A Homily for Proper 33, Year C, 2016
Sunday, November 13th, 2016
St. Paul’s Anglican Church, Newmarket, ON
Text: Isaiah 65:17-25
“For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth.”
The prophet Isaiah speaks about the creation of a New Jerusalem. This is a vision of hope, a vision of joy, a vision of a new and just world, in which the evils of this age are swept away. The church continues to proclaim this hope from age to age, even as the kingdoms of this world rise and fall. And so it is perhaps appropriate that we should hear about God’s promise of a New Jerusalem this week, as for some of us, that reality seems to be farther away than ever.
I shall not mince words, nor shall I cloke or dissemble my disappointment and fear following the outcome of the American election. I am not rejoicing, although I know there are many that are. I have been challenged more than once this week by individuals who have suggested what has happened in America is actually a good thing - a great thing. I hope they are right, but I fear that they are not. When I see a man come to power who has consistently spoken using racist, xenophobic, misogynistic language, who clearly has little respect for the laws of the land or for the most vulnerable who walk amongst us, I think we have cause to fear. What I have heard from him so far, is so far from my understanding of the Christian gospel, that I cannot simply acquiesce to the admonition to “get behind him” and “give him a chance.” You may very well think differently from me, and I have no doubt that those who do will be more than happy to call me to task. I thank God that we actually live in a society where that can happen. I hope and pray that we will continue to live in such a world, but I do have my fears.
But the pulpit is not a place for fear, it is place from which hope is proclaimed. Yet, it is also a place in which truth must be proclaimed, and in which truth must be proclaimed to power. So, it is incumbent upon me as your priest to warn that there may be dark days ahead. After the election, clergy friends began posting a meme on Facebook, which said that we should not worry or lament because “God is still on his throne.” Of course this is true, God still is on his throne, but another one of my colleagues was quick to remind us that God was on his throne through genocides and wars, too. As Christian people, we have a solemn and sacred call not to bury our heads in the sand, not to follow blindly the hysteria of the masses, but to name what is wrong and speak truth to power. I cannot easily pass over the sabre rattling, the misogynistic comments, the bragging of sexual assault, the bravado about banning and deporting whole religious communities, as “campaign rhetoric” and blindly trust that “all shall be well.”
We cannot simply sit back and hope that things shall get better, or that they will smooth themselves out. When a bully takes command of the playground, it is amazing how many other bullies come out of the playground and find strength in numbers. I was bullied as a child. Trust me. The times I am least proud of, though, is when I countered violence with violence. I’ve tried it more than once. In despair I have thrown a punch in the school yard, I have adopted the bully’s tactics, and it has almost always been the wrong approach. I have either found myself punished, ended up flat on the ground, or been deeply disappointed in myself. There must be a better way.
Upon my shelf sits a multi-volume history of civilization, inherited from my paternal grandfather, The History of Civilization, by Will Durant. Toward the opening of his first volume, he writes: “Civilization is not something inborn or imperishable; it must be acquired anew by every generation.” I believe this with all my heart. God sets before each generation the choice found in the Book of Deuteronomy 30:19, “This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live.”
But what does it mean to choose life? I think for many, choosing life is a selfish thing. It is not an urge to create a civilization, but an urge to get the best for me and for me alone. It is an urge that says “to hell with the other guy, he has had his day, let him feel my pain for awhile, while I’m on top.”
Several weeks ago I attended the Aurora prayer breakfast. The speaker was a woman named Marina Nemet, a survivor of torture in post-revolutionary Iran. As a teenage girl she was taken into custody for associating with the wrong sorts of people and tortured for several years. She was eventually forced to marry her torturer. What she discovered after he had died, from his mother, the mother of the man who tortured her, was that he had been tortured by the Shah’s regime. When the transfer of power came, the instruments of torture were simply handed from regime to regime, and the tortured became the torturer. Ms. Nemet spoke of how easy it would have been for her to pick up the weapons of torture, and how great that urge remains, but to this day she has not. She has chosen another way. A better way.
A great segment of people in America have felt marginalized for a long time. I am not here to question the validity of this claim – what they feel is what they feel. Our history is filled with marginalization. There are now winners in the battle for who has been marginalized the most. Trump has given voice to the anger and rage that is felt by many, justly or unjustly, and with that rage now un-bottled, we should be very worried about where that rage will lead. I am worried because the instinct of one who is marginalized is often not to build a better world, but to inflict pain on the ones who we perceive have hurt and marginalized us. Where in the Gospel are we called to live this way?
It is my firm conviction that we must doggedly resist the dehumanizing instincts of our day; instincts that seek to destroy our civilization rather than build it up. We must call out words and deeds of racism, misogyny, homophobia, xenophobia and all other forms of dehumanization. We must resist the false doctrine that all will be set right if we just sit back and let history take its course.
If we believe in the kingdom of God, if we believe that it is truly breaking through, then we must live our kingdom values today. We must not wait for the moment when the time is once again right. That day never comes. We must not go into hiding as Christian people, but cast the light of the Gospel into the dark corners of this age through our faith and witness. We must seek and serve Christ in our neighbour, respect the dignity of every human being, strive to preserve God’s creation in the midst of the great onslaught that is put upon it. We must be reflective of our own behaviour, and contrite, remorseful, and repent when we lose our way. We must never cease coming together and breaking bread around this table, the Lord’s table, recalling who died for us, and for the world; recalling who rose for us, and for the world; remembering that we are not simply individuals seeking our own good, but one great family seeking the common good of all. If we believe in the kingdom of God, if we believe that it is truly breaking through, then we must live those kingdom values today! We must live as though Christ were standing amongst us in this moment. And would he tolerate any one of us denigrating the other to build ourselves up? Could any of us stand in the presence of God and speak the horrible rhetoric we have heard in these last days. God forbid it.
There is a better way. That way is the way of the cross. It is the way of self-giving love. It is the way of putting the needs of the other above my own for the greater good and for the kingdom. God himself led that way. God himself chose death that we might have life, not life that we might die. Ponder that. The almighty put himself on the cross. He didn’t have to. He did it because he loves us, believes in us, and has a hope for what he has created. God has a hope for us. He hopes in us. He believes in us enough to die for us. Will we be worthy of that hope? Will be worthy of our call? Let us do the work of creating and building a civilization worthy of the hope and trust that our Lord has placed in us.
Let us keep faith, then, with the one who died, and lived again, that all people might be called friends and not enemies; brothers and sisters and not strangers; beloved, not hated; precious, not reviled. Through His grace may we love each other as He has loved us. His love alone, the love that laid down its life for us, can cut through our prejudice, hatred, and anger… search your conscience. Is it not so?
After fifty years of chronicling the history of Civilization, Will Durant stated his final lesson, gleaned from all his amassed learning: “Love one another. My final lesson of history is the same as that of Jesus.”
May it be so. Come, Lord Jesus.