Summit Presbyterian Church
November 13, 2016
Luke 21: 7-19, Isaiah 65: 17-25
The Work of Our Hands
Eight years ago, on a hot August evening, I met you, the congregation at Summit — and you met me. It was the night before my candidating sermon, when you would vote on whether to call me as your pastor. We had dinner in the Fellowship Hall, and then I sat on the edge of the stage while people asked questions. Most of the questions were softballs, but there were a couple of exceptions. Luther Van Ummersen asked me how I felt about the Eagles. I was really glad someone had just given me an Eagles hat so I at least knew we were talking about football. Hector Badeau then asked me, “Are you a Democrat or a Republican?” My first thought, was OMG — I was so busy telling the Pastoral Nominating Committee I was a lesbian, I forgot to mention I was a socialist! I didn’t say that. I knew that answer would probably be a dealbreaker, even at Summit, and it also wasn’t really true. Oh, I had founded Hastings High School Students for a Democratic Chile in 1976. When I marched in my first demonstration in NYC I got my picture on the front page of the Daily Worker, the organ of the Communist Party, U.S.A., circulation 23. But there was nothing in my adult record to distinguish me from a semi-active, liberal Democrat. My socialism - a fluffy, soft, Scandinavian kind of Socialism I might add - was more aspirational. I used to say that if I read more and had courage, I would almost certainly be a socialist. But I was easily distracted from the struggle by my job as a teacher, by housework and shopping, by mysteries with kitty detectives. And I was afraid to take a bold stand for big change. I’m cautious by nature.
So when Hector asked that question I could answer, honestly, that I was a registered Democrat. I added something to the effect that faithful Christians could be of either party and many different opinions, and that in my preaching and pastoring I would try and be inclusive and respectful. I could feel Hector’s question raise the anxiety in the room, and it was about more than my party affiliation. Folks were probably wondering, “what kind of sermons will we have to listen to Sunday after Sunday?” If she’s a Democrat, how will she treat Republicans and vice-versa? For politics in the congregation is something of a minefield, even for a congregation like Summit, which is fairly homogeneous, what we might call a landslide congregation for Clinton and Obama. It’s something of a minefield because faithful, thoughtful Christians have different politics, based on our understanding of the world, even when we agree on broad goals such as ending hunger. We worry about alienating people: not only because they might leave with their pledge, but because conflict is painful, friendships are ruptured. We worry about coming down on the wrong side of an issue, which we may do even with lots of prayer and the best of intentions. It’s also tricky because working for social justice is consuming, and sometimes congregations lose sight of other dimensions of their mission: Bible study, evangelism, the nurture of children and families, care for those who are sick. So getting involved in politics - even in a non-partisan way — and one thing Christians agree on, across the political and theological spectrum, is that churches must never, ever lose their 501(c) 3 status — getting involved in social justice, advocacy, whatever you want to call it, is risky. It’s tempting to lay low, to only do educational programs. It’s tempting to encourage people to be involved as individuals, but to be silent as a congregation.
But going down that road carries other dangers. It risks giving the message that God is doesn’t care about justice — how we treat each other. It risks giving the message that God is indifferent to war and peace. It risks giving the message that Christ is silent on welcoming the stranger and our care for the earth. It risks giving the message — to each other and the outside world — that we don’t really believe all people are created in God’s image.
Our scripture today God’s desire for justice and the well being of all people is clear. God is speaking, through the words of Isaiah, about the World to Come, the ultimate redemption of all things that we believe will come when Christ returns. But it’s also a world God is creating now, the Kingdom of God at hand. And this world is not a world where some plant and others eat: a world of slaves or serfs, or of farmers who face crushing debt. It’s not a world where some build and others inhabit because wages are too low for workers to afford a home of their own. It’s not a world where some labor in vain, and others wish to labor but can’t find work. I’m being naughty now, but it’s not a world where some vote and others elect. It’s a world where all enjoy the work of their hands. It’s a world where all enjoy long life, not only those who can afford health care. It’s a world of peace: where the wolf and the lamb will feed together. We do God’s will and participate in this new creation when we work for such a world. When we work for economic justice. When we say Black Lives Matter and stand with immigrants or Muslims. We participate in this new creation by calling for a clean energy economy so we will not bear our children for calamity. And although we can’t abolish predator and prey in the animal kingdom, we can work for peace among people, beginning by talking respectfully with those whom we disagree. We can fight climate change so there will be wolves and lambs and lions and serpents left when Christ comes again. And we participate in this new creation when we pray: for our leaders, including our President and President-elect, and for all people and creatures of this wide world, including ourselves.
In your Church Information Form that advertised my position, you said that Summit didn’t hesitate to rally for political causes. I think that was a teeny bit of an overstatement — which is fine as I made a few teeny overstatements in my resume, which I’m sure you’ve discovered. But if there is a time to start living into that claim, the time is now. Oh Lord, the time is now.
At our meeting this week the Session had some visitors, members from the First United Methodist Church of Germantown, who spoke about their involvement with a group called POWER, Philadelphians Organized to Witness, Empower and Rebuild. We’ll be inviting folks from POWER to speak with the whole congregation sometime in January, to see if this is a way we might want to address issues of economic dignity, mass incarceration and education. It may be that joining POWER is not right for us, and if not there are other ways we can raise our voice, peaceful and respectful ways that reflect the grace of Christ.
For if we’re quiet in this time of peril, we risk giving another misleading message. People may look at us and think that Jesus told us to play it safe. People may look at us and think that Jesus told us to avoid controversy. But in our first reading Jesus said to his disciples, “You will be hated by all because of my name.” Sometimes disciples are hated for confessing Christ - Asia Bibi, a Pakistani Christian woman currently on death row for blasphemy is one. Sometimes disciples are hated for witnessing to justice in Christ’s name: Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Oscar Romero, and I’m even going to add Hillary Clinton, that imperfect but quietly observant United Methodist. But Jesus also said: not a hair of your head will perish. For by your endurance you will gain your souls. Our souls and the soul of this country are at stake. But we do not need to be afraid. For in the midst of the old God is creating a new heavens and a new earth. A new heavens and new earth to which we are all invited. So let us be glad, and rejoice forever, in what God is creating.