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If you hear nothing else I say today, if you take nothing else away from this worship service, please hear this. Please know this:
First Church Amherst is, First Church Amherst must be, we must be a safe place for all the feelings about all the things.
If we truly strive to be the human faces of the God who is love, if we truly are the body—hands and feet, eyes and mouth, heart and head—of the Christ who brings healing and hope, love and life and power to all people, if we are to be faithful followers of Jesus, we must be a safe place for all people, all truths, and all opinions.
If you hear nothing else I say, if, in these times when the ground beneath us seems to be shifting and every day it can feel that the world is more divided but less open, more hostile and less caring, more unequal and less safe, please hear this:
There is a place where you can bring your rage, your despair, your pain, and your fears. There is a place where you can bring your doubts, your suffering, your joys, your different views, and your hopes. There is a place where you will be heard, where you will be held, where you will find companions for the journey, and light for the darkness. There is a place where you will be welcomed as you are. There is a place where you will find a community that lives out its faith, that embodies God’s healing and transformative love. There is a place where people join together—in all their woundedness, with all their imperfections, in all their God-given belovedness, and in all their differences—to pray and work and worship for a better world, not for the triumph of one political party over another but for the coming of the reign of God.
That place is called church. That place is here, in a community of beloved and broken people saved by grace and held together by a love far greater than we are. Oh, we will disappoint you from time to time. We will certainly annoy you on occasion, and we might even fail you in any given moment. But our hearts are in the right place, and we—all of us—are being transformed by the very love that brought us here. We, all of us, are works in progress. We, all of us, have our rough edges that are being smoothed out and made beautiful by the Spirit of extravagant love and divine power, our worldly ways that are being turned upside-down and inside-out by a troublemaker and lover named Jesus. This place of welcome and acceptance, of healing love and transformative hope, is made manifest in Christ’s table, in a love feast that is open to all, no questions asked.
This table, this community, this church is a place where trust facilitates healing, where safety seeds transformation. If you are a survivor of sexual abuse or assault, we will listen to your story. We will do our best not to re-traumatize you. We will believe your truth. We will weep with you and rage with you. We will stand beside you and uphold you in the search for justice and healing.
And, especially when we and our country have been through a time as painful, divisive, and discouraging as the past couple of weeks, we will do our best to look for God in the midst of it all. We will, together, be a light in the darkness. Together we will search for understanding and meaning. We will pray for the strength to resist the temptation to follow the scorched-earth, take-no-prisoners culture of our politics, and, instead, we will ask Spirit to guide us in the ways of Jesus. We will do our best, as our scriptures instruct us, to be gentle with all, even as we stand with the abused, the oppressed, and the marginalized, and rage against injustice.
Especially in these times, we will try to look honestly at our culture and at ourselves. We will examine our values and repent of our love of power and our attachment to privilege. We will name not only the evils in our midst but also the shadows within ourselves. Then, as ever, we will consider the teachings and ways of Jesus—a Jew who lived under Roman occupation, a member of an oppressed group who preached not political revolution but a radical love that has clear political, economic, and social ramifications, a man who scandalized the religious and political powers by, among many other things, treating women with respect and compassion.
Especially in these times, we will put our hope and energies in the promise of a holy reversal of power and privilege. We will pray and work for the time when the first will be last and the last will be first, when the hungry will be filled, when survivors will be believed and abusers held accountable, when truth-tellers will be honored and those who ridicule them will be brought down from their self-important thrones, when the tears of the despairing will become tears of joy.
We, like Jesus, will listen to the women. We, like Jesus, will believe them. We, like Jesus, will protect them and honor them. We, as Jesus with the woman caught in adultery, will protect women from mobs of religious and powerful men.
Now there was a woman who had been suffering from trauma and silence for some 36 years. She had endured much shame and fear from a patriarchal culture that both treats women as sex objects and judges them as good or bad on the basis of their sexual experience. She had tried to forget what had happened to her but it was imprinted indelibly on her heart as well as her hippocampus. She had told a few people about it, but that didn’t seem to help. It seemed this thing that had happened to her, this thing that had been done to her, would forever come between her and wholeness, between her and freedom from fear, between her and other people, even her husband.
I would like to tell you that, as with the unnamed woman in the Bible story, her courage and faith changed everything. I would like to tell you that the people in power, almost all of them men, heard her truth with the same compassion Jesus had for the woman with the hemorrhage, with the same accountability Jesus extended to the men prepared to stone the woman caught in adultery. And, as surely as Jesus praised and blessed the bleeding woman, I would love to tell you that Dr. Christine Blasey Ford found healing and justice in our democratic process, and that she, too, was able to go in peace.
But privilege does not readily acknowledge wrongdoing. Patriarchy does not treat women as equals. Power does not go back to the drawing board to find a more impartial jurist. When it suits their ends, the powerful will treat a job interview as a court of law and an investigation as a cynical going through the motions. Misogyny does not pass up an opportunity to stoke the flames of hatred and division by ridiculing a woman in front of thousands of partisans.
And now, regardless of how one feels about Justice Kavanaugh and the process he and our country went through, we are left with a country even more bitterly divided than before. We are left with some women and other survivors even more despairing and afraid than before, perhaps even less likely to report their abuse. Many of us are angry and discouraged and wondering not only how to achieve justice but also how to stay engaged without losing heart, how to how to keep from giving in to hatred and cynicism, how to keep from falling in to “us and them” thinking, how to just. keep. going.
I’ll leave it to others to speak to the importance of organizing, communicating with elected officials, and voting. I’ll leave it to others to suggest political strategies and create survivor-support networks.
But here are some general suggestions, some basic dos and donts, for a spiritual approach to living in these troubling times:
*Pray—early and often. Pray for compassion, for understanding, for wisdom, for an open heart. Listen as much—or more—than you ask. Pray for our elected leaders, including the ones you want to throw out of office. Pray for your enemies. Love your enemies.
*But don’t make people on the other side of an issue into enemies. Don’t let them get you to hate them, for when you hate them, you become them. When you hate them, they win. Instead, respect them as individuals, even as you work to change the system they are a part of. Pray to be able to see them and experience them as beloved children of God.
*Forgive—again and again and again and again.
*Focus more on loving than winning. Crushing others does not bring people together. Justice follows love.
*Speak to your children—boys and girls—about sexual ethics and drinking and respect for all. Set boundaries and set examples that keep them safe and supported.
*Ground yourself in love and hope. Take special care to monitor who and what you read and listen to, what you post on social media. Be intentional about who you hang out with. Put yourself in the path of the Light.
*Be grateful. Practice gratitude.
*Listen to others, especially women, people of color, the poor, and the otherwise marginalized and disempowered.
*Resist the prevailing culture and, instead, hold on to gospel values. Live out those values.
*Respect viewpoints other than your own, but don’t compromise on matters of faith, equality, fairness, and nonviolence.
*Don’t stoke hatred, bitterness, and division. Become aware of what feeds those feelings within you and avoid those things. If that doesn’t work, pray and work that your heart will be changed. Pray hard.
*Don’t react to every outrage; you’ll be exhausted and ineffective. Instead, ground yourself in what is good and right and true. Live from that place.
*Get involved with good people and good causes: church, children, feeding the hungry, caring for the earth, sanctuary, the Poor People’s Campaign, anti-racism, working on political campaigns. Be an active part of a life-giving community. Be generous. Live out your calling.
*Feed your soul.
*Take care of your body.
*Study the lives of Jesus, Martin Luther King Jr., Oscar Romero, Dorothy Day, Francis of Assisi, Teresa of Avila, the Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, and others.
*Trust in the slow work of God. Become a part of that work.
*Tell others about this God, this Jesus, these blessings, this kingdom, this church, this love.
*Tell others that this is a safe place for all the feelings about all the things.
*Tell your truth.
*Against all the odds, go in peace.