I don’t want to write about these things. Nor do I want to preach about them. The smart ass response to that is “Well, you should have known what you were getting into when you signed up to be a pastor.” Yeah, because everybody knows what the future holds. Thanks for the compassion.
I really don’t enjoy writing about all of the things that are happening every day. I don’t enjoy preparing a sermon that talks about all the things that are going on either.
I don’t want to, but yet I can’t avoid it. I guess I could actually. I could just stay quiet. I could not speak about any of it. I could not rock the boat and be vulnerable to the arrows that come my way in response. I could allow the fear of criticism and negative comments to win the day. I could allow the potential anger in response to have sway over what I say or write. I could create a false sense of peace to make sure that no one walks out on the sermon or protests what I have to say. I could interpret render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s to mean that as a pastor I have no say in politics or what happens in the world. Jesus didn’t interpret it that way – he ended up being killed by the Romans. Talk about meddling in politics. And to anyone who interprets that passage that way, I have a question – what belongs to God? And why do you get to determine where God gets to speak?
I don’t want to write about any of this. Who in their right mind would? Who wants to write or preach about children being separated from families at the border as they seek asylum? Or trying to make sense of an executive order that allows for indefinitely holding onto asylum seekers? Do you think it’s fun or enjoyable to point out the uncomfortableness of this, the messiness of this? The sin of this? Who wants to write or preach about how we treat our neighbors, our enemies, and refugees? Who wants to write or preach about dehumanizing other people? Who wants to write or preach about how they see a nation tearing itself apart because of fear and anger? Who wants to write or preach about any of this?
Instead we want quick answers that make nice sound bites. We want to make issues seem easy. Things like, it’s the law, so we obey it. Or it was passed by a previous administration, so they are to blame. Or we should ignore the law here, but not deal with a broken immigration system. Or so much more. This isn’t easy. There are no simple answers.
Most people would rather hear a sermon about mushy love and being nice and tell the pastor how nice the sermon was. Why? Because that type of sermon or writing isn’t costly. They require nothing of you. They don’t require you to do self-examination. They don’t require you to look at yourself in the mirror and question important things about yourself, what you believe, and what you stand for, and what Jesus is calling you to. They don’t require a cost or a response or a radical reorientation. They don’t require a sort of death of the self. Those are cheap grace sermons that remain silent about the reality of evil in our midst. Those are sermons that would rather close our eyes because the big bad world is just too scary to deal with. You can hear many of those sermons in churches each Sunday.
And I don’t fault the pastors that preach these sermons either. Preaching the Gospel is costly. It’s disruptive. It points out the unpleasant truth. It’s scary. I know I have failed in this regard plenty of times. This Sunday we hear the disciples ask Jesus in the midst of the storm – “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” Many a pastor asks Jesus the same question each week. Just as Jesus didn’t answer the disciples, he doesn’t make it easy for us either.
I was going to write about where I saw things going – the path we are on, but really, what the heck do I know?
Instead, I’m going to tell you something else. There is much to worry about in the world – let’s not kid ourselves. We have an unhealthy society right now. We are in the midst of a great storm of life. We are calling out to Jesus – “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” And like in the boat, Jesus doesn’t answer. Why doesn’t he answer? We want Jesus to say comforting things. But he’s quiet.
Often, I think we get confused. That’s not a radical statement. The disciples spent actual physical time with Jesus and they screwed up all the time. Why would we think we are any better. And after Jesus calms the storm, he asks them a question – “Why are you afraid?” They completely miss the question. They marvel about Jesus calming the storm, but miss what Jesus is really saying.
Did they really think that God would allow the storm to harm Jesus? They were in the boat with Jesus, the incarnate Word. Did they think that the storm was more powerful than God? They were letting something else define them and who and whose they were. They let fear define them and their existence. And Jesus asks a simple question – “Why are you afraid?” It’s as if Jesus is asking – did you forget whose you are? Did you forget that your identity is as a Child of God? Why are you letting fear define you?
As we hurtle through this immigration mess, I think Jesus’ question is so very important. Why are we afraid? What is our identity? Is politics our primary identity? Are we Republicans and Democrats first and then Children of God? Are we Americans first and then Children of God? Are we legal first and then Children of God? Are we identified by fear first and then Children of God? What are we?
If Christ is not the lens that we look through, the foundation of our identity, first and foremost, then there is no hope. We will end up killing each other. Nothing but Christ offers us any hope. History shows that to be true.
Let us remember who and whose we are. That Christ gives us a different identity. That this identity doesn’t mean conformity of thought. Rather, it allows us to have differences, even on important issues, and still see one another as Children of God. We don’t have to agree, but can we find something, anything, that we overlap on? Can we start with that? Please.
Let’s start by acknowledging that we are afraid, and that we are having a difficult time voicing our fears honestly – with being vulnerable with one another. Let’s start with the fact that Jesus’ question makes us uncomfortable because it touches us deeply and shows our own weakness and brokeness. Let’s start with the fact that we don’t trust one another – actually voicing it out loud so that the reality is acknowledged. It is only from there that we can move forward.
It starts with Jesus asking an uncomfortable question that gives us room to respond.
Why are you afraid?
I don’t want to write about any of this. I don’t want to preach on this. Yet, here I am. Yet, there I will be on Sunday. Silence is not an option. Anger isn’t either. The only thing that overcomes fear is love. Let us speak in love. Not mushy fake love. Deep love that shows that there are no enemies. There are only children of God. It’s not easy. We can’t do it on our own. We follow Jesus who empowers us. And we risk it all.
Why are you afraid?