From a sermon preached by Rev. LeAnn Blackert on Sunday, November 13, 2016
Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.
- Matthew 25:40 (NRSV)
My heart was broken twice this week.
The first heart break was on election night when the US elected as its next President a man who ran his entire campaign on a platform of hate.
The second was when I heard that Leonard Cohen had died.
slide – Leonard Cohen singing “Anthem”
“The birds they sang
at the break of day
I heard them say
Don’t dwell on what
has passed away
or what is yet to be.
Ah the wars they will
be fought again
The holy dove
She will be caught again
bought and sold
and bought again
The dove is never free.
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in…..”
Such a prophetic voice for our time …
My heart break is real – because the results are real.
Since election day, stories are rolling in of Muslim women who have had their hijabs ripped off, African Americans who have been threatened at gas stations by armed men and who have had their cars spray painted with the word “nigger”, a gay couple who had a handwritten note left on their car threatening them…and this morning a gay couple who had “faget (sic)” sprayed in red paint on their silver car.
I talked with my sister yesterday who told me about a middle school in her town where white kids were threatening their classmates of color. Middle school!
Hate has been freed to walk the streets…and it is walking and running and laughing, my friends.
And lest you think Canada is far removed from all of this, mingled into my week was a conversation with a Canadian who said they just didn’t see the racism here, that it certainly wasn’t present on their street. But when I mentioned a certain ethnic group which is not white European, the conversation took a turn which I considered racist. It seems to me that government policies which don’t treat all persons equally are evidence of racism. And now you have a politician seeking leadership in one party who thinks the result of the US election “is an exciting message that should be delivered in Canada.”
When I shared a news clip about hatred in the streets of America in a Facebook post, with a note that our worst fears were being realized, a friend responded: “just let it go”
My first response was “how do you ‘just let it go”?
And my second was why?
And then I thought: I cannot profess to be a follower of Jesus and let this go…
I cannot claim to love God and want all that God wants and let this go…
From the beginning of our Christian story God has called on God’s people to love the alien and the stranger in our midst.
We can look to Deuteronomy 26 (vs 12-13) for these words of wisdom:
Every year you are to give ten percent of your harvest to the Lord. But every third year, this ten percent must be given to the poor who live in your town, including Levites, foreigners, orphans, and widows. They way, they will have enough to eat.
THEN you must pray: Our Lord and our God, you have said that ten percent of my harvest is sacred. I have obeyed your command and given this to the poor, including the Levites, foreigners, orphans, and widows.
In Leviticus (19:33-34), God’s commands include these words:
When the alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.
Love the alien as yourself.
Love the “other” as yourself.
Words that are echoed in Jesus’ summation of the law: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength, and love you neighbor as yourself.
Notice there are no qualifiers on that word “neighbor”.
It does not say “love your white European neighbors as yourself”
It does not say “love your Protestant church going neighbors as yourself”
It does not say “love your straight, heterosexual married neighbor as yourself”
It does say “love your neighbor as yourself”
And when asked “just who is my neighbor?” – Jesus told a story using a Samaritan man – a man from a people despised by the Jews – to define neighbor. Jesus didn’t mince words. He didn’t buy into the hatred. He pointed to our actions as evidence of our love for God. The Samaritan was the only person who did not walk by a wounded man. The Samaritan got down on his knees and tended to the man, carried him to an inn, paid for his room and made sure his needs were taken care of. Jesus understood that actions speak louder than words – and that professing to love God when you don’t love your neighbor is not enough.
Our text for today takes this message of love one step further when Jesus tells us what we do for total strangers, for the sick, for the prisoners is what we do for him. He makes it very clear that we cannot pick and choose who we will treat with kindness and compassion. He doesn’t leave us room to judge – he asks us to demonstrate our love for him – and our love for God – through our actions.
Actions that are based in kindness and compassion.
What has happened this past week is a wake up call to all of us.
We have to pause and ask ourselves where we are complicit in this agenda of hate. We have to search our own hearts and ask God where we lack compassion, where we lack kindness, where we may be blind to our own racism or sexism or nationalism – or any of the other “isms” that keep us from truly loving our neighbors.
We must do this. We must stand against hate. Because it is the right thing to do. It is the thing God calls us to do. It is the thing Jesus teaches us to do.
Martin Niemöller was a prominent Protestant pastor who became an outspoken public foe of Adolf Hitler, another propagator of hate. Because of his stance, Niemöller spent the last seven years of Nazi rule in concentration camps. After World War II, he wrote and spoke these words often:
First they came for the Socialists and I didn’t speak out –
because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out –
because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out –
because I was not a Jews.
Then they came for me –
and there was no one left to speak for me.
“Just let it go, LeAnn.”
I can’t. And I won’t be silenced.
There is a cost to living our faith. There is always a cost.
The dove is never free…ring the bells that still can ring.
As Christians we have to speak out against hatred. We cannot allow ourselves to be complicit in the rise of racism, sexism, nationalism…hate.
We must ring these bells. We must not stop!
My heart is broken … but I remain hopeful.
Again, in the words of Leonard Cohen:
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in…
I will continue to ring the bells against hatred, and to pray that God’s light will get in … into my cracks and into the cracks of the broken nations around the world.
Amen and amen.