Summit Presbyterian Church
November 6, 2016
Luke 6: 17-36
The Day After
What are you plans for Wednesday, November 9th? I know everyone here has a plan to vote on November 8th. But what about the day after?
I’m planning to go out to dinner, before coming back to church for the last session on the Belhar Confession. If my candidate wins it will be celebratory; if not, it will be a consolation meal. Some folks have a plan A and a plan B, or what we might call a plan C and a plan D. Some Trump supporters are threatening violence if Clinton wins, and some Hillary supporters are threatening emigration to Canada if Donald wins. I fervently hope it’s just talk on both sides.
This is my next question: are you looking forward to Wednesday, November 9th? Most people I know say they can’t wait! No more inboxes filled with solicitations. No more surprises. Fewer talking heads, less cursing and fewer insults. Long walks in the woods and pumpkin spice concoctions. Most people I know are looking forward to a return to our regular programming, once their candidate wins and the other goes home quietly . . . .As they used to say about the New York Lottery, “All You Need is a Dollar and a Dream.”
Because the day after will not be a dream, no matter who wins. Don’t get me wrong — I think it’s very important who wins — and those who support the other candidate feel the same way. But no matter who does, November 9th will be challenging because we’re so divided. Passions are running high. People are angry, feeling abused and besieged by enemies. And it’s not only that we’re divided; the stakes are high. Climate change. Mass incarceration. Income inequality. Too many emails of all kinds, people left behind. For most people November 9th will be one of either relief or disappointment, excitement or shell-shock. Then it gets complicated. What do we do next?
Jesus says, in his sermon on the level place, love your enemies. Do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other one also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Do unto others as you would have have them do to you.
These sound like they could be instructions for the day after, given the hate, cursing and abuse that’s come out of the various campaigns. And surely we’re called to do good, bless and pray for everyone . . . as hard as it might be. At our Wednesday night study a couple of weeks ago we were exploring the theme of reconciliation, and Peggy offered a thought experiment. I’m not quoting her exactly, or maybe even closely, but she asked: if a group of hostile poll watchers came to Summit on election day, what if we greeted them kindly? What if we offered them cookies — in other words, what if we blessed them. Now I had trouble entering into that hypothetical. Just the thought of hostile poll watchers — and I could picture them because I knew exactly what they would look like — just the thought of hostile poll watchers filled me with fury. But when I finally was able to imagine a peaceful response — which would also mean letting them pet Shadow, who cuddles with everyone - I wondered, could that change things? Aren’t unexpected acts of kindness the way we break cycles of hate and violence? Praying, doing good, giving our coats and lending without expecting anything in return.
Yes, but. Hostile poll watchers also can’t be allowed to suppress the vote. Surely Jesus isn’t telling his followers to let themselves be abused. For in this same sermon Jesus has a another message, or at least a different emphasis, when he pronounces blessings and woes. Blessed are you who are poor now — and woe to you who are rich. Blessed are you who are hungry now — and woe to you who are full. Blessed are you who weep, and woe to you who are laughing now. Blessed are you when people revile you, and woe to you when all speak well of you now. God doesn’t stand behind those who hate or revile others. God doesn’t stand behind the rich gaining at the expense of the poor, taking their coats and their shirts. God is not behind those who eat carelessly while others go hungry, or who laugh while others weep. There will be a turning of tables. God’s blessing doesn’t rest on those who seem blessed in the eyes of the world. God doesn’t sanction hate, abuse, or greed.
Now there are many questions and objections we could explore regarding these blessings and woes. They’ve been source of much interpretive mischief. But I’m trying to preach only one sermon today, so I’ll just say this: this sermon on the level place can’t be tied up neatly. There’s tension in it: tension between showing kindness and mercy to our enemies and standing up for what is right; tension between God’s vindication for the persecuted and God’s kindness to the ungrateful and the wicked. Tension between a turning of the tables and the healing of all people.
That’s the tension we have to live into on November 9th. We’re called to pray for those on the other side, to love our enemies and do good to those who hate us, even if we don’t feel loving. But that doesn’t mean abandoning the vulnerable or taking abuse. It doesn’t mean shutting up. It doesn’t mean giving up. It means writing our new President and Representatives and demonstrating peacefully. And it means praying really hard.
Eric Lui wrote an article in the Atlantic which gives some practical advice about February 9th. His title is “Americans Don’t Need Reconciliation, They Need to Get Better at Arguing.” He notes that many folks are anxious to build bridges and bring back civility to our political discourse after the election. He’s not against that, exactly, but he says that a rush to reunion can entrench injustice. He gives the end of the civil war as an example, where the rush to unite the states, to unite white people, came at the expense of African Americans and others. So his suggestion for the day and the days after is threefold: first, to listen to one another. To truly listen, not just listen for points we can debate. A kind of listening that - in his words — “rehumanizes the enemy.” Second, to serve together: at a soup kitchen, building a house, doing good side by side. And third, to argue. He admits this may sound counter-intuitive, haven’t we had enough arguing. But he points out the problem is not that we argue, but that our arguments are stupid. We need a kind of arguing that’s more honest, more open to change, more human. A kind of arguing that will help us discern solutions, even as we continue to argue. And you know what? Jesus argued a LOT. We get a biased recording of those arguments in the New Testament, but they have been blessings to us (even though, to the church’s shame, we have sometimes wielded them as a weapon against others). And there were many other rabbinical arguments at the time, debates that were faithful and fruitful, that helped the Jewish community discern the way to go after the destruction of the temple. So, we have a trinity: Listening (so we may rehumanize our enemies). Doing good by serving together. And arguing. How Biblical is that!
I’m sure that among those who have recently joined the Saints in Light there are Trump and Clinton supporters, Rubio and Sanders supporters, not to mention Cubs and Phillies fans. I don’t know how they’re all working it out, but in the Communion of Saints there is true unity: a unity that is the fruit of justice and reconciliation, a unity resting in love, not a unity that masks injustice. A unity that we will all know in the age to come, when Christ returns and the peoples will rejoice at the redemption of all things, singing “Holy, Holy, Holy,” praising God in earth and sky and sea.