Proper 26, November 13, 2016
Isaiah 65:-17-25, Psalm 98,
2 Thessalonians 3:6-13 Luke 21:5-19
“In God’s Will is our Peace”
The Rev. Rebecca Goldberg
It’s been a tough, tough week. We’ve just endured one of the most bitter and divisive election seasons and it has left us feeling battered and bruised. Not only has it revealed some of the deep divisions and mistrust that threaten our common life, but it has unfortunately encouraged and deepened fear and hostility, the “us and them” mentality. Some, feeling emboldened by the hateful rhetoric that has been part of this campaign, have cruelly subjected people of color, women, and Muslims, to name a few groups, to taunts, and menacing language, and even violence. I have to say, I was deeply grieved by all of this, and felt sorrow on Tuesday night. It deeply saddens me that there are people in our country who support a vision of America that is based on fear, scapegoating, domination, and prejudice.
It’s ok to feel grief. It’s ok to feel anger, it’s ok to feel fear. And if you need to talk about it, please reach out to your clergy and your friends for support.
So where do we go as a community from here? It is easy to give in to despair and fear or demonize those who supported the other side, priding ourselves on our own moral superiority. It is tempting to just become apathetic, believing we can’t make a difference in the world. What, as Christians, are we called to do and be in the world in the midst of these turbulent, uncertain times? How are we called to love our neighbors, especially those on the other side of the political divide?. Where is God in all of this?
Of course, there are no easy answers, only questions, wrestling with God like Jacob did with the angel, and lots and lots of prayer and listening. And there is the record of Scripture, of followers of Jesus, just like us, who faced similar turmoil in their own lives. What might it have to say to us?
Today’s Gospel reading from Luke has Jesus in Jerusalem, shortly before his arrest and crucifixion. The audience Luke was writing to had probably already experienced the destruction of the Temple, with the oppression of Roman rule and the ever-present threat of persecution and death. So when Jesus talks about the stones of the Temple being thrown down, and threats and wars and persecutions, and portents in the heaven and on the earth, he is telling their story, and speaking deeply to their experience. He gets it. He knows what they are suffering, their fears, their hopes. He tells their story, and they find their story in the Great Story. And then he gives them hope, the assurance that when everything falls apart, the center, which is God, will hold. He says when they are brought up before accusers he will “give them words of wisdom that none of their opponents will be able to withstand.” He tells them “not a hair of their head will perish, and that by their endurance, they will gain their souls.” Yes, he says, terrible things will indeed happen, and it will seem that the world as you know it is coming to an end. But it is still God’s world, and God’s love and grace and truth will always have the last word. Always.
So first of all this morning, I would like to assure you that the words of Scripture are just as relevant and true today as they were when they were written so many centuries ago. Let them come to life for you, let them come to life in you! Read them, struggle with them, wonder about them, wrestle with them as Jacob wrestled with the angel, and don’t let go until he blesses you. For the stories in Scripture are timeless, they are our stories, and our story is woven into the one Great Story of the love of God in Christ. Scripture is honest and raw; let it be the container of your lament, your cries of anger and despair, as well as those of hope. Scripture describes some pretty awful realities that were happening and would happen to the followers of Jesus. They would be afraid, surrounded by uncertainty and turmoil, not knowing what they were to say or do. Even their families might turn against them. Yet they would not have to face the suffering in their own strength, but would be guided by the power and wisdom of the Holy Spirit. So in these uncertain times, we, too, can take comfort that our God is a God who is active in history, who walks with us, guides us, and never leaves us.
The Gospel for today also tells us that we can’t try to overcome hatred and destruction in our own strength. When we are living in times where it seems that fear and bigotry are winning, we are not to use our own limited knowledge and vision to overcome them, but to let the Spirit of God fill our hearts, and transform us that we may reach out in love to those who are our enemies, to those who would do us harm. We are to let God give us the words to say, because left on our own, we tend demonize and disrespect those we don’t agree with, whose views we abhor. Well. those we don’t agree with and whose views we abhor are also created in the image of God and are our brothers and sisters! We are told in Scripture that we are to “put on the mind of Christ.” This means that we humbly examine ourselves, and see where we, too, have fallen short in living out the values of the Kingdom of God.
Here I am also reminded of a scene from that wonderful book by Holocaust survivor Corrie ten Boom, The Hiding Place. In the beginning of World War II, she and her sister Betsie would often hear the planes of the German Luftwaffe flying over their Holland home on bombing runs to England. Sometimes they would shell their city, and they would huddle in their bedroom while the building shuddered and shook. One time shards of glass exploded in their bedroom, and miraculously they weren’t hurt. Taking Corrie in her arms and comforting her, Betsie said “You know, Corrie, the only safe place for us is in the center of God’s will, nowhere else.” Our safety is not in political parties or programs, but in the center of God’s will. In these troubling times, we need to remember that the power of God is greater than any evil or calamity. The power of God will give us strength and courage, and bring new life to hopes and dreams we thought had died forever. And through the power of God, nothing in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ our Lord.
Finally, we must remember that this is still God’s world, and it is good. For all the acts of bigotry and meanness, there are many, many more courageous acts of kindness, compassion, and sacrifice. There are people of all faiths gathering in vigils to pray for peace and reconciliation in our country and in the world. Others reach out to our Muslim brothers and sisters and make sure they feel safe and welcome in our communities. Many have the courage to step out of their comfort zones and listen to the pain of our brothers and sisters who are angry and afraid, who feel bewildered in a diverse multicultural world, and try to understand what would lead them to support visions of fear and division. Others, who we honor today, give their lives in service to their country, protecting the rights and freedoms we hold so dear. For this, we thank them. We must not ever lose hope, because, as President Obama reminded us, “the sun will still come up in the morning”. Our hopes and dreams for our nation are still alive, and we must not give in to despair or cynicism. So it is ok to grieve for a season, and then, following the one who came to give us life in all its abundance, we are called to go joyfully and fearlessly into the world and share the message of grace, reconciliation, justice, and the sacredness of every human being. My friends, lift up your heads, go forth, and bring hope where there is despair, trust where there is fear, love where there is hate! Do it for as long as you live! And in the words of the prophet Isaiah, let us hold up a vision of the world where “the wolf and the lamb shall feed together, the lion shall eat straw like the ox, and they shall not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain, says the Lord. Amen.