“When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end will not follow immediately.”
In the section of the Gospel from Luke today, we get some of Jesus’ apocalyptic speech. There are many that believe that the end of the world may be coming soon. But as one colleague pointed out, if that were true, scripture tells us we would have had already gotten quite a work out.
Whenever we hear apocalyptic language in the Bible, we have to remember the community it is written to. This stuff about the end of the world in the Prophets, Gospels and the Book of Revelation are not written in order to scare people. They are written to a community that is under oppression to offer hope. In the case of the prophets, to the nation of Israel under subjugation by a successor of invading powers. In the case of the New Testament, to a church under intermittent but often brutal persecution under the roman empire. Apocalyptic literature offers hope to oppressed people that as Martin Luther King JR. once said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”
This idea of justice is at the very core of the Gospel. When Mary becomes pregnant with Jesus, she goes to her cousin Elizabeth, and that meeting causes Mary to utter the most ancient hymn of the church. One which we sing at every 5PM Saturday service and which is sung at evening prayer at every Christian monastery.
My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
my spirit rejoices in God my Savior; *
for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.
From this day all generations will call me blessed: *
the Almighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his Name.
He has mercy on those who fear him *
in every generation.
He has shown the strength of his arm, *
he has scattered the proud in their conceit.
He has cast down the mighty from their thrones, *
and has lifted up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things, *
and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has come to the help of his servant Israel, *
for he has remembered his promise of mercy,
The promise he made to our fathers, *
to Abraham and his children for ever.
This baby Mary is to bring into the world is not coming to uphold the status quo, or to make people feel secure. Jesus is coming into the world to lift up the lowly, to fill the hungry with good things, and to scatter the proud.
Last week in the reading for All saints we head the center of Jesus’ teaching in the beatitudes, in which Mary’s song is affirmed.
“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.
“Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled.
“Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.
“Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.”
As liturgical scholar and blogger Derek Olsen points out, “this is not a call to meekness or acceptance. This is a call to join a revolutionary movement. The revolutionary leader is God.” The point of the revolutionary movement is reconciliation to God and justice for our fellow humans.
When it comes to human affairs, Justice, not government, is the overriding concern of God. One of the reasons why people of the time failed to follow Jesus is that he refused to engage in open rebellion against the Roman authorities and their puppet rulers. This wasn’t because he approved of those rulers, it was because he was providing a teaching and an example that would transcend the time when the Roman Empire would cease to be.
Last week I made the claim that God is agnostic about how we govern ourselves and who we choose to govern us. If we choose to order ourselves democratically, as a monarchy, or as a commune, there is no overriding evidence from scripture that God favors one or the other. But what God cares about clearly from the scripture is how that government enables or prevents justice from being executed.
Justice in the Biblical sense does not mean enforcement of law. In fact, law can often be used to circumvent justice. What it means is what Mary sings about in the Magnificat and Jesus teaches in the beatitudes. The poor are fed, the oppressed are set free, and the wounds of the hurting are bound.
Human governments are not judged by God for their management of foreign policy or military affairs or fiscal success. They are measured by the more basic question of, “How does this government treat people? In what ways does this government help or hinder the justice of God?”
You might have noticed that something significant happened with American government Tuesday. We all have our opinions. If you follow my Facebook feed, you’ve seen me express mine. The reality is, as president Obama and Secretary Clinton have articulated, President-elect Trump will be our next leader.
There have been demonstrations, and some of them have turned violent. I personally repudiate violent protest for any reason. I am too much a believer in the work of Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu to believe that path can lead anywhere positive. But I am also convinced that calls for people to “stop whining” or to “come together” are premature. We are more divided at this point than we were before the election. Sometimes tension is where you need to be for change to really occur. Trying to resolve that tension too early to make us comfortable will only mean that it will come back later and much more destructively.
In a time of tension like this, our role of Christians is to emulate Jesus. Think about how Jesus operated on a day to day basis. The Disciples were always trying to move Jesus to what they considered the most important things. To meet the right people. To be on time to say the right things in order to gain support for the cause. To move on to the next press conference, the next campaign stop.
But Jesus was remarkably resistant to his handlers. He stopped for people who were invisible to society: The woman with the hemmorage that made her ritually unclean, Zaccheus the traitor up in the top of the tree. The Samaritan woman, member of a race hated by Judeans. Lepers, separated and literally standing at a distance from society. Jesus listened and said much to those on the edges of society, but when dragged in front of the ones at the center of society — those people considered the most important, King Herod and Pontius Pilate, he remained silent.
Jesus was always looking to the edges, and we are called to do the same. While the electoral majority and saddened electoral minority of tuesday need our care as well, it is those on the fringe that Jesus wants us to keep our eyes on.
The most tense communities in our nation right now are muslims, those of color, those in the LGBTQ community, and women. I have been absolutely horrified by the first and second-hand accounts of women I know of the language that has been used against them on the streets in the last few days.
I have heard the laments of acquaintances in the Muslim and Hispanic communities that they are unsure whether they or their families are still wanted in the United States, no matter what their immigration status is.
My son has heard language used against his black friend in his middle school that he has never heard used before.
I have seen a picture of a note left on a colleage’s car window that uses anti-gay slurs and promises that soon his marriage will be taken away from him.
The president of my undergraduate alma mater has released a letter decrying multiple incidents of hateful behavior at the university, directed mostly at students of color, LGBTQ students, Muslim students, and other minority populations.
These are only my personal examples that are within a couple of degrees of separation from me. This is going on all over our nation. The presidential campaign did not create any of this. No candidate is to blame for its existence. It was already there in our society. But the rhetoric of the campaign has emboldened those elements of our society that indulge in hate speech. Whether or not it’s true, they feel their views are now mainstream. Minorities are under a barrage of speech and action the likes of which many have not experienced during their lifetimes. And while I as a white male certainly have the option of “Wait and See” with the new administration, those in minorities really don’t, because they fear that if they wait, by the time they see, they won’t have options left.
So what would Jesus do? First, Jesus would notice those on the fringes. Who in your life is hurting? Are there friends or colleagues or co-workers or family who are really and truly afraid for their future right now?
Second, Jesus would acknowledge them. What will actually happen in January is actually immaterial to what we do as people of faith right now. What has been going on this week rightly stokes their fears. Reach out to them personally and let them know that you love and support them and will stand by them.
Third, Jesus would show compassion. Telling people to stop whining or to just get in line sounds exactly like the language around the very real persecutions that minorities have had to endure throughout their lives and throughout history. Every time they are told that, it affirms their worst fears — that they will again be forgotten and their voices drowned out.
And Fourth, Jesus would act. The vast majority of us as Americans of any political stripe would call these actions unacceptable. This is not about blame, this is not about fault, this is simply calling out demeaning, childish and dangerous behavior for what it is. We cannot allow sexism, racism or homophobia to become an acceptable part of our public discourse no matter who is in office. We cannot allow violence of any kind, whether physical, psychological or spiritual to become the norm of how we operate. All of us who follow Jesus should be willing to speak out against it in any form, and we should demand that our elected officials of every party and creed speak out as well.
Beloved, Tuesday has neither irrevocably blessed or cursed us. Jesus Christ was Lord on Monday, and he remained Lord on Wednesday. But he is the Lord of the margins, the Lord of the oppressed and the hated and the persecuted.
He has come to cast down the mighty from their thrones, and to lift up the lowly.
Jesus stands with THEM. And it is up to us, at this juncture of history, to decide if we will stand with Jesus.
Lord of the Margins — a Post-Election Sermon was originally published in Preaching from the Rood Screen on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.