Sunday, November 13, 2016

WISDOM LESSONS FOR PROPHETIC PEOPLE IN A DISTRESSING TIME

WISDOM FOR PROPHETIC PEOPLE
IN A DISTRESSING TIME
©Wendell Griffen, 2016
November 13, 2016 (26th Sunday after Pentecost)
New Millennium Church
Little Rock, Arkansas

Luke 21:5-19
5When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, he said, 6“As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.” 7They asked him, “Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?” 8And he said, “Beware that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and, ‘The time is near!’ Do not go after them.9“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.”10Then he said to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; 11there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven. 12“But before all this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name.13This will give you an opportunity to testify. 14So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; 15for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict. 16You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. 17You will be hated by all because of my name. 18But not a hair of your head will perish. 19By your endurance you will gain your souls.

        We gather on the first Lord’s Day after the November 8, 2016 election of Donald Trump and Mike Pence as President and Vice-President, respectively, of the United States.  Five days ago, few people believed this result likely, even among the political elite.  So we gather for worship on a Lord’s Day after many people have been stunned, whether joyously or sadly.

        Since Mr. Trump and Mr. Pence were elected last Tuesday, news outlets have reported a marked surge in acts of bigotry and hate.  Women, persons who are LGBT, persons from racial minority groups, persons who appear to be immigrants, and persons who are perceived to be Muslims have been subjected to verbal abuse.  Property has been defaced with hateful slurs.    Protests have been held in various cities across the United States attended by people who are distressed about what Mr. Trump’s presidency portends for peace, equality, and societal concern for the vulnerable and marginalized.

        We are living in a distressing time.

        We gather on the first Lord’s Day after the November 12, 2016 declaration of a mistrial in the murder trial of Ray Tensing, the white former University of Cincinnati police officer who shot to death Samuel DuBose, an unarmed black motorist last year.[1]     The jury of ten white people and two black people were unable to agree whether Tensing murdered DuBose or not, despite having viewed graphic body camera video showing Tensing aiming his service weapon at DuBose’s vehicle while more than an arm’s length away from it.  On this Lord’s Day many people are disappointed and view the hung jury and mistrial to be the latest proof that black lives do not matter when it comes to law enforcement in this society.

        We are living in a distressing time. 

        As of this Lord’s Day, Michael Poore, the person appointed by Johnny Key (Commissioner of the Arkansas Department of Education) as superintendent of the Little Rock School District (the largest and most racially diverse in Arkansas), is proceeding with plans to close or “re-purpose” five schools that are located in central and southwest Little Rock.  None of Mr. Poore’s actions have been presented to, let alone approved by, democratically-elected representatives of Little Rock School District voters since the moment he was appointed by Commissioner Key after the Arkansas Board of Education dissolved the democratically-elected school board on January 28, 2015.    

        We are living in a distressing time for people who care about social justice.  We are living in a distressing time for people who care about democracy.  We are living in a distressing time for people who care about women and girls, people who are black, brown, immigrant, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, disabled, frail due to sickness, disease, and injury, and people who are otherwise vulnerable and marginalized.  We are living in a distressing time for peace in the United States and across the world.

        So, what can prophetic people learn from Jesus about how to behave in this distressing time?

        The setting for the lesson we read from Luke’s Gospel is full of political drama.  It took place in Jerusalem, the capitol city of Judea.  A few days later, Jesus would be arrested based on falsified evidence for the political crime of insurrection against the Roman government.  His enemies within the Jewish religious establishment would urge that he be condemned to die.  Pontus Pilate, the Roman governor, would order the crucifixion despite knowing Jesus was not guilty of insurrection or any other crime. 

So when Jesus heard some people speaking about the beauty of the Temple in Jerusalem, with its ornate stones and other prized objects, and predicted that the Temple would be demolished at some future time, some who heard his words were distressed.  They wanted to know when that ominous event would happen, and what its threatening signs would be.  They asked him, “Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?” [Luke 21:7].  The people who heard Jesus predict that the Jerusalem Temple would be destroyed wanted to know what the warning signs would be for such a politically, culturally, and religiously devastating event. 

People with good sense want to know the warning signs for troubling events and conditions.  We want to know the warning symptoms for life-threatening illnesses.  We want weather alerts that help us know storms are on the horizon.  We want warning signs. 

And, we want to know how to interpret those signs.  We want to know what a tornado warning means.  We want to know what a flash flood warning means.
 
So the people who heard Jesus predict that the Jerusalem Temple would be destroyed wanted to know what events and actions would signal that threat to the cultural and religious heritage of the Jewish people.  They were thinking about the loss of their most cherished religious, cultural, and religious landmark.  They heard Jesus speak about it being demolished at some future time.  They were desperate to know what the warning signs would be for such a cataclysmic event.  Who can blame them for wanting to know?

The people who heard Jesus talk about the eventual destruction of the great Temple in Jerusalem were not thinking about the end of the world.  Let me say that again in case you missed it.  They were not thinking about the end of the world!  

They were thinking about the loss of their religious, cultural, and political landmark.  They were thinking about the loss of a religious edifice that King Herod started rebuilding nineteen years before the Jesus was born.  That rebuilding project more than doubled the size of the Temple Mount.  While work on the temple itself took eighteen months, work on the outer courts where people could gather for various purposes such as speech making and healing (see Acts 3:11; 5:12) would continue throughout the lifetime of Jesus until 62-64 CE. 

But less than ten years after everything had been completed on the Herodian temple, the Romans destroyed it in 70 CE.  The Romans plundered its ornate furnishings and hauled them to Rome.  The Romans sacked it, and then visually portrayed the siege and burning of Jerusalem in large paintings that were paraded on wagons in a triumphal procession to Rome in 71 CE.[2]  When Jerusalem and its temple were destroyed in 70 CE, followers of Jesus thought that event confirmed what Jesus predicted in today’s lesson from Luke’s Gospel.

I suspect more than a few folks may be upset by learning that this passage is not about the end of the world.  It has been often preached, studied, and taught from that point of view.  That’s probably because every generation somehow figures that its time marks the end of history.  The pop music genius known as Prince famously set that thinking to music in his song 1999 about the end of the 20th Century in these words.
 
Everybody's got a bomb, we could all die any day, oh
But before I let that happen, I'll dance my life away, oh ho
They say two thousand zero zero party over, oops, out of time
(We're runnin' out of time)
So tonight I'm gonna party like it's nineteen ninety-nine
(We gonna, we gonna, oh)
Say it one more time
Two thousand zero zero party over, oops, out of time
(No, no)
So tonight I'm gonna party like it's nineteen ninety-nine[3]

As someone accurately put it, only a genius like Prince could drop protest thoughts about the constant threat of war into a dance song – Everybody’s got a bomb, we could all die any day, oh, but before I let that happen, I’ll dance my life away.

My point – and I think what Jesus emphasized – is that we tend to view objective threats to our political, cultural, and religious icons as omens of the apocalypse, the end of time.  But Jesus warned us not to do so in these words.  “Beware that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name and say,’I am he!’ and,’The time is near!’  Do not go after them.” (Luke 21:8)

In other words, don’t get twisted out of shape when threats to our political, cultural, and religious structures happen and folks show up claiming, in God’s name at that, to be some version of Jesus. 

·       Don’t get bent out of shape when Mr. Trump or some other politician or religious personality shows up claiming to be the savior the world needs just because Jesus said the temple in Jerusalem would be destroyed.
·       Don’t run around like Chicken Little – you recall the chicken who ran around shouting “The sky is falling!  The sky is falling!” – because Ray Tensing wasn’t found guilty of murdering Samuel DuBose despite the body camera video showing that he shot DuBose in the head while feet away from the car DuBose was driving.
·       Don’t think the world is coming to an end because white supremacists and their black cronies on the Arkansas Board of Education hijacked governance of the state’s largest and most diverse and well-known school district from its black-majority voters.

Yes, this stuff is distressing.  But that doesn’t mean the world is about to end. 

Yes, Donald Trump appears likely to be a singularly unjust President.  Yes, he claims to be the answer to everything from income inequality to immigration struggles.  Yes, he bragged that he can sexually assault women and girls because he’s rich and famous.  None of that means the world is about to end because he was elected on November 8, 2016.  It merely means voters elected someone who appears likely to be a singularly unjust President, however distressing that must be to people –including followers of Jesus – who care about love and justice. 

Jesus predicted that there would reports of “wars and insurrections” before the great Temple Herod expanded was demolished.[4]  He warned there would be natural disasters (“great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven.”[5] Jesus said that before all those things happened, his followers would be targeted for persecution.  “But before all this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name.[6] Jesus warned his followers those events would happen before the Temple was demolished.  Those events were not to be considered omens for the end of time. 

So what was Jesus doing? 

Look at Luke 21:13.  There read the words of Jesus to his followers.  This will give you an opportunity to testify. 

MC Hammer often used the expression “Hammer Time” as a call to break into his dance routine.  The distressing events Jesus predicted were not to be considered reasons for his followers to hide and be fearful.  Jesus said they would be opportunities for moral witness about God’s love and justice.  Jesus was warning about these things to challenge his followers to be vigilant and courageous witnesses in the face of all the distressing events he predicted they would experience.   

It’s prophetic witness time, folks!

Early this morning I opened an email message from Reverend Gilbert Caldwell, the 83 year old United Methodist champion for justice we met during the conference New Millennium hosted in April (Embracing and Affirming the LGBT Community in the Black Church – April 15-17, 2016).  Gil Caldwell included me among many people he sent a link to a blog post titled White Christians Who Voted For Donald Trump Fix This Now by Reverend John Pavlovitch, a member of the pastoral staff of a white non-denominational evangelical church in Raleigh, North Carolina.  I will end this sermon by sharing what Reverend Pavlovitch wrote because I think his viewpoint is what Jesus meant when he said distressing events are divine opportunities for followers of Jesus to be prophetic witnesses about God’s love and justice.

White Christians Who Voted for Donald Trump: Fix This. Now.
Description: child
We Christians like to talk about Hell a lot, so let’s talk about Hell a little.
Yesterday, in the very first few daylight hours after Donald Trump’s election victory it began:
Near San Francisco, a home in Noe Valley flew a nazi flag where kids walk by to get to school.
A white middle school student brought a Trump sign to school and told a black classmate it was time for him to get “back in place”.
A gay New York City man getting on a bus was told that he should “Enjoy the concentration camps, faggot!”
The NYU Muslim Students Association found the word “Trump!”scrawled on the door of their prayer room.
A female seminary student was stopped at a coffee shop with the words, “Smile sweetheart, we beat the cunt.”
Parents of children of color spent the day picking up their children early from elementary, middle, and high schools across the country because they were inundated with slurs and harassment and unable to study.
A group of Hispanic kids in Raleigh were taunted by white children, telling them they were “going back to Mexico.”
This is the personal Hell we’ve unleashed upon our people this week. 
And if you’re a white Christian and you voted for Donald Trump: You need to fix this. Now.
You comprise the lion’s share of Trump’s elevation to the highest office of our country.
You knew exactly who this man was while you held your noses and covered your eyes and endorsed him anyway.
You are fully responsible for the flood of personal sewage now engulfing children and adults of color, those in the LGBTQ community, those in the Muslim community.
And you, white Christian, better get you spiritual shit together and figure out how you’re going make this right.
Let’s be clear about something, brethren:
This is not the time to appeal to minorities and marginalized communities to “come together in unity” with white people right now.That was Hillary Clinton’s message, and even though she had the track record and the experience and the wherewithal to make it happen—you passed on it. Instead you chose the guy who’s entire resume is about supremacy and privilege, whose entire campaign was about the fear of the other (the other in this case, being anyone not white, straight, and Christian). You chose the guy endorsed by the KKK. You did.
You need to understand this.
Oppressed people aren’t obliged to make nice with their oppressors.
The bullied don’t owe anything to the bullies.
Victims don’t have to make their assailants feel better.
Young children of color aren’t responsible to educate racist children—or their parents.
In the 25th chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus tells his listeners, that those who followed after him, those who would bear his name are to love the least; not those who are less-than, but those who are treated as less-than. He then paints the picture of the eternal suffering Christians are always so willing to condemn others to, and he says that it will be their lack of love and compassion and mercy for these most vulnerable, most hurting people—that will condemn them.
White Christians and the white Church, especially if you voted for Donald Trump: this is all on you.
Your pastors need to speak clearly and explicitly into this, now.
Your church websites and social media pages need to address this harassment and bullying and terrorizing, now.
You need to talk to your white children and teach them how not to be horrible to other kids, and how to stand up to those who are being horrible, now.
You need to talk to your kid’s coaches and to your midweek Bible Study and to your co-workers and your church staff and your gun club—and you need to call this poison out, now.

White churches, this Sunday, your only sermon should be the one that reminds your white members what the parable of the Good Samaritan was compelling followers of Jesus to be: radically merciful when everyone else looked the other way.
You need to reach out to your neighbors and coworkers and classmates and social media friends who are part of marginalized communities and reassure them, listen to them, care for them, be Jesus to them.
If not, no matter how you rationalize it or try to squeeze your way out of it, the personal Hell so many people are living in and will continue to live in over the next four years, will be one of your design.
It will be your shared sin.
The blood will be on your hands.
This is your place and time in history to show people what Jesus is supposed to look like.
This is your urgent moment to make a testimony that is Christlike or to willingly and openly deny Christ.
This is your crucial opportunity to be the peacemakers, white Christians; not by compelling the marginalized to be more understanding or to ask them to come to the table with those who are injuring them—but by speaking directly into the face of those inflicting the injury and demanding their repentance.
Now you can dismiss these stories or diminish their collateral damage or accuse the victims of exaggeration. You can claim that things will die down once these people “get this out of their systems”.
You can turn away and logout and retreat into the cloistered security of your white Christian bubble of privilege.
Or, you can step out into the school hallways and bus stops and coffee shops and Twitter feeds and bring the bold, loving, redemptive presence of Jesus you’re always claiming you want to be in the world. You can actually step into Hell and bring the freakin’ love of God.
At times like these, Christians like to smile sweetly and say, “God is in control.”
No. God is not in control.
God didn’t vote for Donald Trump, you did.
Stop passing the buck to God.
God isn’t defacing prayer rooms.
God isn’t taunting gay teenagers.
God is not bullying kids on buses.
God isn’t threatening Muslim families.
White Christians are.
You are in control of this. You have pulpits and pews and a voice and influence and social media, so get to work. 
You need to do some knee to the dirt exploratory surgery with your Maker and figure out how you’re going to respond to this—and then respond.
For the love of God and for the love of the people you claim that God so loves—fix this.
Now.[7]

Donald Trump appears likely to lead an administration that will be insensitive, if not hateful, towards women, racial minorities, people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender, people who are disabled, working people, poor people, immigrants, Muslims, and people who resist oppression.  And yes, white people who profess to be followers of Jesus flocked to vote for him.  That doesn’t mean the world is about to end.  It means white followers of Jesus along with any other followers of Jesus have opportunities to be prophetic witnesses about God’s love and justice.

The criminal justice system does not appear to be fair to people who are black, brown, and poor.  It appears to sanction abusive and homicidal behavior by people in law enforcement.  That isn’t proof the world is about end.  It provides followers of Jesus opportunities to engage in prophetic citizenship for love and justice.

Public education is under attack from white supremacists, free market capitalists, and their subservient black lackeys.  That doesn’t mean the world is about to end.  It means we have opportunities to be prophets of protest, prophets who are unafraid to challenge the forces of power and supremacy, people who will not flinch and cower in the face of racist, homophobic, and xenophobic bigotry.

Let’s get with it!

Amen.

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