Sermon: “Blessings We May or May Not Want” Ephesians 1:11-23, Luke 6:20-31
Let’s talk politics! After all, Tuesday is Election Day and everybody’s talking politics. I view politics like a sport. I pull for one team and when the election is over, there’s a winner and a loser. Now, that the Cubs have won the World Series – what election? Once upon a time politics was more like a game; now it is a war. Opposing crowds can’t stand to be in the same room together. Once upon a time we could poke fun at one another; now we merely threaten each other. FDR’s father-in-law often would say over Thanksgiving family dinner, “All Democrats are horse thieves; but not all horse thieves are Democrats.” A Democrat said, “I have nothing against Republicans. We ought always to have nine or ten of them in Congress just to enliven the conversation.”
Our democracy is imperiled by the anger of the voters. Where is Thomas Paine when we really need him? I know he is probably still pissed that he wasn’t recognized as one of the Founding Fathers, but he needs to get over it and get us all to listen to him once again.
That doesn’t mean, however, that I don’t take politics seriously. In the Bible, the word for politics is “way.” There is a way that seems right but it leads to death.” The way of Jesus is bible talk for politics. It is a way of life – a way of being, doing, talking, acting, and behaving.
Many Christians have reduced their politics to vicious, mind-numbing, heart-breaking personal attacks. They throw out accusations like the morning trash. They make up deliberately false stories and spread them on social media like an infectious virus. They poke fun of people they despise and show up in church to sing Jesus loves me this I know for the Bible tells me so. St. Paul, in harsh language, says that such people will not enter the kingdom of God.
As a teenager, I played pick-up basketball games. The rule was that each player would call his own fouls. This one tough kid didn’t believe that he ever fouled. He scattered bodies around the gym like a bulldozer with steroids in its gas tank. “No harm, no foul!” “No blood, no foul!” “No autopsy, no foul!”
Some folks go through life knocking people around and they seem oblivious to their words and deeds. Well, in the Bible Jesus gave his followers a new way of talking and doing. He empowered us to be an alternative politics/way to the deathly ways of the culture.
Listen to this: “20God* put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. 22And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, 23which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.” You can’t be more political than that.
The politics of Jesus are embodied in his speech – open, honest speech. This is, of course, the opposite of the kingdom known as the USA. We live in a world of lies. In an old Li’l Abner cartoon that is a lovable character called The Shmoo. Whenever Shmoos showed up people automatically told the truth. Finally, the human race hunted down the Shmoos and destroyed them? Why? Because the whole world was falling apart. Our world is built on lies.
The truth is that the Father has sent his Son so that we – that is, the church – might be an alternative politics, a politics of truth, to that of the world. Our truth, as Stanley Haurewas says, “is embodied in a church that is required to be always ready to give hospitality to the stranger (Good manners) and to love the enemy.” Jesus gave us the raw outline of his politics: “Love your enemies.”
My colleague, Amy Butler, is senior minister at Riverside Church in Manhattan. She recently had the courage to write a deeply personal blog about a late-term abortion. Butler said when her first son was a little over a year old, she and her husband were excited to learn she was expecting a daughter. Things seemed to be going well, until a late-term sonogram revealed severe fetal abnormalities. Her doctors told her the baby would suffer, would survive at most a few minutes after birth and carrying the pregnancy to term would be very dangerous for the mother. “I went home that night and cried, like I did for months and months after that day, but I never had a second thought about the right thing to do,” Butler said. “For me it was important that the baby not experience pain, and that we have a little ability to say our goodbyes in as safe and loving way as we could.”
Then she told how many Christians responded to her. She says, “The first thing I learned, pretty quickly, is that there are many sick, vile, terrible people in the world. Really, really bad. These people feel it’s not only acceptable but also their obligation to reach out to tell you you’re a horrible person and call you a lot of names.”
Then Amy shared the other side of the response. “But I also was reminded that there are many kind, generous, loving, compassionate people in the world. So, so kind. The sheer volume of their tweets, Facebook posts, email messages, flowers, texts, calls left me a bit overwhelmed last week. Even some with philosophical disagreements reached out in kindness, as grief is a shared human experience. I was stopped in the hallways at church repeatedly; hugged fiercely at the most unexpected moments; and tended to with more kindness than I deserve.”
“But here’s the most important thing I learned last week: we do not tell our truths often enough. So many people shared their own stories of pain with me this past week and their stories felt to me like a tidal wave of unspoken heartbreak: ‘I thought I would be kicked out of my church and cut off from my family if I told.’ ‘I’ve never told anyone, but I had a child who died.’ ‘I had to make a similar decision but I didn’t have anyone to talk to about it.’ ‘I have felt ashamed for more than 30 years.’”
Which kind of Christian do we want to be? The vile, hurtful, mean, ugly Christians with those angry, bitter faces shouting at those they despise and disrespect or the gentle, loving, compassionate ones embracing our common human pain?
Christians are not called to be religious bullies running over all the hurt and wounded that get in the way. The church is not meant to be the house of secrets but the house of salvation. I want to help you with your sense of Christian worthiness, your sense of well-being when you are accosted by the religious bullies who swear you are going to hell for refusing to believe as they believe. I want to help you not lose heart. One of Maya Angelou’s poems has always helped me respond to those who are critical and hurtful. The poem is STILL I RISE: You may write me down in history With your bitter, twisted lies, You may trod me in the very dirt But still, like dust, I’ll rise. Does my sassiness upset you? Why are you beset with gloom? ‘Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells Pumping in my living room. Just like moons and like suns, With the certainty of tides, Just like hopes springing high, Still I’ll rise. Did you want to see me broken? Bowed head and lowered eyes? Shoulders falling down like teardrops, Weakened by my soulful cries? Does my haughtiness offend you? Don’t you take it awful hard ‘Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines Diggin’ in my own backyard. You may shoot me with your words, You may cut me with your eyes, You may kill me with your hatefulness, But still, like air, I’ll rise. Does my sexiness upset you? Does it come as a surprise That I dance like I’ve got diamonds At the meeting of my thighs? Out of the huts of history’s shame I rise Up from a past that’s rooted in pain I rise I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide, Welling and swelling I bear in the tide. Leaving behind nights of terror and fear I rise Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear I rise Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave, I am the dream and the hope of the slave. I rise I rise I rise.
I refuse to give these pushy Christians a blank check to run roughshod over those who respectfully disagree with them. I rise to refute their ridiculous charges, lay bare the worthlessness of their wild accusations, and the insanity of their outrageous conspiracy theories. It is OK to be mentally aggressive in maintaining that you too walk in the way of Jesus no matter what those other Christians say. Don’t be afraid of these religious bullies. The next time a Christian gives you down the river for refusing to agree with her, try this: “I’m praying for you in Jesus’ name and I love you.”
If you struggle with the nastiness, the meanness so prevalent among so many Christians, here’s a Celtic prayer I offer you. Perhaps you could pray this prayer every morning until the politics/way of Jesus give you peace. *
I will kindle my fire this morning / In the presence of the holy angels of heaven, / In the presence of Ariel of the loveliest form, / In the presence of Uriel of the myriad charms, / Without malice, without jealousy, without envy, / Without fear, without terror of anyone under the sun, /But the Holy Son of God to shield me. / Without malice, without jealousy, without envy, / Without fear, without terror of anyone under the sun / But the Holy Son of God to shield me. / God, kindle Thou in my heart within / A flame of love to my neighbor, / To my foe, to my friend, to my kindred all, / To the brave, to the knave, to the thrall [slave] / O Son of the loveliest Mary / From the lowliest thing that liveth, / To the Name that is highest of all. / O Son of the loveliest Mary / From the lowliest thing that liveth, / To the Name that is highest of all.
So lift up your bowed necks and slumped shoulders. Rise and shine like stars in the much and ruin of our nasty culture! Amen.