Twenty Sixth Sunday after Pentecost C
Preached at Faith Lutheran Church in Three Lakes, WI.
2 Thessalonians 3:6-13
Fair warning: You are going to be offended this morning by the language used in some of what you’re going to hear. I urge you to remember that this is the language used in the original stories, and that it’s important for you to hear it. You need to hear it.
I am proud to call myself a graduate of Capital University, an ELCA university in Columbus OH that just recently announced its intent to reunite with my seminary, Trinity Lutheran Seminary, right across the street. The education I received there in music and religion was top notch. I am still in contact with some of my professors who continue to be mentors, who came to my seminary graduation, and who wished they could have come to our wedding. On any day I would enthusiastically recommend my university to someone wondering where they should go to school for higher education.
But then, there are days like this.
This past Wednesday evening, Austin Damman, an 18-year old first year nursing student, returned to his room in the Lohman Complex residence hall after his last class, the residence hall where Debbie lived as a resident assistant for three years. When he opened his door, he noticed a sheet of notebook paper had been slid under it while he was away. He opened it to find this message scrawled on it:
That same night, Brittany Daughenbaugh was dealing with her insomnia the way she normally does: walking around Capital’s campus playing Pokémon Go. This night, however, ended very differently. Two young men jumped her, beating her until half of her face swelled up and bruised. “Don’t you worry, honey,” they said, “President Trump says this is okay.”
That was on the same day at my own alma mater, an ELCA university.
That’s not to mention the swastika that was painted on a baseball dugout in Wellsville, NY with the words, “Make America White Again.”
Or a wall in North Carolina painted with the words, “Black Lives don’t matter and neither does your votes.”
Or the swastika and “Seig Heil” painted on a storefront in Philadelphia.
Or the woman at San Jose State University who was choked by her own hijab.
Or the note that said “Gay families = burn in hell” placed on a car in North Carolina.
Or the episcopal priest, known to colleagues of mine, who had a note placed on his car addressed to “Father Homo”, which said that “They’ll put marriage back where God wants it and take yours away. America gonna take care of your faggity ass.”
Or the black students at Penn State who were all sent a group text message titled “nigger lynching” with images of black people hanging from trees and a “daily lynching” calendar.
All of those stories are just from Wednesday by the way. More are reported every day. And if you were offended and hurt by the language used in those stories, imagine how it must feel to have them directed at you.
If you are wondering why so many people are literally afraid for their lives right now, it’s not because of who was elected president. It’s not because of who controls the Senate or the House of Representatives.
It’s because the streets are suddenly and significantly more unsafe for them than they have been in decades.
Much of that may have been difficult to hear, but I won’t apologize. It’s important. It’s important as Christians to hear the cries of people in pain in all their ugliness, especially when they make us uncomfortable. Christians are a people who should live in that discomfort.
Last Sunday, on the celebration of All Saints Day, we heard these uncomfortable words from Jesus:
Blessed are you who are poor: woe to you who are rich.
Blessed are you who are hungry: woe to you who are full.
Blessed are you who weep: woe to you who are laughing.
Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you: woe to you when all speak well of you.
And this week, we hear this:
Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven.
But before all this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name… You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. You will be hated by all because of my name.
I have to admit that while I was bullied all throughout school, I don’t think I can say that I’ve had people truly hate me, revile me, or defame me. I’ve never been arrested. I’ve never been persecuted. I’ve never been thrown in prison, justly or unjustly. I’ve never been betrayed by my parents, my sister, my relatives or my friends. I cannot imagine what that feels like.
So when I read this sobering observation on reality by Jesus, I have to wonder, where is my place?
If I’ve never been the victim of the horrible things Jesus is talking about, where do I stand? Is it possible that I have stood in the place of the arrestor, the persecutor, the one who hands people over, who has betrayed family and friends, who has put to death, who has hated? I hope not. But as a Christian, part of the communion of saints, part of the imperfect institution known as the church on earth, I know that even if I haven’t personally been in that position, the church has. The church has had to deal with its past and present history of standing on the side of the oppressor, on the side of hate. It’s not a position I ever want to be in again.
But if I’ve not been the victim, and I don’t want to be the persecutor, where is there to stand? Where is my place in the midst of the hatred, threats, and violence that people in our country are facing this very day?
On Thursday, the Reverend Elizabeth Eaton, Presiding Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, released a video message that had this to say.
“So what do we do, dear church? Three things: Remember that all human beings are created in the image of God … Pray—for our country, for those elected, for understanding. And then we get back to work, doing the things the church has always done. Welcome the stranger. Feed the hungry. Clothe the naked. Visit the sick and those in prison. Work for justice and peace in all the earth, all in the name of the one who is our hope, our life, and our peace, Jesus, who has set us free to serve the neighbor.”
Where is the church’s place? Right alongside the suffering, the victims, the poor, the hungry, the hurt, the hated, the reviled, the attacked, the threatened; the people who need most to be reminded that they are created in the image of God and worthy of the dignity and respect that entails, the people who most need the outward expression of God’s love that the church should reflect, the people who most need to be helped by God’s work through our hands.
And what does that look like?
- It looks like our Presiding Bishop standing in solidarity with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.
- It looks like the ELCA Churchwide Assembly putting together a social statement on Women and Justice.
- It looks like Lutheran and Immigration Services resettling refugees from war-torn countries in their new homes here in the United States.
- It looks like the Lutheran Office for Public Policy in Wisconsin helping to organize Advocacy Day in 2017 and standing up to human trafficking.
- It looks like the South Dakota Synod of the ELCA standing up to the stigma of addiction to provide hope and healing.
- It looks like California Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks creating a veterans coordinator position to help veterans cope with returning from often horrific situations.
- It looks like continuing to collect food and supplies for the Three Lakes Christian Food pantry and the Caritas of Eagle River ministries.
- It looks like saying “All Are Welcome”, and really meaning it: even people who are non-white, non-cisgender, non-heterosexual, non-Lutheran, non-Christian, non-American.
It looks like standing up to the perpetrators of racist, sexist, xenophobic, and homophobic violence against certain populations in our own country and saying, “It doesn’t matter what our political ideologies are—this must end, and it must end now.” Because if we cannot even do that—if we cannot even condemn these acts and open our arms to those suffering from them—then that, too, shows where we stand.
It is absolutely a part of our Christian heritage to stand with the poor and the oppressed, as Jesus did, who told those very people that they were blessed by the presence of God in the midst of their suffering, that the Holy Spirit would give them strength through their cries, who would be witnesses to the world of where God stands.
It is absolutely a part of our Lutheran heritage to fight injustice, to defend the victimized, to show the grace of God and the grace we human beings are capable of. And when we do that, when we take a stand with the oppressed and suffering, we let the world know where we stand, that we will be counted with them, as one of them; and that the Holy Spirit speaks through us as witnesses to God’s preferential treatment of the poor, oppressed, and suffering.
We are the body of Christ. Baptized into the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we were baptized into his message and his work. We are united with Christians all across the world and through time, proclaiming in word and deed the saving power of God for those in need of rescue. We stand together in our shared calling, supporting each other, lifting each other up, easing suffering and helping to usher in the reign of God. This is who we are.
I had the privilege of attending the 2012 ELCA Youth Gathering in New Orleans, Louisiana as an adult leader. In the convention center, I was pleasantly surprised to find a friend from seminary, Sarah, passing something out at a booth. It was a medallion from ReconcilingWorks that says, “Peacemaker.” (pictured with this post)
For the last few months, I’ve been wearing this medallion to remind me of where I want to stand. A peacemaker is someone who walks alongside victims of violence and works for the transformation of conflict into peace, who works for inclusion and harmony, to protect those most in need of it.
This is who the church is. This is who we are called to be. And it’s who I want to be, for as long as I live.
Brothers and Sisters, do not be weary in doing what is right.