“The Call to Sacred Resistance”

Susan Russell on Sunday, January 22, 2017:

“As we hear again the familiar story of Jesus’ call to the first disciples we hear him calling us into the good trouble of sacred resistance.”

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Let there be peace among us, and let us not be instruments of our own or others’ oppression. Amen.

And Jesus said, “Follow me.” And they did.

They followed him from the life they knew into an unknown they couldn’t have even imagined. From his first sermon in his hometown of Nazareth that almost got him thrown off a cliff to the growing crowds that showed up everywhere they went, to the healings and the teachings, the quarrels amongst them about who would sit at his right hand and the mountain top experiences they shared with him — they followed him until the journey led to a hill outside Jerusalem where their radical rabbi … the one they thought was going to change the world … died a criminal’s death on a cross between two thieves and the journey came to a sudden and tragic end.

Except — of course — it didn’t. We know that on the other side of the agony of Golgotha was the Glory of Resurrection and over two centuries later Jesus is still saying “Follow me.”

Follow me out of your comfort zone into the broken and beautiful world yearning to be restored to God’s dream of love, justice and compassion. Follow me as bearers of God’s inclusive love into the breach of polarization and demonization. Follow me as we offer sacred resistance to all that stands in the way of “thy kingdom come on earth” becoming not just a prayer we pray but a reality we live … for absolutely every member of the human family.

Let there be peace among us, and let us not be instruments of our own or others’ oppression.

Some of you will recognize these as the words I’ve come to think of as the Gospel According to Barbara. They are the words Bishop Barbara Harris – the first woman bishop in the Anglican Communion – has used to begin every sermon I ever heard her preach … and they are words that have been much on my mind and in my heart over these last days and weeks.

They are words that — I believe — sum up concisely and prophetically the holy energy that inspired our Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles to declare itself a “Sanctuary Diocese” with a resolution adopted by an overwhelming majority at our annual convention in December.

It is a resolution urging congregations and institutions to discern how they are called to serve as places of welcome, refuge, healing, and offer forms of material and pastoral support for those targeted by hate for any perceived status of difference and that we work alongside our friends, families, and neighbors to ensure the dignity and human rights of all people.

It is our response to the call to sacred resistance.

As Episcopalians, one of the core promises of our baptismal covenant is to “persevere in resisting evil.” We understand that as a call to stand in resistance to the systemic evils that oppress and marginalize any member of our human family – including but not limited to racism, sexism, nativism, homophobia, anti-Semitism and Islamophobia. Grounded in our baptismal promises, our resistance to public policies that perpetuate those evils is how we put our faith into action in the world.

It is — in a nutshell — to live out the Gospel According to Barbara Harris:

Let there be peace among us, and let us not be instruments of our own or others’ oppression.

And so this morning — on the morning after the morning after the beginning of this new presidential administration — as I hear again the familiar story of Jesus’ call to the first disciples I hear him calling us into the good trouble of sacred resistance.

Now make no mistake about it: I’ve also heard other calls to “wait and see” and to “hope for the best.” But on this morning after the morning after my response to those calls remains these words from Rabbi Abraham Heschel: “Patience is a quality of holiness, but it may be sloth in the soul when associated with the lack of righteous indignation.”

For as a Christian – as a priest and pastor – I am righteously indignant at what is happening in our nation not in spite of being a follower of Jesus but because I am a follower of Jesus — and on this morning after the morning after patient is not on the list of things I’m feeling.

But I am feeling grateful for these words from Gay Clark Jennings – the President of our Episcopal Church House of Deputies — who wrote: “Reconciliation is holy work. Resistance is too. When the agendas of the President and the new Congress scapegoat people of color and Muslims, deprive our fellow citizens of control over their lives, desecrate God’s creation or enrich the wealthy at the expense of the poor, we must oppose them. This is not a partisan political statement; it is a confession of faith.”

This is not a time for patience. This is a time to use our collective righteous indignation as fuel for the holy work of resistance. This is a time to recognize that as the dust continues to settle we are seeing a dismantling of the silos of competing oppressions that have too often separated us from those who are in fact our allies in the larger struggle.

This resistance movement no longer looks like some straight people standing with gay people because their right to marriage is threatened; it is no longer some Christians standing with Muslims because their Mosque is under attack; it is no longer some white allies marching in Black Lives Matter protests or some cisgender folks showing up in solidarity on the Transgender Day of Remembrance. And it is no longer some men turning their Facebook pictures pink to stand with Planned Parenthood. This is all of us under attack at the same time by the same agenda – an agenda antithetical to the core values of both Christianity and the Constitution.

And if we’re not righteously indignant we’re abdicating our responsibility to both our faith and to our country.

But yet — on this morning after the morning after — I have been given the grace to take heart in the groundswell of solidarity and sacred resistance rising up and giving voice to the foundational American value of liberty and justice for all and to our core Christian imperative to love our neighbors as ourselves.

My heart is still beating fast at the extraordinary display of solidarity we saw in action in the streets of our nation yesterday as literally hundreds of thousands of men, women and children stepped up, stood up and spoke up for women’s rights, human rights, civil liberties, and social justice for all. With allies around the nation we rallied in Pasadena and we marched in Los Angeles in numbers that no one — even the organizers — (much less the Metro!) anticipated. And All Saints Church was right smack dab in the middle of it … including the Women’s March in Washington where our contingent included our rector, Mike Kinman and his family.

Let there be peace among us, and let us not be instruments of our own or others’ oppression.

My fervent prayer this morning is that the marches we saw and participated in yesterday are but the beginning of a movement — a movement of sacred resistance that will equip and empower us to be agents of God’s love, justice and compassion as we follow not only Jesus but all those who have gone before us — blazing the trail of transformative love in action. Because in the final analysis, no matter how fervent our prayers or powerful our rhetoric or clever our protest signs … if it’s not about love it’s not about God.

Last Monday was Martin Luther King Day … and Lori and I sat here in this nave for about an hour and a half … listening to his powerful and prophetic words being read aloud by members of our community. And there’s nobody who can put the love into sacred resistance like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Hear his words from his 1957 sermon, “Loving Your Enemies:”

“In the final analysis, love is not this sentimental something that we talk about. It’s not merely an emotional something. Love is creative, understanding goodwill for all [people]. It is the refusal to defeat any individual. When you rise to the level of love, of its great beauty and power, you seek only to defeat evil systems. Individuals who happen to be caught up in that system, you love, but you seek to defeat the system.”

The lessons appointed for the Feast Day of Martin Luther King point us to that truth. First we hear the great Exodus text and God’s call to Moses to speak truth to the oppressor by challenging Pharaoh to liberate the people of Israel. And then we hear the call of Jesus to love your enemies and to pray for those who persecute you. Side by side. Both/and … not either/or.

That call is a profound reminder that the challenge in front of us is to refuse compromise our humanity by denying the divinity within any single human being — while at the same time refusing … utterly refusing … to be instruments of our own or others’ oppression.

And that means making choices … sometimes hard choices. Sometimes controversial choices.

Some of you will know that our rector’s decision on how we would pray for the President in our Prayers of the People each week was one of those. Now let me note for the record that “if” we would pray for the President was never a question. We’re Episcopalians. That’s what we do.

The other thing Episcopalians do is provide options for how to offer those prayers. Choosing to use a form for the Prayers of the People in the Book of Common Prayer which does not use the given name of elected officials is one of those options. It is arguably a classically Anglican “both/and” option — making room for fervent prayers for our president while pastorally making room for those subject to trauma triggers to worship safely.

Sadly, a pastoral decision about how — not “if” — we would pray for the President here at All Saints was hijacked by alt-right bloggers and media … and the politicization of the issue sparked the kind of email deluge we haven’t seen since we hosted the Muslim Public Affairs Council back in 2012. And I have to say it is frankly shocking how hateful Christians can be to other Christians. Some of what we received was quite literally enough to give Baby Jesus colic.

Some — but not all. There have also been moments of grace and greater understanding as we replied to our correspondents — including this man who wrote:

I would like to apologize for the email I wrote earlier today. I think I’ve been watching way too much politics on television. I was definitely humbled by your response. I know you will forgive me because that’s YOUR way, so I want to thank you now. God bless.

And then there was the woman wrote with this question: I voted for and support President-elect Trump and am an active Episcopalian. How are you ministering to me by not naming him in your prayers?

And I want to share with you this morning how our rector answered her:

How are we ministering to you by this decision? That is an excellent question.

We are ministering to you by inviting you to join us in trying to follow Jesus more deeply into a place of empathy and compassion for people who are wounded.

Empathy and compassion for sisters and brothers who have been living in this country without documentation, working, going to school, building lives, paying taxes … some of whom fled physical danger in other countries and are now unable to sleep at night because of nightmares of losing everything they have.

Empathy and compassion for women who have been sexually abused by predatory men and who now see us elevating to the presidency a man who brags about abusing women and who behaves in a predatory manner toward women still, and for whom the whole experience of his election and pending inauguration is causing the experience of that trauma to re-emerge.

We are ministering to you by inviting you to join us in being first concerned with the most wounded among us and to find joy as Jesus did in sacrificing something that might be meaningful for us for the sake of others.

This, my brothers and sisters is what it means to say yes to the call to sacred resistance.

To never forget for a single solitary moment the sacred and infinite worth of another human being — while never giving an inch in the resistance against the systemic evils that keep “thy kingdom come on earth” from becoming not just a prayer we pray but a reality we live … for absolutely every member of the human family.

On this morning after the morning after, may we be given the grace to say yes Jesus as he calls us to follow — out of our comfort zone and out into this broken and beautiful world yearning to be restored to God’s dream of love, justice and compassion. And may we be willing to risk the good trouble of saying yes to the call of sacred resistance as the we claim the Gospel According to Barbara as our own:

Let there be peace among us, and let us not be instruments of our own or others’ oppression. Amen.

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