Trouble in Paradise

 

November 13, 2016

Every Tuesday morning I’m asked by the Parish Administrator for the title of the coming Sunday’s sermon. Last Tuesday was no exception. I looked at the scriptures assigned for this morning about dismantling of the holy temple and decided that Trouble in Paradise sounded appropriate. Little did I know!

So here we are on the 26th Sunday after Pentecost, or the Sunday next before Waffle Shop, or the First Sunday in the Era of Trump – take your pick.

In his Preface to a book on the thought of Paul Tillich, F. Forrester Church wrote the following: “Religion is our human response to the dual reality of being alive and having to die. Accordingly, all of us are religious, to one degree or another. We struggle, some of us intensively, some only when the roof falls in, to make whatever sense we can of life and death.”[1]

The “roof falling in” seems to be an apt metaphor for what happened this past Tuesday. I contend that it’s equally appropriate for everyone across the political spectrum. Life as we’ve known it is changed—and will be changed—in ways that we cannot yet fathom. But change it will. The world, for better or for worse, is in disarray.

It’s not unlike the ancient story from Luke’s Gospel about the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple. Purportedly, the story comes to us in the form of a prediction of a future event—a prophecy: “The days will come,” Jesus says, “when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.”

But the reality was that the Temple had been previously destroyed, the roof had fallen, the walls caved in, and the city of Jerusalem had been razed and burned. All four of the Gospels were written only after these events had already occurred . . . and the late first century Christians were being thrown out of the synagogues and persecuted by the Romans. In their view the apocalypse had occurred.

It was a good time to abandon the faith. Or if not abandon it, to hunker down and try to escape notice. Fear filled many because of the changes happening in the world of the late first century.

Luke’s admonition? “By your endurance you will gain your souls.” Stay the course, fight the good fight. Bear witness to the faith that is in you.

Whether real or imagined, many people are now afraid of what is happening and what might be coming. The man who is now our president elect and some of his supporters (and I hasten to add, not all of his supporters) have given many people significant reason to be afraid: women, Hispanics, Moslems, LGBTQ folk, Blacks, refugees and other vulnerable people.

When Luke wrote his Gospel, the Temple was already destroyed and Jerusalem was in ruins. He wasn’t writing to prevent those things from happening. That was a done deal. But rather, the gospel was asking, “Now what?”

How do people of faith respond? What do we do going forward? How do we behave when the verities of our everyday lives are shaken and the social contract may be cancelled? We have seen the collapse of Christendom over the past decades. We have experienced the diminishment of the Church as institution. And now the national commitments and policies that many have counted upon as trust, are teetering.

The election is over and I don’t want or need to revisit it. But I do want to invite us all to reflect on what we do now?

Paul Tillich, the public theologian of the mid-twentieth century, reflecting on the great challenges, anxieties and questions that people ask, wrote, “The religious answer has always the character of in spite of.”[2]

In spite of . . . what has happened or may happen . . . let us vow to stay the course, fight the good fight, bear witness to the faith.

In our tradition, the Baptismal Covenant is regarded as the normative statement of what it means to follow Jesus. When we make that covenant we agree that in the name of God

  • we will continue in Christian fellowship,
  • resist evil and repent of any evil we may be doing,
  • proclaim the Gospel,
  • serve Christ in all persons,
  • strive for justice and peace,
  • and respect the dignity of every human being.

The important thing, of course, is not to just think these things as good thoughts, wear safety pins,  crosses or bracelets . . . The much more difficult work of following Jesus is the  doing of these things.

  • Do not participate in hate speech or allow hateful remarks to go unchallenged.
  • Intervene or call or help if you witness abusive behavior.
  • Confront Islamophobia, misogyny, racism, homophobia.
  • Join with other people of goodwill to insist on public policies that enhance the common good and protect the most vulnerable.
  • Be green and work for actions to protect God’s fragile creation.

The stones of the Temple and Polis may be collapsing.

But Luke’s admonition? “By your endurance you will gain your souls.” Stay the course, fight the good fight. Bear witness to the faith that is in you.

May the people of God say, “Amen.”

 

 

[1] F. Forrester Church, Preface to The Essential Tillich: University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1999, p. xvi

[2] Paul Tillich, Invocation: The Lost Dimension in Religion, reprinted in The Essential Tillich, (see footnote 1 above), p. 8