Words are hard to find, so Jesus speaks them to us: it’s going to be hard, but don’t be afraid, this is your chance to witness in my name, and I give you all you need to be Christ to this world in pain and need.
Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
Twenty-sixth Sunday after Pentecost, Lectionary 33 C
Text: Luke 21:5-19
Sisters and brothers in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
Jesus said there will be wars and insurrections. And dreadful portents.
A pastor friend told me Thursday that an African-American pastor he knows called him and said, “I need you to know, before you preach, that black people are viscerally terrified.” They dread what is to come.
A local sixth grade teacher I know heard a commotion in the hallway Wednesday, went out, and heard a group of boys chanting, “Build the wall! Build the wall!” He worries what his Latino sixth grade boys and girls can do in a school like that. Other teachers I know report the same thing.
One of my daughter’s dearest friends is African American, gay, and lives in Texas. His family home is in east Texas. His grandma called him Wednesday saying that some of his family from the country are moving into the city for awhile because they don’t feel safe. They couldn’t sleep Tuesday night because there were Ku Klux Klan members marching in the streets of their town. Not ten of them. Over 100.
Stories like these are being told throughout our country this past week, stories of Muslim girls afraid to wear hijab to school anymore, African-Americans being told to get into the field and pick cotton, Latinos being told to get out. Many are physically threatened. Signs, graffiti, and flags of hate are appearing all over our nation. This is reality.
I don’t preach about whom to vote for, or criticize any of our people for how they vote.
In a Christian community we are joined in Christ in our baptism and in our life together we can and do disagree about political solutions. Every election leaves some disappointed, discouraged, even frightened because of likely policy and law changes that will affect their lives or the lives of many, and leaves some who are excited and hopeful for the same changes. In every election there are people within our congregation who voted differently, disagreed politically. This is normal, this is how it works, and we all have experienced both feelings at times. As disciples of Christ Jesus, we will love each other in our multiple political views and work out our differences in love. This is what we do, every year.
But as disciples of Christ Jesus we are called to speak the truth.
There is now a truth in our country that has nothing to do with Democrat or Republican, nothing to do with policy disagreements. All Christians, regardless of how or why we voted, must face this hard truth: we have elected to the office of President someone whose bigotry, bullying, prejudice, disdain, and hatred for any and all who are weak or vulnerable, were on constant display throughout the campaign, and contributed to some voting for him.
We will pray for him, constantly, that he be a faithful and good President. That is what we do. We will hope. That is also what we do.
But if he doesn’t repudiate the violent, evil, spewings he poured out for eighteen months that inspire the behaviors so many of our neighbors are enduring already, more of these horrors will keep happening. Even if he does repudiate it, the time for civility, tolerance, respect, and compassion may be passing in our country. In this new reality, people don’t fear being held accountable for such violence and hatred anymore. Not if our President says it and condones it, and encourages it. So they will keep doing it, until someone says they can’t.
I have felt the heaviness of this truth this week, knowing I would stand before you today, and that you have called me to speak God’s Word into our life together. You want to know if God has a word of grace and Gospel and hope. But I knew this truth needed saying, and that burden weighed on me.
Then I read the Gospel again. I prayed. And to my relief, Christ Jesus said to me, “Don’t worry; I’ve got this one. I know what to say.” So I gave thanks and stepped aside.
Now, hear what Christ is saying to the Church today.
Christ Jesus today says, I told you times like these were coming.
They’ve come in many generations, but we are grateful our Lord cared enough to also warn us it would get bad sometimes. It helps knowing God’s not surprised by this. I began with those stories not to frighten or inflame fears, but because many of us live insulated from such abject fear and dread. Many of us aren’t at risk of these things that are already happening. We need to know the truth others face.
And yes, racism, misogyny, hatred of the other, bullying, disdain for the weak, existed before. They always have, and many have suffered. They’re enshrined in systems we perpetuate, systems that benefit us without our asking, structures long built up that powerfully continue to exist. What is different now is that we live in a reality where such things are endorsed at the highest level. Jesus’ warnings today remind us to be ready, as people who live in Christ, for what it means to be Christ in such a reality.
But there are those among us who know exactly what it is like to be on the other side of this, to be mocked and hated for who you are, to fear for yourself or loved ones, to be disregarded, or assaulted, or gaped at objectively, or silenced, or threatened because you were different. We need you to help those of us who don’t know that experience understand. We need you to help us all know how to stand with those who are threatened and are very afraid.
But Christ Jesus also says today “don’t be terrified.”
This is such a gift. Many of us are deeply afraid of what is happening, and the grace of Christ Jesus is this word, “Don’t be terrified. I am with you. I have overcome death; I have conquered these powers.”
But there is a harder word in this: Because we are Christ, we need to go from here and stand with all those who are truly afraid for their lives, their loved ones, with the bullied, the sick, the vulnerable, with those who are wondering what this country can be for them. We need to, with our bodies and arms and voices and love, say, “Don’t be terrified. We are with you.” That is the love we must bear to our neighbors, so they know it and know they’re not alone.
Because Christ Jesus says today that this is our opportunity to testify.
When we affirm our baptism here three times we loudly, boldly, renounce all the evil the world makes, all the works of Satan, all our sin that leads us from God. Now, Christ says, is the time for us to witness that in the world. If we don’t, if we who are insulated from the risks others are facing take comfort in our safe homes and our safe lives, we no longer are renouncing evil, and we have no business ever again saying in this place that we do.
Some of us have become complacent, trusting that leaders will care for justice and peace, hoping others will do this. We don’t have that luxury anymore. We can’t wait for others to care, others to say “no,” others to say, “this is not of Christ,” or even “this isn’t who we are as Americans.” Whether we’re 10 years old or 95, if we do not witness by our words and lives, we condone.
Christ also says this witnessing may lead to persecution, arrest, betrayal even by those near and dear to us. Maybe we’ve heard these words before and thought, “that doesn’t really happen anymore.” Well, it does. Sisters and brothers in the faith have been walking in solidarity with those who need it for years, to this day, from Standing Rock to police precincts. Some have suffered for it, been persecuted, arrested, hated by people close to them. If we haven’t experienced this, it’s likely because we’ve failed to witness to the hope that is in us, to the love of God that is for all people, to the grace of God that makes all things new, by standing with those who desperately need such hope, love and grace.
It’s time for us to get to work. Time to witness.
But Christ also says to us today, “don’t worry about what you will say (or do), I will give you what you need.”
We don’t need to worry about not having the right words, fear that we aren’t brave enough or strong enough. We don’t need to worry that we have no idea right now how to act, how to help, where to offer ourselves. Because this is Christ’s promise to us, and to all the faithful: We have an opportunity every day to witness to the truth about what God is doing in this broken, suffering world, and Christ will give us what we need to do this witness.
The words we need. The wisdom we lack. The strength we cannot find in ourselves. The courage that comes from the Spirit of God in our hearts. The compassion for others that is the very beating heart of God for this world. All of this we are promised.
Throughout these words, Christ Jesus keeps saying “in my name.”
That’s our hope and our call. We gather here as ones anointed in our baptism to be Christ for the world. We literally bear Christ’s name in our bodies, our hearts, our voices, our lives.
That’s what this is all about. We know things will be hard. We know many are suffering and afraid and need Christ’s love. So, let us be who we are. Let us be Christ, as we were made to be. We don’t need to be afraid, and we can hold our neighbors and tell them the same, because Christ is with us and with them. We don’t need to worry right now about details, we’ll get what we need as we go.
This is why we are here. So let us sing, pray, serve faithfully, and trust. Trust that the One who holds all the world in wounded hands now raised to life will hold us, too, as we bear this name into this world in need.
In the name of Jesus. Amen