Testifying in a dark time – A Sermon for Nov. 13, 2016 – The Rev. Amy McCreath

Last Sunday, I said I was going to do an instructed Eucharist today. That will need to wait. After the election this week, it became pretty clear that that would have been pastorally inappropriate.

For most people here today, and for me, this has been a very hard week. We’re exhausted, full of emotions like grief, fear, and confusion. Regardless of how we voted – and I am aware that people in this parish voted differently, not just for president but on ballot questions and for other offices – we are trying to sort out where we are and how to be now. So am I!

There is no way I can say everything you need me to say this morning.

I am with you, not ahead of you or at odds with you, in wondering what’s happening and why. It would be tempting to quote a lot of people who have been giving advice about what to do now: there is plenty of advice out there on facebook, in blogs, on editorial pages — from “take a walk” to “move to a swing state.”

My call is to open up the gospel for you, and today’s gospel tells me that when things are most confusing, God will give me the right words. So that’s what I’m going to do, and I pray that God will work in that space between you and me and the gospel.

In today’s gospel, Jesus and the disciples are gazing on Temple in Jerusalem. The disciples are admiring it’s size and grandeur; it seems a symbol of permanence and power. Jesus tells them to expect the whole thing to be destroyed.

This sounds like a prophesy – predicting the future. But Luke is writing this gospel about 15 years after the fall of Jerusalem and the utter destruction of it’s Temple. He is writing to people who experienced the destruction of the very Temple Jesus and his disciples are discussing and who lived through unimaginable devastation. He is writing to people who have seen the most impressive structure and symbol of permanence and the heart of their faith’s worship turn to rubble. The suffering Jesus here predicts has come to pass.

He is speaking not just about this specific moment in history but about so many moments in history when the rug is pulled out from under us in such a way that we wonder whether we have a firm grasp on reality. What do we do when all seems to be falling apart and what is most dear to us and about us seems most threatened?

Jesus tells them to testify — bear witness to the gospel, speak their truth to those in power. He does not tell them to give up or pretend it’s not a big deal or unite with their oppressors.

Testify, he says. And trust that what appears to be the end of the world isn’t. So what is our testament? To what do we testify? Well, here it is:

Our faith is that God created all things and all people in God’s image. Our faith is that God became human in Jesus, modeled a life of compassion, brave confrontation with corruption and self-centeredness, and through his death and resurrection showed us that love and life will win. God invites us into God’s own life through baptism and commissions us for the work of peace, justice, and reconciliation for all. God does not expect or need us to be perfect. God calls us to forgive. (That’s the hardest part, of course).

That’s our testament. Why is it important now? Here’s why:

We live in a time of things falling apart. Regardless of how you voted, I hope you will agree with me that the violent rhetoric, the racism, misogyny, ant-Muslim words and actions that have surfaced widely since election day are not of the gospel.

I hope you will agree with me that the fact that 45% of people eligible to vote did not is a sign that the temple of our democracy is deeply damaged.

I hope you will agree with me that our children are growing up in a changing and uncertain world. They are listening. We have an urgent responsibility to stand up to evil words and actions for their sake.

Jesus tells his followers in today’s gospel that they should trust in God. But he is also clear that that isn’t a passive trust. It is an active trust – He tells them to testify.

What might that look like now?

First: Be present to those who are deeply fearful and feel most threatened. LBGT crisis hotlines are overwhelmed; transgender people are hoarding medicines they worry will be unavailable to them soon; people of color are avoiding public places. Show up for them. Hear their stories. Ask those in power to condemn the violence against them.

Second: Bear witness to our baptismal promises. Speak them publically. Do not assume people know what you mean when you tell them you are a Christian. Talk about the goodness of creation; the call to protect human dignity; our faith that nothing and no one is beyond the power of God to save; our call to be people of metanoia rather than paranoia.

Remember the witness of our forebearers, who did this in times of hardship: The apostle Paul speaking up in the face of whole communities opposing him; Sojourner Truth claiming God’s yearning for freedom for the slaves in the face of powerful interests and white abolitionists who were not interested in hearing her voice; Dietrich Bonhoeffer writing letters from prison; Martin Luther King writing to fellow clergymen from prison.

(I am tempted to quote these people, but I’m doing my own testifying here in order to encourage you to trust your own voices, too!)

Third: Use your voice. Trust it. Last Saturday our diocese passed a new mission strategy. It calls on churches to embrace “brave change.” Usually when the church says “brave change” it means creative new liturgies, participating in the local farmers market, or starting a church twitter account. Good ideas, but hardly brave. Here’s the brave change needed: For each of us to embody bravery, wherever we are, intentionally – as a practice. Not waiting for the bishop to issue a teaching. Not waiting for the clergy to write the letter to the editor of lead the protest but everyone here being the brave change.

We announced the gospel this morning by singing Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” I love how this song holds in tension a plaintive, reflective tone and an exclamation of hope and triumph. This is where we live as Christians. In the days ahead, the world needs us to live here. And Christ will be with us there, now and to the end of the age.

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