Garrison Keillor once said that “the Gospel is meant to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” That is a hard task for preachers, but it is in line with how Jesus operated in his ministry. Jesus lifted up the lowly, even as he made the Pharisees (who thought they were doing all the right things) extremely uncomfortable.
One of the questions I asked the Vestry when I was interviewing was “What is one thing that, if I were to preach it from the pulpit, would make you uncomfortable?” The answer: “Politics.” I totally get it. We’re all tired of the rhetoric and the pandering and the self-interest that rules politics in our time. We’re tired of the partisanship. And yet… I can’t help but think, politics is an integral part of how we live our lives. “Politics” rules our decision-making processes about who leads us and what kinds of actions we take as we live in community together. “Politics” is not something that we can afford to avoid or ignore, because inevitably politics will interact with our life of faith.
Jesus, who was pretty brilliant, certainly knew this. And that is what made him such a threat – he challenged the political systems and mores of his time. He included people in God’s mission of mercy that most would exclude– Samaritans and Caananites, tax collectors, prostitutes, lepers – “sinners” who were anathema to the religious community. He turned over the tables of the moneylenders who were turning a profit in God’s house of worship, which made a profound statement about an economic system that took advantage of the poor. “Politics” is ultimately what got Jesus crucified on the cross – the comfortable did not like the challenge he issued to their decisions and actions. Jesus was an intensely political figure who addressed not only politics but also what is moral, and now a bigger conversation needs to be had that transcends normal political partisanship and gets to the moral issues.
Power does not like to be challenged. The Nazi rally at Charlottesville is one example of how power reacts to being challenged. “White supremacy” is the battle cry of people who believe that their power is being taken away from them by people of another ethnicity. “White supremacy” believes that whites are superior to all others, that non-white human beings are discardable and have no right to exist. Many of the demonstrators cited the Gospel of John alongside their chants of “Jews will not replace us” and “blood and soil.” I am sure that they think they are being “good Christians,” defending their interpretation of scripture. But theirs is a twisted reading. What they are championing is evil. Racism is a sin – and it is America’s original sin. Racism, unfortunately, is written into our foundational documents and history. Now America’s racists are teaming up with Nazis who are using anti-Judaism, Christianity’s original sin which is written into Christianity’s foundational documents, using the Gospel of John to specifically name the Jews as the perpetrators of Jesus death. But movements based on racial “supremacy” are antithetical to the Gospel – the Gospel that asks us to reach beyond the borders and barriers we erect to say who is in and who is out. Jesus consistently reached out and included those who, by most, were considered “out.” Dr. Russell Moore, the evangelical theologian, writes this: "The church should call white supremacy what it is: terrorism, but more than terrorism. White supremacy is Satanism. Even worse, white supremacy is a devil-worship that often pretends that it is speaking for God." White supremacy is a heresy. It is the idolatry of worshipping whiteness.
On Sunday we will read Matthew’s story of the Syro-Phoenician woman – a triple outsider by gender, religion, and ethnicity – who begs Jesus for mercy on her daughter, possessed by a demon. Jesus’s initial response is to ignore her then to address her with a demeaning epithet. Even Jesus struggled with who was in and who was out – or whoever was attributing those words to Jesus was – but to be consistent with Jesus’s mission of mercy, he ultimately recognizes that she, too, is a beloved child of God. He listens to her. Because of her faith, he responds to her plea.
All around us, we can hear people crying out for mercy. We hear people crying out for inclusion. We hear people crying out for the good news of God’s love. Jesus says “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free.” Jesus came to proclaim good news to the people who need him, not to the people who are comfortable in their own sense of righteousness.
It’s time for us to get real with one another. If as a church we proclaim “All are welcome,” we have to be willing to look around to see who’s missing from our community. Whose voices are not heard? Are we willing to hear them, even if they say something we might find uncomfortable? Are we willing to sit down together and have the honest, difficult conversations that make us uncomfortable? I invite you to live into the discomfort – I’m right there with you.
As we grow together as a faith community, please know how excited I am about getting to know each of you and your families. I don't know your politics. I don't know much about Tarheels and Blue Devils and Wolves. I am learning to appreciate the crazy weather and heat and beauty all around us here. It will take us a while to get to know one another. But I am betting we have far more in common than not, and that we all are on a journey together to be the hands and feet of Jesus Christ.
I might say something that offends your politics and I hope that, if I do, you’ll have a conversation with me about it, either after church or by meeting with me in your home or at coffee. It’ll be uncomfortable, but it will help us understand one another better and, hopefully, help us to live more authentically as the people God intends for us to be. It starts with being honest. It starts with getting real.