So, About Last Sunday…
This Sunday, we are going to be heading back to the book of Romans. It’s been almost a year since we stepped away from our study in order to focus on the unique challenges of the pandemic. I think it’s time to head back to our study of Romans and I am super excited to dig back into this glorious book with you.
Before we shift gears to move forward, though, I’d like to make a few clarifying comments about my sermon last weekend.
I’ve had some conversations that have revealed to me that I may have inadvertently made some of you feel like I didn’t see you or value you. Even as I said that I loved you, I may have created a context where you were hearing that I didn’t.
So, before moving forward, I’d like to readdress a few things I said in my sermon that may have miscommunicated what I wanted to say. I know, even as I dip my toe back in this water, that I am in danger of stumbling with my words again. I appreciate (and am truly grateful for) the grace each of you have given me over the years as I have, at different points, stumbled for the right words and hurt people unintentionally. Leading a diverse community to grace in this time of radical divisiveness, mistrust, and fear is no easy task, and I ask for your continued grace as I seek to keep moving forward, even if I do so stumblingly at times.
So, a few clarifying thoughts:
First, it was not my intention to belittle or mock those who voted for President Trump. I made a few comments at the start of my sermon that may have been taken as mocking. But, I assure you, that wasn’t my intention. I was trying to get at the disorienting strangeness surrounding the events of January 6. I spoke of the juxtaposition of the silly and the serious and made an attempt at humor (which is always dangerous) by saying many in the crowd looked like they were preparing for “a middle aged booze cruise.”
This was my attempt at humorously describing the atmosphere and appearances that stood in stark contrast to the events of the day. We saw images of people who were dressed up for a fun event – some silly, some looking like they were going to a party. They were moms and dads and grandma’s and grandpa’s, taking selfies and having a good time. But what was silly suddenly became deadly – and part of the danger came from the fact that those who were intent on violence in the crowd were being given the advantage of not being taken seriously.
(Now, even as I type this, I know that there are others in our community who were never, not for a moment, put off guard by the party-like atmosphere at the Capitol. When the gallows were raised and a noose displayed, surrounded by people laughing and apparently having a good time, it echoed images of well-dressed and “civil” people gathering for picnics around lynchings of black men and women. There is simply no way to set up the imagery of lynching without bringing to mind our nation’s ugly history of using the power of death to terrorize African Americans into not challenging structures of white supremecy.)
So, to be clear, I was not trying to mock people who voted for President Trump. Nor am I saying that there weren’t likely people who went to President Trump’s rally with the intent of protesting and not rioting. My comments at the opening of my sermon were specifically about the riot – and the hundreds of Trump supporters who were actively engaged or passively present.
And, to my friends who are tempted to jump on the bandwagon of heaping disdain on your political opponents during this time, I would like to offer you a word of warning – this isn’t the time to gloat. There’s never a time to gloat. Even if you perceive them as having gloated over your fear and discomfort previously. Proverbs 24:17 tells us, “Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and let not your heart be glad when he stumbles.”
To belittle people with whom you disagree and to allow your heart to celebrate their hardships is not in harmony with the “better word” spoken to us by the blood of Christ. Where Cain exercised his power to defeat the brother he perceived as his enemy, Jesus exercised his power to love the enemy he perceived as his friend. To take up power to diminish others or triumph over them is wicked and worldly.
So, if my opening comments made you feel like I was seeking to mock your current discomfort or minimize your anxiety at this moment, I am sorry.
Secondly, I want to admit and confess that I missed an opportunity to directly speak into and comfort the fear that is gripping many hearts right now. Some of you are feeling tremendous anxiety about “big tech” and “leftist overreach” to cancel the voices of people you listen to and trust. You fear the political and cultural influence of this new administration. Others of you are feeling anxiety about right-wing militia groups, with their violent racism and plans to stage armed protests against president-elect Biden and the democratic and peaceful transfer of power in the coming days.
My goal here isn’t to affirm the legitimacy or challenge the basis of those fears, but simply to acknowledge that they are impacting you. I obviously have my own opinions about where the greater threats lie, but what good does it do for me to try to convince you I am right? At the end of the day, I may be proven wrong!
I don’t serve you by trying to convince you I am right. I serve you by humbly entreating you to believe that I love you, whoever is right.
And to call you to join me in resisting the seductive influence of fear. Fear warps our perceptions of what is real and what is not. It causes us to see enemies where there are only disagreements. It inflames anger and kicks our need to self-justify and self-protect into high gear. Fear will never lead us to a genuine place of safety or sanity.
Y’all, I’m not saying that there aren’t fearful things in this world. There are many things to fear in this world, not the least of which are evil people plotting evil things. But while fear is a rational response to threat, we simply cannot give ourselves over to that fear to be controlled by it.
Whatever it is that is giving you anxiety, the thing you fear is not greater than the One in whom you hope, and whatever it is you fear cannot touch your true security in Christ. Jesus has already won. He’s already been raised from the dead. All the chaos, all the confusion, all the plots of man – will be exposed in time for the foolish worldliness that they are.
Meanwhile, we are called out of fear because true love casts out fear (1 John 4:18). One of the unfortunate byproducts of living in a country where we come to expect both affluence and influence, is that we grow soft to suffering and see it as something we have a right to avoid. The scripture reminds us that we are strangers and aliens in this world and citizens of a better kingdom. If fear is overtaking our hearts, it may be an indication that we are putting more hope in the temporary kingdom of this world than we are in the kingdom of Christ, a kingdom that cannot be shaken.
Brothers and sisters, I encourage you to go read and meditate on John 14, Jesus’s word to his disciples when he was preparing them to find their way in this world as they awaited his return. His words are just as relevant to us today as they were to his disciples in the first century. And the final verse of that chapter is a call to us as it was to them, “Rise, let us go from here” (John 14:31).
Together, let’s get up, brush ourselves off, and refocus the eyes of our faith on the only One True King worthy of our confidence and hope, and let’s leave this fear behind. Yeah, things are being shaken, and if our only hope were in this world, we’d be justified in sitting in our little circles of fear and pride. But this world is not all there is. It’s not even close to being the best of what is. Our King is risen. Our king is returning. And the fullness of his kingdom is coming with him
So, rise. Let’s leave the place of fear. Together. Let’s commit to seeing one another and loving one another even if we don’t agree with one another.
So, I will say it again. I love you. And I am so glad that I get to be in the sacred community of the firstborn with you.
Together, let’s grow rich in love.