July 2, 2017, 4th Sunday after Pentecost
Proper 8 (Year A)
Psalm. 13; Genesis 22:1-14
Today’s appointed psalm — Psalm 13 — resonates with me.
More so than the psalms usually do.
Often they refer to times and situations enough removed from my experience, that they kind of go in one ear and out the other. But today’s lament really voices some of my feelings.
Please listen, again, to part of Psalm 13:
“How long shall I have perplexity in my mind,
and grief in my heart, day after day?
how long shall my enemy triumph over me?”
[Psalm 13, verse 2]
These words give voice to the stress and distress which I've been experiencing for some time. Almost every day brings a new moral outrage from persons in power in our national government that grieves me.
Sometimes I can hardly believe the crude and coarse gutter language that drips from their lips. It’s even more astonishing when puerile name calling, that one might hear from a grade-school bully, is publicly uttered by the President of the United States.
And it’s not only the demeaning insults that I find troubling.
It’s the escalating attempts by some politicians to treat people in ways that are contrary to values that are foundational to Christian faith and practice. Ways that are contrary to the values we receive from Jesus.
I’m referring to the values of love, and peace through justice, that are enshrined in the vows that we make at our baptism. In our Anglican strand of Christianity, when we are initiated into Christian faith, into membership in Christ’s Church, we declare that we will “Strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being.”
When I say that some politicians are attempting to treat people in ways that run counter to our Christian faith and practice, I mean that they are not striving for justice and peace among all people. I mean that they are not respecting the dignity of every human being.
This is clear as they detain and round up minority groups, and dismantle families; as they deprive people of medical care, of education, of housing, of a living wage. As they foster gender inequality, increase the gap between rich and poor, take from the poor and give to the rich so that the rich can become even richer.
The polarization, and dissension over all of this — even among blood relatives — has become so thick, you can almost cut it with a knife.
I just returned from my home state of Iowa, where I’d gone back for the burial of a cousin, and to visit other relatives and some friends from high school days. Some encounters were awkward because a few had voted for Trump, and others of us had not. Trump had just made one of his rally appearances in Cedar Rapids, where I was staying. His supporters adored him, and his
opponents protested against him.
Some conversations with relatives and friends were shallow and guarded. We avoided talking politics. I imagine that some of you have experienced similar unpleasantries within your families and circles of friends.
The distress that Psalm 13 voices for me is caused not only by the current unChristian efforts against human beings. It’s also caused by the increasingly disastrous treatment of the earth and its creatures, and the selfish greed behind it.
From the perspective of Christian faith — and of Jewish faith as well, and also of Native American religions — the earth does not belong to us. It belongs to God. We are supposed to be stewards of the earth — not owners.
To word it Biblically:
“The earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof,
the world and those who dwell therein.”
God owns the earth and all of its creatures. Our role is to take good care of it, not abuse it.
Right now there is an additional particularly dangerous effort afoot. It’s the effort to prevent certain people from voting. This is particularly dangerous because so many other things are affected by it. And I’m not referring to the Russian interference in our elections — although that is, of course, worrying.
I’m referring to certain American politicians — from the President on down — who want to ensure that those who oppose them will be increasingly unable to vote.
If any citizens lose the right to vote, we lose the means of most effectively ensuring that the Christian values of love, and peace through justice, have a place in our corporate life in this country.
2,000 years ago, in the days of Jesus, during the Roman empire, individual ordinary persons had little power to influence what went on in society at large. Elite military, religious, and economic masters lorded it over their subjects.
That held true in previous empires, too — in the Assyrian empire, the Babylonian, the Egyptian. And in the empires of India and China. Also in the empires of the Incas, the Mayans, and the Aztecs.
But, for the last couple of hundred years, with the advent of modern democracy, ordinary men — and, finally, women, and also men and women freed from slavery — have been able to influence the whole society collectively — through voting.
With the coming of democracy, we Christians were no longer forced to be limited to living out the Christly values of love, and peace through justice, only within little church congregations. We had the opportunity — and the responsibility — to influence the whole societies in which we lived: in towns and cities, in states and provinces, and even in nations.
If people lose the power of the vote — we lose the means of bringing the values of love, and peace through justice, into society at large. What will happen if one day our President decides to claim that there is a national emergency, and he declares martial law? And, as Commander in
Chief, he orders the military to arrest and imprison certain groups of people. To arrest and imprison certain politicians, certain judges, certain educators, certain religious leaders.
Would the generals and their soldiers obey the President’s order?
And what if the President should, with military backing, eliminate elections?
Perhaps you’re thinking, “Oh, such things couldn’t happen here!”
Well, as a matter of fact, such things have already happened, in part. Remember that, during World War II, our President rounded up citizens of Japanese descent and herded them into so-called “detention camps”?
Remember that, under our federal government, genocide was committed against native peoples of North America. And remember that those Indians who were not killed were forcibly removed to so-called “reservations.”
Which, by the way, gave the 20th century dictator Adolf Hitler his idea of putting his victims in concentration camps.
And right now people of Latino/Hispanic heritage are being taken into custody for imprisonment and/or deportation.
Probably some of you are thinking, “But we couldn’t possibly lose our democracy in this day and age!”
That’s what people in Germany thought in the 1920s and 1930s. Within a decade a highly-cultured nation preeminent in education, science, art, literature, and music — and a nation thoroughly Christianized — not only lost its democracy to a tyrannical dictatorship.
It descended into a depth of murderous barbarism never before seen in human history. Hitler and his ruthless Nazi cohorts destroyed democracy; imprisoned, tortured, and slaughtered millions; started a war that resulted in over 70 million people being killed, and nobody knows how many animals. And those who allowed Hitler to take over their nation were themselves eventually devastated, their once cultured nation reduced to a smoldering ruin.
Where were the German Christians when their democracy was being undermined?
Most stood by and let it happen. Many willingly cooperated with Hitler and the Nazis.
I pray that we don’t just stand by as did those German Christians, and let voting rights slip away while moral outrages continue to flourish.
What can we do?
Some guidance comes from those baptismal vows that I mentioned a few minutes ago.
Besides committing ourselves to “strive for justice and peace among all people,” and to “respect the dignity of every human being,” we Christians, in our baptism, commit ourselves to:
“Persevere in resisting evil.”
One of our baptismal vows is to persevere in resisting evil.
It is our commission — our responsibility — to resist evil.
I’m not speaking as a Democrat, or as a Republican, or member of the Green Party, or of the Peace and Freedom Party, or any other party. I’m speaking as a follower of Jesus, and one who takes our baptismal vows seriously. And that includes resisting evil.
We can — we are obligated — to fulfill our baptismal vow to resist evil, wherever and whenever we encounter it. And that means resisting the evil that is alive and well right here and now in these United States.
What is evil?
Evil is denying people health care.
Evil is making poor people poorer, and rich people richer.
Evil is denying education to children and youth.
Evil is denying people a safe place to live.
Evil is denying victims of war a safe place to escape to.
Evil is denying refugees food and shelter.
Evil is denying anyone food and shelter.
Evil is rounding up people, breaking up their families, and locking them up.
Evil is polluting God’s earth.
Evil is polluting God’s water.
Evil is polluting God’s air.
Evil is not stopping the extermination of God’s endangered creatures.
Evil is refusing to address the human causes of climate changes that
threaten the continued existence of life on God’s earth.
Evil is preventing people from voting.
It is evil to deprive people of this crucial tool for bringing the values of love,
and peace through justice, into our society.
Evil is trying to stop people from resisting evil.
We must resist evil.
For baptized Christians, It’s our responsibility — it’s our obligation!
I realize that some of us might feel too old, too weak, too limited, to resist evil effectively. Of course, we do have limitations. But most of us are not helpless.
We can assess whatever means we have to resist evil, and we can act — even if it’s only sending a post card or email, or making a phone call, or donating money to some organization that is resisting evil.
And, very importantly, we can pray.
One thing we can do is encourage and bolster ourselves and others with hope grounded on our trust in God.
Today’s story about Abraham, in the first scripture reading from the Book of
Genesis, can help us keep courage.
Don’t dwell on the barbaric act of Abraham getting ready to kill his own son as a sacrifice. That is probably a hold-over from an earlier time when people in that part of the world did practice human sacrifice. And God’s telling Abraham, “You don’t need to kill your son, after all; I was just testing you” — that might have been a way of saying that human sacrifice was no longer desirable, or required; it’s wrong; it should be stopped.
The inspirational part of that story is the strong trust and confidence that Abraham had in God.
Abraham trusted God totally and was willing to do whatever he thought God wanted him to do, regardless of obstacles.
Secondly, Abraham trusted that God would provide whatever was needed, and at the right time.
As we attempt to resist evil, I suggest that, like Abraham, we trust God completely. I suggest that we not be frightened or discouraged in the face of what can seem an almost impossible task.
Also, I suggest that we ask God for whatever resources we need to resist evil. And, after the manner of Abraham, I suggest that we trust God to give us those resources that we need, when we need them.