A Sermon’s Beginnings: What Do We Do Now?

RCL August 12, 2012 Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost

2 Samuel 18:5-9, 15, 31-33 with Psalm 130 or
1 Kings 19:4-8 with Psalm 34:1-8
Ephesians 4:25-5:2
John 6:35, 41-51

So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another. Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not make room for the devil. Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labor and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy. Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption. Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you. Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

I would like to write this passage from Ephesians on the doors of every church or on the mirror of all people who calls themselves Christian. The level of hatred in this country has reached toxic levels. While I can’t say that the man who opened-fire on the Sikhs while they worshiped or the man who burned down a mosque during Ramadan claimed to do so in the name of Christ, I can say that the lack of outrage is appalling. More people were horrified by a seemingly random shooting in a movie theater than by hate-motivated attacks on people of faith.

Let me add to this that a church banned a black couple from getting married in their sanctuary. Apparently, there was also a town that tried to prevent black people from moving in. What year is this? And, of course, there is the whole Chick-fil-a mess. How is it possible that such discriminatory practices are endorsed by people who claim to be the followers of Christ? How can this be?

I cannot read this passage from Ephesians without thinking of the words attributed to Martin Niemoller:

In Germany they came first for the Communists
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist.
Then they came for the Jews
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew.
Then they came for the trade unionists
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Catholics
and I didn’t speak up because I was a Protestant.
Then they came for me–
and by that time no one was left to speak up.

If we don’t stand up for our brothers and sisters – Sikh or Muslim or black or gay – who will stand up for us when the tide of hatred and fear turns toward us? These situations stir anger deep within my being. Hatred is not a Christian value. It is not even a human value. It erodes the spirit and leaves us without hope. I am not being overly dramatic here. People are dead because of their beliefs. People are without a house of worship in their holiest month because of their faith. People are denied marriage in a church because of their skin color. People are denied marriage rights because of whom they want to marry. All of this is in a country that speaks of freedom and opportunity. I am angered. I am saddened. And I want things to change.

So then, let us stop lying to ourselves and speak the truth that our neighbors are of many colors, many faiths, gay and straight and trans, and we are one human race. Be angry but do not break relationship with yourself, your neighbors, or your God; speak up to injustice before time passes lest you become ambivalent, complacent, or apathetic while injustice claims more lives. Let us stop claiming what is not our own; let us wrestle honestly with ourselves and the demons that haunt us, so as to have integrity to share with all those we meet. Harsh and abusive words are empty and destructive. Let us speak with honesty and compassion when constructive criticism is needed, so that our words may give grace to those who hear. And let us not break the heart of God who gives us breath, claims us as God’s own, and promises redemption. It is time to end all foolishness and bitterness and pettiness and ignorance that separates one human being from another. Kindness, tenderness, and forgiveness are given to us in Christ; let us share these gifts with all people as unselfishly as Christ has given them to us. Therefore let us be imitators of God, as children unconditionally loved, and live in that steadfast love, as Christ loved us without condition and gave himself up for us, an incomparable offering and sacrifice to God. Let us give this sacrifice meaning and purpose by living lives filled with compassion, grace, and action.

There is not much more I can say. I keep hoping and praying for change, but the human capacity for hatred and violence continues to astound me. On the other hand, the human spirit is amazingly resilient and those who could seek vengeance often respond with forgiveness and grace. That being said, I honestly don’t know what can be done about the levels of hatred and bigotry in this country and all the places in the world where war and violence are a way of life. But I can say that it is a greater tragedy when these attitudes and actions are endorsed and encouraged by any who claim to be followers of Christ.

So, really, what do we do now?

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