Sermon – Luke 17: 11-19
Happy Thanksgiving to everyone. And happy 175th Anniversary month. There! Now no one can say that I did not begin on a positive note! As you are aware we are having a series this month of guest speakers to celebrate our founding. Today is a gap in that plan and so you are getting the "same old same old" and to boot I was challenged by the Worship Committee with a most difficult task: to be sure I included all the different major events and feelings effecting us at this time. They said: Rev Bell remember in your sermon that it is still our big anniversary celebration; remember too that folks are still up in the air and do not know what to think about our national election and how it has seemed to personally affected so many of us; And oh yea - do not forget it is Thanksgiving Sunday - so be sure to say something in about family and being thankful and all our blessings. I said sure - no problem - There I was in last nights dream, in the first pew with paint splatters on me, with a big turkey leg in one hand, and election night tears streaming down my face, singing For All The Saints.
But it is true - we are all sort of "caught in that whirlwind" -caught up in the many forces that effect our lives and our lives together- as friends and family as a community and a nation. "What happened" has turned from a question into a statement of reality. It is all part of what we are feeling - the anxiety and great concern - jubilation of course for some in our country - the surprise - the uncertainty. Many are asking - How do we get back our "footing" - stand on solid ground - and perhaps begin to hope again - begin to see the skies clear - and maybe like the pilgrims, begin to make our way in the new lay of this old land?
Sometimes before we move forward we have to be honest with where we are now. Not kid ourselves - not mince words. I discovered where "I" was when my wife shared a face book post from a person named Jeremy Mitchell (maybe you saw it). But it captured in all its unforgiving bluntness what I was feeling.
"I listened as they called my President a Muslim (as if it were a bad thing). I listened as they called him a monkey. I listened as they said he wasn't born here. I watched as they blocked every single path to progress that they could. I saw the pictures of him as Hitler. I listened as they openly said that they will oppose him at every turn. I watched as they did just that. I listened and I watched and I paid attention. Now, I'm being called on to be tolerant. To move forward. To "Get over it." To accept this... I will not. I will do my part to make sure this great American mistake becomes the embarrassing footnote of our history that it deserves to be, as quickly as possible. I will do my part to limit the damage that this man can do to my country. I will vote. I will watch his every move and point out every single mistake and misdeed in a loud and proud voice. Do not call for my tolerance. I've tolerated all I can. Now it's their turn to tolerate ridicule. Be aware, make no mistake about it, every single thing that goes wrong in our country from this day forward is now Trump's fault just as much as they thought it was Obama's. I find it unreasonable for them to expect from me what they were entirely unwilling to give. They will find no shelter here."
It is harsh the way I feel. But some of us are stuck there. I do not like feeling this way. Not one bit. It is really not how I want to live. And it is doing battle with my faith - with Jesus.
I have no personal hatred of Mr. Trump; But from all I saw and heard this past year, I believed that he was unqualified to be President and I thought that the majority of the American people agreed with me. ( As it is turning out, I am finding a little solace in the fact that it appears a solid majority of the American people did as well - by way over a million votes - But do not get me started on the electoral college)
But more than inexperience and incredulity, the positions and rhetoric of Mr. Trump, made me angry, ashamed, and sick to be an American. It was not a typical Republican verses Democrat election where the parties and candidates disagreed on the best way to be safe and secure or the best way to grow the economy or help those in need. Those can be harsh enough. This was the meanest and saddest election chapter in my life time; save perhaps the Vietnam Nam War era and early civil rights days.
No doubt Mr. Trump tapped into deep seated sense of economic insecurity (despite our solid recovery of the past years) ; those who have been left behind; and outrage over corrupt and deaf political establishment and elitism - both democrat and republican. We have to admit and learn from this. But the blending of this message with fear, division, racism can not be just ignored or forgotten. If it is, it will become a prescient for the future. And the division and hatred and untruths of this campaign will become the norm.
It is not policy choices or their implementation that makes me so forlorn. Nor the typical personal victory of one candidate over another. It is the amoral demeaning speech and insidious appeal to the worse part of our American psyche. The filthy filthy talk about women. Calling one's opponent a criminal, or one's father an assassin, or making fun of appearance, stature, or disability. Racism levied at refugees and judges alike. Statements encouraging the use of guns on one's opponent. Attacking the US Constitution's freedom of religion. Nonsensical unscientific blather that will eventually leave gods beautiful world ruined for my grandchildren. On and on. The channeling of amoral outrage that left civility, moderation, compassion and community; beaten on the side of the road.
My despair is not over a simple political defeat. I believe as a country, as Americans from whatever background - We have soiled ourselves.
Ironically, it is the wisdom and grace of our present President - much maligned and whose progressive policies they will no doubt try to undo; that has saved my political soul. He said: the sun comes up in the morning - the country moves on - it is always sad to lose an election - But he is cautiously optimistic - differences are real - but the presidency is bigger than any one man. And you know what - although I know President Obama is a politician and I know everyone says things a little differently in public than you can in familiar private - I believe he says essentially what he truly believes in both places. So I trust him. I take him at his word that it will be OK and join him in wishing success to the new president. (To my fellow 15th St republicans and my fellow christian republicans wherever you are - in all humility and sincere respect I hope that is good enough because that is all you are getting today.)
But we want to be healed and we want to be reconciled and on our way, not only with resignation and stoicism. We want to go forth with hope in our hearts and a twinkle in our eye - we come to church not just to commiserate with one another but to be born again - to somehow see God and wrestle love out of these situations and circumstances. Our scripture today is about giving thanks - about Jesus healing 10 lepers - 9 of whom after they were healed did exactly what Jesus commanded - they went and showed themselves to the priest - But only one came back - couldn't help himself and threw himself as Jesus feet and in a loud voice began praising God - and thanked Jesus. Only one overcome with emotion - only one who was so unmistakably struck by the source of his healing - only one who said to himself with God's grace none of this would be - no country - no church - no family - no community - no healing - no me.
Jesus said a remarkable thing to him: "Your faith has made you well". Now we thought all 10 were "well" - and surely the blessing of physical wellness is great indeed. But this one man’s gratitude is what seemed to make the big difference to Jesus. Jesus, it seems was saying: there is life and then there is life. There is church and then there is church. There is our political and social life and then there are "the morals and ethics and love behind it" that give it meaning. And we are not well - until this joyous sense of gratitude and thanksgiving is part of the equation. That we are overcome and led by a sense of God’s continued blessing and our gratitude for it. The tricky part of course is that ----It is not something we plan or build or create ourselves. This great sense of joy and gratitude is a gift from god as well. So, in a way, it is an act of faith. It is something we open ourselves up to. So we come together and we work on "not being stuck in the past" / and "dealing with disappointment" / We work on "not being bitter" / We work on "our lack of faith and weak resignation that good can not come from evil" / We come together and like the lepers we cry out in a loud voice "Master have pity on us!" / We grab Jesus by the lapels and confess how we are feeling and do not let him go until he has blessed us.
I mentioned earlier that the healing of the 10 lepers takes place on the border between Galilee and Samaria . You recall earlier in Luke Jesus wanted to stay in Samaria to rest for the night and because he was a Jew they did not want him; and his disciples wanted to fire bomb the place - and Jesus rebuked them. He not only rebuked them, he decided to make the a Samaritan the hero in his next story of compassion - The Good Samaritan. It is kind of like the guy you hate the most is the one who stops for you to help you on the side of the road after your friends have passed you by. Jesus continually confounded his disciples and us with the way he brought people together and the way Gods grace can change any situation and circumstances by concrete acts of love.
The way I read the gospels, Jesus got angry a lot with injustice (and railed against it) and those who lacked compassion and those who chose violence or exclusionary policies - and sometimes he got in their face and told them so. Christians can not back away from doing the same. But Jesus also never let passion override his compassion. Jesus never adopted a "holier than thou" or "I'm better than you posture". In fact he gave his life away for love not bitterness or one political cause or another. You see, no doubt he took sides..... but somehow he always ended up by everyone's side (whether they knew it or not).
Perhaps joy and gratitude come in two ways. One is that it just unexpectedly jumps up and surprises us or pours out over us as a blessing to a great crisis or challenge in life. A medical fear turns out to be nothing or something minor. A return to good health after a long illness. You do something you regret thinking your world will crumble and you are forgiven and accepted. The meeting with your supervisor turns out not to be about termination but a promotion. And it just hits you - wow - thank you God.
But also gratitude and hoping again can come from hanging in there and seeing things through. Choosing love when anger or hate was the logical response. Forgiving even when you were right and have every right not to. From not giving up even when you are dumbfounded and distraught over a major setback. When it looks like all that is in front of you is a cross - you can give up, kick the dust and hang your head. Or you can say "praise God" and fall on your knees- because you know if there is a cross to bear, Jesus is probably around somewhere, to lend a hand.
Am I worried the new president will do something stupid - You bet your boots I am. Do I think God will step in - I dont know? - it seems sometimes he does and at other times he lets us make our own bed and lie in it. But do I think all is lost - hell no. Do I think God will raise up the hearts and minds of good men and women to do his reconciling compassionate loving will for our country and all humankind. And do I pray with every ounce of my soul that I stand united and reenergize with them? Indeed I do.
I have used this example before but in the Tom Hanks movie Apollo 13 this is a part right before the climax where the astronauts were spiraling toward earth with a limited oxygen supply, freezing and in the control room the director of NASA says: "This could be the worst disaster NASA has ever experienced" - and the mission director Gene Kranz says: "with all due respect sir I believe this is going be our finest hour." I certainly know no good will come with my or our resignation.
Thomas Merton has a famous prayer:
My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.
Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that
I think I am following Your will does not mean that I am
actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please You
does in fact please you.
And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.
I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.
And I know that, if I do this, You will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore I will trust You always though I may seem to be lost
and in the shadow of death.
I will not fear, for You are ever with me,
and You will never leave me to face my perils alone. Amen