When Walls Fall, A Song Remains

by susan on November 14, 2016

walls-coming-downWords for the Journey    
Sunday, November 13, 2016

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. – Luke 21:5-19, NRSV

Some of us are feeling very hopeful today.
Others have had a tense, exhausting week & are feeling deflated.
Some of you are feeling more than that. You’re feeling terrified.

A man who was endorsed by the KKK, who we’ve seen do nothing to silence the racism, homophobia & Islamophobia of his followers and who we’ve heard make very degrading comments about women, immigrants & even a person with disabilities has been chosen to lead our country.

No matter how we voted, we are feeling the tension. It feels like a sign that something is being torn down – a sign that the openness, acceptance & diversity that was starting to make some of your lives & the lives of many of our neighbors safer & more integrated is being threatened in a very real way – so real that it has been felt in the pits of our stomachs & deep within our bones.

racismFor me, it’s been a week full of conversations. I’ve heard stories from people not being able to eat or sleep & some who are eating and drinking too much. I’ve also heard stories of racism rearing it’s ugly head – some personal stories & others more public, like this potential “prank” at Atlantic Coast High School. [image to left, source: actionnewsjax.com]

Instead of a glass ceiling breaking as most polls had anticipated, we are adjusting to different news. We find ourselves in unfamiliar & uncomfortable territory. Along with a new president-elect, much of the justice, equality & reconciliation we believe is God’s dream for the world seems in jeopardy.

What will happen now?
What will the future look like?
What will move God’s dream forward?

I wonder if these were the same questions Luke’s community was asking as they gathered to hear the gospel story? Luke’s community, the people he was writing this “good news” for, were a group of Jesus followers who felt God’s dream slipping through their fingers. Maybe they assumed, like most of us do, that if you are on the side of love and peace and reconciliation, God will bless you with success. Much to their disappointment & dismay, they were suffering instead.

The temple, their go-to-place for God’s presence had been destroyed.
The temple, as corrupt at it was, oriented them.
The temple, as much as it favored the privileged, gave them an identity.
Now, adjusting to life without it, they were struggling to figure out who they were and where they belong.

There’s more that was troubling them. It is also believed that Luke was writing to Gentiles or non-Jews, people who were not part of the lineage of God’s chosen people, but had received the good news anyway and were told they were full participants in God’s grace, love & forgiveness. One problem: not everyone received them as such. Some still thought of them as half breeds, as unequals.

A whole lot was breaking down around them.

So, Luke tells them a story about a time when Jesus overheard some of his followers adoring the temple. Idolizing it might be a better word. They were admiring its beauty when Jesus tells them the walls are coming down.

Jesus tells them that not only will the temple be torn down, but there will be wars, there will be earthquakes & plagues & there will be people coming along proclaiming “I am he” (i.e. “I am your savior coming to save you – I’ll get you out of this mess!”) – but none of this – none of this, says Jesus, will mean the end of the world.

In the words of Anne Lamott: “If it doesn’t seem like a bearable ending, maybe it ISN’T the end.”

One more bit of news for these followers who are probably wanting to run as far & as fast in the other direction as possible by now.

They will be arrested & persecuted,
they will be handed over to synagogues & prisons,
and they will be brought before kings and governors,
they will be hated & rejected by their families..

It’s like Jesus was saying, ‘If you refuse to get distracted & if you refuse to remain terrified & if you do the work I’ve been doing, if you love who I’ve been loving, you will suffer like I am suffering.’

Hmm…sounds a lot like what Luke’s community was experiencing already. According to Luke, these Gentiles were not only full participants in God’s grace & love, but they were called to be witnesses to it.

Even in the midst of disorientation, fear, brokenness & persecution, they were called to bear light. So are we.

God is not finished yet.
We still have work to do.
We still have a song to sing.

Mary Oliver has written a poem entitled, I Worried:

I worried a lot. Will the garden grow, will the rivers
flow in the right direction, will the earth turn
as it was taught, and if not how shall
I correct it?

Was I right, was I wrong, will I be forgiven,
can I do better?

Will I ever be able to sing, even the sparrows
can do it and I am, well,
hopeless.

Is my eyesight fading or am I just imagining it,
am I going to get rheumatism,
lockjaw, dementia?

Finally I saw that worrying had come to nothing.
And gave it up. And took my old body
and went out into the morning,
and sang.

crack-with-lightThere just may be a gift in all this darkness –
a crack for the light to blaze through.
an opportunity to sing our song –
like it has not been sung in a very long time.

It is tempting to sit by in times like these & let worry paralyze us. It’s tempting to do or say nothing. It is tempting to avoid the news altogether (after all, who needs all that negativity?!) and it’s tempting to turn a blind eye to the sufferings of others, but that is not who we are. We have a song to sing.

It’s a song of peace & love,
of freedom & forgiveness,
of healing & reconciliation.

It’s also a song of deep conviction,
of stubborn compassion,
of resistance to evil,
of protecting the oppressed,
of outrage at injustice.

A couple of warnings though:

Be careful in this moment. Be careful how you sing. Do not be led astray – do not become the very thing you rage against. Do not give into the hate-filled rhetoric, do not give into the exclusion & rejection of people who don’t think or believe like you do – that’s  not who we are. Be careful. All that we do must be rooted in love.

Be courageous in this moment. Standing with those who are marginalized was at the heart of Jesus’ life & mission and if we are to be any effective witness to him at all, it must be at the center of ours. That will mean getting more creative, taking more risks & coming together in ways we never have before. People in our community are afraid – some hearing this are afraid and we must be present for one another, offering comfort & protection & hope.

Just as I have felt & encountered despair, I have also felt & encountered hope this week. We need hope to help us endure the challenges & costs of practicing the way of Jesus & more often than not, we find it in community. My first spark of hope came on Wednesday morning when I received an email from a friend who has been helping plan our fall festival at a neighborhood park this weekend.

The email had only one line: “We’ll have a fire truck!”

That was it. These simple words reminded me that we have more power than we want to believe. We have the power at a community level to change the course of things, to build bridges & to provide safe places of love & belonging.

In the words of Nadia Bolz-Weber, ““Do not mistake my refusal to be swallowed by fear and despair as acquiescence. It is defiance.”

As followers of Jesus,
we have a song of defiant hope
that needs to be sung & heard.

Will we dare to sing it?

This message was shared as part of a worship gathering that also included prayers of confession, lament & an invitation to consider the personal commitments we are willing to practice a defiant hope. We were also invited to share in a “defiant communion”, an open table for all who are in need of healing.

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