The Rev. John Ohmer, Rector
The Falls Church Episcopal
Earlier this week, Bishop Goff sent a series of reflections to the clergy of the diocese titled “How do we preach this Sunday, November 13, 2016, the first Sunday after the 2016 Presidential Election?"
It’s a good question, and she offered good guidance, some things for all of us to remember, things like
- Some are rejoicing over the result of the election, others are in mourning, and still others are simply confused. Every congregation will include people who voted for Trump side by side with people who voted for Clinton side by side with people who voted for a third party candidate and those who did not vote at all.
- Remember that the readings appointed for Sunday come up every three years. They were not selected as a response to the context in which we find ourselves. It may help our congregations to know that the preacher did not choose the readings.
- Hold up hope for healing. What does healing look like right now? How do we as preachers invite people to be agents of healing in this divided nation, even when emotions might be raw?
Okay, as if the bar weren’t high enough, here goes:
As Parker Palmer points out in the class on “civil civil discourse” which we’ve been offering during Adult Forum, a lot of people make a lot of money and get a lot of power by focusing our attention on what divides us.
It is human nature to move in the direction of what we concentrate on – and it is difficult to move in a direction you are not concentrating on.
And a lot of money has been spent over a lot of years to get us to concentrate on what divides us.
The expression “We are a deeply polarized and divided nation” is a self-fulfilling prophecy. I’m not saying it’s not true. I’m saying it’s becoming truer at least in part because we’ve been saying it so much.
We’ve been concentrating on what divides at the cost of focusing our attention on what unites us, what we have in common.
So, what do we have in common?
And when I say “we," I mean us, this faith community, The Falls Church Episcopal, we who are gathered here now, today. And because all politics is local, it’s still a question with political implications:
“What do we, as the Falls Church Episcopal, have in common?”
Fortunately the answer is on the front page of your service leaflet:
"We are a welcoming group of believers whose message is one of trust in the hope-filled promises of Jesus Christ, love for one another, and service to the community."
Let's unpack that:
We are a welcoming group. Let me repeat something I will never tire of repeating:
the sign out front says, “The Episcopal Church Welcomes You,” and there is no asterisk after the “you.”
As we say in our brochures in the pews, and in our welcome letter and in our literature:
“no matter who you are or where you are in your spiritual journey, you are welcome here.”
We mean that – no matter who you are –
conservative, liberal... gay, straight...
democrat, republican... black, white, latino, asian...
married, single, divorced, separated, widowed...
...94 years old or a newborn infant, energetic or exhausted,
deeply involved in ministry or anonymously slipping in and out of worship
...hearing or hearing impaired, fundamentalist, agnostic,
adulterer-liar-cheater or faithful-truthful-honest, saint or sinner,
confused or confident...
YOU. ARE. WELCOME. HERE.
But we’re not just a welcoming group…we’re a welcoming group of believers.
The word “believe” has a range of meanings: To believe something can mean to accept something as true, to feel sure of the truth of it, as in “the jury believed the defendant’s story.”
It can also mean merely to hold something as an opinion, to think or suppose it, as in “I believe we’ve already met..."
So when you say, as part of the baptismal covenant, that
you believe in God the Father almighty,
in Jesus Christ the son of God and
in God the Holy Spirit,
I’ll bet there’s a wide range of belief out there.
The purpose of worship, prayer, music, and Christian Education – and for that matter, pastoral care, outreach, and care of property, all our ministries -- is to move us from belief as “thinking or supposing in God” to belief as “accepting God as true, to be sure of the truth of God.”
We are a welcoming group of believers whose message is one of trust in the hope-filled promises of Jesus Christ.
Our message is not one of trust in Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump – or for those of you in a much earlier, or in an anticipatory stage of grief, its’ not in Bernie Sanders or John Kasich, or the Obamas, or in any political leader, past, present, or future.
Our message is not one of trust in better educational systems,
or in the checks and balances system;
our message is not one of trust in social justice issues, or a stronger military;
and our message is not one of trust even in religious institutions/the church, or religious leaders.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus tells his followers who are admiring Herod’s great temple that one day it’ll destroyed – the enormous, beautiful smooth and apparently indestructible stones, in effect, the symbol and center of your security -- all toppled.
When they ask Jesus what he’s talking about, Jesus goes on to describe the most horrible circumstances imaginable:
- first, false teachers, imposters, will mimic Jesus, misuse his name, and try to trick the faithful
- second, there will be wars and insurrections and earthquakes and famines and plagues (it doesn’t get a lot worse than that); these conflicts and disasters will rage on and intensify;
- and third, just when it seems it can’t possibly get any worse, it gets personal: YOU will be arrested, YOU will be persecuted, YOU will be jailed and hauled before the authorities. (Feasting on the Word, p. 311)
And then he says the most amazing thing: “This will give you an opportunity to testify.”
So – imagine, everything that gives you a sense of security, gone.
The worst kind of social turmoil and political chaos swirling around.
False prophets and dozens of people claiming to be the messiah, with war and insurrection devastating much of the land....earthquakes, plagues, and famines devastating the rest of it, with no place to turn
you’re in jail or under house arrest, having been betrayed by your own dad or daughter
Tough times! To say the least!
And what does Jesus say about these tough times?
“You’ll have them right where you want them.”
This will give you an opportunity to testify.
The passage reminds me of what they say about fighter pilots.
Apparently when a fighter pilot finds him- or herself in an impossible situation – outnumbered 10 to 1, surrounded by enemy aircraft, what does he or she do?
They radio back and says “I’m in a target-rich environment.”
A target-rich environment!
You are in the toughest circumstances imaginable, and what is your attitude to be?
"Wow, lookit my opportunities!"
Which one to pick first?
Our message is one of trust in the hope-filled promises of Jesus Christ.
And that trust in the hope-filled promises of Jesus Christ leads us to love for one another, and service to the community. That’s the reason I say what we have in common has political implications. Presidents can come and go, laws can be repealed and new ones passed, but one thing will remain constant: we will have an opportunity to testify:
We will, with God’s help, keep our baptismal promises to seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbors as ourselves, and we will strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being.
So: how do we preach this Sunday, November 13, 2016?
Not as “the first Sunday after the Presidential election” to a politically divided group of Americans, but rather
as the twenty-sixth Sunday after Pentecost, year C, to a "welcoming group of believers whose message is one of trust in the hope-filled promises of Jesus Christ, love for one another, and service to the community.”