Monday, January 11, 2021

Choose This Day: Who Will We Become?

The privilege of being called to be a preacher is something that still floors me after nearly 25 years of ordained ministry. And some Sundays, the responsibility of being called to be a preacher is uniquely palpable. Yesterday -- January 10, 2021 was one of those Sundays. Here's that sermon: with thanks to Ana Hernandez, Steven Charleston, Michael Curry, John Lewis, George Regas and ... as always ... Jesus. 
On YouTube ... with text posted below:


Pray with me.

Another world is not only possible
She is on her way
On a quiet day,
I can hear her breathing
She is on her way.

 These words by poet Arundhati Roy and interpreted by musician Ana Hernandez are ones I have used in this pulpit before and probably will again.

On a quiet day. It might be hard for you to remember what a quiet day feels like on this tenth day of January in the year of our Lord 2021 in the middle of a global pandemic and in the wake of the domestic terrorist attack that rocked our nation this week. I know it’s hard for me.

There’s a prayer in our prayer book which speaks of going from “strength to strength in a life of perfect service” … and the last four years have been the exact opposite as we have gone from “crisis to crisis in a news cycle of utter chaos.”

And that’s not by accident, it’s by design

Because chaos is the point
Noise is the point
Drowning out hope is the point
Fomenting polarization and division is the point
Making impossible the quiet day when we can hear new possibilities breathing is exactly the point.

It’s the point Steven Charleston … retired Bishop of Alaska and an elder in the Choctaw Nation … wrote about earlier this week:

When many voices are shouting to get your attention, listen for the whisper they are seeking to silence.

Today, millions of Americans are whispering. They are whispering their prayers. They are asking for things to get better, for our world to come out of the virus. They are whispering prayers that they will keep a job, or find a job, pay their bills, not get sick, take care of the kids, cover their rent, buy enough food to get through next week. They are whispering these things in hope. They are praying for justice. This is the moment when their voices must be heard.

But to do that we need to lower the volume. We do not need leaders playing to the gallery. We need them to be still, listen, and to allow the people to speak their prayers aloud.

Bishop Charleston knows that when we speak our prayers aloud we speak the truth of our common humanity … we see in each other the divine spark of love that is part of every single member of our Big Fat Human Family … and it is that spark of love that hardwires us to be in relationship with God and with each other across whatever differences challenge us. Including the seemingly insurmountable differences that challenge us in our nation today.

And for anyone who hoped 2020 would be the end of all that, ten days into 2021 has ended that fantasy.

I hate so much about this pandemic -- and right now what I hate is that we’re not all here together in this church and I’m preaching to a camera lens hoping you’re out there somewhere. If we were in the church right now I’d ask you to raise your hand if you’ve heard someone in the days since that attack on the Capitol say these words: “This isn’t who we are as Americans.”

Sadly, I’ve heard it over and over and over again – and while it is not all of who we are as a Americans it is an irrefutable data point that it is part of who we have always been:
  • a nation aspiring to liberty and justice for all while enslaving and exterminating some;
  • a nation conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all people are created equal while creating and sustaining structures of institutional racism that perpetuate White privilege and inequality;
  • a nation where the certified results of a free and fair election are denied by those whose White supremacist worldview reject the votes of people of color as valid.
Make no mistake about it ... and now I’m preaching directly to my White siblings ... because everyone else already knows this:

What was on display on Wednesday in sharp relief in our nation’s Capitol was White supremacism on steroids – and January 6, 2021 will forever stand as the date when White Americans were asked to “choose this day” whether they will be a solution to the systemic racism that fuels and feeds the chaos and destruction we saw on our televisions and twitter feeds or they will be part of the problem by denying the existence of unexamined privilege granted to White people in our nation.

This is part of who we are as Americans – and owning it is part of healing it; is part of leveraging our power to make this a tipping point in letting go of who we have been in order to move forward to who we can become.

It is work our Presiding Bishop got us started on as he offered his word to the church this week, asking “Who Shall We Be” and how shall we move forward:

I am a follower of Jesus of Nazareth because I believe that his way of love and his way of life is the way of life for us all. I believe that unselfish, sacrificial love, love that seeks the good and the welfare and the well-being of others, as well as the self, that this is the way that can lead us and guide us to do what is just, to do what is right, to do what is merciful. It is the way that can lead us beyond the chaos to community.

With these words Michael Curry stands firmly on the shoulders of prophets through the ages ... from Joshua who called the people of Israel to “choose this day” to Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Isaiah and Amons and all the others who called our spiritual ancestors to turn from evil and choose good.

Because here’s the deal: Americans didn’t invent exceptionalism. Or imperialism, nativism, sexism, racism, heterosexism, or any of the other isms that divide us as a human family. The “othering” of human siblings is as old as the prophets and as new as whatever social media platform they’re cooking up to replace Twitter. It is arguably an “original sin” if we understand sin as that which separates us from God and God as the Source of love that calls us to love our neighbors as ourselves.

Calling us to choose love –
Calling us to choose life – 
Calling us to choose that other world that is not only possible …
She is on the way.

How do we choose? One place I want to suggest we start is by claiming the power of John 8:32 – “the truth will set you free” – and telling the truth about the role that toxic religion has played in feeding, fueling, and fomenting the worldview that incubates division, polarization, and violence.

There are complex sets of factors that lead to the rise of the populist, nationalist, sexist, xenophobic, White supremacist, homo/transphobic toxins that have contaminated our body politic, dominated our public discourse and incited the terrorist insurrection we saw this week. But incubating those factors into this particular set of toxins requires a kind of cultural Petri dish which will simultaneously provide the nutrients necessary to nourish the toxic worldview while protecting it from contaminates like data, facts, diversity, and multi-cultural competency.

The biblical literalism foundational to 21st century American Evangelicalism does precisely that. It feeds, waters and fertilizes exclusively male language for God -- marginalizing women and non-binary people, perpetuating the patriarchy and fanning the fire of unexamined privilege making a Putin-style oligarchy appear preferable to a democracy where brown and black women have voice and power.

It creates a context where it is a very short journey from “the Bible said it, I believe it, that settles it” to “my country, love it or leave it” – with a direct connection to the rise of nationalism, sexism, White supremacism and the rest of the litany of isms that plague our nation and our world: the rise of the forces we struggle against daily as we live out our baptismal promise to persevere in resisting evil.

And it is this fertile environment that becomes a breeding ground for a population pre-programmed to believe fact-based science is an enemy of faith. It quite literally lays down neuron tracks in the brain set up to reject as “fake news” the very science that calls us to come together to protect each other from COVID19 and to save what we can of this planet we have exploited -- as well as the fact based reporting of historic levels of corruption and obstruction at the highest levels of our government and rejection of the certified results of a free and fair election.

To be clear: the beauty, power and importance of the First Amendment is that it protects every last one of us to freely exercise the religion of our choice – including the freedom to exercise no religion at all. And including the freedom to reject science, fact, and data and to believe whatever one chooses about what God wills, blesses, or condemns.

However – and it’s a big however – the First Amendment does not protect the right to confuse the freedom to exercise religion with the license to impose religion. And the job of defending the Constitution against all enemies – foreign and domestic – requires each and every one of us to do our part.

If we are going to save our nation from devolving into a kind of theocratic oligarchy, those who believe that science and data are things – those who embrace the vision of a nation where liberty and justice for all literally means all -- must provide an antidote to the toxins of ignorance and “alternative facts” threatening our constitutional democracy with polarization and division.

And as people of faith we must offer that antidote from our own witness AS people of faith; to refuse to allow those who have corrupted the Gospel message of the Lord of Love into a weapon of mass destruction speak for Jesus; to choose this day to stand up and speak up when necessary.

Hear again the words of one of the saints in light, our brother John Lewis:

Choose confrontation wisely, but when it is your time don’t be afraid to stand up, speak up, and speak out against injustice. And if you follow your truth down the road to peace and the affirmation of love, if you shine like a beacon for all to see, then the poetry of all the great dreamers and philosophers is yours to manifest in a nation, a world community, and a Beloved Community that is finally at peace with itself.

It was to the vision of that world community – that Beloved Community -- that George Regas called us over his decades of ministry and countless sermons from this pulpit.

And so it seems fitting today to end with words of his … these from that sermon that got us in trouble with the IRS in 2004:

We are humbled by the challenge of being faithful to God amid all the complexities and demands that are placed before us. Some of you will say, “I have so little to offer against the hugeness of the issues confronting us.”

Feeling that way myself sometimes, I go back to some words spoken by Senator Bobby Kennedy in South Africa in 1966. They have always inspired me. “Let no one be discouraged by the belief there is nothing one man or one woman can do against the enormous array of the world’s ills, against misery and ignorance, injustice and violence…. Few will have the greatness to bend history itself, but each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and in the total of all those acts will be written the history of our generation.”

Hold on to hope that your life and witness count. Hope will make a tremendous difference in the tasks you assume for yourself. Cynicism and despair are deathblows to any movement for national renewal and world peace, or just your trying to survive the challenges of daily life. Teilhard de Chardin said, “The world of tomorrow belongs to those who gave it the greatest hope.”

I believe that passionately. Many of us have been working on all of this for a long time. It is a terrible day when we let our defeats and failures beat us down into hopelessness and despair. Dante knew the destruction of the loss of hope, for he placed over the gates of hell the words, “Abandon hope, all ye who enter here.”

Despair is the deathblow to a new and better and more just future. It is unmistakably clear that when we lose our capacity to hope, we lose our capacity to shape our future. Do you remember those days when your heart was full of hope that life could be different, that life could be transformed and healed, that life could be better and more wonderful?

Remember the energy that brought to your life. Those dreams you have for your children and grandchildren, those dreams for your marriage or close relationships, those dreams for your job—they are powerful engines for change in your life. Don’t let anyone take them from you. Nor take from you your dreams for a new America and a peaceful world.

For Jesus now speaks to all of us. “I need you to share with me the healing of all life.”

Let us choose this day to be agents of change in that high and holy work of all life healed, restored, and redeemed into the creation God intended it to be – the kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven – the garden of Eden grown green again.

That is the other world that is not only possible
She is on her way
On a quiet day … you can hear her breathing
She is on her way.

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