Preached on 11/13/16, Scripture Luke 12:32-40
Note: I am indebted to numerous commentaries and discussions with fellow clergy for many of the ideas and examples that helped to create this sermon. This week I leaned on so many wise people to help bring a word of hope and action to my congregation that I could not even be able to name them all, but I am so thankful for their words and their help.
I have a confession to make. Last Sunday when I preached about the election and how to act towards others after the election, about how we could not meet evil with more evil but instead would confront lovelessness with love and confront hate with grace, I said that I had no idea what would happen on Tuesday. But that wasn’t completely honest. Because while I didn’t actually have any idea of what would happen this week, I thought I did. I thought I knew. And then all the things I thought I knew turned out to be wrong. So now what?
I was supposed to be preaching on Stewardship this morning. It’s the final Sunday of our Stewardship campaign. I chose the scripture with it’s line “Where your treasure is there will your heart be also” and had planned to focus on “Throwing Open our Doors” in order for us to go out into the world to have an impact on our community. And then this week happened.
I sat down to write this sermon and I stared at that blank page and asked God for help. What word could I preach today that you need to hear and that God needs me to say? In a way this is an impossible sermon to write because I know there are a whole host of emotions at work right now in this room. Some people are feeling heartbroken or hurt. Some are angry and bitter. Some are worried and afraid. Some are hopeful and looking for ways to move forward. And I would bet some of us either can’t even name their emotions or are feeling a whole host of emotions all at once.
We are at different stages of grief, acceptance, and the need for action. I need you to know that that’s okay. No matter what you are feeling or what things are happening in your mind or heart this morning, I hold space for you. We hold space for each other. To simply feel, to process, to sit with each other, to carry each other, to heal each other, to find ways to connect with one another and proclaim in both large and small ways that we are all still here, we are all still beloved by God, and love will always win, no matter any result of any election cycle. Amen?
But I still have to say something this morning, and we are all coming from so many different emotional places, so what do I focus on? One of the great strengths that we in the church have is that we get to ground ourselves in our sacred stories. When life feels completely out of control I know that I can find a scripture or a story in the Bible that comforts me, that challenges me, that reminds me that this is not the first time in the history of the world that someone has felt the way that I do right now. And when I was lost as to what to say this morning, I went to the scripture I had picked weeks ago to be our final word on this year’s stewardship campaign and I found my footing.
The first part of this morning’s scripture tells us do not be afraid. Because fear always, always leads to scarcity thinking. When you are afraid you curl in on yourself, your protect what is yours. You cannot be generous or give anything away when you only sit in a place of fear. You cannot see abundance as yours. The scripture tells us not to put our trust in material things, things that can wear out, that can be stolen, things that require you to focus on hoarding rather than sharing. Instead consider where do you spend your money, what do you treasure above all else, then you will know who you are. What you love and care about can be easily assessed by simply looking at what we pay for and where we focus our time and talent. That’s what I thought I would preach on when I picked this scripture. Pretty standard in lots of ways, right? Until this week when the second part of the scripture, the part I just threw in there to just finish up the rest of the chapter and because the first part seemed too short, jumped up to get my attention.
“Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; 36 be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks. You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.” When I read these verses this week all I could think was, ‘We weren’t ready.’ We had gotten complacent. I don’t know why we had gotten complacent. Surely we didn’t think the things that have been so divisive in this election – sexism, racism, xenophobia, homophobia, religious bigotry, denial of science, and economic alienation had somehow gone away, or would go away, no matter who we elected? Maybe it was that we were wholly surprised at how much of that still existed in our culture but we thought, we were sure, that hate and fear and anger and pitting us against one another wouldn’t win the day. It couldn’t win the day.
We had gotten all too comfortable in our silos, our spaces and places where our ideas and thoughts echoed each other, maybe not in every way, but in enough ways that we thought for sure most people thought like we do, or acted like we would, or welcomed like we hope to. We didn’t know. We weren’t ready.
I wasn’t ready. I have always worked and advocated for justice but sometimes I take the way that involves the least resistance because I don’t want to make anyone uncomfortable or make waves or have people think badly of me. I say things that indicate I am dressed for action and have my lamp lit but in all actuality it’s more like I could get dressed pretty quickly if I needed to, but could I take a shower first, and sure I can light my lamp if you give me five minutes to find the matches and oh yeah where did I put that darn flashlight again. I wasn’t ready.
If I have learned anything good about this election it is that it is time to get ready. Because if God showed up in corporeal form here tomorrow I am presently embarrassed at the state of our national house. It would be more like don’t mind the mess God. Please just be sure to step over our continuing dehumanizing treatment of one another based on our skin color or our accent or our religion or who we love. Please don’t look too closely in the corners of our country where you might find us ignoring the poor or destroying the environment. And please be sure to overlook the fact that we seem to be overly concerned with confining the women either to the bedroom or the kitchen. Clearly God we weren’t ready for you to arrive expecting us to fully love our neighbors as ourselves.
It’s time to get ready and that’s going to mean that we have to clean up our metaphorical houses. We are going to have to clean out our hearts. We are going to have to reach out and speak out and act out so we can clean up our community. Now I remind you that if you are not ready to start cleaning yet because you are still in the corner crying or throwing things at the walls raging against the machine, it’s okay. Just sit and listen. I’m going to tell you when I am going to do and then maybe you might like some of those ideas and take them with you.
You know when the stewardship campaign picked out the theme of Throw Open the Doors for this year we had no idea that such a message would be particularly poignant when we got to this day. Because my getting ready starts with throwing open the doors. I am throwing open the doors and going out into the world. When I get out there I am going to start by making myself visible. You have only known me for three months but I am guessing you know by now that I am not someone usually hung up on visible signs of power and that I like pretty things. This has meant that I have yet to buy a boring black clergy shirt. You know the one with the tab collar. It’s really not my style for a number of reasons. But it says something to the world. It says that I am clergy and that I am doing my best to speak for God. This week I decided I was going to buy several of those boring clergy shirts and wear them out in our community more. Because there are lots of other people who say they are speaking on behalf of Christianity but instead of preaching a gospel of love, they focus on judging people and excluding them, they struggle with hypocrisy and discrimination. So the world needs to see that not all clergy are like this. That not all Christians are like this.
And on that boring clergy shirt, indeed on all of my shirts, I am going to start to wear a safety pin. Maybe you have heard about this movement on social media this week. People are wearing safety pins on their clothes as a sign to others who may feel afraid or discriminated against that they are a safe space. The safety pin is a visible sign that says, among other things:
If you wear a hijab, I’ll sit with you on the train.
If you’re trans, I’ll protect the bathroom for you.
If you’re a person of color, I’ll stand up for your rights.
If you’re a person with disabilities, I’ll hand you my megaphone.
If you’re an immigrant, I’ll help you find resources.
If you’re a survivor, I’ll believe you.
If you’re a refugee, I’ll make sure you’re welcome.
If you’re a veteran, I’ll take up your fight.
If you’re LGBTQ, I’ll remind you that you are beautiful and beloved, just as God made you.
If you’re a woman, I’ll make sure you get home ok.
If you’re tired, me too.
If you need a hug, I’ve got an infinite supply.
If you need me, I’ll be with you. All I ask is that you be with me, too. Together, we’ll be the strong arm of God.
I have safety pins with me today and will have a basket of them out in the Narthex for anyone to take as they wish if you would like to wear one too.
Now one thing you have to be careful of if you decide to wear a safety pin is you must be prepared to actually be that safe space. Don’t just treat the safety pin or indeed any gesture or symbol as enough. Now is the time when we have work to do. We cannot just sweep our mess under the rug and hope it’s all okay. We have to be willing to listen, be willing to stand up to harassment, be willing to welcome all. We have to educate ourselves, learn productive ways of becoming an ally, ways that may even make us uncomfortable. We have to go beyond the symbols into action. In the last few days since the election there have been over 200 incidents of hate and discrimination. A safety pin not only says I won’t get on this bandwagon but I will step out into traffic if I see it coming and stop it. These are small things I am going to start to do to get ready, but they are important things I feel I need to do to say to the world ALL are loved by God and I will work to see justice done.
As I said in the email I sent out on Friday, “Considering the events of the last few days I deeply believe that our mandate as the church is clear: we have work to do. It is precisely in the midst of a moment such as this that our doors must be thrown open as widely as possible. We must pray and welcome and act with more boldness than ever, with more justice than ever, with more vitality than ever. Our world needs congregations like ours where we unfailingly stand up on behalf of the full humanity of all people, where persons young and old alike are invited to grow continually into an ever-more-courageous love and an ever-more-transformational justice-seeking, where the light of the gospel of Jesus Christ shines brightly no matter how shadow-filled the world seems.”
I deeply believe this week has been a wake up call. If we were not ready before then we need to get ready now. I will say again like I said last week, I have no idea what will happen in the weeks and months to come as we transition to a new government (and this time I seriously mean that I genuinely have no idea). But I do know this: our work of justice, of taking care of one another, of showing abundant welcome to all people, and of going out in to the community to make a difference, this work of throwing open our doors and our hearts, will be incredibly important. A fellow clergy member shared that on Wednesday a community member came to her church to share her fears. The community member has brown skin and her daughter has black skin, and she is afraid for her family.
“My friend told me, we are all activists now,” she said as they shared lunch around the table. And indeed we are.
It’s time to get ready for whatever comes. It’s time to throw open our doors. May the church hear the call, and answer.