26th Sunday after Pentecost November 13, 2016
It has been a difficult week.
After months of deep division, news casts filled with hate and bitterness,
we have elected our next president.
Now streets are filled with protestors, and the news is filled with fear.
I’m sure that, had the election gone the other way, the streets would still be filled with protestors, and different people would be afraid.
Perhaps, after such a divisive, bitter campaign, there could be no truly good outcome to this election.
But I have spent my week listening to specific groups of people
who have reason to fear under the new administration.
At a press conference on Thursday, Amber Royster, director of Equality New Mexico,
said that the number of calls to LGBT help lines and suicide hotlines around the country had increased overwhelmingly since the election results came in.
She urged us all to take special care of our LGBT loved ones in the days and weeks to come – especially those in states that do not offer as much protection and equality
as New Mexico.
Friday and yesterday I spent doing an immigration awareness immersion
with Fr. Joe and 8 St Michael’s members.
We visited agencies and spoke with professionals who work with immigrants,
as well as hearing the stories of immigrant families.
I heard about children who have been crying all week for fear of losing a parent,
and a teacher in this city who said to his student,
“I’ll miss you when your parents are deported.”
Many children in our community live in “mixed families,” in which some family members are citizens or legal residents while others are undocumented.
We heard from “Dreamers” – young people who signed on for legal status under the DACA program, and now fear they will lose their status and their home.
We heard the story of one young man who, at the age of 19, was stopped for speeding, and deported – taken straight into custody and driven into Juarez 24 hours later -
leaving behind his parents and younger sister.
He faced violence from police in Mexico, and is back here as an asylum seeker,
waiting in the limbo of immigration applications.
In the context of these and so many other stories, Jesus’ words about disaster and war, betrayal and persecution, ring too close to home.
But to hear what Jesus is really saying about these things, some context is helpful.
We’ve been encouraged by popular culture to read such things as literal evidence of the end times, but that is not at all what the gospel is saying.
First, it is helpful to know that the gospel of Luke was written about 80-90 years AD –
at least 10 years after the destruction of the temple by Rome.
So the words Jesus speaks refer to an event which, for readers of the story,
had already happened,
and had devastated the Jewish community, and hence many followers of Jesus.
What’s more, the growing Christian community was facing persecution, betrayal, prison –
all the struggles you read about in the book of Acts,
which is the sequel to the book of Luke.
The writer of Luke-Acts knew what the community had already survived, and what they were still facing as he wrote, and he tried to put it in perspective for them.
He reminded them that Jesus never said it would be easy –
repeatedly, Jesus warns of the difficulties of truly following him
in a world which doesn’t share his values of love and mercy and service.
But Jesus also offers promises and reassurance.
“Not a hair of your head will be harmed,” he says.
This is not a promise that nothing bad will happen –
after all, he is talking about the suffering his followers will face –
but rather an eternal promise, that their identity in God and their eternal life with God will not be shaken.
This passage is written in a particular style which was fairly common in the ancient world, and would have been known to the original readers of Luke.
It is apocalyptic literature – a style we know best from the book of Revelations.
Just as we know that a story that begins, “Once upon a time” is a fairy tale,
and so we aren’t startled by talking frogs or magic beans,
early readers of Luke recognized apocalyptic literature and what it meant.
It is not a prediction of hardship, but a word of comfort spoken into a time of hardship.
It is a literary style meant to offer courage and hope in times of persecution and turmoil.
The things Jesus predicts are not in reference to any particular moment in history,
but are things that happen in many times and places to the people of God.
And Jesus tells his followers, “do not be terrified.”
No matter what hardships the people of God face –
in the past, in the present, in the future –
God is always faithful.
God is always present with God’s people.
God is always there to work resurrection in places where we see only death.
As Julian of Norwich would say, centuries later,
All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.
Bad things happen, but our ultimate reality is in God’s hands,
and we will not be forsaken.
In this lesson, Jesus has another message for his followers as well.
This hardship, he says, gives his followers an opportunity to testify.
Jesus gives us a new way to see such times of crisis –
not as a time to blame or scapegoat, to give up and move to another country,
to hide away in fear –
but as a time to testify to the faithfulness of God.
This is also a time to testify to what we know is right.
God has shown us what is right –
to do justice, and to love kindness,
to feed the poor and welcome the stranger
to care for the weak and vulnerable among us.
Now, as minority groups feel threatened and vulnerable,
it is time for us to testify to God’s love for all people –
all colors and cultures, all orientations and faiths,
regardless of our borders and boundaries.
It is an opportunity to testify – with our word and actions – to what we know is right,
knowing that God is with us when we struggle.
We heard many hard stories during our immersion experience,
and by Saturday afternoon we felt pretty heavy.
But as we gathered to talk about what we’d heard, we recognized the incredible courage of the people we had met – people who said, we do not give up,
we continue to fight for human rights and justice.
People who testified to trust in God and faith in human capacity for good.
We got a glimpse into a strong, resilient community of care that exists in our city –
a community that may fear more than they did a few days ago,
but which ultimately is deciding to move forward together, in hope.
They invited us to be allies and supporters in their work for justice,
and we all know we will find ways to use what we learned for good.
God invites us to create such communities in Jesus’ name –
to live in love for our neighbors, reach out to people in need,
and work for justice in our cities, states, and nation.
May St Michael’s continue to grow as such a community – caring for one another,
and reaching out beyond our walls to people who need our support.