(Excerpts from Luke 21: 8-19)
There is a story, in our tradition, that takes place just after Jesus’s death. Though his death had been foreshadowed, his friends and followers could not imagine that outcome. After all, they believed him to be the Messiah, and how could he BE the Messiah and also be killed? After his death people were in shock. They were sure that this was not supposed to happen. When mere days after his death several women went to the tomb carrying herbs and spices to anoint his body, they were completely bewildered to find the stone rolled away. Inside was a man dressed in a white robe, who told them, “Do not be alarmed! You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. But he has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him? Now go, tell his disciples…” This seems like it would be a joyous announcement, but the story concludes with these cryptic lines: “Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. But they said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.”
Many of us have spent this week in shock and disbelief. No matter which candidate you supported, this was not “supposed to happen.” Almost every poll and every predictor was sure that the results would go the other way. We are in uncharted territory. There is no roadmap for what comes next. Like the women at the tomb, many of us are disoriented and unsure of what to think. But— though this is perplexing, and for many, quite scary, it is important that we keep our eyes, our ears and our hearts open. Because, we are Easter people. People who acknowledge the hardships and devastations in the world around us, but also people who continue to watch and wait for the resurrection. The resurrection of hope. The resurrection of a new story. The resurrection of God through us. The women at the tomb did not share the good news of the resurrection. They were still too hurt and stunned. But even as we grieve, I would encourage us to make ourselves ready. This is not a time to be passive. This is not a time to remain silent. This is unknown territory, a time to bind ourselves together, to raise our voices against injustice, to hold ourselves and one another to a higher standard. But before we can moved forward in this story, we have to pause, to take stock, and to notice where we are today.
On Tuesday morning my spouse and I headed to our local polling station with our biggest concern being the length of the lines. After voting we placed our “I VOTED” stickers on my pregnant belly and uploaded our family voting picture to Facebook to celebrate this kiddo’s first election. How lucky are we that we could participate in our political system with such ease… knowing that this hasn’t been true for so many people throughout our country’s history, and still is not true for many around the world.
But that same afternoon I read a Facebook post that rattled me profoundly. It was by a young Muslim woman who had gone to vote earlier in the day with her parents. Before leaving the house her mother carefully helped them each to select their outfits, so as not to draw too much attention to themselves at the polls. After voting, her father declared that the family would not leave the house for the rest of the day. Just in case things were to get violent, he wanted them all to be safe.
On Wednesday, my cousin, who is an immigration attorney in Los Angeles, spent the day answering phone calls from tearful and fearful clients. Her clients wanted to know when they should expect to be deported: would it be immediate? Many said that they needed a timeline so they could get child care plans in place for their kids, should they come home from school one day to find their parents were gone. These are people who are in the process of trying to get legal standing, but whose cases have not yet been heard. Some of them have been in process for years and have children who are American citizens. Some of them have been here since they themselves were children, so this is the only home they identify with. At the end of a long day of these phone calls, my cousin drove home trying to focus on the road through a continuous veil of tears.
On Thursday I had a phone date with an old friend in Virginia. She told me that she and her wife were scrambling to pull funds together so that she could legally adopt their daughter. You see, her wife was the birth mother of the child. They are currently legally married, but she feared that SHE would no longer be seen as a legal parent if their marriage were to be nullified in the days ahead.
Now I don’t know who any of you voted for. If this church mirrors the town of Gorham, then I can be sure that we did not all vote for the same candidate. And each of us cast our vote for a complex set of reasons that we likely worked hard to arrive at. That is all part of our right as citizens of the country— and for that I am truly grateful. But that is not what I want to talk about this morning. What I want to talk about this morning is shock, hopelessness, and FEAR. Regardless of which side of the aisle we find ourselves on, I don’t believe that there is a single person in THIS room who would celebrate that story of the Muslim-American family being afraid to go to the polls on election day. And even if you strongly believe in immigration reform, I don’t believe there is anyone in THIS church who is without compassion for the folks who fear for their children’s safety or live with anxiety and uncertainty around their legal status each and every day. Even my friend who lives in Virginia, a state that was deeply divided in the election, she doesn’t believe that most of her neighbors would want her to lose legal rights to her kid… regardless of how they feel about federally mandated marriage equality. No, I don’t believe that anyone in this room went to bed on Tuesday hoping that members of their community would wake up on Wednesday with fear in their hearts… And yet that is what has happened. Since the election, across the country there has been an uptick in verbal and physical violence:
– A black woman in Indiana posted on Facebook about being yelled at outside of a Burger King by a group of young White men, one of whom yelled, “Hey Nigger. Pick that up. Keep my streets clean” as he threw his trash on the ground in front of her.
-On a street corner in Cambridge, a passerby witnessed an exchange between two men. One was a uniformed US Postal worker who yelled to a Latino man walking into a convenience store, “Go back to your country. You ain’t getting a check no more.”
-A young, trans-identified, Jewish person who lives in the greater Boston area was called a “queer” and a “kike” in two separate incidences on their commute home from work— and this had never happened to them before.
-A school admin in PA reported that at their local high school they had spent the past few days putting out fires: swastikas spray painted in the bathroom, a Mexican student who found note in her back pack telling her to go home, hate messages on the lockers of several LGBTQ students, and a Muslim student had her hijab forcefully ripped from her head.
– Another woman reported being at a Starbucks awaiting a colleague. As she waited she received a FaceTime call from a deaf friend. They began to have a conversation in American Sign Language over the screen. As an ASL user she said she is used to being stared at, so she shook off the man glaring at her. But this time was different, the man approached getting only inches from her face and yelled, “This is White America now, take your retarded self and go somewhere else.” “The scariest part” she said, “is that he was 2 inches from my face screaming and no one said or did anything to try and stop him.” Shaken, she packed up her belongings and left.
These are horrifying incidences— but upon first reading of them, I kept thinking about how lucky I am to live in Maine… only to realize that we are not immune either. Closer to home in Portland, a man approached a friend of mine who was parking her car before a walk with her dog. “Just so you know” he said “Your ‘Black Lives Matter’ sticker means nothing anymore.” An acquaintance was at Planet Fitness in Portland yesterday. She posted this message to her Facebook wall: “There are two White guys next to me at the gym joking about having the phone number for Immigration saved on their phones so they can go up to people and demand to see their citizen papers and then report them if they don’t have them.” In Westbrook, a friend of a friend who is a second generation Mexican American got screamed at while in the store, ”I can’t wait until he sends all of you back to Mexico” (pause) Most of us in this room will not experience this kind of intimidation first hand… but it is vital that we keep our eyes open and listen to the folks who are experiencing these things.
But, scary as these incidences are, this is not about a few “rotten apples” acting out in overtly racist, hateful ways. These are the symptoms of much larger illnesses in this country. There are the insidious sicknesses of racism, misogyny, ableism and homophobia that are visibly at work. And yet, these are all part of a larger illness called FEAR, which was actively perpetuated throughout this entire election cycle… yes, by the candidates, but also by the media. Rather than rallying hope for a stronger, more prosperous future for all, we were encouraged to mistrust and fear one another. And the thing is, it was media gold. The more inflammatory each side became, the more exciting the media coverage became. This was not your typical election here: no restrained Romney or slightly-snooze-worthy-Gore. This was reality TV at its finest. Each side was told to see the other candidate as the embodiment of evil and corruption… and that person’s followers as stupid, greedy, brainwashed, out-of-touch, and as the root of all of the problems in our country. And now here we are: a nation divided. Only 57% of eligible voters turned out for this election— but those who did were nearly evenly split, with one candidate winning the popular vote and the other the electoral college.
And since we are focusing on the media this month, it is also worth noting that, almost across the board, the media failed to predict the outcome of this election. Data journalism, empirical models and experts, all thought they could see where we were headed. But they failed miserably. And perhaps this was in part because they failed to see their own role in it. They failed to see how their reporting was playing into this dramatic, sensationalized spectacle. Instead they modeled for us what not-listening looks like, with commentators who literally yelled over one another and played on our worst fears. Each side became its own echo-chamber. But when we only listen to ourselves, we miss out on actually hearing the full diversity of concerns. Trump tapped into the fears of a declining American middle class— and these are real fears, fears of people who are falling through the cracks and feeling unrepresented as our global economic landscape changes. On the other side, Clinton tried to be a voice for immigrants, people of color, and an advocate for women’s rights— she talked about the progress being made in our country but also pointed to continued racial and gender disparities. And, if we really break it down, these two stances are not oppositional. In fact, the concerns of both sides are largely the results of the same broken system… In reality, the American middle class and working poor— across all racial and ethnic divides— have more in common than the media would have us believe.
In his victory speech President Elect Trump said, “It is time to bind the wounds of division… To all Republicans and Democrats and independents across this nation, I say it is time for us to come together as one united people.” And in her concession speech, Hilary Clinton said, “I believe we are stronger together and we will go forward together.” Sounds nice, right? But, of course, this is easier said than done. This election has taken its toll on us all. Very few people have arrived to today feeling inspired by the goodness of our shared humanity. Few of us feel closer to our brothers and sisters across the aisle, or even in our own communities. And perhaps even fewer of us feel hopeful about the future and how we will work together to faithfully move this country forward. No, the negative campaigning not only blemished the candidates, it impacted us all. We have been swimming in divisive rhetoric and fear for more than a year and it has leached into our minds and bodies. We have begun to believe that the enemy is all around us. And so, it is no wonder that these days after this election are not marked by a renewed vigor to work together— but rather by more fear and more anger.
I am sure some of you noticed that our scripture this morning sounded awfully familiar a the end of this arduous election season. Written almost 2,000 years ago, we hear many of the same trends emerging. It says (in The Message translation):
“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.”
“Nation will fight nation and ruler fight ruler, over and over. Huge earthquakes will occur in various places. There will be famines. You’ll think at times that the very sky is falling.”
“They’ll arrest you, hunt you down, and drag you to court and jail. It will go from bad to worse, dog-eat-dog, everyone at your throat…You’ll even be turned in by parents, brothers, relatives, and friends. There’s no telling who will hate you because of me.”
It is hard to believe that this text was the lectionary text for today— assigned long, long before this political campaign underway. And yet here it is: these deeply, almost eerily resonant words. In this text, the writers of Luke remind us that Jesus— like almost all great religious leader and prophets— was not teaching and preaching in a time of ease and prosperity. He was a truth-teller, speaking out against the injustice of the world around him. Unsettling the comfortable. Including the marginalized. Listening to people’s pain. Being a voice, and ally, for the voiceless. Reaching across boundaries and borders. When people ask WWJD— the answer is quite clear: he would wash the feet of or share a meal with those who were hurting… all of them from the lawyers and tax collectors to the strangers and the sex workers. He would stand up again and again for those who were afraid— even at the risk of his own safety and comfort. He would build a vision for a beloved community, all the while taking the people around him to task for the ways that they tried to claim God’s favor only for themselves and those like them.
Friends, this is not an easy time to be a TRUE follower of Jesus— carrying on his work of peace and love and justice… We have been tasked with hard work in the days ahead. We have been anointed to roll up our sleeves, to go out into the world and build a place of more compassion for ALL of God’s children. We have been called on, not to gloss over our pain or build false nicey-nice unity, but to do the hard work of loving across all boundaries… even when that love looks like holding people accountable to their better, more compassionate selves. And so, as Christians, we commit ourselves to standing together against the forces of harm and division. We commit ourselves to working for goodness and justice. We commit ourselves to the hard work of being allies for those who are living in fear. We commit ourselves to forging ahead with courage and fortitude of spirit. May we draw on the power of our tradition, so we might move forward with resolve, hope, and prophetic vision in the days ahead.
This morning, in lieu of our next hymn, I want to do something downright Pentecostal (or at least Episcopalian). I want to invite you up for a anointing. What does that mean? Well, I want to invite you up to be blessed for the hard work that lies ahead… I am here, equipped with scented oil and prayers. The table behind me is strewn with candles— a symbol of light that shines most brightly in the deepest shadows. We will sit together, in contemplative prayer and, if it feels right for you— even amidst your own anger, sense of division and disillusionment, I want to invite you to come forward to light a candle of hope and/or receive God’s blessing…trusting it will live in you until the time you are ready to get up and keep on fighting for what is good and righteous, what is just and holy. Please join me now in a spirit of contemplation…