Sunday, November 13, 2016: The Season after Pentecost – The Final Weeks IV
Canticle 9: The First Song of Isaiah (Isaiah 12:2-6) 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13
“All these things that you see”
It is good to be here together, this Sunday after the national election, in this place, though you will notice that we didn’t go back to the green of ordinary time. This doesn’t feel like ordinary time, does it? Because, while we have a variety of reactions to this election, we can agree that it doesn’t feel ordinary. To me this feels like holy time, as we hold each other steady in a community that truly sees one another fully and appreciates the depth of relationships here and the worth of each person. So I have chosen to honor that with our high holy white hangings and our Paschal candle, for surely God is in the midst of us this Sunday.
We are members of a community that cares for one another, who gather around the table together each week, and who serve the world side by side. But we don’t all agree on everything, nor should we. And this morning we are not all in the same place: many of us are reeling and struggling with grief and trauma; others are trying to come to terms with the intensity of the emotions they see around them; and statistically speaking there are a few in our congregation who are feeling pretty good about the results, if not the methods involved. No matter where we stand on the issues, we are careful with one another because we love and respect each other; and we exercise that same grace and wisdom out in the world; as we love our neighbors as ourselves.
As the lectionary would have it, Luke’s Gospel has wisdom to share with us that seems strangely relevant to our current moment in time. Jesus seems to be predicting the end of times, and he begins with the words, “As for these things that you see…” And many of us are right there, with the list of all that we see. The list: of all that is heartbreaking, of all that terrifies us, of all that angers us about how this shouldn’t be this way; and we couldn’t agree with our Gospel text more – seems like the end of times, indeed!
But friends, at least in this regard, we need to stop the list for a moment – (halt the constant loop it’s been on since Tuesday night.) Because Luke’s Jesus isn’t really predicting the end of the world at all. Luke is doing something much more profound – and this week in particular, we need to hear what he is trying to tell us. Luke’s Gospel dates to about 85ce, which is 15 years after the fall of the Temple. So this story predicting the destruction of the Temple, is really a response to a catastrophic event that has already happened. Luke is using a form of literature that was well known to his community, and they would have recognized it. (The way we would recognize a fairy tale if I began with the words, “Once upon a time.”) Apocalyptic literature was used to assure the faithful that no matter the circumstances of their world, they should trust in God.
Luke’s community has been completely traumatized by the full scale destruction of the Temple; how not one stone was left standing on another, every beautiful thing destroyed. It had been the center of their identity within the Roman occupied land, so it felt like everything they knew about themselves and their place in the world had been overturned with those stones. They are devastated, feeling betrayed by those around them, and are afraid of persecution, and the unknown terrors that await.
In our darkest moments this week, many of us understand exactly what they were feeling. So the wisdom Jesus imparts is for us too: Do not be terrified, all these things you see… the stones of the established powers of the world being overturned, don’t be consumed by that, for that’s not where your attention should be. Be assured, even after the worst thing you can imagine happens on a scale that is overwhelming – God is still present with you. Even when it seems like the world has turned against you, and everyone has betrayed you, God is still present. And if it really is as bad as you think it is – there will be an opportunity to show courage, to bear witness to Jesus. To what really matters, and God will be present with you in that as well. And in surviving it all, you will gain your soul.
Luke’s people are stuck in a traumatized loop, they can’t cope with the destruction of the Temple, who will rebuild the establishment? Who will address the needs of the system? And yet, Luke’s point is – they are looking in the wrong place. In focusing on these stones, in “All these things that you see” they have missed the point of Jesus’ ministry, which was never about the established order, and always about the people of God (and those in need).
“All these things that you see…” Where we look matters, what we pay attention to matters. It shapes how we see the world, and our understanding of our place in it. How we respond in these moments when it appears that the world is crashing down around us, when the stones of our established systems of power come tumbling down, and we feel like it’s all against us, how we respond matters. How we see things, what we do, it all matters.
I believe that what has so many of us struggling and traumatized this week has more to do with how we see the world than politics. “All these things that we see…”, the way we choose to see. Our vision of the world is grounded in the fundamental principle of the inclusion of all people: regardless of religion, skin color, sexual orientation, or gender, ability, or wealth, education, or country of birth (or your parents’ birth). This vision chooses to see us as connected and interdependent, and to understand that we bear responsibility toward one another. And while we were shocked throughout the election campaign process by the blatant voicing of shall we say, less than Gospel values, we thought most people shared our vision, one that upholds the dignity of every human being. We awoke on Wednesday morning absolutely stunned that the majority of people in the country would choose to see the world so differently. We have walked around feeling betrayed by the people around us, how could you see the world, see others like that? How could you choose a vision of America that is grounded in fear, isolation and exclusion?
I am convinced that most people didn’t choose that, and don’t. Truth is, the majority of people in this country didn’t vote at all, (only 49%) and the majority of those who did, did not vote for our President-elect. The vision that chooses to see the world as Jesus would – one of inclusion, one of caring for the least of us, one that reaches out toward others and loves extravagantly, one that wouldn’t bully or wall off, or kick out, or allow another to suffer, let alone find that entertaining, our vision of the world is alive and well and still the majority view.
So friends, no matter how discouraging we might find this moment, we can’t let it change the way we see the world. Can’t allow it to change our vision, or alter the “Jesus movement glasses” through which we choose to see the world and respond.
The world needs us to respond. For while it has been a disheartening week for some of us, it has been a frightening and violent week for many vulnerable people across this country. There are some who have assumed that through this election we have tacitly approved the devaluing of particular groups of human beings.
This is where we are called to witness: called to respond in word and action, to protect those who are vulnerable, to shield those who are in danger, those who are in need of our strength. This is not the time to be tastefully quiet Episcopalians, but to speak out, to defend their rights and their safety, to tell them that we stand with them, that what happens to them, happens to us, we are in this together, always.
So we will offer our faithful, heartbroken lament to God this morning, but truthfully, there’s not time to stay there in a place of lament, because we are being called to witness on behalf of others. So from our lament, we will move to offering the hope of our hearts to God. Consider, what do we hope for? From the place of heartache, what deep hope arises for the future? What are we willing to work toward, on behalf of others? For that is the work before us, as we follow in the footsteps of Christ.
We are the Jesus movement – we follow a radically loving, inclusive Savior. Who says, don’t worry if every stone of the Temple (establishment) comes down around you, don’t put your faith in the establishment or the powers that be, put your faith in God, and witness to the truth in my name.
My friends, in the days ahead, may we be witnesses to the vision we hold to be true, witnesses to the love of Christ, and the God-given dignity of every human being. Amen.