Friday, November 18, 2016

Hate Crimes aren’t a Partisan Issue

            You all know I’m kinda a partisan hack. The Iraq War radicalized me and this blog, which up until July 5th, 2003 was simply a place where I posted religious thoughts and poetry. I railed against the Bush administration for 5 years, worked my first election in 2004 when I thought the Democratic Party’s mediocre candidates, John Kerry and his philandering VP, could steer America in a better direction. I bought the Obama hype hook line and sinker, and kinda still do. Before this election I gave 3 reasons why I supported Hillary over Trump.
            So, you know on a visceral partisan level, I am sad blue lost to red. Steelers beat Ravens, Oakland beat Denver. And if that was all this was, who cares, right? Then people out there protesting are like sports fans whose team lost the game.
            But there is something else that is going on that goes well beyond partisan politics, and I hope most Republicans and Libertarians would agree that American needs to stand-up against. In this first week after the election—Wednesday to Wednesday—the Southern Poverty Law Center reports that there were 437 instances of harassment based on race, religion, country of origin, gender, etc. This compares to an average from 2013 of 114 instances a week (to be clear I don’t know how best to compare how the FBI and the SPLC label these things). That’s almost a 4-fold increase!
            This uptick in hateful acts is so noticeable that our Bishop wrote a letter addressing this issue, first to the clergy, then passed it on to everyone in the New Jersey Synod. Here is an excerpt:

“Regardless of who you or your parishioners voted for, we all must denounce this behavior. As the body of Christ, we are called to stand with those whom God loves and claims as God's own cherished children. We are called to speak out when we witness acts of hatred. We are charged to eradicate racism in all its forms, welcome the refugee and immigrant, and work for justice and peace in all the earth. There is no place for bigotry in our church… We need to risk our own safety in order to step up and tell them they are wrong. We need to examine our own prejudices and biases and confess our own sinfulness. By our actions, we will witness to the truth as expressed by Bishop Desmond Tutu: "Goodness is stronger than evil; love is stronger than hate; light is stronger than darkness; life is stronger than death".”

            And before we think this is just another media freak out. Two quick personal stories.
1. A couple who are friends of mine are wondering if they should go home for Thanksgiving to Upstate New York, because there have been 3 anti-Semitic incidents in their home town, and they wonder if they and their children will be safe.
2. There was an incident between a server and a customer at Trolley Car Diner right next to my seminary in Philly—a common hang out for Seminarians and a great place to get ice cream in the summer.
The incident is a she-said-she said kind of thing (here, here, and here are 3 different stories about the incident). Post-election a customer came in with Trump gear; the server said snide things she shouldn’t have said. The owner of Trolley Car disciplined the server.
The next morning the same customer came in again. The customer said she was “checked” by the server. The server and owner said the customer purposefully snuck up behind the server and when the server turned around from her table she accidently bumped into the lady.
Then, Jack Posobiec, the Special Projects Manager of Citizens for Trump, showed up and tweeted to his 60,000 followers that they needed to do something about Trolley Car Diner. Since then the owner of Trolley Car has received so many death threats and the building arson threats, that they had to disconnect their phones. Some of these threats have been explicitly anti-Semitic, for example, referring to the owner’s last name, “'Weinstein,' eh? Interesting name. Very oven-worthy."

            So, I’m saying this simply, these attacks are wrong.
            They go against the faith of Jesus Christ.
            They go against, as well, the highest values of our society.
            Winning, or losing, an election never justifies hate, never justifies violence.
            Those who would use the election of Donald Trump as a platform for peddling the dead and deadly ideology of white supremacy are wrong.

            To those of you who are inclined to these evil deeds, listen to the President Elect himself. Stop It!

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Sermon: Bad News, Good News

Bad News, Good News

          I would encourage you all, in this coming week, to find someone who you disagree with politically (not your Pastor, by the way), and exchange smart-phones, or tablets, or computers, or whatever you use to look at your Social Media.
Take a look at the stories they read, the pictures and comments they are exposed to.
I imagine they will be the complete opposite of what you see and are exposed to.
Is it any wonder that for the first time in our nation’s history every state that voted for a Republican for President also voted for a Republican for Senate and vice versa with Democrats?
Is it any wonder that on a whole no one split their ballots this year.
It’s like we’re not breathing the same air,
singing the same songs,
or living in the same realities.
          It’s sort of like that famous picture of a duck… or is it a rabbit?
The same reality can be seen through two very different lenses.

          And so too the Word of God
—it is Law and Gospel
—When Lutherans read the Bible we experience it as a two edged sword. It kills us and makes us alive. As is said so often it “afflicts the comfortable and comforts the afflicted.”
          God’s word afflicts the comfortable and comforts the afflicted.


God’s Word afflicts the comfortable and comforts the afflicted.
          Think of fire—it’ll warm your house, or burn it down.
          Or, this “Great and Terrible Day of the Lord” Malachi speaks of as he warns his people, people returned from Babylon and already growing complacent, warns them about their impurities. The Day of the Lord will be an oven, burning up everything and leaving nothing.
          Yet, this “Great and Terrible Day of the Lord” is also the sun around which we circle, giving heat and light, allowing all things to grow.

          I think of those horrible forest fires we get out west—everything is burnt, the underbrush swallowed up, trunks blackened
—and strangely it is necessary.
Pinecones only sprout seed when heated in hellish inferno. Growth can only occur when all is burnt.

          Or think more carefully of Malachi’s message—impurities in metal are removed in flame, and the sores and sickness of a wound can only fully heal when exposed to the open air.
          We can only see our savior when we’re face to face with our sins—only in our deepest need can we find redemption.

God’s Word afflicts the comfortable and comforts the afflicted.
          You’ve been saved by Jesus acting on your behalf—no work of yours can win salvation—he is the Resurrected one and shall Return. Wait for the Lord!
          Not a bad message by any measure
…though I think we can all agree here today… by the mere fact that we are here today… 2000 years later
—the nearness of Christ’s return that Paul preached has more to do with personal accountability than chronological immediacy
—in other words, the Return of Christ should encourage us to measure our actions in light of Christ present with us, not throw us into unhelpful speculation.
          Would you really do that to someone else if Jesus was looking over your shoulder?

          “Wait for the Lord.” Not a bad message
—but a message badly heard by the Thessalonians.
Some in the community appear to have thought, “Gee, Christ is coming, I’ll just wait around and do nothing—nitpicking the people in my church who work hard, and I’ll even live off their work.”
          This of course doesn’t work, for if Christ acts on our behalf, how can we not act in imitation of it, not for salvation, but out of gratitude? “Do not weary of doing right!” Paul proclaims.
          Think of the meaning of those words for the people who were nitpicking and not participating—weary, I’m afraid of being weary.
          But think too of what those words meant for the nitpicked
—don’t be weary,
what you are doing is right!
In the face of all the obstacles of being a Christian in the Early Church,
persecution by the government,
factionalism within the faith,
a painful split with Judaism,
in the face of all that do not weary in doing what it right!

God’s Word afflicts the comfortable and comforts the afflicted.
          Look at all this grandeur, one of the greatest edifices upon the earth—the temple in Jerusalem
—a Religious Disneyland at times
—nothing will be left.
All these great things you helped put together will be ended, destroyed.
          If you are faithful all that awaits you is:
the lure of leaders who are not leaders,
wars, insurrections, geo-political rivalries,
natural disasters and man made disasters,
horrifying sights you would never have expected in your wildest dreams,
arrest, persecution, betrayal by friends and family
—you will be exposed and have to explain your faith in Jesus.

          That sounds horrifying, right? This is affliction without comfort!
We wouldn’t want to live in such interesting of times, we’d hate for this to be our lot in life—even less so the reality for our Children.
No gospel there, right?
          Except that was exactly what the early church was facing.
-The Destruction of the Temple, the center of Religious Life, at the hands of the Romans.
-Violent revolutionaries claiming the same title as Jesus.
-Infighting between Emperors,
Mount Vesuvius exploding killing everyone in Pompeii and covering everything within 750 miles with ash.
-Famines throughout the Empire that shaped birth patterns for a generation,
-Formal and informal persecution—led by soldiers or led by peasant with pitchfork—neither very nice.
-Christianity seen as unfriendly, unsocial, and against family values.
-Christians drug before people in power, forced to repent of their faith, or at least explain it, often at the edge of a sword.
          Yes, I believe to those afflicted Christians…
Being advised to trust Jesus’ message and testify to it.
Being reminded that their stand, in the face of opposition, was faithful.
Being turned from terror.
Being reminded what kind of Messiah Jesus is.
          To those afflicted Christians these words are utter comfort.

God’s Word afflicts the comfortable and comforts the afflicted.
          As for us, in our highly polarized country, so many sure of their positions, firmly entrenched, unwilling to see the other side, confident to the point of idolatry and dehumanization
—We duck people and rabbit people
—if we are honest with ourselves and with our God,
Humble enough to each entertain, as I suggested last week, the hardest of ideas that “maybe I’m wrong.”
We ought to pray for ourselves and for our kin, that God will afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted.