Sermon from 1/15/17, by Pastor Leslie Schenk
Friday is not going to be an easy day for most people. For many who voted for Mr. Trump, they will be wondering if they really are to be included in the part of America he will make great again. They will be wondering if they elected a president who will make good on his promises to the working class. They will be wondering if electing someone who so readily speaks his mind is a good idea after all in a world sitting on a powder keg.
For those who didn’t vote for Mr. Trump, Friday will not be an easy day. Every misogynistic, Islamophobic, racist, anti-immigrant, handicap mocking, LGBTQ threatening word he has uttered or tweeted is ringing in their ears, and with each confirmation hearing and early morning tweet the echoes are getting louder and louder.
Into all this tension, all this wondering and waiting and hoping and dreading and fearing, I have this to say. I love each one of you. Whoever you voted for, and those who didn’t or couldn’t vote – I love you. I love that life-long Methodist children’s rights warrior woman who lost the election. I love that Bible-believing, born-again, Church going man who is leaving the White House after eight years of service. And yes, I love the man about to be the 45th President of this country, who unashamedly seems to worship the gods of money and power and popularity, who often evinces the emotional maturity of a five-year-old, and whose words at least place him outside the gospel of Jesus Christ’s love for a world he was literally dying to love. Yes, I love even this man about to be inaugurated, because Jesus challenges me to do so. Some loving, well some loving takes a life-time of work.
I love God, and I love God’s people. And I love the man born in a stable and raised a carpenter’s son so long ago, who knew what it meant to be poor and powerless, who knew what it meant to be oppressed and homeless and an outsider and a refugee and an immigrant, who knew frustration and disappointment and sorrow and grief, who knew the devastation of violence and suffering, who knew joy and laughter and love, death and newness of life. I love that man of Nazareth who offered peace and preached humble reverence, who spoke in parabolic riddles and offered thoughtful messages in images of seeds sown and pearls found, who could make a few loaves and some fish seems like a feast for thousands, and who offered living water to all, even the stranger, even a woman, even an enemy.
And I love that that man of Nazareth taught us that love takes many forms, including the form of resistance. That we are to fight the forces of oppression, not with weaponry but with our voices and our actions and our compassion, who sometimes got tired and weary of people not getting this wonderful message he shared, but yet still kept fighting the good fight.
And I love that Jesus calls us to love God and our neighbors, no exceptions. I love that Jesus was bold enough, and maybe crazy enough, to think we could do it. He knew it would be an uphill struggle – he had his disciples and the Pharisees and scribes and the Romans and even his hometown friends and neighbors show him that getting people to love God and love neighbor wasn’t going to be an easy task. Maybe that’s one reason it’s called the great commandment. It’s a grand quest, a formidable path he has set our feet upon. And grand quests deserve attention and effort and perseverance.
We’ve been here before, it seems like we are always here – our voice is needed, our help is needed, our compassion is needed. And maybe we are feeling a bit fatigued – after all, we have been trying so hard for so long. The abolitionists so long ago had a long difficult struggle, over generations. The vote for women and people of color was a long struggle, over generations. The civil rights movement, the fight against apartheid, the fight for equal pay for equal work, the fight for LGBT rights and marriage equality,…, all these fights and more have been long struggles, over generations.
So yes, our fight to help our neighbors near and far, our fight to see a day when swords truly can be beat into plowshares, when our young people don’t have to fight for the right to education, when all have a home and opportunities to use their God-given talents, when people are not judged by the color of their skin or their gender or whom they love, when even life and death is not just an accident of where one is born, our fight to see this day continues. The truth is, our love is needed; we are what the world has and needs to fight for it. Each few dollars sent to Mercy Corp, each diaper donated to PEP, each gas card given out or card written or rally shown up to, each special collection or action for this or that or the other thing, every meeting given a space and lights and heat – these aren’t just dollars, they are people helped, people whose lives are transformed by us, each way in which we transform a little bit of our world. Sorry, but more is needed.
But yes, fatigue sometimes hits us, as it did for the abolitionists, for suffragists, for civil rights advocates, for LGBTQ folks, for Native Americans, for everyone who has had to fight against oppression, fatigue sets in. What is one to do, scale back on helping? Step back and say, let someone else try, I give up? The contemporary singer songwriter Carrie Newcomer, a Quaker who follows in the long tradition of folk singers infusing social and environmental justice issues into their lyrics, mentioned in a recent interview in Sojourners magazine that she had written to fellow Quaker (and Madisonian) Parker Palmer and she asked him “What does a person do when they are personally and politically heartbroken? And how did the folks in the civil rights movement do it? How did they keep going when there were so many setbacks? And tragedy. There was movement forward, too, but how did they keep going?” She said Parker wrote back to her almost immediately, “Sometimes you just have to take sanctuary.” To Newcomer, this made sense: sometimes we have to gather with trusted folks – individuals and community – and gather your hope and gather your courage and remember what it is we love beyond words and measure. Then go out and keep trying.
So here in this place, as the hymn goes, we are gathered in, by God’s spirit, and offered sanctuary, a respite, a time and space to be reminded that we are loved and we are made for love, a time to gather our hope and our courage, a time to remember that we love, beyond words and measure, God and God’s creation, a time to remember that we are loved, beyond words and measure. We gather together in this sanctuary, but we are sanctuary for one another. We are reminded that we are connected, by God’s spirit, to the light that is in each of us. And then we can go out, and keep trying, and for those whose lives we touch, there is no small gesture, because all love leads to transformation.