Your Opportunity

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The Twenty Sixth Sunday after Pentecost
November 13th, 2016
The Rev. Austin K. Rios
St. Paul’s Within the Walls

I have never seen so many long posts on social media expressing fear, concern, and raw emotion.

In what was a major shock to prognosticators and pundits, Donald Trump was narrowly elected President of the United States, and the news set off a series of responses.

There were the posts from friends who are part of groups singled out by Trump and his supporters during his campaign…racial minorities, non-Christians, and LGBTQ persons…expressing shock and genuine fear that his ascendancy would put their lives at new, sanctioned risk.

Long screeds written by friends trying to make sense of a world in which deliberate race-baiting, crudity, and old fashioned schoolyard bullying had been prized by enough voters in the right states to put an inexperienced, tax evading, reality show star in the White House.

Then there were the posts of friends who had voted for Trump.

Some were celebratory…some verged on gloating and felt like their authors had a need to finally let out their anger and explain their choice…some struggled with shock that the first group of friends could feel so threatened by this result.

There were posts on both sides encouraging Americans to accept the outcome and move on…posts that were looking for anyway to invalidate the result…and posts that highlighted the actions of hate groups who, emboldened by their champion’s victory, had begun ushering in their new world order through violence.

I’ve never seen such polarized comments, nor witnessed so many people using social media to express their deepest and rawest emotions.

All elections end with winners and losers, and in the history of American democracy, part of what happens is that the opposing sides struggle with the result for awhile and then decide to get along and govern.

And yet, that has not been the case in the near past.

Beginning with the Supreme Court influenced election of George W. Bush in 2000, the American electorate and its representatives in government have not put aside their differences and worked together for the good of the country and world.

Frustration at this inability to govern is part of what got a perceived “outsider” elected this week, just as frustration led to the narrow Brexit vote this past summer.

I have been wrestling with what this election means for the country I love, the values I hold, and the people all around this world that I know and love that will be negatively effected as a result.

What does my faith require of me in this moment?

One thing it does not require of me is to demonize Mr. Trump and focus my attention on efforts to see him fail.

From all accounts he was duly elected, and regardless of my disagreements and concerns with policies he has put forth during the campaign season…he deserves a chance to let the weight of the office affect him and pull back from such rhetoric.

My faith does not call me to support one party over another, nor does it require me to become fearful or violent.

What faith does require is that I testify to the truth I know in Jesus Christ, and that I do all in my power to see God’s kingdom come.

That means standing up for victims of injustice, and it means resisting hate…toward those with whom I disagree…and even toward those who glory in hate and use it to oppress others.

Faith in Jesus Christ means being aware that the world we live in is filled with turmoil and struggle, and that rather than being paralyzed by fear that this is the case, we are called to face that world with hope and determination…regardless of what that stance might cost us.

Today’s Gospel from Luke has Jesus explaining to his disciples that they will hear of wars and insurrections, and that the very world they know will be shaken to its very foundations.

As those who have known the feeling recently of earthquakes here in Italy, these words seem especially poignant.

Contextually, Luke wrote this Gospel passage after the Romans had destroyed the Jerusalem Temple in 70 AD, and so Jesus’ words serve as an explanation of how to orient oneself in the midst of such faith shaking events.

As followers of Jesus’ new way, they had been subjected to persecution for their convictions, and would face even more in the generations to come.

Jesus is frank with them about this reality…the world they have come to believe in will be shaken and toppled, the works of human beings from tower to temple will one day be turned to rubble, and their lives on earth will not be magically easier as a result of following him.

I have heard this reading in moments of tranquility and relative abundance, and it often sounded to me as if Jesus was just having a bad day and needed to rant.

And yet in days in which our world is not so stable, and the future seems less certain, Jesus’ words are like a lifeboat in a turbulent sea.

These things that happen are not opportunities for your retreat or fear, but rather for your testimony.

They are chances to test your mettle and reveal the true nature of your faith.

I don’t think anyone who might have heard Jesus say these words would have been rejoicing at the signs that their world was falling apart.

Nor would they seek out persecution willingly.

But these scenarios are just a natural consequence of a life lived on earth, in community, and especially according to the good news of Jesus Christ.

So we are not surprised when the politics of hate are successful.

We are not caught unaware when bad things happen and when multitudes struggle with how to understand it.

Instead, we testify in the midst of it.

We testify to the primacy of love for the one who created us all, and for the creation and creatures with whom we are bound in this lifetime.

We lift up the low, we shield the weak, we live our lives respecting the dignity of all persons, and we testify to the way of Christ in word and deed.

We resist the temptation to demonize our opponents and we find greater ways to love our enemies, especially the ones who seek to do us harm and who are the most blind to God’s ways.

We live in a world that has always needed such testimony, but needs it even more than ever this week.
We follow the one who showed the power of this way through his willingness to not use his equality with God as something to be exploited, but rather humbled himself and became the King of Kings through being servant of all.

We testify that living the way of God can lead to crucifixion, and yet we always proclaim, incarnate, and expect resurrection to be the final word.

In the days ahead, our resolve will indeed be tested, and it is possible that we will have to advocate for justice even more strongly and be willing to speak hard truths to a world that is not always so eager to hear it.

We will be called to face our fears and resist the urge to run away from relationships that challenge us.

We will bear witness to the world we once knew being changed, and wrestle with the implications of what is yet to be.

But on this 13th of November 2016, I ask you to stand firm, and to be unafraid.

A new creation is coming, a new heaven and a new earth.

And no matter what shape the world begins to take, we know that our destiny is love, resurrection, and God’s kingdom.

Live that truth, testify to it, let your light shine in the darkness.

And it will be so, no matter what else may befall us.

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