I may be on sabbatical from the daily work of the office of pastor, but there is no way of being on sabbatical from the call of following Jesus. The last few days, after the racist terrorism in Charlottesville, VA, have left me aching to be fully back with my congregational community to speak with and lament with and feel the ties of being knit together in the midst of this particular storm in our country. It is these times, that the remembering we are knit together becomes incredibly vital to our witness in our community, our standing for justice, and our own spiritual well being. We are knit together in Christ, all of us, and we must say no to this trajectory of white supremacist terror that is alive and well on its way.
In my devotional reading today this prayer from the Book of Common Prayer is prayed–
Expose our broken systems, Lord: Save us by the power of your cross.
Well, exposed they are; and now for the part of saving. Father Richard Rohr in his book “The Art of Letting God: Living the Wisdom of St. Francis,” reminds us that the power of the cross is not that Jesus went into sin but that Jesus went towards pain, went towards injustice, went towards and into the very heart of human suffering and there brought love. So first, love is love is love and as followers of Jesus, the power of the cross means we are enfolded and embolden in love. Surround by the presence of this holy mystery and sent forth into the depths of love which goes into the depths of pain and stands strong filling in and strangling out hate.
The Psalm for today in the daily lectionary is Psalm 28–
To you, Lord, I call;
you are my Rock,
do not turn a deaf ear to me.
For if you remain silent,
I will be like those who go down to the pit.
Hear my cry for mercy
as I call to you for help,
as I lift up my hands
toward your Most Holy Place.
Do not drag me away with the wicked,
with those who do evil,
who speak cordially with their neighbors
but harbor malice in their hearts.
Repay them for their deeds
and for their evil work;
repay them for what their hands have done
and bring back on them what they deserve.
Because they have no regard for the deeds of the Lord
and what his hands have done,
he will tear them down
and never build them up again.
Praise be to the Lord,
for he has heard my cry for mercy.
The Lord is my strength and my shield;
my heart trusts in him, and he helps me.
My heart leaps for joy,
and with my song I praise him.
The Lord is the strength of his people,
a fortress of salvation for his anointed one.
Save your people and bless your inheritance;
be their shepherd and carry them forever.
I read this and thought yes–please God, do not drag me away with the wicked, those who do evil and speak cordially but have malice in their hearts–do not let them overtake us, do not let them win anymore hearts or minds, do not let them infiltrate our government (anymore than they already have), our cities, our towns, do not let Charlottesville become the first of many. And for sure heap some punishment on those who commit these violent acts with their hearts, minds, and hands because they certainly do not speak for you. As my colleague Pastor Dana Peterson wrote–
The phrase “Christian White Supremacists” is an oxymoron of the highest order. In fact, let’s be abundantly clear that there is no room in the Christian vocabulary for any kind of “supremacists.” Jesus shows love for all people; Jews, Samaritans, Gentiles, Pharisees, Romans, outcasts, men, women, and children. Moreover, Jesus taught that all the greatest among us are the ones who serve, and he chastises his disciples when they start scheming about which of them might share power in the Kingdom of God. The idea of one group’s racial or ethnic superiority to others is what people like Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the members of the Confessing Movement fought the Nazis during the Second World War. Bonhoeffer and others spoke up against Hitler and his thugs and it is their courage and eloquence that should be our beacons. Racism and bigoted hatred are abhorrent and no follower of Jesus should sit in silence when neo-Nazi, white supremacists spew their venom.
And then we must remember Jesus and love and call as followers of Christ. So while my ideas of the white supremacists being punished may not be God’s ideas, the psalm continues in the promise that God is our strength, our refuge and the one who will carry us through all the ways we need to speak, act, think and be in love in this moment in present history.
And then that gets scary. I ended my travels this summer around this big world, with all its colors of all its people, at the holocaust museum in Washington DC and on the battlegrounds of the civil war in Gettysburg, PA. A sobering reminder that the beauty of people can turn into the ugliest of our human capabilities. Both those places tell a story of massive death, massive racist motivations and massive heartbreak and human devastation brought on and carried forth by human hands. In the Civil War, the story ends with the end of slavery–while not a full restoration to the atrocities done and a long way to go, at least a step in good direction towards love of all humans. The holocaust, while in the end allied forces came and ended the war and the mass killings, still remains a horrible reminder of what neo nazism today truly is–evil. I still feel sick from all the ways in which our country at first turned a blind eye, didn’t step in when they could have, and perpetuated that same propaganda and turned on Japanese Americans right here in the same horrific way.
And the silence–perhaps the most dangerous of all–the silence not just by those in government and in leadership, but also by the regular, ordinary person. The head buried, keeping quiet because of fear. And the scariest part is that it’s the fear that we can understand and even understand how it happened that silence spread like wildfire. We can get that part I think especially now. The fear–what if I speak up and get lambasted on facebook or people don’t like me anymore? What if I speak up and it draws attention to myself? What if I speak up or learn more or go get to know people from the ‘other side of town’ and they don’t want me or I don’t know what to do or what to say? What if I speak up and get put on a list somewhere or bring harm to those I love?
Maybe the better question is What if I don’t? And better than that–What if WE don’t, together?
The gospel in the daily lectionary for today is Matthew 8:23-27
Then he got into the boat and his disciples followed him. Suddenly a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat. But Jesus was sleeping. The disciples went and woke him, saying, “Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!”
He replied, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm. The men were amazed and asked, “What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!”
Yes, there is a storm and we like the disciples are in the middle of it. What we do and say as followers of Christ matters. How we are present matters. And for sure, how we live out this call, remembering we are knit together in the deepest of ways through the cross of love matters. This may not make the feeling of fear go away and yet we have this Jesus who has gone into and continues to go into the scariest places right there with us. We may feel lost like the disciples on this boat, unsure which way to look or turn, which information to believe, how to react in the most helpful way and we have to pick which message to believe and completely live into: the one that is telling us the boat will sink or the one who is telling us do not be afraid.
Let’s pick Jesus in this one. Let’s acknowledge that we may not know all the answers but we know the first one–to love. And in that love we will be guided towards light and calm in the midst of the storm. Pray for this peace, for God to open your eyes to opportunities that are in front of you–maybe it is learning about advocacy or joining a new group, maybe it is speaking up when you hear racist comments, maybe it is diving deeper into a contemplative practice, maybe it is going to rallies, maybe it is getting involved with immigrant and refugee services. The list can go on and on.
My friend Pastor Kris Capel writes this:
“I believe this world is filled with immeasurably more love than hate. I believe that we will rise up together, a forcefield of love, drowning out the shouts of racism, bigotry, discrimination and evil. I believe this uprising of love starts when I look in the mirror and examine my words, my actions, my choices, my heart. Love each other loudly, my friends. Love has to win.”
I wholeheartedly agree. Love each other LOUDLY, do not be silent in this love or hide it away. This Jesus love is a loud, head up, eyes bright, feet on the ground and hands ready to serve kind of love. And we are into it together–with one another and with the one who promises us to go all the way into that love.
Expose our broken systems, Lord: Save us by the power of your cross.