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2 Corinthians 9:6-11
This is the time in our annual Consecration Sunday service where we break away from the meditative chants and inspiring readings and consider our focus for the day. I am charged with sharing a very brief meditation on the benefits of generosity—nothing more, really, than an extended invitation to the offering and blessing of our tithes and pledges.
Well, we’ll get to that.
But this is the first time we’ve all been together since Election Night. Oh, some of us—70 or 80 people, altogether—gathered Wednesday evening for a powerful time of lament, prayer, and support. And I’ve communicated with all of you by email and spoken with several of you in person or by phone or email, listening to your fears, anger, anxieties and depression. I’ve offered Blessings—and grief counseling—to Go. That’s all been well and good, but it is critical in times like this to come together as the gathered community.
I am so thankful that we are all here. I am grateful that we can take time together to be still—to know that God is still God, to remember that God—unlike polls and plans and some hopes—will not fail us. To put our trust and our hope in God and to remember who and whose we are.
So I hope you will indulge me a few moments’ reflection on the times in which we find ourselves and what that might mean for us as a community of faith—what it might mean for a covenanted group of progressive, well-meaning, mostly white, mostly cisgender people who are trying to be the church. Which is to say: trying to follow the radically inclusive, loving way of Jesus of Nazareth, that radical prophet of first-century Palestine, and trying live into the power of the Risen Christ, who confronted and conquered the powers of empire and death.
It seems to me that sometimes we are so committed to the Jesus way, so focused on doing justice and making peace and walking humbly and being church (whew!) that we forget some of the most basic lessons of history. We live so securely in our progressive bubble that we have lost touch with the everyday concerns of half our country—including the more than 80 percent of white evangelical Christians who voted for Donald Trump.
But even movie makers know that the struggle of good versus evil endures, that even when it seems to all the universe that good folks have finally won the day, the empire strikes back.
The empire is not only a system of institutionalized political, economic, military, and racial power that defines and controls how things are. It is also, I’m sorry to say, enabled by our human tendencies toward fear-based, divide-and-conquer, blame-game, annihilate-the-other living. There have been numerous empires throughout history: the Babylonian, Roman, and British, to name a few. We generally don’t call them empires any more, but these powers still exist.
And while we like to think of the past several years as a time of great social progress, the forces of empire—racism, economic inequality, classism, militarism, and conservative, homophobic Christianity, to name a few—were still with us. And now they have struck back in a big way.
And because empire is empowered not only by institutions but also by human nature, it would be easy to stand here and point fingers, to play the powerless victim and wail about how awful things are going to be under a new government. So deep is our pain and so real are our fears that it is tempting to resort to the very tactics we condemn, to become in our anger and grief the very things that we deplore. But the painful truth is that we are not blameless. We, too, are residents of the empire. We too have the capacity for holier-than-thou, more progressive-than-thou arrogance, and those fearful, oppositional tendencies have found home in our hearts.
Which is why we need Jesus. This is why we need the church: So that we might keep our eyes on the prize, that we might more fully commit our hearts and our lives to ensuring the welcome and welfare of the lost and the lonely, the protection and empowerment of the marginalized and the vulnerable, the redemption of the despised and the endangered. That we might do a better job of listening to and trying to understand the concerns of all Americans. Not of our own limited capacities and our self-made accord, mind you, but by the self-giving leading of our still-speaking God and the indwelling power of the wonder-working Spirit.
In the coming days, we will be besieged by any number of do-gooder groups telling us they need our money to continue to fight the good fight. I support many of these groups, and I don’t begrudge them a cent. But they are not enough. They do vital work in the struggle against forces of oppression and repression, racism and homophobia, and—as we are all too aware—the struggle is real.
But here’s the thing: I don’t want to live in an us-and-them world. I don’t want to spend my best days and energies fighting for a toehold in a make-American-white-again movement. I will not be satisfied with an occasional, temporary victory against the empire, with church as a lonely light-filled port in a raging storm of darkness and hate. I will not settle for that.
No. I want to live in the kingdom of God, where everyone has a seat at the table, where all people are beloved, where justice is more birthright than struggle, and peace is everyone’s shared dessert. Where so-called unity is not about the weak submitting to the will of the strong, but the foundation of the place where the privileged, like Christ, sacrifice their power for the healing and wholeness of all.
And that’s why I give far more to First Church than to those other groups. Why I put God’s dream first in my giving, and then—and only then— give liberally to any number of groups and causes that provide food and housing, support refugees and disaster victims, that seek to protect transgender folks and prove that Black Lives Matter, that organize to try to save our planet from the very real ravages of climate change.
You see, there is in fact a direct connection between what’s happening in the world and our giving to God through First Church. So much so that if now is not the time to be the church, I don’t know when is. If we cannot provide community for all, if we do not ground ourselves in a power that is much greater than the power of empire, if we do not share the good news of God’s extravagant love for all and an abundance for all beyond our imagining, if we cannot provide sanctuary and support for all God’s children, then we—and our nation—will be lost.
I know you share my commitment to being the church in these hard times. I know you will join me in refusing to let our lives be governed by fear. I know we will support one another in resisting all efforts to let our lives be controlled by an agenda based on division, hatred, and greed. I know you understand that while the haters may have won an election, they have not—and will not—win the day.
Love still trumps hate.
And I know we will continue to stand firmly in the truth of God’s love and live proudly in the sacred worth of all God’s children.
But we’re going to have to dig deep—spiritually, emotionally, and, yes, financially. First Church is a vibrant community of faith and love, but we have lost many generous givers in recent years, and we need to step up to the plate. In light of the election results and all they mean, I encourage you to add to what you have already pledged for next year, to revise your pledge upward, and to give more that you thought you could.
These are pivotal times. Let us continue to build the kingdom, the reign, of God—right here in the midst of empire.
The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. reminded us that while the arc of the moral universe is long, it bends toward justice. For several years now, some of us have felt the arc was bending our way, and now, it seems that some other force has grabbed it away from us and is forcing it back the other direction.
It is up to us to keep bending the arc in the direction of love, the direction of justice, the direction of Jesus. When the empire says “give up,” it is us to respond by giving still more.
So let us give generously, let us give in love, let us give with resolve and determination, in a spirit of resistance and hope, and, yes, even cheerfully.
And may God bless us and help us all.