Sunday, November 13, 2016

By your endurance you will gain your souls

Luke 21                                                                                        

We woke up Tuesday and this is what we said in my house, “Today is a day for celebration because the campaign season’s over!” “Wait,” one child asked, “It’s over? Who won?” And we explained that Tuesday was voting day so everyone would be casting their votes… and all day, I prayed for people to make it to the polls, for voting to go smoothly, for everyone to have the opportunity to vote… and all day, I watched as my friends cast their votes, with a feeling of joyfulness and anticipation and because of the people in my circles of friends, lots and lots of “#I'mwithher.”  There was this sense among women leaders and friends in every category that Trump has diminished over the course of his campaign that… today, we’ll be done with this nonsense. We got this.

When colleagues said to me, “You know, I’m getting a little worried.” I said, “No, no… don’t worry!”

So I’m not telling you this because I think that you should believe and think as I do…

As Lutheran pastors, we don’t tell our congregations who to vote for from the pulpit—unlike some faith traditions—because we deeply value your ability to vote from your own conscience, but I’m revealing where I was at so that you’ll have a picture of where I was at on Tuesday night as the results started rolling in & commentators were both in shock (How did we get this so wrong?) and already giving all kinds of analysis about why of course this happened. There was no more memory of the hateful campaigning or the late breaking FBI accusations and withdrawals of accusations. (Now the new analysis was, well, the Democrats simply lost touch with the working poor. The Democrats chose the wrong candidate; the party got ahead of the country on social issues; it was a backlash; it shows the depth of racism in the U.S.)… and at 11 p.m. we tried to get to sleep but you know, it wasn’t a good sleep…. and when we woke to the news that it was done? For me… the unthinkable had happened.

When we’re hit with shock, fear, grief… we all have different responses. My first response was to get busy… to tell the news and reassure our kids—we’ll make it through this. I was so, so grateful that I got to meet with people all through the day on Wednesday. First, my weekly text study where we read this gospel from Luke together:

Jesus says the temple will be torn down. There will be news of wars and insurrections… there will be natural disasters… and people will be persecuted.

Just imagine the people who Jesus is talking with. They look together at the temple with mixed feelings, because it’s both a beautiful monument to their faith … but it’s also a source of embarrassment (because an oppressive ruler, Herod, had built it). By the time Luke is writing this story, the temple has already been destroyed, so this story of its destruction is not fortune-telling… it’s remembering together how Jesus told them, “Bad things will happen… and it won’t just be out there, it will be personal… they may come for you, Jesus’ followers…. But you shouldn’t fear it or worry about it… and the way that you should interpret all this suffering, if and when it comes to you, is as an opportunity to testify.

An opportunity to testify. An opportunity to tell your story, tell God’s story. An opportunity to say the truth of what you see to the best of your ability, to be ready for God to give you words and a wisdom that none of your betrayers can contradict… because by your endurance you will gain your souls.

So on Wednesday, my next gathering was our Matthew Bible Study that meets on Wednesdays at 10:30 a.m. and in that circle, I said to each weary and worried person, “Welcome to this circle of love.” And then, I got to visit members of our congregation who voted for Trump, and I asked why, and I listened to their response… and then, in the evening, I gathered with the Confirmation students… who had wise words and good questions and told about how they had hugged their crying teachers throughout the day, and told how they are accompanying with care & kindness other students who are worried that their parents will be deported.

Since Wednesday, I’ve been watching and reading as some of you have testified by going to protests… as others have shared ideas about how to deepen community in response to acts of hate by those who are now emboldened to bully and harass those who are most vulnerable…

I’ve wondered if there are those of you who haven’t felt safe to have conversations with others… or who just haven’t had the chance. I’ve wondered who is feeling worried and which worries are most founded…

I sat with another group on Thursday in which two African American pastors cried and said they are so tired of feeling unsafe… and so the fact that more that 50% of both white women and men voted for the agenda that Trump campaigned on is so disheartening. The fact that Evangelical Christians voted for this platform shakes their faith. In social media… I watched as witnesses are labeling hateful actions since Wednesday [for example, a parade by the KKK, racist graffiti, kids telling other kids to go back to their country (even if their home country is this one)] as signs of “waking up in a new America.” But the idea that this is new for white liberals and progressives feels so hollow to these Black pastors… because this is the America they have experienced far too much, far before Wednesday…

And then, there’s Michael Moore… and others. Who knew this outcome would happen all along. Who say those of us who thought Trump was not electable were living in a bubble. Who know everything.

It wasn’t until Friday morning that I finally broke down, really feeling the grief of it all. It was when a friend of mine sent an article I had written ten years ago for Café—an online magazine for young adult women who want to build their faith. This article was on “raising your voice” and had been published in October 2006, prior to a less consequential mid-term election, back before we even imagined having our first Black president. And as I read that article, I remembered…

Remember everything that you’ve survived?

Remember how we weathered the storm together after the events of September 11, 2001?

Remember how we’ve lived through other leaders who told us lies and didn’t serve our best interests? Remember, how in every political moment—no matter how good or faulty our elected leaders—we are freed in Christ and that is what gives us power to do good? Whether we are called to use that ability to bring about political change in the limelight, or whether we are called to simply serve, love, and shelter others in our daily life and work, in far less visible ways…

As I’ve been reading friends’ reactions to this election, there is one friend who is, I think it’s fair to say—madder than a hornet. She’s especially mad at Christians. She keeps writing scenarios that describe certain people’s shocking prejudice and then tags it with these words #YourJesusIsShowing.

Underneath all that fierce anger, I think there are two deeper questions that occur to many of us:

What in the world is God up to?

And how could people who call themselves Christians think any of this?

(How could any Christian reject the neighbor, support someone who says and does such hateful things, etc.)

And in a climate where workplaces and schools are reaching out to their employees & students with messages of solidarity, where is the church?

We received this message from our Roseville schools superintendent—

“As we end what can best be described as a challenging week, I want to take this opportunity to remind our students, families, and staff members that we value each and every one of you. As even our youngest students react to what they are hearing at the national level, I urge each of you to remember that at the core of our school’s equity mission is the need to treat one another with dignity and respect and to communicate those values loud and clear to our children.”

Here is where I think we need to be as church.

We may not be of one mind, particularly on how to move forward… but we are one body. Every part of the body is vitally important. If one part suffers, the whole body suffers.

There is one other story that has come up for me this week—it’s a story that only appears in Luke—the gospel we have journeyed with all through this last year. It was the text at my ordination, and it’s a resurrection story.

And this is how it goes. Two disciples were on their way to Emmaus, and a stranger joined them on the road. The stranger asked them what was wrong, and they said, “Are you the only one who doesn’t know what has happened?” They described Jesus’ horrible death and the death of their dreams. “We had hoped that he would be the one to save us.”

Then, the stranger began to tell them how God works—and as they neared the place they would stay for the night, the two disciples invited the stranger in. Maybe they wanted to hear more, maybe they were showing hospitality… but they invited the stranger in, and when he broke bread with them, they recognized that this was no stranger but the risen Christ. They responded, “Weren’t our hearts burning within us as he walked with us?” And in retrospect, they could see how Christ had been with them every step of the way.

When we are filled with grief and despair, when we are afraid that life as we know it has ended, when we have witnessed injustice first-hand & we don’t exactly know where to go from here… that is exactly when God our Advocate meets us along the way and invites us to come and eat. At the table, we not only receive nourishment for all that’s to come but we realize our oneness. In Holy Communion, we are not only receiving but we are becoming the body of Christ, and that means that as Bishop Wohlrabe said last week, “The worst thing will never be the last thing.”  God gets the last word. The sun will rise, with healing in its wings.

So do not fear. Instead, come and witness the risen Christ here in the middle of us… the one who will give us the words and a wisdom of how to testify in this next season.

Come, eat & drink, and taste healing.