Sermon November 22, 2015
Years ago I read a book by John Powell called Why am I Afraid to Tell You Who I Am? The answer to the question was simple “I am afraid to tell you who I am because you may not like me and it is all that I have.” We spend a lifetime seeking authenticity. While the power of others’ opinions may diminish over time, they may still have more power than we would like. How often do we wonder, “What will people think?” Some of us like to believe that we don’t care about that, but it may have more of a hold on us than we know.
Jesus did not seem to be concerned about what others might think. We hear stories of him speaking difficult truths and going against the laws of society and it seems clear that he would make a terrible politician. My assumption is that politicians start out trying to make a difference and they get trapped and think they cannot act on what they believe is right because they would make those who fund their campaigns unhappy. I know many ministers who don’t speak the truth about what they believe because they are afraid of losing their jobs. This could be said of many professions.
It is ironic that while we seek to be authentic, we may find ourselves unable to do that because our families, our friends, our workplace won’t allow us to speak our truth. By “won’t allow us”, I mean that we may face rejection, ostracism, or lose our jobs. The stakes can be high. What are we willing to risk in order to be real?
In the 1950’s the Quakers called us to “speak truth to power”. The world needs us to follow the example of Jesus in an age where Syrians are fleeing a violent country and our governors are saying “they can’t come to this state”. The House passed a bill that would suspend allowing Syrian refugees into the U.S. How ironic that we prepare to celebrate the birth of a child and his parents who could not find a place to give birth and then had to flee their home because the child was in danger. Can we honestly move toward the birth narrative and sing songs of sweet baby Jesus with our backs turned to the Syrians? It is stunning to me how we allow fear to guide decisions rather than faith in the one who was a refugee.
Rachel Held Evans said, “What makes the gospel offensive isn’t it who keeps out, but who it lets in.” If we are indeed following Jesus, we will do everything in our power to make sure these refugees are allowed to come in. We will offer our extravagant welcome to these who have had to flee the violence and terrorism in their own country. Jesus called us to act on behalf of others. He called us to feed each other, clothe each other, care for each other and he said when we do that, we are feeding, clothing, and caring for him. He didn’t say when we do that for some people or people who believe certain things or have certain skin colors.
How are we living out his call today? What are we doing to eradicate the violence in the world? What is truth in a world where politicians are motivated by fear rather than compassion? What is truth for the refugees who are desperately seeking safety? I was struck by Justin Remer-Thamert’s words at the press conference on Thursday. Justin is the director for the Faith Coalition for Immigrant Justice. He said that global mistrust is exactly what ISIS wants. He went on to say building relationships with our interfaith brothers and sisters is the best way to counter ISIS.
Today is called the Reign of Christ or Christ the King Sunday. In the reading from John, Jesus is on trial before Pilate. Pilate asks if Jesus is a King. Jesus never answers him, but he talks about a kingdom that is different than the worldly understanding of kingdom. Pilate really wants a simple yes or not answer to his question. Jesus responds that he came into the world to testify to the truth. That is his purpose - to live and breathe truth.
Jesus has risked everything to live a life that is true to God. Now, he stands before Pilate with his own life on the line. Perhaps he could look for a loophole or tone down his language, but he will not allow someone else to set the agenda for him. He says that truth matters more than anything.
Robert Raines tells of a man interrogated by terrorists and says, “the truth that a person is emerges when power has him/her by the throat.” Power clearly has Jesus by the throat here and he will not compromise the truth of who he is…even to his last breath. Jesus maintains his integrity and we realize that while Pilate may hold the power, Jesus is controlling the conversation. It appears that Pilate is on trial as Jesus responds in silence. Pilate is confronted with himself and the truth of his own life.
Truth can be terrifying. When I realized that I had to come out, I knew that I could lose everything. It was so scary to risk my ordination and to leave a marriage, but I could not live a lie. Our task as people of faith is to accompany people on their journey of truth. It means that church needs to be a place where we tell the truth. We must be willing to listen to one another and make room when another’s truth is different from our own. We need to be willing to listen into the depths.
In the midst of my coming out, a friend came to me. She isn’t a churchy person, but she told me that she felt like she needed to do a blessing ceremony for me. She had never seen one or participated in one, but she really believed she needed to do this. We invited people to come and bring words of blessing and a bead that I could wear on a cord. These tangible signs became powerful reminders that the journey toward truth need not be taken alone.
Today as a congregation, we have the opportunity to celebrate the truth of one of our members. Ter Hatcher changed her name to Spencer this week. She will stand before you this morning and ask for your blessing. As her faith community, we will surround her with a circle of love and light. We will honor Spencer’s journey and acknowledge the courage it takes for her to take this step. We will travel with Spencer on this journey because we are her people.
Truth is an individual choice, but it is also a reflection of the community. In an old story, an enthusiastic young evangelist asks an Amish man whether he had been saved. The man replied, “Why do you ask me such a thing? I could tell you anything. Here are the names of my banker, my grocer, and my farm hands. Ask them if I have been saved.”
Walter Bruggemann said, “Churches should be the most honest place in town, not the happiest place in town.” People are seeking a faith that is true and authentic. At The Refuge faith community in Denver, they say, “everyone is safe, no one is comfortable.”
Imagine a church where everyone told the truth. One of our members views the world from a different lens than me. I have worked closely with this person and we can almost always count on one of us wanting one approach and the other wanting a different approach. Here is the thing…every time that happens; we each talk about what is behind our preference. We laugh that we are different, and each time, we deepen our appreciation for one another. I have so much trust in and respect for this person because we can count on each other to speak our truth and to really hear one another. That is church to me. This person reminds me that my way is not the only way. Together, we create a path that is wider and more open and I am grateful for that.
Each week we pray the words “thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” The kingdom that Jesus refers to is not a place; we are the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God is people passionately responding to the truth found in the life and being of Jesus. Is our kingdom a kingdom of truth? Do our lives reflect the truth of the God we worship?
In the coming months, we will seek to live more deeply into the truth of who we are as a congregation. We will take time to listen to one another. We will speak our truth and we will discern who we are called to be at this time in our history. As we understand the truth of who we are, we can then boldly live that truth in the world.