A sermon preached by the Rev. Linda Harrison
Easter 4; 2017
Acts 2:42-47; Psalm 23; 1 Peter 2:19-25; John 10:1-10
Five years ago this weekend (on May 6, to be exact), we began worshipping in this space at Dayspring. After gathering in discernment, then sharing one another’s homes for Vesper services and potlucks, sharing joys and sorrows, we moved into a permanent space where we could invite and welcome all to come and call this home.
Five short years ago.
Five long years ago.
And who would have ever thought five years ago that we, as a nation, would be where we are today with the divisiveness and hate and distrust and blatant disregard of human worth and dignity. A nation – founded on the fundamental principle of religious freedom, of freedom of worship and belief – now forcing down the throats of its citizens some twisted version of Christianity where wealth and health are rewards from God … where “more Jesus” is needed in the classrooms and boardrooms and apparently our bedrooms to ensure a ‘holy’ and ‘righteous’ nation. And where that view of God and Jesus and ‘righteousness’ is judgmental and harsh.
The current administration and many elected servants of the people serving in the US Congress subscribe to what is called the prosperity gospel. It is a bastardized interpretation of Jewish theology: through the covenant between God and humans, God will bestow security and wealth upon those who believe and live righteous lives. Righteous, of course, according to narrow strictures defined by the elitist class.
Hogwash. Pure and simple. Hogwash.
That is not the God I meet through the prophets in the Hebrew Scriptures or through Jesus in the Christian Scriptures. That is not the God I have come to embrace and feel and know in every fiber of my being. God is the God of overflowing grace and abundant love and mercy; God does not function quid pro quo.
Nevertheless, I will admit that I whole-heartedly agree with the sentiment that we need “more Jesus” in our nation. I do not agree, however, with turning our nation into a theocracy – it is antithetical to our founders’ vision of the new nation they were building.
And yet we need more Jesus.
We need more compassion for one another. We need more mercy, more understanding, more forgiveness, more love. We need more justice – not just equality, but justice. Some of you have probably seen the Internet meme showing the difference between equality and justice. There are two panels in which three children of different heights are trying to look over a fence. In the first panel, each child is standing on a box and all the boxes are the same size, thus making them all taller, but one child is still unable to see over the fence. In the next panel, the shortest child is standing on 2 boxes, the child of middle height is standing on one box, and the tallest child is standing on the ground, thus making them all able to see over the fence. Taking one box away from the tallest child does not diminish that child’s ability in any way. Giving the shortest child an extra box does not give that child any extra or unfair advantages over the other children.
Equality versus justice: simply because all things are equal does not ensure that everyone has a truly equal chance.
There is a door to every building allowing equal opportunity to enter said building, however the stairs block the person in a wheelchair from entering. Equality versus justice.
Yes, we need more justice and we need more Jesus in our nation. And those of us who follow the Christ, who call ourselves disciples of the Risen One have an obligation – yes, an obligation – to bring more Jesus to our neighborhoods and our nation through our thoughts, words, and deeds. I do not mean establishing a theocracy or participating in forced conversions – that certainly is not the Way of the Jesus I encounter in scripture. Our obligation to bring more Jesus means we are to live the Jesus love ethic – to welcome all, to advocate for all, to care for all.
And all means all.
This will bring hardships and suffering. We will confront the powers that be, upsetting the status quo, calling out the greed of the prosperity gospel, and we will in turn be vilified. Behaving in ways that are counter-cultural means putting our own security at risk – emotional, financial, and sometimes physical. Behaving in ways that are counter-cultural means resisting injustice by sitting at a “white’s only” lunch counter in the 1950s as a Black person or an ally and having ketchup poured on your head and not returning the abuse. Behaving in ways that are counter-cultural means putting your feet and voice where your heart is and marching over the Edmund Pettus Bridge and having your skull bashed in, having fire hoses turned on you and attack dogs unleashed on you.
These current times call for this kind of counter-cultural behavior.
I can only speak for myself, and in doing so, perhaps I name your anxiety as well, but I feel as if I am living in some Twilight Zone alternate universe. Nothing makes sense, very little feels safe, everything seems to be in chaos, the rug has been pulled out from under me, and every day it doesn’t feel like it is getting better. Policies here in this country are being developed that diminish the dignity of certain segments of the population, that render the vulnerable even more vulnerable, that further burden the already struggling and burdened. The only thing that makes sense is the love ethic of Jesus.
Who knew that behaving in ways that are counter-cultural would be to extend hospitality to another human being? Who knew that being counter-cultural would mean inviting refugees and Latinx and LGBTQ folks and Muslims and African Americans to the table and listening to their stories and standing up for their inherent dignity and worth as human beings? Who knew that being counter-cultural would mean having to tell Congress that ensuring access to health care is simply the decent thing to do?
We need the counter-cultural behavior of the love ethic of Jesus, in this time, in this nation. I believe the time is coming when phone calls and postcards will no longer be enough. Marches on Washington aren’t going to be tolerated much longer. A late night TV personality is being investigated by the FCC for exercising his right to speak freely about this administration; a woman has been convicted for laughing in public at a Senate hearing. The abuse has begun; we will suffer, but we must resist the injustices we encounter because justice denied for one is justice denied for all. And our God is nothing if not a God of justice.
First Peter exhorts us to resist and persist. I like the translation in The Inclusive Bible: “grace is given if you endure unjust punishment for your conscience in the name of God.” And again the epistle writer says, “if you put up with suffering for doing what is right, this is acceptable in God’s eyes.”
Suffer for what is right. We do not submit to arbitrary abuse as ‘our cross to bear’, but if we are advocating for the least, the oppressed, the vilified, the vulnerable because Jesus calls us to love and care for all and in so doing we find ourselves open to assault, then yes, we endure the abuse because we are doing the right thing. We are doing the just thing, the loving thing. And let’s make it even harder, shall we? We are told emphatically not to return the abuse or the insults or the slander. We sit at the lunch counter in silence with ketchup and mustard dripping down our faces. We drop to the ground and cover our heads with our arms when the police wield their batons.
We resist the injustices without violating the Christian ethic – the love ethic of Jesus. We resist and persist, and in the face of the hate and the abuse we are likely to encounter, we come here to this space, to rest, to recharge, to remember who we are and Whose we are. We come among friends and family, sharing in the Body and Blood of Christ, sharing in the One who endured insults and violence against his own body that all of humanity might come to flourish in the abundant life of God’s grace and love.
We come here, and coming here is in itself an act of resistance for as Father John told us last week, “The One whom we know in this broken bread stands in solidarity with the broken of heart and soul.”
Let us come, let us be nourished, and let us continue to live out the counter-cultural life of the love ethic of Jesus.
Blessed be God forever. Amen.