Delivered at Ames UCC
on January 21, 2018
©The Rev. Eileen Gebbie
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Part of me really loves this story.
It’s the part of me that grew up watching Jesus Christ Superstar and its temple scene with women, guns, and sunglasses up for sale. It’s the part of me that loves the liberation inherent in our tradition’s theology: freed slaves, women prophets, direct confrontation with those who are complicit in or mimic the power structures of occupation.
It’s this kind of story that allows me to continue to seek God through Jesus Christ. I could not walk a path that does not eliminate false, human-made barriers to God; I need a path that strips me of my blinders to corruption and self-centered comfort.
This story sounds different today, though. I’m not sure I can even hear this story today over all of the rest of the fighting in our world.
I thought about putting together a list of the kinds of back-and-forth juvenilia and nastiness from our elected officials on Twitter or some of the commentary over the recent controversy regarding vulgarity in the White House, our house. But I couldn’t bring myself to read them and saw no value in inflicting them on you afresh. You already know.
Even if you are not on social media and wisely read only one newspaper or watch one news program a day, you know that we have gone from disagreement and debate to slander, lies, grandstanding, mockery, dismissal, and spleen. This is not “good trouble,” as Rep. John Lewis refers to the legacy work of civil rights, the agitation yet respectful efforts of nonviolent protest and relational community organizing. It is empty sound and injurious fury and it is exhausting.
So, another man goes into a seat of power to yell and topple? It is hard to see God in that right now. Or, maybe more accurately, it is hard to see how following suit will do anything but contribute to the problems.
We don’t need more fights right now, we need some rest.
Pr. Mary Jane Button-Harrison from our sister congregation down the street recommended a book to me last summer. It’s by Margaret Wheatley, who is a management consultant and student of organizations. She’s held prominent faculty positions, worked with the U.S. military, and advised our national parks system. She’s also deeply spiritual with roots and practice in Christianity and Buddhism.
In her book Who Do We Choose to Be?, Wheatley writes about being a sane leader in the midst of a crumbling reality. There is no question that our physical environment is changing, and not for the better. The Earth cannot bear the weight of the human population (particularly with how we Americans live). And you know well how nations are not working together, but acting like national borders are natural barriers.
Wheatley argues that it is too late to solve such global problems. She asks us not to tell ourselves a fable of “it will all work out.” Instead, she encourages us to be local leaders who do what we can, with what we have, where we are.
Today I want to focus on that middle part: what we have. Specifically, what we have as people of faith: God.
If you have subscribed to the church’s devotionals-by-text-or-e-mail list, then yesterday morning you received part of Psalm 46. I want to read the whole psalm now:
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;
though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble with its tumult.
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High.
God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved; God will help it when the morning dawns.
The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter; (God utters), the earth melts.
The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.
Come, behold the works of the Lord; see what desolations God has brought on the earth.
The Lord makes wars cease to the end of the earth; God breaks the bow, and shatters the spear; God burns the shields with fire.
“Be still, and know that I am God! I am exalted among the nations, I am exalted in the earth.”
The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.
The God of Jacob, the twin who was so jealous of his brother’s inheritance that he betrayed his father Isaac to claim it.
The God of Jacob, who had to flee from his brother’s wrath.
The God of Jacob, who learned what betrayal was like first-hand in a complicated marriage negotiation.
The God Jacob, who had a dream of a bridge between the holy and the profane.
The God of Jacob, who was so physically transformed from wrestling with an emissary of God that he received a new name:
“…Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed.” (Genesis 32.28)
The psalmist teaches us that in a time of foaming waters and tottering nations, our comfort is in the God of a man who was by turns deceitful and faithful, resistant yet reformed. When other human beings use their tiny kingdoms to betray and steal from us, our refuge is in a holiness that knows us at our worst and is the only power that can move us toward our best.
So, what we have in this time of such fighting and foundering is God. God is the basis for doing what we can, where we are.
Whatever your busy-ness, rest in God. Whatever your distractions, rest in God. Whatever your church asks of you, rest in God.
If you don’t have an hour for prayer, take 30 minutes. If you do not have 30 minutes, take three. Take three minutes every day without screens or screaming, to feel the breath of God come into your body and then release it back out to creation. In those three minutes, receive the presence of one that locates hope in a reformed liar like Jacob and in a manger like that of Jesus.
In this place, while our water is still safe to drink and food is not yet scarce, we still have some good trouble to make. We will yet upset tables and cause authorities to be surprised by the power we claim.
And maybe, just maybe, if we love not only the work of Jesus but the God of Jacob, to whom Jesus always pointed, maybe we will be not only witnesses to, but participants in a new kind of resurrection.