Pentecost 26C sermon 2016
Please pray with me. May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be faithful and fruitful in your sight, O God, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
I missed you this week.
I was away for most of it at a First Call Theological Education retreat out near Waynesboro with several dozen pastors in their first three years of ordained ministry, along with several bishops and other experts who were there to teach us and guide us. It was a good retreat. But I missed you.
I missed you especially hard on Wednesday morning.
I wondered who had woken up to the news of our new president-elect feeling—as the prophet Malachi might have put it—feeling like the day had come on burning like an oven, reducing you to stubble. And I wondered who had woken up feeling like the sun had risen with healing in its wings. I knew that there would be some of both, that in this congregation there would be those of you who greeted the results of the election with joy, and those of you who greeted it with despair.
And I missed you. I wished I could be there for you, no matter which of those groups you belonged to. I wished that I was here, to hold your hands, to weep alongside you, to hope alongside you, to pray alongside you for healing, for unity, for our new president-elect and for our whole government, for our whole nation.
But I was in Waynesboro. So instead, I spent a lot of time thinking about what I was going to say to you this morning. And in the meantime, I watched as the ripples of the election results spread throughout the country, and I wrestled with my own reaction to the news.
And I realized: I’ve made a false idol of this election. Both Secretary Clinton and Mr. Trump promised that they alone would be able to save this country, to keep it from falling into disorder and chaos, and to some extent, I believed them.
I forgot that they were wrong. Neither candidate can or could save this nation. Government doesn’t save us. Only God can do that work. In fact, as Christians, we go one step further and profess that God has already done it.
In our gospel today, some were speaking about the Temple. The Temple in Jerusalem was beautiful: huge stones built into a towering edifice, a place fit for God to dwell. It the religious heart of the nation of Israel, and in many ways, it was its political center too. And Jesus says: “the days will come when not one stone is left upon another: all will be thrown down.”
Jesus promises that our human institutions, even when they are beautiful and precious, even when we have built them to last—they are not eternal or infallible. They are the temporary means through which God can and does work out an eternal vision. And it is essential that we do not confuse the role of the human institution with the work that belongs to God.
I will pray for, and lead you in prayer for, President-elect Trump and all our elected officials. I will—and even after this long and exhausting election season, I hope you will—remain politically engaged, seeking the welfare of this nation. I believe that our government can do good; I believe that God can work through it.
But when any elected official says, “I am he! I am the one who can bring an end to war, prosper the nation, reverse the fortunes of the poor, and restore the world—“…
I will remember that there is only one person who is called the Prince of Peace, the reconciler of nations. He blessed the poor, welcomed the stranger, fed the hungry, made room for the children, and at the last, died on a cross to show the height and depth and breadth of God’s love for us, and rose again on the third day to shatter the power of the last enemy, death.
And Christ is already at work among us. I know that, simply by looking around this sanctuary.
Because: we are a nation divided. This election didn’t cause that, but it did reveal it. A 2014 Pew Research Center paper found that liberals and conservatives disagree over where they want to live, the kind of people they want to live around and even whom they would welcome into their families—and those disagreements mean that society is sorting itself into ideological siloes. That means that the people we meet and interact with everyday are more likely to agree with us politically, to reinforce what we already believe, to make it harder to open our minds to different points of view.
And yet: in this room, there are those of you who are grieving in the wake of this election, and there are those of you who are rejoicing. And you are here together. God gathered you here together. God broke down walls that divide us, and brought us together around Jesus Christ, the Word of God incarnate, whom we seek in scripture and song and sacrament. In a nation divided, God bridges the chasms that divide us with the cross, binding us together with a love that drives out hate, a love that transforms, a love that saves.
This work isn’t over. It asks us not only to answer God’s call to gather, but also to be transformed here, transformed just as bread is transformed into Christ’s presence. This work of peace-making, of reconciliation, goes deeper. It asks us to listen to one another, to hear different points of view, to risk conflict in order to gain understanding. It is not easy, listening to someone with whom you disagree. But it is sacred work.
A friend of mine issued a challenge to her community this week that I would like to extend to you in the wake of this election: when your post-election emotions, whether they are joy or relief, anger or grief, are somewhat managed…invite someone who voted differently than you to lunch or coffee. Listen to them. Seek to understand. Strive to interpret everything they say in the best possible light. Listen to their concerns, their hopes. Share your own views and feelings—but not unless they are ready to listen to you in return. Seek to create space, but do not demand it for yourself.
And may Christ, whose Spirit is our peace, our comforter, and our joy, sustain you as you live into an ancient prayer of the church: “As the grains of wheat once scattered on the hill were gathered into one to become our bread, so may all your people from all the ends of earth be gathered into one in you.”