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Evangelism

 

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Pastor James Clarke’s sermon for Sunday, November 13, 2016, just after the presidential election. Listen to the sermon here.

The first thing I want to say is that the thinking and planning for this sermon came before the election on Tuesday… I wrote all but the very end of this on Tuesday morning.

The second thing I want to say is that the lectionary text from the gospel for this Sunday is a lectionary text. That is, I didn’t choose it!

The third thing I want to say is that the system IS rigged, as Donald Trump has said, again and again, but not in the way he has meant it.

It is rigged by many things but mostly because of money.

It is rigged by gerrymandering. By mixing politics with business which affects the media so that they prioritize ratings over investigating the facts. The media has been politicized It is rigged by prioritizing winning over governing.

By obstructionism.

By name calling.

By launching attacks rather than seeking dialogue.

The only people who can win are those who have money or who kowtow to money.

Plato had misgivings about democracy: He gives an allegory of a boat and its captain who is a little feeble. And in order to stay at the helm, will do whatever the crew wants even if it is to navigate to destruction.

Alexis de Tocqueville, a French aristocrat who toured America, to learn about democracy, Also had a warning about democracy. In his 1835 classic, Democracy in America that is if the masses are not educated It would result in the tyranny of the majority. I would say that it is less that democracy in America is rigged and more that it is simply broken.

Are the masses “educated” in America? Do we know enough about history, ethics, religion, government, basic civics to call ourselves adequately prepared to vote and participate in our democracy? Sadly, appealing to the emotions of uneducated people will not save our planet. Our navigational course is now set for destruction.

If anything, I believe we live in a plutocracy today. An indirect plutocracy. That is the rule of the wealthy.

If we were to imagine a symbol of our idealistic democracy a tower or statue, like the Statue of Liberty, and it was cast down.

The Liberty Bell isn’t cracked, it’s broken!

That is somewhat how I feel after two years of campaigning.

That is how the early Christians that Luke was addressing felt… As if everything had fallen apart.

This all centered on the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE. The Temple was the symbol and the center of structure and meaning It was the center of the world for Jews. And for early Christians. As democracy is for us, and after the Jewish revolt, the Romans tore it down.

A little historical context: Paul wrote his epistles in the late 50s. Mark wrote his first gospel at the time of the destruction of the Temple. Luke’s gospel wasn’t written until the mid-90s Over 20 years after the event.

And the context is, this world sucks! Or something like that and, where is Jesus to get us out of this?

That had been the hope for years. A hope expressed by Paul and in Mark’s gospel. A hope that was felt to be immanent. But it wasn’t.

In this context, to those Luke was writing to there was a choice: To continue to hope for a fiery and gallant return of Jesus to destroy this mess of a world. Or to live in it.

Luke was interested in evangelizing the Empire, Not escaping it into the heavens. So when he warns in this passage about false prophets, he means those escapists Like the Left Behind authors, Jerry Jenkins and Tim LaHaye.

He said, “Watch out for the doomsday deceivers. Many leaders are going to show up with forged identities claiming, ‘I’m the One,’ or, ‘The end is near.’ Don’t fall for any of that. When you hear of wars and uprisings, keep your head and don’t panic. This is routine history and no sign of the end.”

Instead, Luke asks the people to endure Telling them that it’s going to get bad. You’re going to be persecuted. Families will be broken up for following Jesus. For saying Jesus is Lord and not Caesar. You must… again from the Message Stay with it, that’s what’s required. Stay with it all the way to the end.

Then Luke adds something that is less explanation than imperative. He says that all of this persecution, brokenness and chaos is a time for testimony. An opportunity to testify.

Are you kidding me?! Sitting in prison is a chance to testify To witness to others? Who made this deal?

As Donald Trump would say, we need new deals. Better deals. Really good deals. Like… getting out of all of this, right?

When we are laid low… feeling depressed about the world in a tight spot or when we are being criticized, it’s not the time we want to evangelize, is it?!

In our world, when the statue of democracy has fallen, in the midst of the depressing, gerrymandered political landscape I just described, we’re supposed to evangelize?!

Wouldn’t it be enough just to endure and survive? Hide and lick our wounds?

In our Wednesday class, we are reading Brian McLaren’s book Generous Orthodoxy, and he makes a distinction between Evangelical and evangelical.

For him, Evangelical means those who identify with a demographic. Who believe they are called to share their truth with others and thereby change their minds. Evangelical is about “telling” others. Just like politicians

Evangelical and evangelism with a lower case ‘e’ is different.

Here we don’t engage others from a position of strength or power as if we own the truth, we approach others from a position of weakness in full acceptance of our suffering and brokenness.

Instead of saying to people, “this is how you need to see it,” we say, “I don’t get it… the world is so confusing.

It is sharing from our vulnerability… It’s about being in relationships – focusing on relationships more than on beliefs. It’s about asking about each other’s stories and sharing experiences.

And here’s the thing…. We can do that in prison. We can share with other’s from the context of our life stories. From the depth of our pain and confusion. In the midst of struggle and pain…And that’s the kind of testimony that was asked of the Early Christians – and is asked of us too.

I have mentioned NY Times columnist David Brooks before during this Election cycle.

As I said before, he is the conservative representative on PBS Newshour on Fridays when they recap the week. I think Donald Trump has really unsettled David Brooks. He believes in conservative politics but can’t abide Trump.

In the midst of this confusion on November 2nd he wrote a column about Jewish theologian Martin Buber. And I just about went into shock.

Buber was one of my father’s favorite theologians. I read his book, I and Thou in high school. In my office there is a portrait of Buber that used to hang In my father’s office. From my perspective, David Brooks would not be the person to write about Martin Buber. It really is wonderful to be surprised.

Brooks starts his column with: If America were a marriage we’d need therapy.

For Martin Buber, there are two kinds of relationships: I-It and I-Thou.

I-It relationships are utilitarian… a relationship with a coach is an I-It relationship, or with a broker or fellow preschool parent when we have play dates.

Most relationships are I-It relationships.

I-Thou relationships are, to use Brooks’ words:

Personal, direct, dialogical- nothing is held back… Deep calls to deep. Offering up themselves and embracing the other in some total unselfconscious way.

It is rooted in sharing from our vulnerability, our weakness and mutual struggle. Not from our power.

Brooks is advocating that we seek these relationships and that if we do so might help heal our nation:

Today, American is certainly awash in distrust. So many people tell stories of betrayal. So many leaders (Trump) model combativeness, isolation and distrust. But the only way we get beyond depressing years like this one is at the level of intimacy: if Americans reconnect with the living center of the national story and they rebuild Thous at every level. 

This is evangelism, with a small case ‘e’. This is the testimony we need.

Not the big E Testimony of Evangelicalism – telling others that they better get on the boat or they will be “Left Behind.”

But the shared stories, I-Thou evangelism that invites people into community rather than telling them what to believe. In this chaotic time, our nation needs our testimony. All this and much more not by telling people, but by entering into relationships with people.

Postscript, that is, post election…

I truly and firmly believe in evangelism and testifying with open hearts in relationships and out of our vulnerability.

But then Trump won… And now I am flooded with other feelings.

The first is the admonishment to ‘endure’ carries much more weight. We have to endure. And the call to testify feels more urgent.

Ideally through I-Thou relationships from positions of vulnerability but also firmly… like Gandhi. And Martin Luther King, Jr. Oh how we miss you!

We still have to resist injustice and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves. This anxious time that is now before us is an opportunity for testimony .

We need to testify to the harm of incivility in politics the name calling and bullying.

We need to testify to damage of competition in relationships.

We need to testify to the need for education, not training and not just STEM subjects, but arts and sciences, languages and philosophy that teach people about how to be citizens.

We need to testify to impairment of gerrymandering and obstructionism.

We need to testify to the importance of facts over truthiness.

We need to testify by calling on the media to do their job.

We need to testify to the evil of money in politics.

We need to testify to the myopic vision of business and work to save the planet.

We need to testify that it’s not just about ourselves and we need to seek the common good.

We need to testify again that racism is immoral.

We need to testify that misogyny is violent, hurtful and contrary to God’s will.

We need to testify that homophobia is not loving or biblical.

We need to testify that xenophobia is harmful and that the people of God were immigrants.

We need to testify, that we live in God’s creation, and it is morally wrong to unmindfully destroy it.

We need to testify that the wealth distribution in our country is immoral.

We need to testify to the love of God in a world where democracy is broken, and the rich and powerful rule no less than they did in Rome.

And it may hurt to do so.

But we will endure. We must endure. We shall overcome.

The end of the passage from Luke:

You’ll end up on the witness stand, called to testify.

Make up your mind right now not to worry about it.

I’ll give you the words and wisdom that will reduce all your accusers

To stammers and stutters….

You are I my care – nothing of you will be lost.

Staying with it – that’s what is required.

Stay with it to the end

You won’t be sorry, you’ll be saved.

This is the Word of the Lord. Amen.

 

 

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