Sermon. Politics and Pulpits

Easter is my favorite holiday. I love it because it reminds me to honor and celebrate the simple and profound ways that people resurrect their lives every day. People change, they come back from the brink, they strive to bring their communities back to life. Every day people defy a world that tries to destroy them by choosing dignity, grace, and connection. It is worthy of celebration.

During this season of Lent we have been reading the book, Gifts of the Dark Wood. As a church we have talked about feeling uncertain, empty, and lost.

A few nights ago I watched too many videos of the violence at Trump rallies. Most of us know that disruptions have become commonplace and that over the past few months’ violence on behalf of Trump supporters has been escalating. That came to a head on Friday in St. Louis and then in Chicago.

It’s sometimes hard to know what is appropriate to say from this pulpit and what I should leave to the soapboxes of my personal life. Can I bring my whole self? My opinions? My feelings? My struggles? Should I? Or should I strive to be more neutral? Sometimes I think so.

But then I remember preachers who have inspired me. Prophetic preachers like Martin Luther King Jr, Cecil Williams, Will D. Campbell, and Bishop Yvette Flunders. Preachers who have challenged the notion that the sacred and the secular are somehow separate. Preachers who have shaped this country. Preachers that have brought fire but no brimstone. Preachers that have known in the depths of them that they could not talk about this thing called the gospel without speaking about the violence of oppression that people still endure today. And it is not always comfortable. It is not always easy. But who ever said that it should be?

Have we begun to believe that the role of the church is only to provide comfort? Is there room for questioning, disagreement, or tension in worship? Should there be? Are the sacred and secular in fact separate? If we go back to the origins of this faith we know that they aren’t. We know that Jesus was not just crucified for founding a faith but for challenging the Roman Empire. And we know that it was his call to love required his sort of faithful defiance.

And so what is our responsibility today? What is the role of the church in this moment? Can we afford to keep politics out of our pulpits? Is it faithful if we do?

It is clear that America is in a dark woods moment. We are uncertain, empty, lost. It does not surprise me that the opposition to Donald Trump has come to a head in cities like St. Louis, Chicago, and Dayton. All of these cities have been in a deep state of unrest since the horrific killings of black community members. Michael Brown outside of St. Louis. In Chicago, Laquan McDonald, Quintonio LeGrier, and Bettie McDonald. In Dayton, John Crawford.

These things are not unrelated. Increased violence towards communities of color, Black, Latino, Arab, is not separate from the growing support for a political candidate like Donald Trump. We are witnessing the desperate grasping for an America that can no longer exist. It is the America of Jim Crow and good ol’ boys. It is an America where control and whiteness were fundamentally linked. But now, communal campaigns that call Black Lives Matter or Not One More Deportation threaten that control.

This week the scripture talks about reconciliation. We are told that God has entrusted the message of reconciliation to us. What does that mean exactly?

Are we meant to simply smooth things over? Ask each other to play nice and be “fair”? Is that reconciliation? Or are we being asked to do work that is deeper, riskier?

Maybe reconciliation means instead of criticizing the tactics of those who are fighting for freedom we loudly assert their right to be free. Maybe reconciliation looks like putting the values of the gospel to the test. Values of faithfulness, justice, community, truth telling, and love.

What does it mean to live into those values right now? What does it look like for us as individuals? As a congregation? What does it mean to reconcile ourselves to this moment?

At the beginning of the service we talked about facing the temptations that erode our fullness and steal us away from our wholeheartedness.

Yesterday Donald Trump spoke at the I-X center in Cleveland. The I-X center is 3 miles away from my Grandmother’s house. I have a lot of joyful memories in that place. When I was 10 my friend Ashley and I went to an event there and sang a rousing karaoke version of I Saw The Sign by Ace of Base, it was met with great applause. As a teenager I looked forward to the indoor amusement park that would get installed at the I-X center every winter. It was a brief escape from cold and snow. We could eat cotton candy and pretend it was summer. Just last year my Grandpa received his first award for the Packard he’d spent almost 30 years building from the ground up. My Grandma sent me a picture of him, smiling and proud, the I-X center in the background.

As I watched the footage I saw protesters lined up down a service road. The same road where my first boyfriend and I would sit and watch the planes fly low overhead.

It has been tempting to believe that Trump has nothing to do with me. But on Saturday I couldn’t. On Saturday he was too close to home.

It is tempting, isn’t it, to believe that we are nothing like him? We Californians, we liberals, we progressives. But perhaps the reconciliation we are being called to looks like being humble enough to name the ways racism has lived inside of us, just as it lives inside him. We are not immune. We know we are not because on Thursday a San Francisco jury ruled that it was not excessive force when Alex Nieto was shot at 59 times. We know we are not because we treat homeless housing encampments like an eyesore instead of a call to action.

We are not immune. And he is not the exception. If he were there would be nobody to attend his rally. And we would not find him so fascinating or so dangerous.

In ancient Jewish practice a priest would confess all the sins of the community over the head of a goat and then drive it into the wilderness, symbolically carrying their sins away. It’s where we get the word scapegoat from.

Sometimes I listen to myself as I talk about Trump. How much distance I try to put between me and him. And I wonder if I’m not simply pinning sins to him so that I can cast him out and feel vindicated. Safer. Superior.

We are just a few weeks from Easter now. A few weeks from celebrating the power of resurrection. But before Easter Sunday comes Holy Week. A week of anguish and grief. We tell the story of the last supper, we talk about how Jesus felt in the Garden of Gethsemane, we talk about the crucifixion. We do not celebrate resurrection without first naming the horror of the violence faced or the betrayals that allowed it to happen.

Perhaps this is true reconciliation. Perhaps this is the Gospel. We cannot heal until we have named the harm. Together. Honestly. With faithfulness. With love. We cannot simply send it out. We cannot just put it out of our heads or keep it from our pulpits. Instead we must keep it close. Instead we must name what destroys us. From outside or within. Racism, fear, lack of housing, violence, homophobia. Every lie we have internalized about ourselves. Every lie we have tried to pin to another.

We name these just as we name the Stations of the Cross on Good Friday. It is what makes our capacity for resurrection so remarkable. It is how we know our true power. It is how we come to trust our own divinity. We endure. We hope. We change. We heal. We get knocked down and rise again.

As a church and as a community, we cannot afford to remain silent. We can’t afford to leave parts of ourselves at the door. There is too much at stake. This is a time to be prophetic. It is not always comfortable. It is not always easy. But who ever said it should be?

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