I’m starting today’s message with a slideshow. Each and every quote and image you’ll be seeing in these slides was said or written by someone I know well, or by a friend of someone I know well; and many of the locations shown in these slides (except for the very last one) are probably places you know of and may well have been to, or at least near… So, these are all people and locations with a relatively close connection to me.
These quotes and images demonstrate how this election has caused fear to overwhelm so many people that we know. This is not a criticism of whoever ran. It is trying to help us understand that there are a lot of scared and hurting people out there. People close to us, living in places close to us. I’m hoping they help us see how these reports of terror, bullying, and oppression are not just something from a newscast about a distant place, but are happening to our neighbors and friends and relatives right here, and right now.
The fear springs partly from how the rhetoric of this election has enabled some to feel that it is OK to act upon their racism and bigotry to harm others. Because in this election, as my wife Stephanie said: many feel that the Bully won.
That fear also springs from fears for the future. Although I did not include this in the slideshow, one friend of mine wrote of how she and her spouse held each other that night of the election, crying, fearing that their young marriage, which they’d waited so long for, will soon be destroyed.
And although there are no firm statistics yet, it’s pretty clear that the suicide rate of LGBTQ youth, and especially those who are transgender, has increased several times over. We know that many people are binge-eating or returning to addictive and self-destructive behaviors they’d set aside long ago. They’ve done so because of the renewed oppression and bullying they’re experiencing, and because of their fears for their own future.
But, it is also true that the reason Trump was elected is because the needs of many people in this country were not being met. Their voices were being ignored in the unending media hype and scorched earth battles for power occurring in Washington DC and elsewhere. Our leaders were not hearing their cries for help.
And so, for these people, the gaining of respect and rights for many who had long been marginalized (such as marriage being made legal, no matter who you love) feels like others are being favored unfairly, like a knife being plunged into an already deep and festering wound. So, they did the only thing that they felt was available to them, they took a hammer and did their best to bash the system that ignored them to pieces. And, they seem to have succeeded. Although, we don’t yet know what the result will be.
I am not saying that electing Trump was a good thing or a bad thing. And clearly, his actions since being elected have not alleviated the fears that many justifiably have. But, I am saying that we cannot close our minds and our hearts to the fact that there is just as much pain and fear on both sides of the aisle; and that fear is, in many cases, justified.
Yes, there are many people doing hateful things right now. And, our faith tells us we are to help protect those whoa re being oppressed by such hate, and to resist such things in every way that we can. But now, I wonder what more I should have done before things got to where they are now. Where have I failed?
Although not exclusively true, it is clear that the teachings of our faith focus on achieving internal awareness, not on battling forces of evil. For instance, we should consider Jesus saying “Father forgive them for they know not what they do” from this morning’s reading. Or, we could look at Paul’s encounter on the Road to Damascus, where he turned from being a fire breathing demagogue to preaching, living (and eventually dying for) a Gospel of unlimited and unconditional faith and grace and love. Even he came to the light once he opened his eyes.
Our faith teaches us that it doesn’t matter who they are, what they do, or what we think of them. Because, the truth is that our perception of external reality is based upon our internal reality.
If we are fearful, we tend to perceive and react through a lens of fear; but, if we are happy or at peace, we experience the world and interact with it through that lens instead. We cannot be effective in changing the world unless we understand who we really are, inside; and how who we are contributes to what we see and hear, and how we perceive it, in the people and in the world around us.
In our reading from Luke, it didn’t matter to Jesus who the men hanging on either side him were, or what they’d done. What mattered was that they were hurting, and he ministered to them on that basis. Or, at least he was able to minister to the man who set aside his own anger and fear and pain to see and respond-to who Jesus really was.
And, Jesus did not respond in anger to those who condemned and were killing him. He acted out of love and concern for them. He did not deny the reality of what they were doing. He knew he would soon be free of all cares, but he also knew that his oppressors would never escape the prison of fear that had compelled them to do what they were doing to him. He forgave them in spite of what they were doing because he knew what they were feeling inside.
We cannot deny how the rhetoric and political agendas of those coming into power is scary and disheartening for many, no question! The future is dark and stormy. But Jesus’ future when hanging on that Cross did not seem all that bright, either.
Jesus words show that he, and we, cannot walk away from God’s call: we must minister to those in need, promote justice and peace for all; and love those who are unlovable, whether they are down in the gutter, drunk on wine; or in a Palace, drunk on power.
We can and will continue to be firm allies and supporters of those whose voices are still being ignored or silenced in our society, no matter who they are.
The precepts of our faith are from God and are therefore non-negotiable. But, that does not mean that our enactment of those teachings is ever perfectly in line with the will of God. There is always room for us to learn and grow.
And as I see it, this election is such an opportunity: what is it within us that brought this to pass? Were we so caught up in our own crusades in the name of social justice, and in the certainty of our own righteousness that we ignored the fear and pain that our words caused in others? Or, were we so caught up in our own pain and fear that we forgot to love our neighbors?
Our faith teaches us that the reality around us is influenced, and changed, by the reality within us. So, what within us must change if we are to continue the mission of building the Kingdom of God here on earth, as Christ has called us to do? That mission did not end with Jesus’ death, nor has it ended with this election.
I don’t know what must change, but I do know that we can start by considering what we should do different, so that we are better neighbors.
Christ calls us to see the unseen, and right now the unseen include many who are rejecting the wisdom that we hold dear. They reject it because they see nothing in it for them, and nothing in it that respects who they are or what they need. And, until that changes, nothing we do will have a lasting impact, no matter how well intentioned we are. …And that’s a hard truth to face.
We may not be able to make changes in the halls of power, but we can make changes here in the streets of our town, in our homes, and in the hallways of our employers. For one thing, show kindness. For another, be involved. And finally, listen.
When you see someone being verbally abused because they are somehow different, step in, be their friend: talk with them, offer to buy them a coffee and lead them away from their tormentor.
If you see someone hobbling down the street in worn out shoes, help them find a new pair, or give them one: the homeless walk miles each day, they have nothing else to do! And so, their shoes do not last long.
If you see someone holding up a piece of cardboard asking for money for food, offer to buy them a meal – or, better yet, invite them to lunch and listen to their story. I once made a good friend that way, but that’s a story for another sermon!
And in closing, let me rewind just a bit: you may remember that in the slide show there was a photo of folks cleaning the racist graffiti that appeared on top of Mt. Tom over there in Holyoke, the day after the election. Yesterday, a group of about 40 people climbed Mt. Tom again, going there to hold a prayer service for unity, healing and peace. In that group were people of all ages, and many races and nationalities. They represented many faith traditions: Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Catholics, and Protestants. And some people we know (or who know us) were there, such as the Senior Minister of the Haydenville UCC Church and Rev. Peter Wells, retired Association Minister in the UCC.
In an interview after the service, Peter said, “It was a hard hike, but no where near as hard as we have struggled for equality and freedom. We don’t want the momentum or progress to stop, or for hate to take root and grow in peoples’ hearts. … We have to do something in the face of Negativity.”
And he’s right, we do. Our King has done the same and so has shown us the way.
There are a million things – small and large – that we can do to show kindness, to show that Jesus is alive and working within us, to show that God’s loves us and them. There are things that we can do now; and in so doing, we are thanking our God for rescuing us from the darkness, enabling us to rebuild broken bridges and create new paths so that all may come to know and love God.
Delivered at ARK Community Church, Dalton MA, Sunday, November 20, 2016 (Reign of Christ Sunday).
Copyright (c) 2016, Allen Vander Meulen III, all rights reserved. I’m happy to share my writings with you, as long as proper credit for my authorship is given. (e.g., via a credit that gives my full name and/or provides a link back to this site – or just email me and ask!)