The Rev. Nancy E. Gossling
Let us pray:
O God of peace, who has taught us that in returning and rest we shall be saved, in quietness and confidence shall be our strength, by the might of Your Spirit, lift us we pray into Your presence, so that we may be still and know that You are God.
Last time I was here with you at St. Peter’s, it was in the middle of August and nearly 100 degrees in temperature. The gospel passage assigned for that Sunday was Jesus telling his disciples that he had come not to bring peace to the earth but rather division. And while today’s November temperature is much cooler than the last time I was here, the political temperature is not. Just call me Captain Obvious.
I find today’s gospel lesson as challenging as it was in August. “As for these things that you see,” Jesus said, “the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.” Scary things will happen, Jesus warned the crowds. “Nation will rise against nation; there will be great earthquakes, famines, and plagues. They will arrest you and persecute you, there will be family betrayals, and some people will even die.” Call me Captain Obvious again, but today I feel as if Jesus is the anchor of our current news station.
Perhaps you remember that my husband Paul and I are Red Sox fans. In October, we attended Papi’s last game which was when the Red Sox were defeated by the Cleveland Indians. Your rector, Christian, and I, and some of you here at St. Peter’s, attended our Diocesan Convention recently, where the bishop began his homily by asking people who had supported the Chicago Cubs (the blue team) to stand up. Then he asked those who had supported the Cleveland Indians (the red team) to stand up. The room was obviously divided, but not very evenly. Clearly more people favored the Cubs.
Now I’m not going to ask you stand up if you supported Hillary Clinton (the blue team) or Donald Trump (the red team). Often we tend to hang out with people who are similar to us; and yet we may also seek diversity in our communities and churches so that we can hear from a variety of perspectives, and appreciate the diversity of God’s creation. Perhaps like me, you had family, friends, colleagues, and neighbors who voted very differently from you this year. Maybe not. But regardless of your choice for president, I dare say that most of us were disgusted by the disrespectful dialogue, the dishonesty, and the lack of civility that is still evident. Many of us are distrustful of what is being reported and what is being promised - fearful about what is happening or what might happen to our country in the future. Most of us believe that it’s going to take a very long time to heal and to reconcile such deep and bitter divisions among us.
“Brothers and sisters, do not be weary in doing what is right,” said St. Paul to the very earliest Christian community in Thessalonica. Not unlike them, and Jesus, we too can see unjust political, economic, and religious systems that are crushing hard-working and faithful people, that are crushing ourselves, our souls, and bodies so that we cannot breathe. Like them, it can be tempting for us to give up, to become mere busybodies, all talk and no action, and to quit working faithfully and peacefully for justice and mercy for all God’s beloved people. It is easy to get weary with life’s challenges and sinful systems; and it’s not always easy to “do the next right thing.”
Bishop Gates, in a letter to the people of our diocese, wrote this: “Our national election is behind us, leaving in its wake a legacy of bitterness and hostility. For some, alienation is the apparent reason for the election’s outcome; for others alienation is its result. In either case, we face grievous division and manifest anxiety. At our recent Diocesan Convention I cited the hazard of viewing the world in terms of winners and losers–a framework which propels us towards adversarial relationships, and self-concern over communal well-being.”
“Now is not a time to live out (our) habitual behaviors of winners and losers. (Rather) now is a time to rededicate ourselves to the Christian ideal of breaking down the dividing walls of hostility which divide us (Ephesians 2:14). Now is a time to rededicate ourselves to the American ideal of liberty and justice for all.” (end quote) Or as St. Paul wrote to the Thessalonians, “Brothers and sisters, do not be weary in doing what is right.”
Before he was elected president of the United States, and while he was serving our country in World War 2, President Kennedy had to swim 3 miles to shore after his PT boat was destroyed by the enemy. With words that were at times encouraging, and at other times demanding, Kennedy exhorted his companions to keep on swimming, and not give up. They could all see the distant land. They hoped that they could make it. But first, they had their work cut out for them. They had to swim.
At times of high stress and transition, it is easy to lose our focus, or to panic, and forget the basics of how to swim in cold waters. It feels easier to destroy people and their properties, literally or figuratively, rather than doing the painstaking work of choosing to do the “next right thing.” It’s hard to endure team losses, or life’s disappointments, or deep divisions when we feel the chains of oppression around our wrists, the bars of injustice limiting our potential, dark nights that crowd out distant hopes, and threats of death that, like sharks, can circle in the waters all around us, unseen beneath the surface, before they strike. Sometimes the Promised Land seems so far off that we feel as if we shall surely drown in our own tears before we arrive.
But here’s the gospel truth that can set us free, at least for today. Regardless of our political party, our gender, our race, our socio-economic status, or even our nationality, “those people” are us. We are them; and they are us, and we’re all in this boat together. As President Obama recently said, “We’re all on the same team.” As beloved children of God, we may feel as if our PT boat is too small, and headed for disaster, but the ocean of God’s love is far greater.
The day that is coming belongs to God. That time is near; and that time is now. “Do not be terrified,’ Jesus said. “Not a hair of your head will perish; and by your endurance you will gain your souls.” During these times of trial and tribulation, do not worry about your “defense in advance; for Jesus will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict.” Now is the time for all of us to be spiritual leaders who both encourage and exhort others to swim.
While the sun and the moon, and all the stars of heaven may guide us in our dark nights at sea, and perhaps even bring us some feelings of comfort and peace, Christ is our true north, and He is the guiding light that will lead us safely home. Jesus’ mission of reconciliation was accomplished by his life, death, and resurrection. None of us are alienated any more. None of us are aliens on God’s sacred land. Now and forever, we are all united in Christ, swimming in an ocean of God’s love, and we need to trust the Spirit’s leadership.
I want to close with the words of Gunilla Norris from her book called Inviting the Silence, Universal Principles of Meditation. (quote) “The experience of silence is now so rare that we must cultivate it and treasure it. This is especially true for shared silence. Sharing silence is, in fact, a political act. When we can stand aside from the usual, and perceive the fundamental, change begins to happen. Our lives align with deeper values, and the lives of others are touched and influenced.”
“Silence brings us back to basics, to our senses, to ourselves. It locates us. Each of us can make a difference. Politicians and visionaries will not return us to the sacredness of life, that will be done by ordinary men and women, who together or alone can say, ‘Remember to breathe, remember to feel, remember to care. Let us do this for our children and ourselves and our children’s children. Let us practice for life’s sake.” (end quote)
The votes are in. Divisive words have been spoken; and our body politic has been broken. Now is the time for silence. Now is the time for healing. Now is the time for us to be on God’s mission of reconciliation, renewal, and resurrection. Remember Jesus. And if anyone asks you about the challenges that we face, that is your opportunity to testify. Just say, “I’m with Him.” I’m with Jesus. So let’s start swimming. One breath at a time, one stroke at a time, with God’s grace, we shall all surely arrive at the Promised Land one day. Amen.