Truth. Although I come to you to talk about the state of our nation and how to deal with it as a Christian, I need to warn you that those who do not want to say they made a mistake, do not want the word accountability or responsibility for something to mean them, or simply do not like conflict, well they are the one who are always most vocal and quickest to tell me that we should never bring politics into the church.
Truth. Christians do not live in a bubble but are called by God to live by the tenets of Christianity everywhere. As clergy, that means that I have a responsibility to learn, teach, and preach in a way that allows us all to know the Lord, the basis of our religious beliefs that we are called to live by, and it necessarily means, in my mind, that every topic is on the table for us to delve into together, with grace and love for each other as we do so.
Truth. As a lawyer, I took an oath to uphold the Constitution and the many laws of our country. As a minister for God, I similarly gave my word that I would use my skills in ministry of Word, Sacrament, Order, and Service. This means I agree to preach and teach the Word of God, provide pastoral care and counseling, administer the sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion, and order the life of the church for service in mission and ministry, the best I can. None of this, my friends, happens in a bubble.
Meaningful preaching takes place when scripture and theology are made understandable and applicable to today, while teaching always has components of saying what is right and wrong because of interpretations. In other words, it is silly to think any topic that is important to our lives is to remain outside of a church. Mission and ministry overlap with every single part of anyone’s life, including their politics.
Lastly, an overlooked truth to me is that the separation of Church and State in our country’s Constitution was established to safeguard people from persecution because of their religious beliefs. It was also established this way so that the government could not tie church and state together, as had been the cause of numerous wars and bloodshed throughout Europe. It was not established to say, “Tell us about Jesus and how to live, preacher, but nothing to do about our government. “ What is important with any topic, including politics, is really all about what you do with your beliefs, knowledge, and skills. The goal is to do no harm, do good, and live according to the tenets of God, as people of the Judeo-Christian heritage.
Many of you have shared with me your horror, sadness, and anger, about what occurred when our President, some elected leaders, and tangentially, some media and social media groups told people distortions and/or lies. It led to hatred growing in their hearts and violent rebellion.
Normally, I would have been with you on Sunday so to talk privately with some of you, pray with all of you, and try to address questions as to what a Christian might do in the situation we are in with our fellow countrymen. Unfortunately, the pandemic’s growth meant we had already prepared for the week’s message for virtual church, and there was a feeling inside me that I should sit, watch, and listen to everything coming out of the investigations, be in prayer and discernment, then talk with you all by internet. “You”, being my congregation at St. John’s on the Lake, United Methodist Church, that I am privileged to serve.
I have no doubt that others that will listen to this message and try to cut it apart for their own fancies, but my congregation knows my good side, my bad side, the way I always try to be authentic and vulnerable with them. So I am there for you, no matter what. Now, all of that may seem to be overkill for a preface to my message to you today, but if we are going to go through this time in our country together, this will not be our first conversation as such when we come together on Thursday night for social and learning time. (See website for link)
Today, I think we need to talk about character, common sense, and how every single one of us can help to calm and correct the situations that led up to the violent revolt against our government.
As the days continue to bring forth more and more video tape where you can hear racist comments towards an African American policeman who heroically led the crowd away from open Senate Chamber doors or where you see one group’s Camp Auschwitz t-shirts with underlying words that translate “work for your freedom” (which is what the Nazi’s death camp sign said to try to trick prisoners into believing it was a work camp) and you may be tempted to think of all of those at the Capital last Wednesday are of one same-minded group. I urge us to recall that some were lied to and felt so betrayed by a system that really did not betray them, but a president that did, that they went to the rally, but they walked away once they saw the intrusion into the Capital building.
You will undoubtedly see large Confederate flags that have been used for intimidation and a message of white superiority since the 1940s, while you also will see hundreds of Trump flags, hats and sweatshirts dashing by on the screen, with their wearers holding blunt force weapons and destroying everything in their path. And yes, if you have not seen it yet, at least two men came holding plastic rip-ties used for handcuffs for hostages, and saddest for our Lord, you will even see “Jesus” signs, though I do not know one legitimate Christian community that thinks Jesus would have been violent and filled with hatred for his nemesis….He was not!
If you are like me, you have good friends and family members that you love but who thought they were getting the truth from what they were told about a laundry list of things, but especially about a fraudulent election that never was the case. So where to go as a Christian, God?
Micah 6 is what came to mind for me this week. As my anger grew, my resentment of people grew, and I did not have any answers as to how to deal with dishonest media, dishonest politicians, and dishonesty in people who overwhelmingly call themselves “Christians”….
The Indictment of the Lord
6 Hear what the Lord says:
Arise, plead your case before the mountains,
and let the hills hear your voice.
2 Hear, you mountains, the indictment of the Lord,
and you enduring foundations of the earth,
for the Lord has an indictment against his people,
and he will contend with Israel.
….(The Lord, will deal with all of God’s people at one time or another, and we need to remember this too.)
What Does the Lord Require?
6 “With what shall I come before the Lord,
and bow myself before God on high?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
with calves a year old?
7 Will the Lord be pleased with[a] thousands of rams,
with ten thousands of rivers of oil?
Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression,
the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”
8 He has told you, O man, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love mercy (sometimes seen in translations as “kindness”)
and to walk humbly with your God?
My friends, we all are Americans and a vast majority of us are not extremists, do not condone violence when we do not get what we want in life, and would not be violent if not led to believe lies and led into a situation where we felt our nation and all that it had stood for was at risk. So yes, justice will be needed and it is already being called for with loud voices, joined more and more by Republican friends of Trump too. Many of the same judges appointed by Trump or his governor friends may now decide the fate of the conspirators, just like they did for his lawsuits. Justice was done when the lies unraveled in front of the courts and the cases were ruled to have no standing, merit, or proof of wide-spread fraud. For us, St. John’s, I have a suggestion or two for us during these moments of helplessness.
First, we must look at ourselves. If we wish others to live by Christian tenets that might have saved us from this insurrection, we must be sure we are living by what we demand of Trump or others.
Do we love God and put God before ourselves and our human wants and desires? I doubt Trump is the person who could be cast as a narcissist who loves himself, money, power, and winning above anything else. Make sure our homes are clean before saying others are dirty.
Do we love our Neighbor (all neighbors) as ourselves? Easy answer is “no”, no matter who we are, we could do better. We can’t fool ourselves and then critique others. I looked yesterday at my unexpected check from the government that is supposed to help with unexpected blights from our pandemic, and questioned my own commitment to loving my neighbor in the way they need it the most today. I have not yet suffered large monetary affects from the pandemic’s effects. Will I give the money to the food bank, an outreach center for the poor, or anything that would really give direct aid to those that Covid-19 has hurt? Will I decide the purpose doesn’t matter and use it for something else? Just a thought….
Do we repent of all of our sins and do everything that we can to change our own bad ways? We must look into our own heart first, then tackle what it means to us that our president said on multiple occasions that he takes communion but does not repent to God. I recall an interview where he said he never repents and that he thinks he only has had a couple of times in his whole life that he needed to…yet he went to tell many Christians that he has a great relationship with God and indicated that he was a great Presbyterian.
We need to look at our own character and be accountable, then do the same with anyone that influences us. We can no longer be lazy about looking into what is on the tv, told to us by friends, or passed to us on the internet that is not regulated for content in any significant way. No matter what though, we start with ourselves and diligently try to live into God’s commandments as much as I ask others to also. Justice and respect need equality to be linked with them, so I must look at myself, then lovingly try to influence others to do the same. Character matters!
If we do not wish something like this or worse to occur, like other banana republic governments, we can have justice thought about at the end of a line of lies, betrayals of office, and insurrection. We also cannot be looking out for our own one or two issues that hit our buttons and ignore the rest of what matter. We cannot be looking out for who will best pad our own wallets either…..Again, look at home first, before judging others and crying out for justice.
Next is loving mercy, says God. Even God does not say that there are no consequences in life for our words or actions here on Earth. Repenting gets us forgiveness by God but not a get out of jail card! Yet God says to LOVE mercy. Let us link the punishment in proportion with the crime, while keeping great mercy in mind. Learning better is something that often comes with embarrassment and guilt. Shaming another is not a Christian’s job, as it comes into the realm of judging and says that a person cannot change. With God, all people can change and only God is the final judge. Allowing one to lose comforts and support of what is most important to them may work for most people though. Loving mercy, like forgiving (not forgetting), is also freeing to the one who gives it and tries to educate and love, as God tries to educate us through scripture and loves us, every one of us, through it all. It is called Grace. Madness to the extent of violence is not only dangerous, but pulls us from loving mercy and giving grace as God gives us grace, so as anyone who has been on “the opposite side” comes in front of us and says that they see things a bit differently now, but not all the way to where we may stand, or simply says nothing but their actions tell us they are learning and growing, we must recall the overwhelming amount of love, support, and grace God gives us. Give God’s support and grace as you have received it from God.
Walking humbly with God is maybe easier in this instance than we think it would be to walk with the man who broke down the fencing, who stole the podium of the Speaker of the House, who ransacked multiple offices and called for people to hang the Vice President. We can comfort ourselves and claim that we did nothing wrong and were not part of the mob. Yet think again. When we walk with any of God’s children, we are walking with God. We must be humble in whatever steps we take next, no matter where we stand. There are ways to do this too, as meekness is not weakness and humility is not just taking it and being bullied.
Practical suggestions that I share…. First, when talking with someone about this topic, try to ask questions in a way that will not back them into a corner so that they are defensive (Yes, easier said than done, but doable.). Ask how they got to that opinion, what they saw and heard, and listen carefully to how they say it, as well as what they are saying, straight out or by inference. Don’t then tell your side. Instead, ask if they see it the same way now and why. If you see anything that is true, be positive about it, then ask the next question that will bring up what seems to be the lie to the story or untruth of the situation. Try to keep tone, body language and words as non-threatening as possible. Remember, keep love and respect in your tone, even if you really are mad as heck. Anger towards unreasonableness or equal anger is not how Jesus did it with those he didn’t agree with, and it won’t help to get into an argument.
Remember age and context of your friend or family member’s lives too. We are all having to learn the hard lessons of the fact that you can’t say anything you want to and cower under the 1st Amendment, especially if you are talking about is 18 or less. These kids have grown up seeing exactly the opposite and by way of the internet and texting more than anything else they have taken in.
In law school you learn that you can’t go into a crowd and call out “fire” without consequences. The 1st Amendment won’t save you. Yet I find that a vast majority of people really have not internalized that the internet has no rules in the USA to stop anyone from lying and many shows that seem to be news shows and what you to believe them to be trustworthy are simply led by paid mouthpieces for whatever they are selling and want you to believe. When you are listening to these shows, you are listening to paid propaganda that allows many distortions a large degree of latitude before the word “illegal” might get attached to them.
We all are learning that it takes only $30 and 20 seconds for someone with easily obtained software to doctor the films we see on tv or the internet, and it becomes harder every day for us to catch them at it. If you do not believe me, take in the fact that our annual conference felt it would be a good thing to offer 4 hours-worth of classes from a noted journalist to get clergy to understand the complicated world of communications today. We started to learn how to sort out truths, partial truths, red flags on video or in articles. We even were introduced to artificial intelligence movements that may have robots doing the talking for con artists in the future, so they can hide behind even more from regulation of what is said or done. They would not be human, let alone controllable or with human emotions, perhaps. I welcome such classes but cry in my cup that we need them as clergy or simply as concerned citizens.
Another thought from reading about talking with people who are vehement about their stance on anything is to try not to argue your way through a conversation with a person, as some topics have become cult-like and have the trappings of a cult-like, charismatic leader who tells them he is the only truthful one and the only one who will care for them in the end. You will not change their minds, according to the research on cults that I did this last year. You simply must keep in touch, keep loving them, and keep listening. These are all holy ways to be too. You can say you have not seen it the same way or suggest that they watch as much of other stations as they do the one which says what they like, but do likewise and then just be ready to wait for the scales to finally fall from their eyes in the future. Chances are that you wont be the one who does it for them. It takes time, the article said, but a majority will start to see things clearer when the truth comes out. Case in point is the insurrection opening many people’s eyes to at least question what they have been told.
To me, the day of the insurrection was the day of Epiphany on more than just the church calendar. Yes, it was the religious day we celebrate called Epiphany and recalls the wise men coming to see the baby Jesus and bring him gifts. The epiphany then was the news of Gentiles seeing God incarnate and glorifying him. I do not call it a coincidence that the average person in the USA would define an epiphany as a sudden burst of knowledge or happening that makes something very ordinary come to light as much more important, and that this sudden wake-up of knowledge began with this terrible event. We lost 6 people, but we could have lost so very many more. We lost some of our democratic naiveite, but finally started to see that we have a fragile vase that is our democratic republic, which will be forever broken if we lean into autocracy and away from democratic rules that safeguard us.
Third, and hardest yet, is to not get lazy. Anyone who tells you that living into the dream of becoming a perfected Christian person is easy, is lying. It takes purposefully dedicated people to continue to grow as Christians and not stop like a child at the sippy-cup stage. Getting the truthful representations of people and issues in politics, law, and anything else worth-while for us and our country’s sake takes work too. If you see a red flag, go elsewhere that is not just another right leaning or left leaning source, to see what they are reporting. Use your God-given common sense and do not take anything for granted like our democracy. It is the finest in the world, even if it is not perfect. I personally sometimes to a reputable foreign source, such as the BBC, which then is often a less slanted perspective for a given story, as they are not emotionally invested in which side wins and questions things a different way that I need to hear at times. If you are older, I remind you that Walter Cronkite and the days of every station saying about the same thing on the news is gone. Most of the main three stations still sound the same and cover what is not a conspiracy story or unproveable allegation, but others do not, and far from it. I would end now, saying this is not really a sermon, a self-help lecture, or enough of a consolation page where we see we are all in this together. It is not just my rants either, for believe me when I say I have cut and cut and cut many of them. I do hope it was something like the conversation I might have had with many of you last Sunday, as a Christian friend and your pastor. I simply wished to help for the little that I might be able to and start to have the holiness of God in mind first, then the expertise of people who deal with confrontations and communication, as we all go forward and try to save friendships, family relations, and our country from chaos. God will do the rest and if you go to God first and foremost, God will have you recall and use what you already know of scripture and scripture lessons to guide you in the days to come. We have already as a church talked about having the tools or arsenal of listening, loving, and cheering even “the enemy” on. God has always wanted a true relationship with each of us that communicates and is loving. God already loves us, as God loves all of God’s children, not just the ones who did not make the mistakes that seem to have occurred and let to this tragic event on the 6th. Try to love and keep listening to one another for ways to do so, while listening for God’s voice. Then keep talking and communicating in a loving way. Maybe if we had known what was to occur last Wednesday was going to happen, we all, on both sides of the isle, would have made loving communication of truth the ultimate goal, as God has always had with us. Let us not make that mistake over and over again! Amen!