Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Saving what you love

Mark 10: 46-52
New Ark United Church of Christ, Newark, DE
October 28, 2018 – Reformation Sunday

            Pastor and activist, John Pavlovitz, created a meme—an idea that spreads from person to person—and it’s been making the rounds on social media. 

            Another meme by actor and comedian John Fugelsang reads:

One of my Facebook friends followed both of these posts and commented with this:

“Those words must mean different things to us, because when I see them I don't even think of the President or even the Government at all; I think about what I can do in my life. Apparently because I don't agree with your politics, I can't have the Love of Jesus in my heart. Some ‘inclusiveness’.” The latter part of my response to that was: “My faith and my politics are not exclusive [of one another]. The love of Jesus in my heart compels me to love you even when I disagree with you but it does not compel me to tolerate intolerance.”

This church prides itself on being inclusive. We use inclusive language. We strive to live by the words “No matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here.” We don’t always get it right; sometimes we make mistakes, fall flat on our faces, and people’s feelings get hurt. We’re still learning how to forgive ourselves and others, how to ask for forgiveness from those we’ve hurt; every Sunday and other times we pray the words “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us”. The Church is a hospital for sinners.

We say we’re not excluding like other churches. We’re an Open and Affirming congregation of the United Church of Christ. This is our Open and Affirming statement, which can be found on our website:

“In Paul's letter to the Romans, he writes, ‘Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.’ (Romans 15:7) To exclude persons from the church and society because of sexual orientation or on any other basis withers away the Body of Christ. When one part of the body suffers, all others suffer with it (I Corinthians 12:26).
Instead, we vow to do all within our power to promote justice and healing through our commitment to being an Open and Affirming Congregation. As people of faith and followers of the Word, therefore, we invite all God's children to the table of God's abundant blessing. We welcome into our community persons of every gender, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, ability, age, race, nationality, economic and social status, faith background, religious training, marital standing, and family structure. We welcome any person who joins us through the same affirmations of faith and encourage them to share in the life, leadership, ministry, fellowship, worship, sacraments, responsibilities, blessings, and joys of our church family. In return, we offer our love and support, no matter where you are in your faith and life journey.”

And yet this is also the line we have drawn, the boundary between us and those who believe and behave differently than this. To this degree we are exclusive rather than inclusive. And make no mistake; this statement will almost always leave us in direct opposition to the current president and those who support his policies as well as those who remain silent in the face of his reprehensible and irresponsible rhetoric.

Not one of Jesus’ disciples spoke up when many others sternly ordered a blind man named Bartimaeus to be quiet as he cried out to Jesus for mercy. Since no one would help him but rather keep him marginalized and invisible, Bartimaeus cried out even louder: “Son of David, have mercy on me!” Ironic that a blind man is crying in out, in effect, “See me!”

In his cries, we hear the cries those who have lost someone to gun violence and hate crimes, the Me Too movement, Black Lives Matter, our trans children, friends and neighbors who will not be erased, residents in Flint, MI who still cannot trust that their water is safe to drink, the thousands approaching our southern border seeking asylum and safety, the still more thousands of immigrant children and teens in camps, the older ones in jail across this country, anyone who has had to beg in order to be safe in public space, anyone who has been dismissed and forgotten, like the white working class.

When Jesus hears him, takes notice of him, it is then that the crowd opens the way for Bartimaeus. He throws off his cloak, the means by which he collects the coins given him so he can live, and goes to Jesus. Jesus doesn’t assume anything about him—what he needs, what he wants. Instead he asks, “What do you want me to do for you?” “How do you need to be saved?” “How do you need to be loved today?” Bartimaeus says, “Let me see again. I want to see.” It is Bartimaeus’ faith that heals him, that saves him. And Bartimaeus joins Jesus right as he is about to enter Jerusalem for the last time.

When we draw the line, because we want to protect the vulnerable and marginalized and stand for their right to exist safely in public space, we can find ourselves fighting what we hate rather than saving what we love. It’s an important distinction. We hate racism; we refuse to listen to anyone who’s racist. We hate violent, inflammatory rhetoric; we refuse to listen to anyone who spouts vitriol. We cannot tolerate intolerance and yet we live in a system in which we benefit from racism, white privilege and class privilege. How often have we been ready to do violence in our own hearts or wished someone dead?

On Friday as I listened to a Hidden Brain podcast, I heard Joan Williams, a professor at the University of California Hastings College of the Law say, “If people can’t access their hope, they live by their fear.” This cannot be us. This cannot be those of us who dream of inclusion, safety, acceptance, justice, a world where everyone has enough to live. Things definitely look bleak. There is much to fear. Jesus is entering Jerusalem for the last time. But it is fear that fuels hate, rage, and violence. And this cannot be us.

We cannot be silent. We cannot allow our right to vote to be wasted. It is time to choose and to be resolute. But to quote the most recent Star Wars film, we win not by fighting what we hate but by saving what we love. Jesus didn’t wield a weapon but instead went to his death to save those he loved. For us that means we are to love those we would call enemy and pray for them as much as we love those who need our protection, our wholehearted love, who need our ability to listen as much as our voice, those who need us to use the power of our privilege on their behalf.

I’ve told this story before but then in the Church we always repeat the good ones of hope and power and love.

“During the deepest, darkest days of apartheid when the government tried to shut down opposition by canceling a political rally, Archbishop Desmond Tutu declared that he would hold a church service instead.

“St. George’s Cathedral in Cape Town, South Africa was filled with worshippers. Outside the cathedral hundreds of police gathered, a show of force intended to intimidate. As Tutu was preaching they entered the Cathedral, armed, and lined the walls. They took out notebooks and recorded Tutu’s words.

“But Tutu would not be intimidated. He preached against the evils of apartheid, declaring it could not endure. At one extraordinary point he addressed the police directly.

“You are powerful. You are very powerful, but you are not gods and I serve a God who cannot be mocked. So, since you’ve already lost, since you’ve already lost, I invite you today to come and join the winning side!

“With that the congregation erupted in dance and song. The police didn’t know what to do. Their attempts at intimidation had failed, overcome by the archbishop’s confidence that God and goodness would triumph over evil. It was but a matter of time.” (Jim Wallis, God’s Politics)

It’s time to save what we love.

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