A Promise and a Vision that Create a World

Isaiah 65:17-25, Luke 21:5-19

Rev. Doug Van Doren, Plymouth United Church of Christ, November 13, 2016


I did not choose the texts for this morning. They are the texts for this day from the Common Lectionary which was put together many years ago and which follows the church year, NOT the U. S. election cycle! The hymns were chosen a few weeks ago as well to go along with the lectionary passages. It is interesting, however, how timely some of those texts and hymns can be.


This is the church, and we don't engage in partisan politics. Prior to an election, I am very careful about that. I am far more careful than many. I was far more careful in that regard in this election, and previous ones, than the right-wing church.


But we are people in, if not of, the world. We believe that this is God's world and thus we need to care and act passionately in this world for God's people. I don't need to tell you that there has been an historic election! It has been one of the most divisive and, for many, one of the scariest in modern memory. Many here are in deep grief and distress over the election results, some may be happy about it, and no doubt some in your families and acquaintances are happy about it. We acknowledge all that this morning individually and as a community. We acknowledge that together, in it, through it, and through the tears and fears, we need to look at what our Christian identity calls us to do and how it calls us to be. For people of faith, our faith is our ground of hope, AND it is our identity. It guides us; frankly, it makes clear to us how we are to conduct ourselves, what we are to work for and what we are to work against. It also connects us to communities who know what it is to have hopes dashed and to feel like aliens unwanted in their homeland or their new land.


I said in my Plymouth Facebook post on Wednesday that I would like to provide a salve for those who feel wounded and worried. But that doesn't take the deep wound, bewilderment, worry, and anger seriously. And we need to be careful not to take away the energy that propels us. Plus, ours is NOT a Pollyanna religion. It is NOT a dispenser of quick feel-good platitudes, or "It's God's will" cop-outs. Many are angry and bewildered at fellow citizens, even family, friends, other church folks, and worried sick (quite literally) about the future - about our United States itself. (Of course, that would have been the case for nearly half the nation, regardless of who won the election.) That is to be taken seriously by those disappointed by the election results, but even more so by those who are happy about the election.


Let me share with you some lines from the pastoral letter from the UCC ministerial leadership team: General Minister and President, Rev. John Dorhauer, and Executive Minister for Justice and Witness, Rev. Traci Blackmon, and Executive Minister for Wider Church Ministries, Rev. James Moos.


"Because this election sharply divided us over matters of race, gender, human sexuality, faith, economic inequalities, and political persuasions, we all bear a heavy burden moving forward... to heed the call of God's Spirit and to work to repair damage in our deeply wounded and deeply divided body.


Mr. Trump was able to win this election in spite of clear evidence from him of racism, homophobia, xenophobia, misogyny, and Islamaphobia. This was so blatant that many of his own party's leaders could not endorse him. Many who voted for him knew this, and yet, their fears about what is happening in their lives overrode their distaste for his bombast. In their search for a leader not connected to the power base of a government that they perceived as corrupt, inefficient, and out of touch - his populist rhetoric appealed to them. He must now lead a country where people of color, women, Muslims, immigrants, the disabled, and an LGBT community all feel the sting and impact of his public speech. Those who celebrate this election must show a humility that honors the pain of those whose dreams were dashed by the outcome. Those who grieve must find a courage and hope found in a faith not in earthly power, but in the redemptive love of our Risen Christ."


I appreciate that the executives of the church labeled many reasons that people voted for President-elect Trump. It is easy, in our anger, to paint them all with the same brush - as consciously sexist, racist, anti-Islam, etc. In fact, however, the biggest predictor of the outcome of an election is Ideology. The man most successful in predicting the outcome of presidential elections over the last several cycles does so on the basis of the previous administration's policies, and what he believes the reaction to those policies will be. I am willing to believe that most who voted for Mr. Trump did so for ideological reasons, and because they believed all of the accusations about Mrs. Clinton. Many on both sides held their noses and filled in the blank.


Those who voted for Mr. Trump need to be aware, however, that those who did not are most disappointed in them - that Mr. Trump's behavior and rhetoric against women and the most vulnerable did not override their ideology.


We also need to be clear that his rhetoric has unleashed and legitimized long, barely-disguised sexism, racism, homophobia, and a blaming mentality on the part of many. Without their votes he clearly would not have been elected. All of us, particularly those who, in good faith, voted for him, need to counter that every place it is seen. We all need to stand with, and stand up for people who now feel they are under attack, unsafe. It is real. We have heard many reports already of hate crimes. Representatives of two of the organizations that track hate crimes have reported that there is a dramatic increase in those crimes since the election. More, in fact, according to one of those agencies, than after 9/11 - racist messages, swastikas, a car with a Confederate flag driven through an anti-Trump rally, Muslims harassed, Jr. High school boys harassing and grabbing at young girls, to name just a few. This is what has been unleashed. I heard second hand, but from a very reliable source, that Wednesday, the day after the election, two African American women were shopping at Meijers right up here on the corner, when a white man rushed up to them, got in their faces, and said, "We took back this country yesterday!" What is worse is that nobody did or said anything! Maybe they were stunned, maybe they agreed, maybe they did not want to get involved. But those two women were left to take the brunt of it by themselves, and that racist was allowed to speak for everyone, because nobody else spoke or acted.

We need to be prepared for that. We need to be prepared to speak up in those situations, to put our bodies between the attacker and their victims. We need to do that so those attacked are not alone and so that it is abundantly clear that the attacker does not speak for anyone but his racist little self. We need to wear those safety pins. We need to reach out to communities of color, Muslims, women, especially young women and girls, LGBTQ folks, to let them know they are not alone. I have reached out to three of the Imams I know in town to let them know of our support.


For many of us, this may be new territory - those of us who are members of the dominant society. But for many of our sisters and brothers, this is nothing new - terribly disappointing, but not new. That is, women, people of color, gays, Muslims in America, and immigrants, especially immigrants of color. They have a lot to teach us about keeping the faith under fire, about standing strong, about staying focused. They have a lot to teach us about keeping our eyes on the prize, supporting one another in the struggle and about living in the tension without letting it consume us.


Let's be clear; that beautiful, powerful, hopeful first hymn we sang this morning, the Black National Anthem, was not written during the hopeful signs of the civil rights movement. No, James Weldon Johnson wrote that in 1921, at one of the ugliest times in U. S. history. He wrote it at the height of Jim Crow, of lynching, legal discrimination, and legal disenfranchisement. It was, and continues to be a reminder of where our hope lies - that the God of silent tears and weary years, the God who has brought us thus far, will keep us on the path, will shadow us, will lead us on.


When Isaiah wrote those beautiful words we heard this morning of a new heaven and a new earth, it was at the darkest time in Israel's history. They were exiles in an alien land, taken from what they held dearest and what they assumed would always be theirs. God held before them the promise and vision that create the world God intends. The prophet made it clear to them that it is God and no other that holds us up and calls us forth. It is God's vision and no other, that calls us on to the day when, "No one will hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain."


The scene from the Gospel of Luke this morning, took place not long before Jesus' death. He stood with the disciples in front of that seemingly immoveable institution, the Temple. To the disciples and their class, the Temple represented a corrupted, co-opted and oppressive religious and political structure. Jesus said, as impermeable as it appears, it will not last. And though things will seem so bad that they'd think it was the end of the world. It was not! It is not! For there was, and is, much more work to be done to secure God's just and peaceable reign.


I leave you with these words from the Rev. Shari Prestemon, Minnesota Conference Minister.

"Whatever else may have seemed to radically shift (in this election) this much remains...Our God is a God whose love excludes no one, whose power and possibility are timeless, whose care for us endures.  Our faith is a Resurrection Faith that proclaims stubborn hope amid the deepest despair, a faith resilient enough to navigate the peaks and valleys of our lives.  And our United Church of Christ is a multi-racial, multi-cultural, anti-racist, open and affirming, accessible to all, justice-loving, peace-making, extravagantly loving kind of Church.


Let us not be weary.  Let us not allow our anger, our despair, or our fear to squelch our passion or to dim the light we must dare to shine on injustice and wrong.  Let us be the Church that Christ implores us to be- yesterday, today, and tomorrow.  And let us overwhelm the light of day with unquenchable love, undaunted purpose, and unbounded grace."


May it be so.


Doug Van Doren, Pastor



Affirmation of Faith (which followed the sermon)


We believe in God, who is love and who has given the earth to all people.


We believe in Jesus Christ, who came to heal us and to free us from all forms of oppression.


We believe in the Spirit of God, who works in and through all who have turned towards the truth.


We believe in the community of Faith, which is called to be ambassadors of love and hope.


We believe in God's promise to forgive the sin in us all and to establish the reign of justice and peace for all humankind.


We do not believe in the rule of might, the force of arms, or the power of oppression.


We believe in human rights, the solidarity of all peoples, and the power to overcome evil.


We do not support racism, sexism, homophobia, oppression, or religious imperialism.


We believe that all people are equally human, and that God intends for the world an order based on justice, love, and community.

We do not believe that war, hunger, and division are inevitable, or that peace and justice are unattainable.


We believe in the beauty of simplicity, love with open hands, and peace on earth.


We do not believe that suffering need be in vain, that death is the end, or that the earth was meant to be broken.


ALL: We believe in God's power to transform and transfigure, fulfilling the Biblical promise of a new heaven and a new earth, where justice and peace will flourish.


(Adapted by DVD from a Litany prepared for the World Convocation on Justice, Peace, and the Integrity of Creation)