In seminary and in my first years after ordination, I served as one of the several preachers at St. John’s Church in downtown Washington, DC. Now there was a pecking order when it came to assigning sermons. The rector, which is Episcopalian-speak for the head priest, got the “big” texts: Christmas, Easter, Good Friday and the like. Then the assistants got assignments in order of seniority. Starting out, I was on the very bottom of the list, which meant that I often had to preach on the less desirable passages. In one year, I pointed out to the rector, three out of the four times I preached, the world ended (at least in the Biblical text I was assigned).
But I endured. Now I am the rector, and I confess, I had tried pass this text off to a guest preacher today. Then a couple weeks ago it dawned on me that this Sunday was to follow the election. I thought: “That makes it a pretty big Sunday. I better preach.” Then I saw the text, and then the election turned out unexpectedly. So what do we think, it the end of the world?
In response to this election, and in response to the Gospel of Luke, I want to offer you some poetry. Nayirrah Waheed is a young black queer poet. She comes from Muslim heritage. This is a very short poem from her collection *Salt*:
i don’t pay attention to the
it has ended for me
and began again in the morning.
What Waheed is describing, I think, has something to do with the endurance by which we gain our souls.
I was a little surprised by all of the surprise on Wednesday. There were two candidates for president, but still many had not imagined this outcome. For many of my friends, there was a palpable sense of loss, hunched shoulders, hushed voices, tears. So many people were ready to celebrate the first woman president, a new world. Then that world didn’t come. The dream ended. It felt like loss. It was loss. And the sun came up the next morning.
In just a few moments we will begin praying for “Donald, our president-elect.” The man needs our prayers. He has accepted a job with impossibly enormous responsibilities. Our president-elect would have probably been much more comfortable launching “Trump News.” Instead, he will lead the most powerful, economically important, and strategically complicated nation in the world. He needs our prayers. The outcome of this election does not change that we pray for the president at Holy Communion. If it is hard for you, I encourage you to pray for him more fervently. This prayer is good for your soul too.
I understand the anger some folks are feeling. I am nervous about the legislative and executive agenda about to be ushered into the halls of power. I am scared for some of my former immigrant parishioners who are permitted to work through President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. I am concerned for members of this congregation who are insured through the Affordable Care Act. But I can’t join in chanting: “Not my president.” I heard too much of that same rhetoric about President Obama. We live in a Republic, and Donald Trump won the election. He will be my president. He will be our president. We will pray for him.
Possessive pronouns are important in a democratic system. Possessive pronouns remind us to whom our government officials are accountable. The presidency does not belong to “him” it belongs to “us.” The Whitehouse is public housing. Our president, our governor, our elected representatives hold our government in trust, and they are accountable to us. We have a right to speak. We have a duty to dissent. We have a responsibility to hold our elected officials accountable. That responsibility doesn’t end with the election, it begins again each morning.
In Luke’s Gospel Jesus tells his followers that they will testify. After they arrest us, after they put us in prison, we will testify. Now if the prospect of prosecution makes you nervous, know that Jesus didn’t live in a republic like ours. We are better protected than Jesus and his original 12. That said, this church has a history of hiring priests who are rabble rousers. The late Reverend Emery Washington helped shut down I-70 in 1999. I met a number of you for the first time in the streets of Ferguson marching after the death of Michael Brown. Pastor Rebecca, who served as your assistant and your interim, how many times was she arrested? Jesus’ words shouldn’t come as news to us here.
When we disagree, we will bring our testimony to our newly elected officials, to our new governor, and yes, to our new president. Incidentally, this would have been true even if the election had gone the other way. We follow a savior who prophesied that his followers would stand up in the courts of justice. Doing justice, loving mercy, walking humbly with God is what the Lord requires of us whichever party currently holds sway.
Some might say this sounds a little tough, to start out a political relationship with our new president-elect with dissent. Now is the time for unity, isn’t it? Part of the shock of this election comes from the rhetoric of the campaign run by Mr. Trump. Bigoted voices have been amplified in this country. On Friday night, I was with our youth group on a trip to the City Museum. Between climbing through caves and riding 10 story slides, we talked about the days since the election.
Some of our youth told me that at Ladue High School a group of white students this last week chanted “Trump Trump Trump” before one boy told his black classmates they should go to the back of the bus. I have heard similar, credible stories from around the country of human beings bullied since the election by teens and adults. Our fellow Americans are being targeted because of language, accent, perceived immigration status, skin color, gender identity, religion or sexual orientation.
As a citizen I demand an end to the campaign of hate that has wearied our nation and emboldened dangerous elements of our society. Our president elect, as he looks to unify the country, should repudiate these acts, this language. He should stand up against violence and hate. And whether he will, we must.
Last week we read from the Gospel of Luke the famous line: “If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also.” That line can seem pretty pathetic, weak, but I once heard an African theologian explain how she read strength in Jesus’ words. She said that to turn the other cheek you had to turn your whole face. “Turning the other cheek” means looking your assailant in the eye.
We must stare down hate. In this sense, turning the other cheek is not a meek acceptance of abuse, but an act bold defiance. Keep in mind, we live in a different context than Jesus. Sometimes the best place to face your abuser is not in the moment, but later, with other adults present, and sometimes even in court. In this sense, in our context, turning the other cheek may mean pursuing disciplinary or legal action against the offending party. Another person’s future safety may depend on your action against the abuse you face. Facing hate requires endurance.
Where are my teenagers? I am proud of you for standing up to hate in your schools. Do not let ugly comments go. Tell an adult. If they refuse to act, tell another adult. You can always come talk to me too. I know you already know this. I know you are already doing this. Thank you. Keep it up.
We must stand up against hatred. The Episcopal Church of the Holy Communion will endure as a congregation which stands for welcome, for diversity, for community. Whoever you are, wherever you find yourself on the journey of faith, you will continue to be welcome here.
I have a sense that Holy Communion has an important role to play in the weeks, months, and years ahead. Many of you have talked about this role as we’ve discussed our congregation’s Mission and Vision. Last week, at our adult forum I heard you describe our community as an important safe space in our divided world. I believe that many people in our city are looking for a community like Holy Communion. They may not know it yet; they may not have the words, but I think many people are hungry for what Holy Communion has on offer (and I’m not just talking about our cheap breakfast). People are looking to diverse communities that do the hard work of listening to one another and reaching out to their neighbors.
I know that this week I have been grateful to be your pastor. Gathering together to pray with many of you on Wednesday was a balm to my soul. As we gather financial pledges today, I hope you will be generous in your support of this church for the year to come. Your generosity will help us make Holy Communion more available for others. In response to the hate that has filled our social media accounts, our airwaves and our national conversation, people are looking for a community that counters the language of division. People are hungry for a church that tries to live Jesus’ call to justice, to love. People want to learn not just to tolerate differences, but to embrace diversity as God’s gift. I know this congregation well enough now to be sure that you will make room in our pews for ALL who are weary, for all who need a safe space, for ALL who want to gather to work for the kingdom.
I know there are others out there who won’t let the drumbeats of uniformity in Washington or Jefferson City become a distraction. America is great because of its diversity. Our country is richer because of the rich variety of people who claim the American dream. We will only know this dream fully when we stop merely “tolerating” the other. Only when the American dream can be described by black voices, women’s voices, Latinx, LGBTQ, disabled, Muslim, and other systemically oppressed voices, only when all American voices are honored our republic, will we begin to glimpse the great promise God has for this country. We have neighbors, we have fellow citizens who understand the value that we hold here, the value of diversity. We will work together.
I don’t want to paint a pretty picture for you this morning. I don’t want to pretend that this work will be easy. I imagine that the years ahead will be challenging. It may well get darker. There may be signs in the heavens. Still, Jesus encourages us. “By your endurance, you will gain your souls.” Claiming your voice, standing up to power, working for justice, making room for those who our society leaves behind, these are not light work. Soul work hardly ever is. But, my dear friends, we are in this together. We will endure.
There may be earthquakes, but we will endure. There will be rumors, and we will ask hard questions. I will preach on the apocalypse again from this pulpit. In life, the world as we knew it, or imagined it, may end many times. We will begin again the next morning. Whatever happens our work remains the same. We follow Jesus out to be with those our society leaves behind. Our nation, our community, and our church needs you. We endure.
4 thoughts on “By your endurance you will gain your souls.”
A very fine sermon. However, based on my experience, I’m not yet ready to hear his name spoken in my church. I hope to get there and I will pray along the path toward forgiveness. Too much has been said to be forgotten so soon.
Great sermon, thanks.
Thanks to daughter Amanda, I’ve just finished listening to this on line. You’re to be commended for not doing the priestly shy-away from things political. I know many who do, or would. This wa powerful stuff! Mind if I share it with our priest?
Thanks, Mike, and thanks, too, for being there for Amanda during her recent and on-going problems.