Preached on 11/6/16, Scripture: Romans 12:9-21
For the last several weeks now we have been talking about our stewardship campaign, Throw Open the Doors. Next Sunday is the culmination of that campaign and then we anticipate getting back to our regularly scheduled programming just in time to ease us towards the end of the church year and the start of Advent. Yes, friends Christmas is just 7 weeks away. (Come join me on the panic train!)But this morning I want to take a bit of a mini-break and not focus on our stewardship theme for this sermon (here is where I imagine you breathe a small sigh of relief) so that instead I can focus on the election this coming Tuesday (and now the good feeling is gone).
Tuesday will be a big day for our country. In some churches I know the big message this morning will be “Go vote”. Not a discussion of who to vote for, just a reminder that voting is important. Vote for your principles. Vote based on your faith and your beliefs. Vote for more than just president, vote for your local leaders and local ballot initiatives. Vote for policies that you think will bring justice and benefit the least and lost, the orphan and widow, the poor and disenfranchised. But I don’t think you need a whole sermon on that here at UCCSV. Living in the Washington DC metro area we know how important voting and civic engagement is to our future and the future of our communities.
So instead of telling you to just “Go vote”, I want to talk about what happens after Tuesday. If you’re anything like me thinking about life after Tuesday sends your anxiety levels through the roof. Because no matter who is elected to office on Tuesday, no matter what ballot initiatives pass or fail, no matter who can claim victory, we have two major jobs on our hands. The first is reconciliation. In the run up to this election the rhetoric, the language, the pure vitriol has been so overwhelming and divisive that it’s hard to imagine how we can ever make peace between very different groups and very divergent points of view. The second is rolling up our sleeves and getting to work because no matter who is elected to our national and local government chances are they will need to be reminded about continuing justice issues, about caring for the environment, and about representing all people, especially those most often ignored or forgotten.
How do we go about taking on these monumental tasks? What do we use as our guide for how to navigate our political and community landscape in the weeks to come? Paul in his letter to the church in Rome has some ideas: “Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; 10 love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor..”
As we go into this next week we need to challenge ourselves to show genuine authentic love. We can have no room for exploitation or shame or false declarations designed to teach people lessons or make ourselves look better than we are. We can hate evil. But evil is not inherent in people. It is present in people’s actions or belief systems, yes. And we are right to protest evil, prevent evil, and expose evil. But we must remember that people act in evil ways but Jesus has taught us that redemption is always possible because people can always choose to reject evil.
You are challenged to be the best at something, but you are challenged to be the best at promoting others, at showing honor to them. If this is a competition, it’s a competition to see who can empower people the best. As usual for Jesus followers, you win by giving things away and making life better for the other person.
Paul goes on to say, “Don’t hesitate to be enthusiastic—be on fire in the Spirit as you serve the Lord! Be happy in your hope, stand your ground when you’re in trouble, and devote yourselves to prayer.” Many of us are passionate about our causes, about the things that are important to us. That’s good! Be on fire with Spirit. Have hope that what you are doing makes a difference. Don’t give up. Stand tall and call on God. Pray. Lots of people say, what good does prayer do when there are so many hands-on tasks to be tackled? But Jesus knew that renewing himself in prayer and meditation allowed him to be healthier and more present in the moment. It allowed him to stay on task and it allowed him to connect with God.
Paul says “ Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.” Give of your abundance, your time talent and treasure to support this church and its ministries. And go out of your way to connect with others. Even others who don’t necessarily agree with you. Welcome them in to your home or offer them a piece of you. One minister I know shared that this weekend she was baking a pie for her neighbor across the street. A neighbor who did not come from the same political persuasion as she did. She wanted to show love anyway. Kill them with kindness. Show them hospitality. Humanize yourself. Humanize them. We need to love with all our resources in order to show people genuine love.
“Bless people who harass you—bless and don’t curse them. 15 Be happy with those who are happy, and cry with those who are crying. 16 Consider everyone as equal, and don’t think that you’re better than anyone else. Instead, associate with people who have no status.” Start where people are. Bless them first. Pray for them. Then listen. Part of why this election has gotten so contentious is that we don’t listen to one another any more. We spend our time not in dialogue with each other, but in debate. In debate you don’t listen to the other. You only pay attention enough so that you can find useful lines of argument so as to win your point. Instead, tell your story. Are you someone whose family might be hurt by a law, tell people. Do you have a story as to why something is wrong, or right? Tell it. And then listen for other people’s stories. Feel for the other. Cry for the other. Make them cry for you. Connect. That’s how we change hearts and minds.
“Don’t pay back anyone for their evil actions with evil actions, but show respect for what everyone else believes is good. 18 If possible, to the best of your ability, live at peace with all people. 19 Don’t try to get revenge for yourselves, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath.” There may be people this week who will gloat. Who will tell you “I told you so!”. Who will go out of their way to respond to their disappointment or even to their excitement in victory by hurting others. By doing evil. One of my favorite lines from all of the election these past several weeks was when Michelle Obama said, “When they go low, we go high.” I think Paul would have stolen that line if he could have. Do not repay evil for evil.
That doesn’t mean we need to lay down and let others step over us or on top of us. Peace may not always be possible. You may have to agitate and protest and disrupt in order to make yourself heard, to speak out and fight powerful interests that do not have humanity’s welfare at heart. But the difference comes from showing genuine love. In seeing the other as human. One commentary I read said, “It is easy to curse those who oppose us. Bitterness so easily takes root where we collapse into feeling our value is threatened when people oppose us. It becomes even more subtle when we know they misunderstand or are being directly malicious. Violence has a way of sucking its victims into cycles of violence and making its own disciples. It can be hard keeping one’s spirituality sufficiently centered not to drift into such eddies. To bless our enemies is not to condone their actions, but it is never to lose sight of their humanity and dignity as persons. Confront lovelessness with love, confront hate with grace. “
This is the way we move forward after this election is over. This is the way we remember who we are as followers of Christ and whose we are as God’s beloved children.
Now you may say, Holly, I just don’t think I can do that. I get it. I truly do. I’m not sure I can do it either, at least not in all circumstances. I want to yell out, Paul you didn’t live through this election cycle. You don’t understand how facts have become unimportant. How our worst tendencies and fears are being stoked. How corruption and a misuse of power have been so ever present. But then I remember that Paul was repeatedly thrown in prison for his beliefs. I remember that his fellow disciples were being rounded up, persecuted, and even murdered for refusing to renounce Jesus. How he, like Jesus and the disciples, were run out of towns, mocked, arrested, and despised for preaching truth to power. Paul didn’t live through this election cycle. But Paul knew a world much worse than we have experienced these last few months. And yet, this was his advice to one of his beloved churches.
Jesus did not call us to live easy lives of tranquility and quiet. Jesus told us to take up our crosses. Paul knew his advice would be hard to follow. But Paul tells us to present ourselves as living sacrifices anyway. Because none of this is easy work. But it is crucial work. It is in fact the only way to actually win, to actually find peace, to actually begin to address the issues that plague us. It is in fact the only way to survive and give our children a better world. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
So how do we do what seems impossible? With God’s help and strengthened by the power of community. We do not do this work alone. We can overcome evil with good because God overcame evil with good. We can show genuine love because God shows us genuine love. We can falter in this work because we can come to God and ask for forgiveness and help when we fall short and we are given the grace we need to start over again. And we are given a community that upholds us in our struggles, that gives us joy, that eases the pain, that inspires us to greater love, and where we get to practice genuine love so we know what it looks like when we go out into the world. That’s why we’re here. That’s why we give to this community. That’s why this place matters.
There will be an election this week. And I have no idea what will happen. None at all. But I do know how I should act both before and after that election. I do know that God will still be here with us after Tuesday. I do know this community will take care of each other, will fight for justice, and will show love to the world long after this week is over. It may not solve all the world’s problems immediately. But it’s certainly a good place to start. Amen.