Monday, July 31, 2017

Good News vs. Fake News: La Lucha Continua

There is an old axiom about "the preacher preaching to the preacher" -- and it was never more true than the 8th Sunday After Pentecost when I preached this sermon I needed to hear: How to persist in resisting evil without becoming the evil we deplore. Thanks to inspiration from Walter Wink, Susan Thistlethwaite, Fredrica Harris Thompsett, George Regas and  ... of course ... Jesus.

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Let there be peace among us, and let us not be instruments of our own or others’ oppression. Amen.

Some of you will remember this prayer -- the one I’ve come to think of as the Gospel According to Barbara. They are the words Bishop Barbara Harris – the first woman bishop in the Anglican Communion – has used to begin every sermon I ever heard her preach. They are also the words that have become my own mantra to stay focused as an active member of The Resistance.

And boy howdy have they been getting a work out over these last days, weeks and months.

In our Collect of the Day this morning we prayed that we might: "so pass through things temporal, that we lose not the things eternal."

It is the same prayer we pray absolutely every year at this point in the lectionary cycle - - and yet it is arguable that in this particular year the tsunami of the twenty-four hour news cycle has made holding onto those "things eternal" more of a challenge than many of us can ever remember.

And that is why gathering together is such a critically important part of our resistance. We come together as community to pray, reflect and recharge -- to remember who are and whose we are. We come together not to escape "things temporal" but in order to engage them in the service of the eternal values of love, justice and compassion.

And then we go out -- refueled and refreshed by the bread and wine made holy: Go out to love, serve, challenge -- and resist -- for another week.

It is who we are as All Saints Church. It is part of our DNA.

A few weeks ago I was making my way to the chapel for Noon Eucharist and one of the memorial plaques caught my eye. Now, next Tuesday -- August 1st -- will the sixteenth anniversary of my first day at work here at All Saints Church. So it is fair to say I have walked by that memorial plaque literally hundreds of times.

But for some reason -- that quiet weekday morning in an empty church -- it tapped on my shoulder and demanded my attention.

It reads:

In affectionate memory of Julia Adele Meeker.
A consecrated member of this parish
rich in good works for all peoples.
"She fought the good fight
and kept the faith."
1861 - 1930

Julia Adele Meeker was born the year Civil War tore our nation apart and died the year after the Wall Street Crash threw it into the Great Depression -- with the First World War thrown in between. I can't even imagine the troubles she saw -- the challenges she faced -- the evils she resisted. And yet what we know is at the end of her life what the community who loved her wanted us to know about her was that she was rich in good works for all peoples ... and that she fought the good fight.

One of my teachers and mentors is historian Fredrica Harris Thompsett -- and Fredrica taught us that the reason we learn our history is to get a running start on our future. And so as we gather this morning to be refueled and refreshed for the challenges ahead of us, it bears remembering our history.

It bears knowing that we stand on the shoulders of all those who have gone before us -- those known and unknown to us -- who ... like Julia Adele Meeker ... fought the good fight. And to recognize that the fight we fight -- the resistance in which we engage -- the struggle that continues -- is not just an historic one. It is a cosmic one.

It is the fight between nothing less than good and evil. It is the cosmic struggle between the Good News of love, justice and inclusion and the Fake News of fear, judgment and discrimination.

Now, the term may have been coined in the last election cycle but Fake News has always been around. It is as ancient as the mythological story of the serpent in the Garden telling the first humans they didn't need God ... they could do it themselves if they just ate from that forbidden tree.

It is woven into the narrative of our spiritual family album in story after story after story as we chose domination over collaboration; chose our own way over God's way; chose fear over faith. And was part of this morning's reading from the Hebrew Scriptures when Solomon ... given the gift of whatever he might ask of God ... asked for discernment between good and evil.

Cosmic Fake News manifests itself in what theologian Walter Wink described as "the domination system" -- which operates according to the myth of redemptive violence, entrapping us all in the amazingly self-destructive dynamic of violence responding with violence to violence and on and on.

When I discovered Walter Wink's work in seminary I discovered a powerful tool to understand both the depth of our culture’s commitment to the way of violence and the power of the Gospel as a viable alternative to that way of violence: Of the power of the Good News of Love to ultimately triumph over the ongoing struggle to defeat the Fake News of Domination. The struggle continues ... la lucha continua.

A critical part of that struggle is to refuse to become the evil we deplore; to bear witness to the truth that resistance and reconciliation are not mutually exclusive. We put into action the truth that we can be both resisters and reconcilers every time we offer this blessing:

"And the blessing of God Almighty be with you -- those you love, serve, challenge and resist -- this day and always."

We are lovers and servers and challengers and -- yes -- resisters. And yet even as we resist we ask God's blessing on those we resist.

Because the good fight we are fighting is on behalf of the Good News of the God who loved us enough to become one of us in the person of Jesus. And the Jesus we follow is the one who will not rest until there is not a single stranger left at the gate.

Go ahead. Close your eyes. Picture the person you would most NOT want to be in heaven with. Have you got someone? OK ... That is the very person Jesus won't rest until he or she is inside the gate ... is gathered into the loving embrace of the kingdom of love, justice and compassion. That is the Jesus we follow.

And the Jesus we follow had as many parables to proclaim that Good News as there were people who needed to hear it. We hear some of them in this morning's Gospel from Matthew ... a Gospel that reads a little bit like all the best outtakes left on the cutting room floor pulled together and stuck into the 13th Chapter of Matthew so they don't get lost in the annals of time:

The kingdom is like a mustard seed ...
The kingdom is like yeast in a loaf of bread ...
The kingdom is like a treasure ...
The kingdom is like a pearl of great price ...
The kingdom is like a net cast into the sea ...

Jesus had as many parables as there were people to hear them because there is no "one size fits all" story about the kingdom of God ... because the kingdom of God is as deep, and as wide and as abundant as the infinite love of God.

The Good News we have staked our lives on is that we can resist to our last breath ... blog post, tweet, email, protest march and petition ... the actions of those who participate in the oppressive domination systems that surround us ... while at the same time refusing to let the "fake news" that they are anything less than beloved children of God win out over the Good News that God loves us all beyond our wildest imaginings.

Another quote from Walter Wink: "Evil can be opposed without being mirrored. Oppressors can be resisted without being emulated. Enemies can be neutralized without being destroyed."

And we can fight the Good Fight without losing sight of the Good News in the process. We not only can ... we must.

Our baptismal promise to respect the dignity of every human being requires us to stand up and speak out when the dignity of any member of the human family is threatened. This week we stood in solidarity with members of the transgender community who once again found themselves being used as sacrificial lambs on the altar of partisan politics.

The unconscionable attack by the current administration on the fitness of transgender Americans to serve in the military was not only unwarranted -- it was antithetical to our core values as Americans and as Christians.

As our brilliant friend Susan Thistlethwaite wrote: “Transgender Americans do not “weaken” the military or the country. The profound truth of the American experiment, when we are living up to it, is that we are much, much stronger as a people when all are treated equally and have equal rights. Blaming and shaming transgender people is not only a betrayal of our national political aspirations to “all” being “created equal,” it is a betrayal of deeply held religious values.” [Manufacturing Resentment, 7/26/17 | HuffPost]

At All Saints Church we will continue to stand with and for all those on the margins. We stand with all those in danger of losing healthcare, with anyone being profiled because of their race or their religion, with neighbors under threat of deportation, with refugees seeking a safe haven and with Dreamers seeking an education. We will challenge those who applaud excessive force by law enforcement officers and those who threaten to undermine equal protection for LGBTQ Americans.

We refuse to choose between competing oppressions; instead we will stand together and resist any and all assaults on the dignity, the safety and the humanity of any and all of God’s beloved human family.

And we will not allow ourselves to be either distracted or discouraged as we continue in to live out All Saints’ DNA-deep commitment to turn the human race into the human family – a commitment that fuels our resistance, sustains us in the struggle and inspires our vision for a kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven that includes absolutely everyone.

Full stop. No exceptions. Period.

I had a conversation just this week with a student who is navigating the challenge of coming out in her academic community. The biggest concern expressed by those with power in that Christian institution was that in telling the truth about who she is she might make some people "uncomfortable."

My response to that is one of the handful of biblical citations I carry around in my back pocket at all times -- John 8:32 ... "the truth will set you free."

And the truth is Jesus didn't come to make people comfortable -- Jesus came to tell the truth about the good news of God's inclusive love available to absolutely everybody and to debunk the fake news that some people are more loved, some people are more saved, some people are more worthy.

If Jesus' goal was to make people comfortable there would've been no cross and there would've been no resurrection and we wouldn't be here over 2000 years later still fighting the good fight.

Many years ago our Rector Emeritus George Regas challenged us to live out the prophetic Gospel by "setting audacious goals and celebrating incremental victories."

This morning we are still celebrating the incremental victory that came in the wee hours of Friday morning: the defeat of the latest effort to take healthcare away from millions of Americans. It was an incremental victory ... make no mistake about that: we know that battle is far from over.

And yet against a lot of odds the combined voices of women and men over days and weeks and months -- in the streets and on the phones and at town hall meetings and in the halls of Congress -- including my mother-in-law who called her Senator so often that when she called the intern answered "Good morning, Mrs. Hall. What can we do for you today?" Together we  fought the good fight ... like our sister Julia Adele Meeker ... and proved once again that together we can make a difference for "all peoples"

In a few moments we come together again around this table -- not to escape "things temporal" but to engage them in the service of the eternal values of love, justice and compassion. And then we will ask God to send us out -- refueled and refreshed once again by the bread and wine made holy -- to love, serve, challenge -- and resist -- for another week.

It is who we are as All Saints Church. It is part of our DNA.

Let there be peace among us, and let us not be instruments of our own or others’ oppression. Amen.

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