Sermon: “Wisdom none can withstand”

wisdom

First Christian Church of Riverside
November 13, 2016
Matthew 21:5-19

What a week. I don’t know about you, but I am tired. Bone-tired. Exhausted. Emotionally wrung out. Songs speak to me, and today the song that speaks to me is this:

Precious Lord, take my hand
Lead me on, let me stand
I am tired, I am weak, I am worn
Through the storm, through the night
Lead me on to the light
Take my hand precious Lord, lead me home[1]

As a preacher, tasked with bringing you a message of hope after probably the most bitter and contentious presidential campaign in U. S. history, I found a certain irony in Jesus’ words: “Make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict.”[2]  Not that I’m feeling defensive or consider any of you to be my opponents, but I don’t trust myself enough not to prepare in advance, and I really need words and wisdom. 

A lot of people are terrified. While CNN reports that most of the anti-Trump protests have been peaceful,[3] peaceful doesn’t sell. Likewise, there have been increased reports of hate crimes,[4] no doubt carried out by a small minority, but still – kindness doesn’t make the news. Anger, violence, and conflict make the news.

A friend recently commented on Facebook:

I just explained to a friend … that we can’t accept and move forward so soon. We are hurting, grieving; our hearts are broken. We will be patient with Mr. Trump, eventually. For now please be patient with us. I hope she understands.

Jesus can’t have predicted the specific events of this week when he said, “When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified,”[5] but it’s been a terrifying time for many of our family, friends, and neighbors.

Earlier in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus told his disciples, “be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.”[6] This is a point in history that calls for wisdom, and I hope we’ll all be wise enough to remember that regardless of where we fall on the political spectrum our primary allegiance must always be to God.

I wrote in a blog post earlier this week, “To all of my friends who have very real fear for the future, I say this: I am with you.  I may get it wrong sometimes; I may stumble or say the wrong things… but I pledge to use my vote and my voice to support you. I have to believe that, ultimately, love will win and good will prevail.”[7]

Unless you’ve walked a mile in their shoes, please: don’t dismiss their concerns.

Oddly enough, I’m hopeful. I’m hopeful that there can be healing and reconciliation, because I believe in something bigger than this nation and more powerful than our political system. I’m hopeful because I am convinced that the love of God lived out in faith communities like this one can transform one life at a time, and that those transformed lives can have a domino effect. As we read in Ephesians 2:14, “For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. “[8]

The people in today’s story were understandably proud of their beautiful temple. You are probably proud of this beautiful church campus, its beautiful buildings with their history of being used to serve the community and glorify God. You are probably proud of the gifts that have helped to maintain it over the years. Rightfully so. It’s an asset to First Christian Church, to the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), and to this neighborhood.

Hopefully, this building will remain a place of worship and celebration and service for many, many years to come – a sanctuary for you and a beacon of hope to others.

It won’t be easy to balance care for this facility and care for your neighbors… and it really is a balancing act.  As Christians we don’t have the luxury of discarding a huge chunk of humanity because we disagree with them, but neither do we have the luxury of dismissing the very real concerns of people who feel threatened.  Let us never forget that while Jesus demonstrated what our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters call “a preferential option for the poor,” he also responded with compassion to the oppressors of his time – a Roman centurion, tax collectors and even, in a spectacular manner after his resurrection, the primary persecutor of the Church, Saul of Tarsus.

There may be people who aren’t willing to do the hard work. There may even be people who will be angry with you for trying. Keep working at it anyway, remembering that even when you disagree you are still dealing with someone created in the image of God and therefore deserving of respect… even when that person may be anything but respectful to you.  “By your endurance you will gain your souls.”[9]

Now, I’m not saying that you have to allow yourself to be bullied. Sometimes it’s o.k. to take a breather, walk away, and regroup. It’s o.k. to say, “That is not acceptable.” Take Jesus as your model, not the leaders of this material world.

I can’t tell you exactly how to navigate these treacherous waters. I don’t have a map for that, but I want to share these words from Luther Seminar Professor Karoline Lewis: “And when we question how we will testify or where we will find the words for our witness, Jesus reminds us, ‘I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict.’”[10]

 

[1] Thomas A. Dorsey, Precious Lord, 1932, ©1938 Unichappell Music, Inc.
[2] Matthew 21:14-15, New Revised Standard Version.
[3] Ray Sanchez, “Weekend brings more anti-Trump protests across nation” at CNN.com, http://www.cnn.com/2016/11/12/us/protests-elections-trump/, November 12, 2016.
[4]  Holly Yan, Ralph Ellis and Kayla Rodgers, “Reports of racist graffiti, hate crimes post-election” at CNN.com, http://www.cnn.com/2016/11/10/us/post-election-hate-crimes-and-fears-trnd/, November 11,2016.
[5] Matthew 21:9, New Revised Standard Version.
[6] Matthew 10:16b, New Revised Standard Version.
[7] Mary Jo Bradshaw, “Pain, privilege, and elusive hope” at Christ on the Streets, https://christonthestreets.wordpress.com/2016/11/10/pain-privilege-and-elusive-hope/, November 10, 2016.
[8] Ephesians 2:14, New Revised Standard Version.
[9] Matthew 21:19, New Revised Standard Version.
[10] Karoline Lewis, “Saying What We See” at Working Preacher, http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=4750, November 6, 2016.