mr. Trump, or at the very least are relieved that Mrs. Clinton did not get elected.  And I know—or at least I hope—that the rhetoric of prejudice and dehumanization that reared its head is not yours.

I don’t believe, though, that this gives anyone a “pass” from hearing, and bearing witness, and living with the real, deep, and legitimate pain that so many of us are feeling right now.  So many people in this place and around our country are not just dismayed, but downright scared.  And at the very, very least, we need all of us, no matter how we voted on Tuesday, to sit with and be present to that reality.

That feeling of being scared, that feeling of fear, ironically enough is something that unites seemingly all of us.  A member of this congregation forwarded to me this week some remarks posted on Facebook by Steven Charleston, former Episcopal bishop of Alaska and retired dean of the Episcopal Divinity School up in Cambridge, Mass.  Bishop Charleston writes:

Last night I felt the fear.  The fear that is slowly killing us all.  How many other Americans like me felt fear as they watched Hillary Clinton lose the election?  Millions.  And, ironically, how many of their fellow Americans who voted for Donald Trump did so out of the same emotion, fear?  Millions.  Have we noticed:  fear stands in each camp.  While we may think we have nothing left in common with the other half of American, we do:  fear.  Both sides are afraid now.  Fear straddles the abyss, urging people to an even deeper sense of anger, of hate, of suspicion… pushing us toward acts of desperation.

Now, I’ll confess that I think Bishop Charleston engages in a bit of false equivalency, as though the fears being expressed are all of equal basis.  But nevertheless, he goes on to make an important point:

More fear will not conquer the fear we already have.  It will only add fuel to a fire that is already consuming us.  More anger will not heal the anger we already have.  It will only weaken our capacity to care.

§

I used to worry about a text like the one we’ve heard from Luke this morning, about whether something like this is too off-putting and fear-fostering, what with Jesus’ warnings of wars and insurrections, earthquakes and famines, betrayals and even death.  For the first people who heard or read Luke’s gospel, though—some 40 or 50 years after Jesus’ time on earth—these things were already reality for them.  It wasn’t like these words from Jesus were like a boogey-man, seeking to scare people unnecessarily.  They were already experiencing the realities he was describing.  The trials, the persecutions, they were already enduring them.  As one commentator describes, Jesus’ words here do not describe the end itself, “but rather the upheaval that will necessarily come as the enemies of God’s agenda push back at what God is doing even now.”[1]  Or as another put it, “these dramatic historical events are simply a required stage setting for the great drama of speaking God’s truth.”[2]

No matter what side of the proverbial ‘aisle’ any of us sit on, no matter even what our votes were this past Tuesday, as a Christian people, the time is now for two critical things:  first, to sit with those who mourn and weep with those who are weeping.  Now is not the moment for any “just get over it” messages.  And second, as Jesus says, to testify:  to testify to the basic values of human dignity and sacred worth that constitute us as a community of people discipled to the One who welcomed the outcast and proclaimed freedom for the oppressed… to testify to the presence of the One who admonishes us to fear not, the One whose light shines in every darkness, the One who’s light no shadows are able to overcome.

This work is, of course, not easy.  It has never been easy.  The realities of the world today do not change that; they only make it all the more evident.  But no matter our political inclinations, as Christians, we are united by the call to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with God.  We are united as ones who have pledged ourselves to “labor for the progress of knowledge, the promotion of justice, the reign of peace, and the realization of human fellowship”[3]—each and every one of you who is a member of this congregation has pledged yourself to that.  We are united in our commitment to work to “put aside all prejudices and to affirm the worth and dignity of each person.”[4]  We come together as church to steep ourselves in this calling, and to be shaped into the image of the One who endured even the cross in faithfulness and in love.

§

It has been said that “Hope, when it is grounded in the gospel of Jesus Christ, is the persistent, enduring, and trusting expectation that God’s will shall be done.”[5]  This does not mean that we are a people who accept everything that happens in this world as God’s will.  Rather, this hope of our faith, it invites us to be the ones that, no matter the evidence around us, look with expectation, and glimpse on the horizon the coming of the day of the Lord, that time when surely God will act—because of us or in spite of us—to save God’s people and defeat all powers of death and despair.

I don’t care how you voted on Tuesday.  Join me in this work.

Our help is in the name of the Lord, maker of heaven and earth.

 


[1] Tim Knauff, commentary for 13 November 2016, in Sundays and Seasons: Preaching (Minneapolis, MN:  Augsburg Fortress, 2015), 288.

[2] Patrick J. Willson, homiletical commentary on Luke 21:5-19, in Feasting on the Word:  Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary, ed. David L. Bartlett & Barbara Brown Taylor, Year C, vol. 4 (Louisville, KY:  Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 311.

[3] From the Church Covenant of the Storrs Congregational Church.  This language originates in the Kansas City Statement of Faith, adopted by the National Council of Congregational Churches in 1913.

[4] From the Open and Affirming Statement of the Storrs Congregational Church.

[5] Robert W. Brewer & Robert C. Fennell, commentary for Proper 28, in Abingdon Theological Companion to the Lectionary:  Preaching Year C, ed. Paul Scott Wilson (Nashville, TN:  Abingdon Press, 2012), 284.

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