What a contrast between our first reading and the Gospel I just read! First, the prophet Isaiah shared his vision of God’s Shalom—the new Jerusalem, where all is as it should be. A vision of peace. A vision of completeness.
And then, in stark contrast, Luke gives us Jesus’ hard, apocalyptic words—a glimpse into first century Palestine, where all is not as it should be. Toward the end of the first century of the Christian Era, about 45 years later, when Luke’s Gospel was first written down, the huge, newly renovated Temple that Jesus and his disciples see in today’s Gospel was indeed in ruins—utterly destroyed by the occupying Roman army. And members of the infant Jesus Movement were experiencing just what Jesus outlines in our lesson today.
It was a time of deep division, of chaos and upheaval, and to the entire Jewish community as well as those who were following Jesus’ Way, it must have felt like the end of the world.
When I woke up on Wednesday morning, and saw the election results, the reality of the deep divide in our own country hit me like a Mack truck. The popular vote was almost an even split between the two major candidates. The map representing the electoral college vote was a bright sea of red, sandwiched between narrow blue strips along each of our coasts. The candidate that I and so many of us in this room had hoped—and expected– would win, had lost. I know that for many here, this still feels like the end of the world—in my travels around town since that morning, I have seen and shared your tears, heard your despair and felt your fear. It feels like we have gone two steps forward and now taken a giant step back in our work for justice and equality for all the various “others” who were targets of the cruel rhetoric heard in the months approaching the election—those who are immigrants or refugees, those of the Muslim faith, those whose skin is not white, and our LGBTQ brothers and sisters…so many of these “others” are now feeling scared and vulnerable—perhaps with good reason.
I am also quite certain that in this room today, there are more than a few of us who voted for our president-elect and are now wondering if it is wise or kind to share our feelings of satisfaction that our guy won with the person in the pew next to us. We don’t want to hurt
What do we do with the divisions we see—even in this room? In his post-election meditation in the York Weekly, Ron McAllister wrote about the Buddist monk Thich Nhat Hanh, who accidently hit his left thumb while swinging a hammer held in his right hand. I bet we’ve all done this. Think about what happens. Immediately, your right hand drops the hammer and holds the left hand with tender concern. It’s almost a reflex.
Now, think about what doesn’t happen. The left hand does not seek revenge for the injury; it does not pick up the hammer and give the right hand a good whack in response. Your two hands know they are part of the same body.
We are part of the United States of America—one body. Here at St. Georges, we, too, are one body—one body in Christ—and together, we must find ways to heal divisions and differences— both here and beyond these walls. Jesus calls each of us to the hard work of reconciliation.
Bridging the gap on the way to reconciliation will first require deep, compassionate listening on both sides. As a chaplain, I have had some training in the art of listening—and it is an art! My mentors reminded me again and again that we have two ears and one mouth for a reason!
Last Thursday evening, I was working at the main desk at York Library when a woman about my age approached to pick up items that she had reserved. We got talking. Our conversation turned to the election, and how we were both still tired from staying up into the wee hours of Wednesday. Suddenly, to my dismay, I realized that she was in celebration mode. A sharp, potentially unkind remark formed in my brain and was headed for my lips when I remembered—two ears, one mouth. I paused, took a breath and, as I slowly and carefully checked out her items, I kept my mouth shut and opened my two ears.
I listened. Really listened. Turns out she wants the same things I do—a safe, caring world for our children and grandchildren to grow up in. Even in that short conversation, I saw that she wasn’t a bigot. She hated the tone of both campaigns as much as I did—she just wanted change in Washington. I’m glad we had that conversation and I hope to have more.
When we listen to another deeply and compassionately, even when we disagree, we can form bridges of understanding. Next month, other on a Sunday afternoon, we’ll be offering an opportunity to learn and practice this with each. Stay tuned for details.
In addition to this deep, compassionate listening, clear speaking is needed when the time comes to share our concerns with others. In the Gospel today, Jesus refers to the hard times his followers will face as “opportunities to testify.” In our own time, all of us in this room need to not be afraid to speak up when the opportunity is ours. We must not—we cannot—remain silent when faced with bigotry, racism and other injustices.
These words are in our Baptismal Covenant:
“With God’s help I will seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving my neighbor as myself.”
“With God’s help I will strive for justice and peace among all people, and I will respect the dignity of every human being.
These are our marching orders in the Jesus Movement. In the current climate, there is no more room for complacency—write letters — put the numbers of your Senators and Representatives at both state and federal levels on speed dial—you may not have cast your vote for them, but they’ve been elected to represent you—call them and encourage others to do the same when you see injustice unfolding or rights endangered. Unlike the disciples, who had no voice under Roman occupation, we do, and we need to use that voice effectively. As Paul exhorts us today in his letter to the church in Thessalonica—“Brothers and sisters, do not be weary in doing what is right.”
Finally—and this is a tall order for some of us, especially this week—we need to not be afraid. Fear comes naturally, but left unchecked, fear paralyzes us. It stops us from listening. And when we are afraid, our words are neither wise nor effective.
There’s a claim that phrases like “Do not be afraid” or “Fear not” appear 365 times in our Bible. Well, I haven’t personally counted that many, but they do appear a lot! We heard one in the “First Song of Isaiah” earlier this morning: “Surely, it is God who saves me, I will trust in him and not be afraid, for the Lord is my stronghold and my sure defense, and he will be my Savior…”
God is with us. God is always with us. God can be trusted. And God calls us to leave fear behind—trust God and take courage instead. Maybe you’ve heard this quote: “Courage is fear that has said its prayers and decided to go forward anyway.”
My dear friends, in the weeks and months ahead, make Isaiah’s vision of Shalom your own vision. Listen deeply, speak clearly and, above all, abandon fear.
I’d like to end by praying together– the Prayer for the Human Family is in the Book of Common Prayer on page 815.
Together, let us pray:
O God, you made us in your own image and redeemed us through Jesus your Son: Look with compassion on the whole human family; take away the arrogance and hatred which infect our hearts; break down the walls that separate us; unite us in bonds of love; and work through our struggle and confusion to accomplish your purposes on earth; that, in your good time, all nations and races may serve you in harmony around your heavenly throne; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.